“BLOTTING out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross. . . . Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or drink, or in respect of a holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”
There was a law consisting of just ten commandments, spoken by the voice of God from the summit of Sinai. This law, and no more, God wrote with his own finger upon the tables of stone. This he caused to be deposited by itself in the ark prepared expressly for its reception. This code of ten commandments, he himself calls “a law.” He said to Moses (Ex.24:12), “Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them.”
God wrote nothing but the ten commandments. These alone were written upon the tables; to these the terms law and commandments are both applied. By these circumstances and peculiarities they are sharply distinguished and set apart from all other injunctions and obligations. By these they are shown to belong, in a degree and a sense not common to any other requirements, to the Most High. They are pre-eminently “the law of God,” and “the commandments of God.” These constitute that New Testament law by which is “the knowledge of sin” (Rom.3:20), without which “there is no transgression” nor imputation of sin (Rom.4:15; 5:13), and the transgression of which is sin. 1 John 3:4. These constitute “his [God’s] commandments,” the keeping of which is “the whole duty of man,” and by which every work shall be tested in the judgment (Eccl.12:13,14); and they compose the “royal law” and the “law of liberty” by which James declares we shall be judged at last. James 2:8,12. They are the “commandments of God” to which the third message of Revelation 14 brings us, in connection with “the faith of Jesus,” which includes all the teaching and precepts of Christ and his apostles in the New Testament. Rev.14:12. They constitute that law which God declared that his Son would “magnify” and make “honorable” (Isa.42:21), which he speaks of as “my law,” and declared that he would write it under the new covenant in the hearts of his people (Jer.31:33; Heb.8:10) – the “his [God’s] commandments” which those will be found keeping who will be summoned at last to enter through the gates into the city of the New Jerusalem. Rev.22:14.
There was another law communicated privately to Moses, and written by him in a book, called “the book of the law,” which consisted of instructions in regard to meats, drink, feast-days, divers washings, and carnal ordinances, and which was deposited, not in the ark, but by its side. The difference between them in this respect was this: The ten commandments lay in unapproachable majesty inside the golden ark, deep graven by the finger of Deity himself in the imperishable agate of the mountains; the law of types and ceremonies lay outside the ark, written with ink, by human hands, on the perishable parchment.
We call the one “the moral law,” because it related to moral duties alone; the other we call “the ceremonial law,” because it related wholly to ceremonial observances. It is not claimed that the terms moral law and ceremonial law are found in the Scriptures; but they are convenient terms to express distinctions which the Scriptures clearly teach. The Scriptures do not use the words probation, prophetic, millennial, moral, mental, physical, and a host of other terms which are exceedingly convenient to express distinctions recognized in the Bible, and to which no one objects.
We say that Col.2:14-17 refers exclusively to the ceremonial law, having to the moral law not the remotest allusion whatever. And he who endeavors to hide behind this scripture as his defense for the neglect or violation of any moral duties, will stand at last in the judgment ashamed of his folly and speechless in his condemnation.
In studying Col.2:14-17, we ought to pay some regard to the consistency of the figures which the apostle uses, lest we represent him as a simpleton in spite of his inspiration. It is first to be noticed that the subject of the apostle’s remark is the “handwriting of ordinances.” This expression will not apply in any sense to the ten commandments; for no abuse of language can be carried far enough to allow us to call them a “handwriting;” and they contained not a singe “ordinance,” or ceremony. The “handwriting of ordinances” is not the ten commandments.
The apostle further says that this “handwriting” was “blotted out.” That only can be blotted out with the ink and pen of the scribe, which has been written by the hand of the scribe. That which is engraved in stone might be brushed over and discolored with ink; but the engraving would be there in all its distinctness still; it could not in any sense be “blotted out,” and it would be utterly inconsistent to apply that term to it.
The apostle continues that this handwriting was “nailed to the cross.” If we attempt to apply this to the ten commandments, we involve the astute and logical Paul in the absurdity of talking about nailing up tables of stone. Against such an idea there are two objections: 1. That which was designed ever to be annulled by being nailed up after the ancient manner of parchment laws, would not have been put upon such material as stone, in the first place; and, 2. Having been engraved on stone, the proper way to annul them, if they had to be annulled, would be to break the stone tablets, not to try the absurd and impossible feat of nailing them up.
The figure of blotting out and nailing up the laws written by men upon parchment, as applied to what Christ accomplished by his death upon the cross, is at once consistent and forcible. Christ was nailed to the cross. In him all offerings met their antitype, all shadows their substance. They were there nailed in him to the cross. Men could look upon him and say, Here is the great sacrifice which supersedes all typical offerings. The laws for these are now no longer in force; they are nailed with him to the cross.