« PreviousContinue »
509 tle Paul proceeds to ask himself a question of the highest moment: “Do we then," he says, "make void the law by faith?" It is to be feared, that some persons have so much misconstrued the doctrines of truth, that they are ready to give to this question an affirmative answer, under the false and dangerous notion, that, for those who are delivered from the terrors of the law, through faith in the blood of Christ, the law itself, with all its wise and holy provisions, is no longer in force. Such persons, it is supposed, were the Nicolaitans of the infant church ; nor will it be disputed, that the same description is partially applicable to many professing Christians in the present day. The apostle, however, replies to his own question with a strong, and even indignant, negative--"God for he cries, "yea, we establish the law :" Rom. iii, 31.
It is true, indeed, that the ceremonial law of the Jews," which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation," Heb. ix, 10, was at once fulfilled and abrogated by the sacrifice of the Messiah.
But the moral law of God, which the same apostle, elsewhere, describes as “ holy, and just, and good," Rom. vii, 12, is eternal, like its Author, and capable of no abrogation. Christianity “marks it for her own,” and confirms and establishes all its provisions. This was the law, of which our Saviour evidently spake, when he taught his disciples to surpass the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, who were strict in the performance of ceremony, and immoral in life and conversation. “ Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets : I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil; for verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in nowise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. ... .Except
Enlarged, and Perfected, [Ess. XII. your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven:” Matt. v, 17-20.
But although the moral law of God is, in its nature, eternal and unchangeable, it may, I think, be conclud. ed from the records of Scripture, that the revelation of it to mankind has been gradually progressive. Under the dispensation of Judaism, and still more so, probably, during the anterior ages of the church, some things, in condescension to the ignorance and weakness of men, were permitted, for a season, which, although not inconsistent with the law of God, as far as it was then revealed, are no longer allowed to believers on the discovery of a fuller and clearer light, Now, this is surely one of the principal glories of Christianity, that it not only establishes the moral law of God, to the extent in which it was previously received and understood, but enlarges its provisions, and unfolds it to the view of mankind, in all its purity, comprehensiveness, strength, and perfection. It is the lawgiver of the Christian dispensation who searches the inmost recesses of the heart, calls for an absolute holiness in motive and thought, as well as in word and action; demolishes the narrow boundaries of national prejudice; proclaims an universal charity and love; and fears not to concentrate his whole preceptive code in the awful injunction—"BEYE THEREFORE PERFECT, EVEN AS YOUR FATHER WHICH IS IN HEAVEN IS PERFECT :" Matt. v, 48; comp. Eph. v, 1. And, further, he requires of his disciples, not merely faith in his blood, but obedience to all his commandments. He declares, that those only who bear his sayings and do thein, are building their house on the rock. He says to his disciples, of every name and in every age, “ He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me:" John xiv, 21.
66 Ye are my
Ess. X11.] in Proportion to the Superiority 511 friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you:” xv, 14.
Here I may once more allude to a subject already adverted to in the course of these Essays—the example of Jesus Christ. Christ hath left us an example" that we “ should follow his steps:" 1 Pet. ii, 21. “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked :"1 John ii, 6; comp. John xiii, 15, &c. If the anxious inquiry is sometimes excited in our minds, by pursuing what particular course of conduct we may imitate the perfection of our Heavenly Father? these, and such as these, are the passages of Scripture by which that inquiry must be answered. We must humbly endeavour, in our life and conversation, to resemble him, who is the IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD-in whom all the moral attributes of the Deity, without losing a single particle of their excellence, are brought within the scope of our intellectual perception, and reduced to the level of our circumstances and our practice. Let the Christian reflect on the character and conduct of his incarnate Redeemer. Let him meditate on the sinless purity of the heart of Jesus ; on his meekness, gentleness, and forbearance : on his condescension and humility; on his devotional spirit; on his unqualified dedication to the Father's will; on his boldness in asserting the truth ; on his zeal, patience, and fortitude; on his perfect fidelity and integrity; on the universal diffusivenesss of his love and charityand let him habitually aim at a practical conformity to this perfect model. It is only by putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, that we can maintain the character of consistent disciples, or comply with the unalterable injunctions of the law of God,
On the whole, then, it appears, with great clearness, that, under the light of Christianity, the revealed moral law of God is neither abolished, nor in any degree weakened, but, on the contrary, confirmed and en
[Ess. XII. larged; and, that the standard by which the followers of Jesus are required to regulate their conduct and conversation, is, in various respects, more exalted and comprehensive than any which was ever before proposed to the attention of man. Now, there is ever to be observed in the provisions of divine wisdom, an evenness of design and operation; and, on a recurrence to the successive dispensations, of which we find a record in Scripture, we can scarcely fail to perceive, that the extent of the revelation of the moral law has al. ways corresponded with the extent of the revelation of doctrinal truth.
Under the Mosaic institution, doctrinal truth, on the one hand, and the moral law, on the other, were in several points of view only partially unfolded : under the dispensation of the Gospel, both are revealed to us in their fulness. Now, as faith in the religion of the Jews was sufficient to sustain an obedience to the law, as it was prescribed to the Jews; so faith, in the religion of Christians--if it be indeed a living principle working by love-will also be found sufficient to sustain an obedience to the law, as it is enjoined on Christians. If we reflect on all the glorious features of the scheme of redemption on the compassion of our Heavenly Father, as displayed in the coming of his Son-on the condescension and all-availing sacrifice of Emanuel, God with us—and if these great truths make their way, by faith, to our hearts, we are furnished with the most generous and powerful of motives, to the full surrender of our own will to the will of the Supreme Being. We are impelled, " by the mercies of God" in Christ Jesus, to present our bodies" a living sacrifice.” Delivered from the power of darkness, through faith in the Blood of the covenant, and "translated into the kingdom” of the “ dear Son" of God, we find it to be at once our indispens
513 able duty, and our highest privilege, to submit ourselves to his government, to follow his example, and to obey the whole of his law.
Nor ought it to be forgotten, that, by that clear revelation of a future eternity of rewards and punishments, which form so principal a feature of the religion of Christ, another motive is communicated to the human mind-a motive of infinite weight and importance--by which, if we act on reasonable principles, we may well be induced to deny ourselves--to crucify our affections and lusts—and with all holy patience and perseverance, to "press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus :" Phil. iii, 14.
But, Christianity not only furnishes us with higher motives to a life of obedience and virtue, than were ever presented to mankind through any other medium; it also promises us the more abundant effusion of that pure and powerful influence, by which alone we can ever be enabled rightly to understand, or adequately to practise, the moral law of God. The true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is taught of the Spirit, and the law of his Redeemer is written, with a preeminent degree of clearness and efficacy, on the tablets of his heart. “After those days, saith the Lord," (in obvious reference to the times of the Messiah," I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their. hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people; and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for they shall all know me from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord ; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more :" Jer. xxxi, 33, 34; comp. Heb. viii, 8; x, 16, 17. Finally, the “Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus," by which the children of God are thus