‘For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.’ (John 1:17)
The Sacred Scriptures lead to eternal life in two ways: by telling us what we must do to live eternally and by helping us to do these things. We are told what we must do in the Old Testament and we are given help to execute these commands in the New Testament. These commands are called the Law and this help is called Grace. Keeping in mind the end of Sacred Scripture, that we may live the life of God, it makes sense that we, as men, would need to be told how to live this life. Our need for help not only in performing the works of the divine life but also in the actual act of living that life is even clearer.
There are two types of commands: those which bind us to particular actions, we might call these the commands simply, and those warnings which we are given of the consequences for not executing the commands. St Thomas likens the role of God in giving the commands to that of, “a king who can punish transgressors.” Whereas God takes on a role similar to, “a father who must teach” in the books which warn those who have been bound to the commands.
A further division made be made of those books through which the king binds us to the observance of the law. The king does not simply establish the law but he also entices his subjects to the observance of the law. This is accomplished not principally by the king, as establishing the law is, but through the kings ministers.
Thus the Scriptures lead us to eternal life by first establishing the kings laws, then soliciting our adherence to the law through the kings heralds, and finally by giving us paternal warnings of the consequences for not following the law.
The law is established in those books commonly known by that name, The Law or in Hebrew the Torah: the first five books of the Old Testament. We are induced to follow this law through the writings of God’s heralds, the Prophets. Finally the Wisdom Literature, or what St Thomas calls the writings of the Hagiographers, offers us paternal warnings.
However it is not enough for us to know and be induced and warned about following the law, for our end is eternal life, the very life lived by the Divine Creator. No amount of human effort will be sufficient to achieve this end. Thus the New Testament offers us the gift of grace by which we live the life of God Himself.
The first part of the New testament tells us about the origin of the gift of grace and this is accomplished in those texts which relate the life of Christ, the Gospels. Next the power of grace is shown in the epistles of St Paul. Finally the execution of the virtues born in us by grace are treated in the rest of the New Testament.
In our next article we will take up each of the parts of the Old and New Testament and explain the role each book plays in leading us to eternal life.