“Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions…” —Galatians 3:19
The law is not a ladder for men to climb up towards self-righteousness, but a pit to fall into realization of the depths of our depravity. The law is the nail in the coffin of efforts at self-righteousness, showing man that he is dead in his trespasses and sins.
This is not to say that the law is contrary to the gospel (3:21), for the gospel speaks to none but sinners. One cannot hear the gospel unless their ears have been slapped by the law and are ringing with guilt. Luther comments,
“The Law with its function does contribute to justification—not because it justifies, but because impels one to the promise of grace and makes it sweet and desirable. Therefore we do not abolish the Law; but we show its true function and use, namely, that it is a most useful servant impelling us to Christ.”
But we have glazed over the mirror of the law, so that men may delude themselves they are more attractive than they are. We have not allowed the full weight of the heavy hammer of the law to crush the consciences of men. We have not preached the law so that sinners hear the prison door clink behind them and feel the coldness of their cell of death. We have not proclaimed God’s law such that they feel it’s discipline and long for the maturity of sonship in the Son. The gospel isn’t sweet, because the bitterness of the law isn’t tasted. Men do not thrust themselves on Christ in despair of themselves because they’ve never seen the terrors of Mount Sinai so that they cry out for a Mediator.
We must do what the Puritans referred to as “law work” before we herald the good news of the gospel. Yes, may we ever revel in the gospel. But this means preaching the law. Not as a means of justification, but to cause men to despair of any hope of self-justification. Let us preach the law so that men may see the depth of their sinfulness, their total depravity, their wickedness that permeates their every faculty such that they do not love God with all their heart, all their soul, and all their mind as He is worthy of being loved.
And then, once the image of the mirror horrifies, once the hammer has crushed, once the prison door has clinked loud, then may we proclaim that though we have not loved God, He has loved us and sent His Son to keep the law as our righteousness and to suffer the just wrath of God for all our lawbreaking.
Then we will marvel. Then we will weep. Then we will rejoice. Then we will sing.