The Universal Moral Law

By Weldon E. Warnock

Brother Hailey suggests this “universal law is the expression of God’s own character and will” (p. 35), and is “revealed in its fulness (Col. 2: 10) by the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant under Christ” (p. 35). In fact, he wrote, “All the universal law . . . is included in the law of Christ” (pp. 46,49). On page 58 he stated that “Matthew 19 extends only so far as those principles are a part of God’s universal moral law.”

Now then, if the New Testament contains all of God’s moral law, why don’t we go to the New Testament on the divorce and remarriage problem to find out what the law is? If Matthew 19 “extends only so far as those principles are a part of God’s universal law,” what principle in Matthew 19 is not a part of God’s “universal moral law”?

If “all the universal law is included in the law of Christ,” then everything about the universal law on divorce and remarriage is revealed in Matthew 19 and related passages. If it is not revealed, then the “universal moral law” is not totally disclosed in the New Testament. Hence, we must “grope around in the dark” to try to find it and, when we find it, we don’t know that we got it because “the way of man is not in himself” (Jer. 10:23).

The consequences of brother Hailey’s position allows more grace to the unregenerated worldling than it does a sinful child of God. The child of the devil is favored by God over his own child. For instance, a Lutheran, fifty years old, has been divorced and remarried three times without fornication being involved in any divorce. He learns the truth and wants to be baptized. His marital status is known and he is told that he may remain married because he divorced and remarried while he was an alien.

However, a teenager, seventeen years old, obeys the gospel, and one year later he marries. The young man, after six months six months, divorces his wife for incompatibility, and marries another. After a couple of years, he comes to his senses and wants to be restored to fellowship with the Lord and the church. He is told that he will have to divorce his wife because he has no lawful right to her. The irony of it is that the Lutheran may keep his wife, but the young Christian has to abandon his. Hence, there becomes two moral standards – one for the alien and another for the Christian.

Olan Hicks, who endorses brother Hailey’s position, with the exception that it is not broad enough, recognized this inconsistency when he wrote:

An element of confusion keeps coming up in the discussion of God’s remedy for sinful divorce and remarriage. Many who accept the fact that grace blots out the past and provides a totally new start when one obeys the Gospel, then turn around and ask, “But is it different if one is already a Christian at the time this sin occurs?”

Homer Hailey’s new book The Divorced and Remarried Who Would Come to God, also discusses the question only in reference to alien sinners who obey the Gospel. He does a good job proving that the cleansing blood of Jesus is adequate to remove this sin and the person has a completely new start. But the very same arguments that prove that also prove precisely the same thing for the sinning Christian who returns to God in real repentance.

Jerry Bassett’s new book takes a similar approach, affirming positively the cleansing and new start for the penitent alien, but of the penitent Christian who committed this sin he says he is not sure but feels we should leave his judgment to the Lord. When the question is pressed, as it is bound to be, I do not believe that either brother Hailey or brother Bassett will refuse to recognize that their proof is as applicable to the Christian who commits this sin and then repents as it is to the alien who commits it and then repents.

The idea that a sinning “alien” somehow has a different relationship to the law he violates than a sinning Christian has to the law he violates is simply an illogical miscue. – Gospel Enterprises, Feb., 1991

If brother Hicks is right (I believe he is, but he is “dead wrong” about -race blotting out unlawful spouses, legitimizing an adulterous relationship) that an alien and a Christian have the same relationship to moral law, then there was no need for brother Hailey to try to establish a universal moral law, apart from the gospel, to which all alien sinners are amenable. All, aliens and Christians, are under the same moral law, which, as brother Hailey noted, is fully revealed in the gospel.

Brother Hailey devotes two chapters to law. In these two chapters he endeavors to show: (1) There was a universal moral law that condemned the Gentiles. (2) The universal moral law is still in effect for (Jew and Gentile) unregenerated people, and (3) Aliens are not under the law of Christ. Let’s notice each one of these points in the order given.

1. There was a universal moral law that condemned the Gentiles. We concur that the Gentiles in the Old Testament era from Adam to Christ were under law, and therefore accountable to God. Through transgressing law the Gentiles were under God’s wrath. Brother Hailey introduced Romans 1:18-32 to prove his affirmation that the Gentiles were under the wrath of God (pp. 27-28).

On page 31 he injects Isaiah 24:1-5 and comments that all classes of earth’s people are under Jehovah’s judgment because they have “violated the laws and statutes of the everlasting covenant of His universal law (v. 5). ” On page 32 he says “that of which Isaiah and Micah wrote is being fulfilled,” and he also states that the judgment of God in Romans, chapters 1-3 was foretold by Isaiah, chapters 24-27.

However, in his commentary on Isaiah 24:5, he declares under Appendix A, p. 531, “Certainly the reference is not to the Mosaic covenant given to Israel at Horeb, for the heathen nations were never under it (Deut. 5:1-3); nor is the reference to the new covenant of Christ, for it lay far in the future.” If Isaiah 24:5 cannot be the new covenant because it was too far into the future, how can the same passage in his book on divorce and remarriage be a foretelling of God’s judgment in Romans 1-3 and a fulfillment of Isaiah and Micah in the Messianic age? John Calvin, as quoted by Edward Young, restricted the reference in Isaiah 24:5 to the covenant of grace made with the fathers (Isaiah, Vol. 2, p. 158).

H.C. Leopold commented on Isaiah 24:5: “There was a ‘covenant of ancient times’ (this is a more serviceable and accurate translation than ‘everlasting covenant’) that had been set up between God and men. One may refer to Gen. 9:9, 12f. as a formalized expression of the terms on which God deals with men since the times of the great flood. One may also adduce at this point Rom. 2:14ff. as a reference to the natural law written on man’s heart and functioning even where there has been no specific revelation as was granted to Israel” (Exposition of Isaiah, Vol. 1, pp. 378-379).

We wholeheartedly agree with Leopold that the law for the Gentiles was functional when there was no specific revelation given them as was granted to Israel, but now they have specific revelation (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16; Lk. 24:47; Jn. 12:48). Paul wrote in Romans 2:14-15 that the Gentiles had a law unto themselves and those who adhered to it showed (by conduct) the work of the law written in their hearts. This was not innate or inherent law, but that which was handed down by tradition and which they had embraced from the Jews by their association with them. God also spoke to them at times through prophets (cf. Jonah). That which was written in their hearts was no more instinctive than is the new covenant written on our hearts (Jer. 31:33 also cf. Prov. 3:3; 7:3). The Gentiles did not have a codifici law like the Jews (hence, are spoken of “as without law”), but they did by nature (habits and practices had become their nature) the things contained in the law of Moses (Rom. 2:14). This was before the gospel of Christ. They are now accountable to the law of Christ.

Brother Hailey presents Romans 5:12-21 to try to establish the origin of the universal moral law, particularly v. 20. Paul said, “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound.” The word “entered” means, “along side of, in addition to.” Brother Hailey makes “along side of” mean, “Law came in with, along side of, the trespass of Adam” (p. 35). But this is conjecture! Scholarship is divided on this point with several believing the law of Moses is meant. Galatians 3:19 states the law of Moses was added which perhaps gives some insight into Romans 5:20.

The word “added” in Galatians 3:19 is an addition to the promise given to Abraham (I believe), although brother Hailey says it was an addition to the moral law since Galatians 3:15 states that when a covenant is confirmed no man addeth thereto (p. 45). He reasons that the law of Moses could not have been added to the promise because the promise was confirmed, hence nothing can be added to it (v. 15). But W.E. Vine states, “there is no contradiction of what is said in verse 15, where the word is epidiatasso . . . for there the latter word conveys the idea of supplementing an agreement already made; here in ver. 19 the meaning is not that something had been added to the promise with a view to complete it, which the Apostle denies, but that something had been given in addition to the promise, as in Rom. 5:20, ‘The law came in besides'” (Vol. 1, p. 29).

In not sinning “after the likeness of Adam’s transgression” (Rom. 5:14), brother Hailey concludes that Adam’s sin was “in violation of positive law . . . whereas, the sin of those who followed him was the violation of God’s universal moral law” (p. 34). True, Adam violated positive law (formally laid down, prescribed), but so did those who followed him. Brother Hailey assumes this position. It could be that they did not sin after the likeness of Adam’s transgression from Adam to Moses because there was no physical death penalty connected with any law as in the case of Adam. This is a most difficult passage, the interpretation of which will always be debated.

There is no argument with brother Hailey about the Gentiles having law from Adam to Christ, and if we should concede that all unregenerated people remain under such law, apart from the gospel, would not the moral law, according to brother Hailey, condemn covenant-breaking, fornication, adultery, and all other sins of a moral nature? What advantage does brother Hailey have by advocating a universal moral law for the alien that he says is “fully revealed” in the law of Christ? I fail to see any! We now proceed to the next point:

2. The universal law is still in effect. “How do we know that the moral law exists now and will continue operative until the end of time? . . . . Beginning with 1 Corinthians 15:50, the apostle sums up his argument in which he says, ‘P death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? The sting of death is sin; and the power of sin is the law’ (vv. 55-56) What law is the power of sin to those at the end of time? It is not the Mosaic law, for no one, Jew or Gentile, would be under it because it has been taken out of the way (Heb. 10:9,10). It is not the law of Christ, for that makes us free and alive (Rom. 8:1-3). This leaves only the universal moral law of Rom. 5:12,13,20, which was introduced with Adam and under which the world lives; it continues until the resurrection at the end of time” (p. 37).

Assuming that “law” in v. 56 is the moral law, does it sanction the loose and permissive divorces that are so prevalent today where men and women swap mates like trading cars? The word “law” has the definite article “the” before it – ho nomos, and brother Hailey puts a lot of emphasis on the definite article, or lack of it, when he discusses “Law” and “the Law” in chapter three. No definite article, he reasons, generally means the universal moral law, while the definite article identifies the law as the law of Moses. Why does not this rule apply in 1 Corinthians 15:56?

Law, any law of God, produces sin when transgressed (1 Jn. 3:4) and sin brings about death. This is what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 15:56. The law of Christ when violated, produces the same result as did Moses’ law, or the law of the Gentiles, sin and death. An erring brother is dead (Jas. 5:20) and Paul said of certain widows, “But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth” (1 Tim. 5:6). The false teachers who denied the Lord who bought them seemed to be quite dead as described by Peter (2 Pet. 2:1-22). How did they get that way? Whose law did these erring children of God transgress? The church at Sardis was dead (Rev. 3:1). How? Obviously, they violated the law of Christ.

Indeed, the law of Christ is the law of the Spirit and life (Rom. 8:2), but to be carnally-minded is death, not being subject or obedient to the gospel of Christ (Rom. 8:6-7). 1 Corinthians 15:56 says “the law” causes sin – any law of God in effect, but in our case, it would be the law of Christ whenever it is transgressed.

We are not now under a law system where salvation, theoretically, is by works (perfect law keeping). Paul wrote, “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ” (Rom. 7:4). Charles Hodge observed, “To be slain to the law, means to be freed from the law by death. . . . Death, indeed, not our own, but ours vicariously, as we were crucified in Christ, who died on the cross in our behalf, and in our stead. It is therefore added, by the body of Christ, i.e. , by his body slain” (Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, p. 216). Commenting on the same verse, Hodge states, “from whose curse Christ has redeemed not only the Jews only, but also the Gentiles, Galatians 3:13-14” (p. 217).

In Galatians 4:5 we read that Jesus came “To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” There is no the before law in the Greek. Jesus came to redeem (buy off) those under law, whether the Jews under Moses’ law or the Gentiles who had a law unto themselves.

James MacKnight asserts on Galatians 4:5: “That the apostle had the Gentiles here in view, as well the Jews, is evident from ver. 8 where the Gentiles are addressed in particular. The law from which all are bought off, was not the law of Moses alone, but the law of nature as a rule of justification . . . . From all these different laws and religious institutions, Christ hath bought off, that is, delivered mankind by his death, that he might place them under the gracious gospel dispensation, and thereby bestow on them all the privileges of the sons of God” (Apostolical Epistles, p. 297).

3. Aliens are not under the law of Christ. “The alien, not being under Christ’s covenant, is not judged by its laws, but is judged by the universal moral law under which he lives” (p. 25). Of course, brother Hailey makes an exception for the terms of pardon – faith, repentance, confession and baptism, He wrote, “This is not to say that the world of the unregenerate is under ‘the law of faith’ or the gospel (except to obey its terms of pardon)” (p. 29). This exception has to be made or else no alien sinner could ever become a Christian since he is not, allegedly, under the law of Christ.

This provision for the alien is arbitrarily made in order to make the theory, that aliens are not amenable to the law of Christ, work. But why stop at the terms of pardon? Why not also include marriage and divorce? “Oh, we can’t do that; it would be going too far.” What this boils down to is fallible men deciding what portion of the gospel applies to the world and what portion does not. I am not ready to accept the dissecting and dividing of the gospel and parcel it out in bits and pieces, with this part to the alien and that part to the Christian.

Aliens Accountable to the Law of Christ

Let us notice in bringing this section to a close that alien sinners are accountable to the law of Christ for the following reasons:

(1) Gospel is applicable to all. It is to be preached to all nations and every creature. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations. . . ” (Matt. 28:19; cf . Lk. 24:47). “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). Paul said that those who obey not the gospel will be condemned (2 Thess. 1:7-9; cf. 1 Pet. 4:17).

(2) All are to hear Jesus. Peter, quoting from Deuteronomy 18:18-19, said, “A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you” (Acts 3:22).

(3) All in this dispensation will be judged by the law of Christ. Jesus said, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (Jn. 12:48). There is nothing in this verse about the so-called universal moral law being the standard of judgment, but rather the words of Jesus. Those who lived before Christ will be judged by the law to which they were amenable.

(4) The mission of the Holy Spirit proves that all men are subject to Christ’s law. Jesus said when the Spirit comes, “he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father . . . . Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged” (Jn. 16:811). The Spirit was to convict the world of its infidelity toward the deity of Jesus Christ, of its rejection of the righteousness of Jesus and of its condemnation by being aligned with the prince of this world. These verses are robbed of all intelligent meaning if the world is not accountable to the gospel of Christ. The so-called universal moral law could not accomplish a single one of this trio of tasks.

(5) All are to repent of their sins. Paul said to the Athenians, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at: but now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30). When Paul said, “repent,” was not that a law of Christ? How could they have obeyed it if they were not subject to it?

(6) Aliens are sinners because they violate the moral law of God revealed in the gospel. The Corinthians had been guilty of sin because of their committing fornication, idolatry, homosexuality, theft, covetousness, drunkenness, revilement and extortion (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Also Cf. Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 2:1-3; 1 Pet. 4:3-4. To those who deny the Corinthians were sinners by transgressing the law of Christ, would you allow me to follow you through the exception loophole for the terms of pardon? If not, why not?

Men may submit themselves to any number of law systems, whether Jewish or pagan, but they are accountable to only one, viz., the law of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, Jews and Gentiles considered themselves under their respective laws but in reality all were accountable to Christ and his law.

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 10, pp. 304-307
May 16, 1991