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And here are two questions to be determined :
First. What are we to understand by the law of which our Lord speaks? There is, perhaps, no word of a greater variety of meaning, in the whole compass of sacred scripture, than this. In some cases it merely signifies the ten commandments delivered to Moses on the mount; sometimes it comprehends the entire system of Jewish worship, which was given by God himself to the same distinguished legislator: but, at other times it means the Old Testament in general, as distinct from the New. And, in not a few instances, it embraces the whole of the revealed will of the Most High
Now it is evident, I think, that the law mentioned in the text, means the moral code of precepts--since Christ did come to dissolve the whole ceremonial economy, and, which fact the Apostle describes in his own figurative and energetic manner as “ blotting out the hand-writing of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.”* The allusion seems to be to the procession of a victorious general, who was wont to celebrate the successes of his arms by making a show of some of the chief of his opponents whom he had taken in war, on a triumphant entry into the capitol of his country, amidst the plaudits and acclamations of thousands of delighted spectators. Such was particularly the case among the Romans, whenever conquest crowned their combats in the field of battle. And the expression “ nailed to the cross," denotes his design that all men should know the fact of its entire abolition. It was a kind of tacit publication of the wondrous event; a sort of general notification of the dissolution of the system, just
Col. ii. 14, 15.
as public notices are appointed by proper authorities to be exhibited in some conspicuous place, where all whom they concern may have opportunity to read them.
Along with this strong and conclusive fact, many additional and collateral proofs might be offered. All the interpretations which the Saviour gives in succeeding verses, and the particular instances of abuse which he specifies, are such as respect the moral law. When He says, in the next passage,
“ Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom;"—it is evident,
" these commandments" we must understand, the commandments of the moral, and not of the ceremonial, law. Unless this be admitted, it will follow, that the apostles, who taught that “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision availeth any thing, but a new creature," are all excluded from the kingdom of God. And when the Saviour solemnly declares, “ that except our righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, we cannot be saved,” it is likewise obvious that he is still speaking of the righteousness of this eternal law of right and wrong. For who could possibly be more exact and scrupulous in the literal observance of the ordinances of the ecclesiastical law than they were ? I need not remind you of their punctilious regard even to the exaction of tithe from “mint, cummin, and anise,” whatever “ weightier matters of justice and mercy" were wholly neglected. Besides, the entire destruction of all the
systems of ceremonies practised in the Jewish church was foretold, and enforced by our Saviour in so many words.
He speaks of the continuance of “ the law and the prophets until John."* In his conversation with the woman of Samaria, He tells her," the time is
Luke xvi, 16.
coming, when neither in Samaria, nor in Jerusalem, should they worship the Father;" “ But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.”* The sentiment amounts to this: that henceforth he was to be worshipped in all places, and in a more spiritual manner than heretofore. In a word, both our Lord and the inspired apostles plainly declared the total dissolution of the ecclesiastical polity of the Jews, and the “ bringing in of a better hope, by the which we draw nigh unto God.” And I may add, as a final observation, that, in the very nature of things, these shadows would pass away when the substance was come. They were, in fact, types of the way of that salvation, which the Son of God should reveal and consecrate by his doctrine and his death, and were no longer necessary when the end for which they were appointed was obtained.
Secondly. Whom are we to understand by phets?” To this question I reply, with all brevity, that when it is said, “ the law or the prophets,” we may conclude, that two separate topics are intended. I therefore apprehend, that if we are to understand on the one hand, the moral law, we are to understand on the other, the testimonies which the prophets gave of Messiah, and the predictions which they were inspired and commissioned to announce, as to the nature of his kingdom. And this explication is in perfect agreement with the observations which are made under the foregoing particular. For the prophets foretold his sufferings and privations, his bitter injuries, and cruel death, “ although he did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” And therefore, in this respect, there was a full accordance of the sequel with the prediction-of the character and circum
" the pro
* John iv, 21, 23.
stances of the Messiah with the previous annunciations of prophecy.
II. OBSERVE THE SUSPICION WHICH THE SAVIOUR ANTICIPATES AND REMOVES. “ THINK NOT THAT I AM COME TO DESTROY THE LAW OR THE PROPHETS.”
And there were two reasons for this precaution. The primary one regards the Jews themselves. As the doctrine of the beatitudes was so entirely opposite to all their previous ideas of religion, they immediately began to conclude, that all their system was for ever at an end. This divine teacher, both by the majesty of his address, and the sublime morality of his discourse, had deeply interested all their moral feelings. For the present, at least, they felt the power of the truth, and were ready to surrender themselves to his pastoral guidance. But to err is human: and, inasmuch as they had heard him pronounce a benediction on several characters and virtues which were not so much as named in their law, and because he had given no command concerning many outward duties which were therein stated and enforced, it was natural, with minds like their's, that they should suppose he was going to level all the bulwarks of Old Testament morality, and throw aside all the precepts which the inspired prophets had so long and so powerfully urged on their attention. The caution, however, may be likewise intended to prevent their deriving any falce impression from the strictures which he was about to deliver on certain abuses and perversions of the law by their priests. But, in either case, their eternal welfare was the ultimate and benevolent object of the Redeemer in thus addressing them.
A secondary, and general reason for this dissuasive, regards the instruction and improvement of all mankind. In this point of view I am led to remark, that if the Son
of God at this moment, when he thus spoke, had had his eye on the gross mistakes and wicked evasions which have been made in modern times, as to the perpetual claims of the moral law on the religious attention of Christians, by some of the zealous champions of orthodoxy, he could not have delivered an exhortation more to the purpose. Strange as it may appear, it is nevertheless true, there are professors to be found who would charge you with being blind, if you were to affirm, in their hearing, that the moral law is still in force as the rule of civil conduct to men! By some strange and mysterious calculation, they have confounded those things which had special and exclusive reference to the Jewish religion, with the immutable and eternal principles of justice and mercy! They have seized on the dissolution of that part of the great scheme of divine policy, which was peculiar to the land of Judea, to endeavour to demonstrate the universal abrogation of all the moral ties and obligations of equity and kindness between man and man.
I do not, indeed, suppose that any who hear me this morning are of this guilty number; but if there were, I would seriously ask them a few plain questions on this subject. I would especially request them to tell me if they thought it right for a man to be just, honest, civil, and honourable, in all his dealings with his fellow creatures? I would farther desire them to say, whether man is under any obligation to observe and fulfil, to the utmost, every promise he makes to another; to abstain from slander; and to "do to others as he would they should do unto him."* Every person who is not dishonest, and grossly wicked, will promptly reply-yes, all this is right. But whence is it right? or how can it be demonstrated to be right, if there be no law by which to
*Matt. vii. 12.