Following up on Patrick Ramsey's excellent post on the biblical phrase, "Do this and live," I'd like to delve in the helpful comments of the Puritan exegete, Matthew Poole (1624-1679). Poole wrote two commentaries on Scripture. His popular work was his Annotations upon the Holy Bible, which we simply call his Commentary (hardcover, GoogleBooks). He also wrote a more technical exposition: Synopsis Criticorum, orginally written in Latin but now being translated by Steven Dilday. The Synopsis goes through the biblical text and gives a survey of the history of exegesis on any given sentence or phrase. On Leviticus 18:5 we read the following:
He shall live in them [Poole is following the Authorized rendering "in," which our modern translations render as "by"]; not only happily here, but also eternally hereafter, as it is expounded Matthew 19:17; Romans 10:5. This is added as a powerful argument why they should follow God’s commands rather than men’s examples, because their life and happiness depends upon the one, not the other. And though in strictness, and according to the law or covenant of works, they could not challenge life for doing, except their obedience was universal, perfect, constant, and perpetual, and therefore no man since the fall could be justified by the law, as the apostle affirms and proves, Romans 4; Galatians 3; yet by the covenant of grace this life is promised to all that obey God’s commands sincerely, though not perfectly, 1 Timothy 4:8. (Dilday translation, p. 308)
Two things strike me about Poole's comments:
First, in saying that this law was "not only [about living] happily here" he understood that the law was given to the ancient covenant people not merely to test their temporal tenure in the Promised Land—whether to stay in by obedience or be sent out by disobdience. The law is about eternal life, which he rightly links to Jesus' (Matt. 19:17) and Paul's words (Rom. 10:5).
Second, Poole is honestly wrestling with various genres and redemptive-historical contexts of Scripture to come to his conclusion. Note how he used theological distinctions to strike a balance. On the one hand, Matthew 19, Romans 4 & 10, and Galatians 3 speak of the strict terms of God's righteous law. And so Poole said, yes, strictly speaking, "Do this and live," is pure law or law in it's first (pedagogical) use to crush sinners from trying to self-justify. On the other hand, Poole said there are also texts like 1 Timothy 4:8, which echo the language of Leviticus 18:5, but not in the context of law, but in the context of Christian life within the covenant of grace. In contrast to "irreverent, silly myths" (1 Tim. 4:7), Paul exhorts Timothy to teach his people so that they are "trained in the words of the faith" (1 Tim. 4:6) and "for godliness" (1 Tim. 4:8). Why is it so important to exercise and train in godliness? Because "it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come" (1 Tim. 4:8). Godliness, or growing up as a child of God more and more into conformity with our heavenly Father's reflection in the law, has a result in this life as well as the life to come. Is this "works righteousness" or "moralism?" No, as Poole wrote, "by the covenant of grace, this life is promised to all that obey God's commands sincerely, though not perfectly."
I, as one who preaches through the Scriptures systematically, appreciate Poole's exegesis as I seek to exposit the whole counsel of God. Poole is a helpful guide who says I need to preach the law in all its strictness but also the law as the delight to the born again child of God who seeks to love the Lord in his or her daily life.