Law and Righteousness
(essay 31 & 32)

by E.H. CLayton


(This is a very profitable study, written by a man of great intelligence and great sincerity—whose whole lifetime was given over to the study of God's word in accurate translation.)

SCRIPTURE speaks much about law and righteousness, and yet it seems that few really have clear thoughts about them. This is all the more surprising, as they are matters of vital moment to us. In Israel few appear to have grasped their significance, and beneath that fact lies the cause of Israel's failure to appreciate the Lord Jesus, either during His personal ministry to them or subsequent to their having crucified Him, when the meaning of His resurrection was declared by God through the apostle Paul. We will attempt to distinguish several aspects of law, and also seek to gain an insight into righteousness, especially as to what lies beneath righteousness and makes it a possibility in the case of humans. First we will set out four major aspects of law and discuss them briefly, and then turn to the questioning of righteousness to find its vital spring. As an aid to examining law we will define our headings thus:

(1) Law in relation to Israel;
(2) Law in relation to the just;
(3) Law in relation to the sinner;
(4) Law as an enactment of God.

Before proceeding, it is desirable that we clarify our terms, so as to be able to think accurately. The Scriptures employ a number of words, and these again have several usages.


THURE is the word for law; it belongs to a family having the general idea of AIM. The form thure will be recognized in the better-known spelling torah. It is the more general term, but is used specifically, as when it indicates the law of the burnt offering, etc.

DBR belongs to the family SPEAK, and one of its usages is covered by our term word. It is the expression employed of the ten commandments. They are the ten speakings of God, and form an initial summary of the whole of the law.

To these are related the DELINEATINGS or statutes, CHQE, and the INSTRUCTINGS, TZUE. These latter are the more specific terms, though they are used in the plural in a very wide sense.

We may perhaps better realize the significance of these terms from a few sentences where two of them occur together:

Deut. 6:6 these words which I instruct (A.V. command)
8:1 all the instructions which I instruct
(A.V.commandments which I command)
Num. 19:2 this is the statute (A.V. ordinance) of the law.

Another term used a few times is NOTE, PHRD, which is covered by our word precept. The Greek Scriptures (N.T.) use the term precept much more frequently than do the Hebrew (O.T.) ones. The latter have it only in the Psalms.

The term ODUTH, FURTHER, is testimony, and one of its usages is a general name for the ten words, especially in regard to their being on the two tablets of stone. Testimony views the law as being Jehovah's witness to Israel, and it sums up all God's requirements. Yet a further word is JUDGING, MSHPHT, which, in its primary usage, seems to indicate the decisions which Jehovah makes. It is also used of the sacrifices and the passover, translated by the Authorized Version as manner and ordinance (Lev. 5:10, 9:16, Num. 9:3,4, 15:16, 24).

Its use in connection with the sacrifice may be because the judgment of God was shown in the sacrifice. One verse in the Psalms (19:7) gathers together all these terms, and a translation which distinguishes them would be somewhat as follows:

The law of Jehovah is flawless, restoring the soul.
The testimony of Jehovah is faithful, making wise the simple.
The precepts of Jehovah are upright, rejoicing the heart.
The instructions of Jehovah are pure, lighting up the eyes.
The fear of Jehovah is clean, standing for the future.

The judgments of Jehovah are truth: . . . righteous altogether.

The major point for us to realize is the close relation which exists in the use of these terms, and how, in fulfilling a statute or instruction, the law is being kept, observed, or done.

It is notable that the word ritual, prevalently used in theology, is not found in the Authorized Version. There is, in the Greek Scriptures, the word THRÊSKEIA, and this should be rendered ritual. It occurs four times, and a study will reveal that what we term ritual is much akin to religion.

*The interesting point is that Israel construed a RELIGION from the law of Jehovah, and they overlooked the essence, that the law was a transcript of the righteousness, the just relations, which God required to exist amongst His people. If Israel had penetrated into matters, they would have understood that the law was comprised within two great precepts, love of God and love of associates (Deut. 6:5, Lev. 19:18, Mat. 22:37 39). Love is the complement of law (Rom. 13:10), and such love would have ensured fidelity to the law. To Israel, and to humanity as a whole, comes the condemnation that they are incapable of the love which would display God's righteous law.*

*Entry into the land was to enable Israel to keep the law and to live the law. So long as they adhered to the law's precepts, life's continuance was a prospect for them (Deut. 4:26, 40, 5:16, 6:2, 11:9, 17:20, 25:15, 30:18, 32:47). Yet they were, through their entire life, in fear of death and so lived in slavery (Heb. 2:15); death hung over them because of their failure to maintain the righteousness which law required.*


The law does not provide life, but it assumes life in its subjects, and that they desire life's continuance in righteousness. For this reason law urges attention to its details with a view to the lengthening of life. Its office is to point the way of righteousness, to encourage righteous living, and to condemn all unjust conduct. Any who are obedient to the law's instructions stand uncondemned. This is the position in which Israel was placed at the giving of the law.

The institution of the law came with the prospect of Israel's entry into the land. To them it was said: See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil (Deut. 30: 15, A.V.). They were enjoined to walk in God's ways and sayings and statutes: therefore choose life that both thou and thy seed may live (Deut. 10:19, A.V.). They were instructed by Jehovah with the object of His preserving them alive as at this day (Deut. 6:24). In their love and obedience to Jehovah they were to find Him to be their life and length of days (Deut. 30:20). Attention to God's instructions would have proved to Israel that man does not live by bread alone, but by the words proceeding from Jehovah's mouth (Deut. 8:3). The words of the law were not an empty thing, but were Israel's life, and through them their days would be lengthened (Deut. 32:47).

Even in the prophets, when deportation and captivity was a threat, the call was to seek Jehovah and live (Amos 5:4,6, Ezek. 19:23,33:11). The departure from law was a departure from life, but God's mercy still held out that a return to law would be a return to life. That the law was to give a lengthening of days is quite evident: those who do law would live as long as they do it. So long as law be fulfilled, so long would life be lengthened. It is not in point that law does not promise eonian life, for law does not promise what is outside its capacity. Law cannot vivify, but the evangel can, since it is God's power. Nor is it in point that none succeeded in keeping the law, for that is another part of the subject of law, which will come before us later.

*The precepts were to life, but all around was the spectacle of death, and this the law was impotent to alter. Those under the law did not give the heed necess¬ary to fulfill the law, and so did not continue to live.*
Israel undertook to abide by Jehovah's instructions, and they have painfully proved that the precepts to life were in reality a ministration of death. But Israel's future will see the law written in their hearts, and from this there will be a continuance of life to enjoy the allotment given them by God. Then will they recognize and serve Him with delight.


The law is not laid down for the just (1 Tim. 1:9), for, in its first analysis, the law expressed the righteousness which humans would display were they really righteous. If humans were righteous they would live righteously without a law to prescribe the character of their conduct. The law, in particular the ten words, summarizes and corresponds to the actual righteousness which would ensue from persons who were inherently righteous.

We may see the position of righteous beings by noting what is said of the fruit of the spirit, which is but the just requirement of law; against such things there is no law (Gal. 5:23). In a word, no law is needed by persons who are capable of living fully as there described. Do we not also see this in the case of those of the nations, who, having no law, may be doing by instinct what the law demands? Righteous deeds are forthcoming without law, for they are a law to themselves, that is, they require no law, for instinct is the law to them. Thus just persons will live justly without law; to such law is without utility, and would be redundant.

The thought we are seeking to express can be confirmed by considering the ultimate to which God, in Christ Jesus, is moving. At the consummation the Son gives up the kingdom to God. With this all sovereignty, authority and power will be abrogated, and for the very plain reason that all subjects will then be righteous. With them just conduct will be innate, being the only possibility.

It is thus obvious that, though the just characteristics of law would find coincidence with just persons, yet it would be purposeless to ordain laws in their case. Moreover, to appoint law carries the initial implication that conduct may not be just, and the fuller import suggests an unbalanced tendency needing the control of law. This could not be so with those who are righteous.


For sinners, and in particular for Israel, the law was educative: by its office sin was recognized. In this way it became an escort to Christ, and the several laws of sacrifice amplified the perception of the need for Him. The prime intention behind law is to show that humans are unable to fulfil its just demands. This explains why no one succeeds in complying with law. Law requires us to be righteous in order to fulfil its behests.

The placing of Israel under law ought to have indicated to them their lack of inherent righteousness, for, if law be necessary, it carries with it the implication of wrongs which the law will regulate and control. Keeping the law would have shown Israel's righteousness, but the highest actual outcome was that of becoming unblameable in regard to the statutes and judgments of the law. These provided the way for God to pass over their failings in view of the future rectification which God made in Christ.

The law certainly speaks of righteousness; it is a righteousness shown by what is done. This much is clear from a comparison of Leviticus 18:5 with Romans 10:5. It is there indicated that to do law is to live righteously, and one who so lived would not be condemned by law. But it is a most onerous position, for the least transgression cannot be allowed, but must reveal the law's severity. The question must not be considered from the human standpoint, for we are dealing with a matter which is vital in relation to God. A person is either righteous or he is not. There can be no middle position before God. The escape by way of repentance and sacrifice. We are unable to discover human righteousness by the keeping of God's law.

Israel did not learn their own lack. They did not realize they were without righteousness. They pursued the law of righteousness, not understanding that the law was escorting them to Christ for perfection; that it was not perfecting them. They had no perception that the law put them under a curse, and that they required to be reclaimed from law.

Nor did they appreciate that the law in certain respects was accommodated to their heart (Mat. 19:8), and was weighted by fleshly precepts (Heb. 7:16), burdened with infirm and poor elements (Gal. 4:9), and in some ways was characterized by unprofitableness and weakness (Heb. 7:18).

The sincere saint in Israel was the one who, under law's tuition, came to recognize sin and saw the meaning of the sacrifice which pointed to Christ. From such arose the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart and spirit, and these Jehovah accepted. The fearers of God, without God's revelation, are those who follow the wisdom of the nature bestowed on God's creation. They, in measure, understand their need of God and obligation to Him, and render to Him the reverence instinct suggests.

To the mass of humanity, who, unlike Israel, were not placed under law, the position is that the law convinces of sin. Sincere attempts to fulfil the law's demands result in the cry of wretchedness. To such cases there comes the light of God's grace in the evangel. In that they find the solution of their problems before God, and come to learn of God's own righteousness provided for them apart from law.


Law is God's method of government; therefore law is the expression of authority. God is the Authority behind law, and He is its Source. As the Authority, God is the Enforcer of law, for, since the law is the rule of action prescribing obligations and duties such as displayed righteousness and justice, it must be that God enforces law by penalty. The law must be upheld in regard to the majesty and righteousness of God, as well as because delinquencies from law require that penalty be suffered by those who break it.

The requirements of law must be maintained, otherwise the law not only falls into dishonor, but, seeing that God is the Authority, and that the law expresses His righteousness, the passing over of injustices would seem to question these. God made such provisions in the law that His mercy could be extended to His subjects. The sacrifices, whilst serving to uphold the law, must find a counterpart in which actual efficacy resides. This Christ provides, Who came under law that He should be reclaiming those under law.

Christ's relation to law must be the same as God's and so He must require the law's penalty The incarnation made Christ the Man with dominion, and the penalty required by law must be asserted by Him. When dying under law He assumed the remitted penalty, and in this way upholds the leniency extended through the law's sacri-fices, thus providing the vital value, in which they were deficient. With God as the Authority behind the law, it cannot be merely a code, but must be regarded as a matter the reality of which we find in Him.

It is His righteous nature transferred to words indicating that He requires righteousness and justice amongst His moral creation, both toward each other and toward Himself. The law is therefore a matter to be obeyed and fulfilled, for it corresponds to the actuality which is righteous, being the ideal statement of the just relation to which God's righteousness must hold those to whom the law is given. As an ideal, law cannot offer rewards. It is proper to do right, to be just, apart from any other consideration or issue. There is no question of expediency in regard to that which is supremely excellent, and so the sincere person regards law as the perfect matter to be attended to because it is perfect. Rewards are outside the regard of such persons.


Righteousness cannot radically differ, whether in God or in man, and the same is true of love and holiness. These three qualities must exist in the nature of God, and from that nature arise all the actions of righteousness, love and holiness. To God the demands of law, or the instructions of precepts, would be an affront.

To require law to govern conduct is to indicate the lack of righteousness as a characteristic; the very giving of law suggests the absence of a uniform disposition and the possibility of conduct which is not in accord with justice. The question then becomes a matter as to which will prevail, the good or the bad conduct. Law may be a factor toward directing conduct, but it cannot effectively control since it gives no power to execute the demands it makes, for in fact man has not the ability to do what he knows to be right.

Inherent sin prevents humanity from living righteously, and law is unable to subject the flesh; it cannot alter the disposition, for sin finds its strength in law. Even in the case of the saint, law is unable to govern conduct. Law is definitely important, and the saint has died to law. The place of law is filled by the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus. The law could not give righteousness because it could not vivify, but now the believer has the spirit which is life because of righteousness.

Righteousness must then be the power to live righteously. God alone has such power; only He is able always to act righteously. The evangel shows that He can justify from sin, and also bestow upon the believer the ability for righteousness. He gives us, in Christ Jesus, His own righteousness. This is, even now, the spirit of life which contacts with our spirit and makes it righteous, so that the just requirement of law may be fulfilled in us. Consequently we have power to do righteousness apart from the law's demands; in fact, the spirit of life is the law to us, since it corresponds to the just requirements of law.

In our first approach to the evangel of God, we learn that we have righteousness by faith in Christ Jesus. Deeper acquaintance teaches us of our death with Christ and for this reason we are not to live in sin. Still further insight shows us that we have the spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Thus we proceed from faith in a righteousness provided by God, to negative righteousness seeing that we died with Christ, and so are not under sin, and then to the positive righteousness coming to our spirit because we have the same spirit of life which resides in Christ Jesus; that is, in our spirit we are now constituted righteous, and ultimately we shall receive the full value of our first faith righteousness. This will inhere our whole being and bless us to the full with God's own righteousness, which will be satisfying to Him and a delight to ourselves.

The spring of righteousness then is God,
in and through our Lord Jesus Christ.


By E.H. Clayton. (Essay No. 32 )

To understand the relation of law to the question of life we must put ourselves back into the time when Moses spoke to Israel. Our minds must first be freed from the influence of later revelation. Unless we do this we shall be unable to apprehend the correct position.

Law could not promise life, for it is not able to vivify, and so it is evident that law must confine itself to the life which its subjects already possess. The usual idea that the Scriptures always refer to a future life should be thoroughly removed from our minds. In this way we shall be able to correctly estimate the statements of Moses, and see exactly what he sets before Israel as being God's message to them. We must adapt ourselves to the context which surrounded all the speeches made, under Ieue's instructions, by the great leader of Israel.

Whilst we should not expect the law to refer in specific terms to eonian life, yet law as a factor in matters which culminate in the evangel must logically have it in the background, and for this reason we ought not to make rigid conclusions likely to preclude understanding.

Because of its inherent nature, law could not be a means to eonian life; law must assume life in its subjects, so that they possess the ability to heed and do its demands. So long as law is fulfilled, life would be continu¬ed, for there would be no grounds by which law could bring them into judging. In this regard God becomes the life of those fulfilling the law.

The Law was given to bring into view the inability of those who were its subjects. With this revealed, and death in prospect as a result, we have a prepared situation into which the question of eonian life may be brought, but not as the outcome of law, since the inability to fulfill law definitely precludes life. If life is to be, then it must be on other grounds than the law. And the saints of the Hebrew Scriptures perceived their own inadequacy, yet whilst rejoicing in the righteous nature of law, they found their blessings entirely in God's promise and saw resurrection as the entrance to life for the eon (Dan. 12:2).

Eonian life is particularly a doctrine with which the Greek Scriptures are concerned. As the subject becomes matured in our minds we shall see that eonian life is for faith. But the faith is not in every instance concerned with the same facts or words of God, for eonian life is announced at various stages of God's revelation, and this requires us to exercise discrimination. It has, however, features which are common to all its connections; it is always a gift from God to enable the recipients to enter and enjoy the special sphere of blessing to which they belong.

In the writings of the apostle Paul great stress is laid on the connection between righteousness and eonian life. It is not that righteousness is absent from the ministry of the Lord Jesus, but rather that the evangel given through Paul is entirely based on the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, which are the factors providing God's righteousness through which His grace reigns for eonian life. In the main, though not exclusively, this message is addressed to the nations who, prior to this had followed their own ways. The ministry of the Lord Jesus was to His own nation and was prior to His death, and His references to eonian life were related to belief into Him, that He was what He claimed to be, God's Son. To believe Him was a true token of righteousness (Mt. 10:40,41).

The question of some of those who inquired of our Lord shows that they understood eonian life to be attained by the doing of the law. They asked to be told what particular precept would ensure it. Their under¬standing was, in a sense, inaccurate, but our Lord did not correct them. He admitted their question because the actual doing of law would logically merit life. On the other hand the specific teaching of the Lord was that eonian life was a gift, the outcome of believing into Him. It was a new message and really contrasted strikingly with the idea of those who enquired what they should do in order to obtain eonian life.

That the Lord Jesus was the One Who first proclaimed eonian life is apparent from the words of Peter in reply to the Lord's query; Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the declarations of eonian life (Jn. 6:68). It would seem that we have in John 5:39 the figure of speech admission; Be searching the Scriptures, are the words of the Lord. This was because they were supposing that in them they had eonian life. But the Lord observes; those are they which are testifying concerning Me, and not willing are you to come to Me that you may have life. The point of the matter is that eonian life is in the Scriptures solely because they testify of Christ. It is not in the law (as such), and the real teaching of the Lord Jesus regarding eonian life is that it is a matter outside the scope or capacity of law. John's gospel makes by far the most frequent reference to eonian life. It is the alternative to perishing (3:15,16); it is a present, though incompleted possession, due to belief in the Son, the immediate value being that God's indignation does not remain upon the possessor of eonian life (3:36, 5:24); it is completed by the resurrection (6:40, 54).

John's first epistle also has several important observations thereon. Eonian life is the promise made by the Son to those who believe the Father's testimony concerning the Son (1:2, 2:25, 5:11). They remain in the Son, and in Him is that life; in fact, the significance of having eonian life is to be in His hand, from which no one shall snatch them (Jn. 10:28).

When we consider eonian life as an issue from God's judging (Rom. 2) we discover remarkable simplicity. God pays eonian life to those whose acts accord with it: there is correspondence between God's payment and the actions of those who receive the payment. The features of eonian life and the actions which warrant it are the same. The qualities of the one are also characteristic of the other; endure in good acts is described as seeking for glory, honor and incorruption. God gives back the value of endurance in good acts; this value is eonian life, and eonian life is glory, honor and incorruption.

It becomes plain that as we examine God's revelation of His ways to deliver humanity from the thraldom of sin, we must recognize there is advancement. God, in seeking to teach Israel the way of life, gives them His law, the keeping of which would have as its accompaniment the length¬ening of life. But that law discovered to them no inherent glory, and those truly exercised thereby relied on God's mercy and promises to the fathers, dimly seeing an eon in which God would establish His saints in the Kingdom, raising them from the dead for such a blessing. The Prophet like unto Moses proclaimed that Kingdom and made eonian life a specific feature related to hearing and heeding Him. To the nations comes the message providing the long-sought righteousness, a righteousness through faith in the death of Christ, and showing eonian life as the consummation of that righteousness.
E.H.C. ©

Have you found a word or expression you want to read more about, fill it in below....

© A. Maclarty - Grace and Truth Magazine