Twixt Law and Grace

By Charles C. Cook, Montclair, New Jersey

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine 1923


Only a short distance had I walked in the earthly pathway, when I became aware of a companion who had quietly joined me. An elderly man, of striking appearance, and grave, dignified manner. His garb was simple and spotless, his countenance stern, with unyielding lines about the mouth that gave no hint of ever being associated with a smile; his eyes possessed a peculiarly piercing glance, that penetrated to one's very heart.

We soon engaged in conversation, which thereafter and as long as I journeyed with him was mainly carried on by him. In fact, I was not long in discovering that my companion felt commissioned to scrutinize my every action and expression, and to pass judgment with a relentless and unbending decision. He seemed able to read my very thoughts and to weigh my motives, and quickly condemned all that failed to reach the mark of his approval; though, on the other hand, he seemed never to consider any good or commendable action that I might perform. The great burden which I carried on my back, that was so heavy and cumbrous that it galled my shoulders, he never so much as noticed, and certainly never once offered to relieve me of it for an instant, even though I sometimes stumbled beneath it and even fell under its weight. No hand was even then extended to help me arise, but I was obliged to accomplish this as best I could. Sometimes the flesh became so faint that I cried out aloud in my need and would involuntarily groan for deliverance, the tears even coursing down my cheeks as 1 realized my helplessness. Yet for all these distresses my fellow had no word of sympathy, no sign of compassion — only that steady piercing look, that grave and dignified demeanor, which in my very misery found occasion for condemnation.

I instinctively realized that whoever and whatever this man was, however pure, and clean, and holy he might be, he had no heart, and knew not the meaning of love. I dreaded his presence and longed to escape it, but there seemed no way to evade or ignore him. He towered over me in conscious and recognized superiority, and seemed destined to accompany me to the very end.

Thus the journey continued, I falling out of the rigidly straight path in which we were walking time and again, or stumbling and pitching along its course, with now and then a grievous fall and a painful rising, and he striding by my side, anon chiding, condemning, angrily frowning at my slightest offense, with never a kind word or an expression of satisfaction, until at last the climax of his indignation was reached.

Bidding me look toward an object, thus far unseen, but to which we had been steadily drawing near, and of which I had some premonition, even in the very darkening sky and the deepening gloom, he suddenly revealed to me, a glowing mountain, about which the lightnings flashed and above which the thunder reverberated with a sullen roar.

"This is your doom," said my companion, as, holding my arm, he pointed toward the terrible sight. " 'The wages of sin is death,' and Sinai shows no mercy to such as you." Conscious of my guilt and the justice of the sentence, yet yearning for mercy and escape, I looked eagerly into my companion's face, if haply I might there find a glance of tender interest or compassion that would give me a gleam of hope. But all in vain, for the hard features showed no relenting. And complete despair seized me when, by the lightning's flash, I saw written on my companion's forehead, what I instantly realized must be his name — the one word LAW. Also then I noticed for the first time, agitated as I was, that curiously woven in his garments, in a pattern most unique, were the ten commandments.

But hark! a cry sounds on my ear, a bitter and heart-rending cry, and looking to the place whence it proceeds, I see one hanging on a Cross in agony and blood. With such a wondrous scene before me, the smoking mountain and my companion are forgotten. Involuntarily I draw nearer to the Cross, which like a magnet attracts me. I see the flowing blood of the dying One, I hear His groans, and more than all — a sight that never can be effaced — catch His dying glance, when marvel beyond expression, from my weary, drooping shoulders falls the load beneath which I staggered. And with a strange elation of mingled joy, gratitude and love, I press toward my benefactor, that I may kiss His wounds, when lo! another glance occurs: The Cross recedes and fades beyond my bounding steps, and soon I pass an empty sepulchre, and then, beyond — a Man in white apparel, with smiling face, whose hands are extended in smiling welcome, who draws me to His side and bids me walk with Him in blessed fellowship. I need no one to tell me who He is, for in the outstretched hands I see the wounds, and in that face, so beautiful and serene, I recognize the once marred features of the Man of Calvary. It is the once crucified, but now resurrected Lord, who is alive for evermore, the good and great Shepherd of His sheep.

Oh, the happiness and joy of His companionship! But, alas! one day, and oh, how soon, I see again my former fellow-traveler. Law. At the Cross I had forgotten his presence, nor even thought of him at the open sepulchre, nor as I walked with Christ during that happy after-interval. But now he is in full view, with the same spotless garb, the erect dignified carriage, the piercing eye. At once I concluded that he had been near me all the time, and that my absorption in my newfound Friend had prevented my noticing him. Oh, how condemned I felt that I had ever taken my eyes from the face of the Beloved One, thus again to see the other.

And yet by some strange besetment do I frequently turn to him, but only again to see the searching glance and the menacing attitude, and again to feel within me the cringing, shrinking spirit of guilt and condemnation. His dead-level path runs parallel to ours, and while I notice that it is lower, yet so tall is he that he can easily address me. Not always loud; sometimes in a whisper does he speak — as though he would not have Christ to hear — recalling my past misdeeds and failures. His memory seems unfailing to bring them up again — the lapses and the stumblings in the path that once I walked. And my present conduct is also under his keen surveillance. His eye notes every uneven step, yea, even every glance that I take away from the face of Christ. And when I seem disposed to ignore him, he even writes his accusations on a tablet, and holding it up before me, accompanies it with the same stern look of condemnation as of old, and even makes bold to point again of? toward Sinai. Thus he frightens me. For while I truly hate sin and walk no longer in its ways, yea, while I would rather die at once than give up my place by my Saviour's side, yet I know that I am still sometimes feeble in my step, sometimes even looking backward in imagination to the life of self and sinful pleasure.

With these conflicting influences pressing on me, I turn to Law and seek a lessening of his stern exactions by recounting the improvement I have made and the many acts of rectitude and obedience I have performed; but all in vain. For all my efforts to mollify or to mitigate only bring the relentless answer, "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in nne point, he is guilty of all" — on hearing which, hope again languishes within my breast.

During all this time the walk with Christ is precious beyond naming. When I turn to Him on my right, there is always peace and confidence within, but on my left (and not for long allowing me to forget his presence) is Law, with his persistent, distracting accusations. Oh, when will I find relief! is the burden of my heart's longings until in my anguish and extremity I cry aloud, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"

No sooner, however, is the cry uttered, than the answer is put into my heart and mouth, the glorious words of deliverance, "L thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord." And lo, as I utter them, I find myself in company with my Lord, taking an upward step — yes, the ground is rising steadily. Higher and still higher do we mount, until — and more quickly than it takes to tell it — we are on so high a plane that I^aw, still on his dead-level path, is so far beneath that, though the ways are still parallel, I can no longer see him.

I learned afterward of a meeting between Law and a pilgrim named Galatius. He, too, came to the Cross, the empty sepulchre, and the welcoming Christ, with whom he walked as I had done. But there came a time when, looking at Law and seemingly bewitched by his personality and intimidated by his authority, Galatius stumbled down the intervening embankment, and turning his back on Christ, never returned to His sweet company.

Others there were, of whom I also afterward learned, whose experiences differed in another form from mine. For being quicker of apprehension, they spent but little time in Law's company, and, on meeting Christ walked J with Him so rapidly and became so engaged with Him, that the upward path, in a much shorter time than in my case, took them beyond the old man's frown.

But returning to the narration of my own experience. I was now so overjoyed to leave the presence of Law, my vision becoming so much clearer, my, mind and will stronger, and my love so all-pervading, that I felt the path to be indeed the avenue to heaven's gate. And while even now sometimes stumbling, or sometimes allowing the mind's eye to wander back or to be diverted by some mirage, and I at all times conscious of the great distance between the perfection of the Holy One with whom I walked and ' my own weak character, yet the failures are of rare occurrence, and in spite of them my life is one of victory in the Beloved.

He is so tender, kind and compassionate that He quite wins my heart's allegiance; His love is now my holy law, moving me to a grateful obedience to His will for me, so that to offend Him would be my greatest grief. In such a happy relationship, I realize that sin has no dominion over me.

One day I asked Him to enlighten me as to the real character and purposes of my old companion. Law, for sorely did the memory of my experience puzzle me, and on this order was His answer:

He told me that (the) Law was holy, just, and good; that by (the) Law is the knowledge of sin; that (the) Law's purpose was to show pilgrims their helplessness and give them a sense of their guilt before God. If Law, He further told me, had not been so severe, if he had not shown me Sinai, I would surely not have been so eager to find refuge in the Cross, but in my self-sufficiency would have seen no special attractiveness in it nor felt its drawing power. So then. Law was in reality a messenger of mercy to me in showing me my need of a Saviour, and while revealing Sinai, he was in reality driving me to Calvary. A stern schoolmaster, he, yet the one who led me until I found Christ, my Redeemer.

But when he accomplishes this, continued my instructor, his purpose is ended. Yet so unaccountable is the conduct of pilgrims that they frequently place themselves again beneath his influence, subjecting themselves to his surveillance and condemnation. Ordained of God for one purpose, they choose him for another, as I myself had done. But the Saviour added that if, after meeting Him, I had so walked as to keep Him, my Lord, between myself and Law, I could then have seen my oppressor, and would have realized the meaning of the wondrous assurance, "Ye are also become dead to the Law by the body of Christ."

The Saviour did not soften my conception of Law, but admitted his hard and uncompassionate spirit. In fact. He even told me of Law's bloody exactions, when, in the olden days, for the offense of gathering sticks on the Sabbath day, a man was stoned to death at Law's behest. But no blame attached to Law for this; such action being appropriate to the time and place in the plan of God. However, conditions are now changed, the Saviour added. and in the present dispensation of Grace, God in His abounding goodness has provided another way for men to demonstrate their devotion to Him; not that He requires less of them, as to purity, holiness and love, but He has made it easier for men to attain to these and thus to please Him.

As He spoke I saw Truth standing forth in shining presence, and knew that the Cross was what He meant, with its accompaniment of the empty sepulchre, and beyond that the Saviour's own sweet, satisfying companionship and heart of sympathy. And at His feet I fell, while welling from a heart filled to overflowing with a sense of love and gratitude, came to my lips the gladsome worshipful acclaim of the disciple Thomas, "My Lord and my God."