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UPON OUR LORD'S SERMON ON THE
"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 no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
"Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
"For I say unto you, That except 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.
1. AMONG the multitude of reproaches which fell upon Him who was despised and rejected of men," it could not fail to be one, that he was a Teacher of novelties, an Introducer of a new Religion. This might be affirmed with the more colour, because many of the expressions he had used were not common among the Jews: either they did not use them at all, or not in the same sense, not in so full and strong a meaning. Add to this, that the worshipping God "in spirit and in truth" must always appear a new religion to those who have hitherto kuown nothing but outside worship, nothing but the "form of godliness."
2. And it is not improbable, some might hope it was 30; that he was abolishing the old religion, and bringing in another, one which, they might flatter themselves, would be
an easier way to heaven. But our Lord refutes, in these words, both the vain hopes of the one, and the groundless calumnies of the other.
I shall consider them in the same order as they lie, taking each verse for a distinct head of discourse.
I. 1. And, first, "Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil."
The Ritual or Ceremonial Law, delivered by Moses to the children of Israel, containing all the injunctions and ordinances which related to the old sacrifices and service of the temple, our Lord did indeed come to destroy, to dissolve, and utterly abolish. To this bear all the Apostles witness; not only Barnabas and Paul, who vehemently withstood those who taught that Christians "ought to keep the law of Moses; "(Acts xv. 6;) not only St. Peter, who termed the insisting on this, on the observance of the ritual law, a "tempting God," and "putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers," saith he, "nor we were able to bear; "--but "all the Apostles, elders, and brethren, being assembled with one accord," (ver. 19,) declared, that to command them to keep this law, was to "subvert their souls ;" and that "it seemed good to the Holy Ghost" and to them, "to lay no such burden upon them." This "hand-writing of ordinances our Lord did blot out, take away, and nail to his cross." (Ver. 24.)
2. But the Moral Law, contained in the Ten Commandments, and enforced by the Prophets, he did not take away. It was not the design of his coming to revoke any part of this. This is a law which never can be broken, which "stands fast as the faithful witness in heaven." The moral stands on an entirely different foundation from the ceremonial or ritual law, which was only designed for a temporary restraint upon a disobedient and stiffnecked people; whereas this was from the beginning of the world, being written not on tables of stone," but on the hearts of all the children of men, when they came out of the hands of the Creator. And, however the letters once wrote by the finger of God are now in a great measure defaced by sin, yet can they not wholly be blotted out, while we have any consciousness of good and evil. Every part of this law must remain in force upon all mankind, and in all ages; as not depending either on time or place, or any other circumstances liable to change, but on the nature of
God, and the nature of man, and their unchangeable relation to each other.
3. "I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." Some have conceived our Lord to mean,-I am come to fulfil this, by my entire and perfect obedience to it. And it cannot be doubted but he did, in this sense, fulfil every part of it. But this does not appear to be what he intends here, being foreign to the scope of his present discourse. Without question, his meaning in this place is, (consistently with all that goes before and follows after,)-I am come to establish it in its fulness, in spite of all the glosses of men: I am come to place in a full and clear view whatsoever was dark or obscure therein: I am come to declare the true and full import of every part of it; to show the length and breadth, the entire extent, of every commandment contained therein, and the height and depth, the inconceivable purity and spirituality of it in all its branches. 4. And this our Lord has abundantly performed in the preceding and subsequent parts of the discourse before us; in which he has not introduced a new religion into the world, but the same which was from the beginning;—a religion, the substance of which is, without question, as old as the creation, being coeval with man, and having proceeded from God at the very time when "man became a living soul; (the substance, I say; for some circumstances of it now relate to man as a fallen creature ;)-a religion witnessed to both by the Law and by the Prophets, in all succeeding generations. Yet was it never so fully explained, nor so thoroughly understood, till the great Author of it himself condescended to give mankind this authentic comment on all the essential branches of it; at the same time declaring it should never be changed, but remain in force to the end of the world.
II. 1. "For verily I say unto you," (a solemn preface, which denotes both the importance and certainty of what is spoken,) "till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."
"One jot:"—it is literally, not one iota, not the most inconsiderable vowel: "or one tittle," μa nɛgxia,—one corner or point of a consonant. It is a proverbial expression, which signifies that no one commandment contained in the moral law, nor the least part of any one, however inconsiderable it might seem, should ever be disannulled.
"Shall in no wise pass from the law : ο μη παρέλθη απο τα 8. The double negative, here used, strengthens the sense,
so as to admit of no contradiction: and the word rzędon, it may be observed, is not barely future, declaring what will be; but has likewise the force of an imperative, ordering what shall be. It is a word of authority, expressing the sovereign will and power of him that spake; of Him whose word is the law of heaven and earth, and stands fast for ever and ever.
“Que jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass, till heaven and earth pass; or, as it is expressed immediately after, ews av Tavta yevntas,—till all (or rather all things) be fulfilled, till the consummation of all things. Here is therefore no room for that poor evasion, (with which some have delighted themselves greatly,) that "No part of the law was to pass away, till all the law was fulfilled: but it has been fulfilled by Christ; and therefore now must pass, for the Gospel to be established.” Not so; the word all does not mean all the law, but all things in the universe; as neither has the term fulfilled any reference to the law, but to all things in heaven and earth.
2. From all this we may learn, that there is no contrariety at all between the Law and the Gospel; that there is no need for the Law to pass away, in order to the establishing the Gospel. Indeed neither of them supersedes the other, but they agree perfectly well together. Yea, the very same words, considered in different respects, are parts both of the law and of the gospel if they are considered as commandments, they are parts of the law; if as promises, of the gospel. Thus, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," when considered as a commandment, is a branch of the law; when regarded as a promise, is an essential part of the gospel ;-the gospel being no other than the commands of the law, proposed by way of promise. Accordingly, poverty of spirit, purity of heart, and whatever else is enjoined in the holy law of God, are no other, when viewed in a gospel light, than so many great and precious promises.
3. There is, therefore, the closest connexion that can be conceived, between the law and the gospel. On the one hand, the law continually makes way for, and points us to, the gospel; on the other, the gospel continually leads us to a more exact fulfilling of the law. The law, for instance, requires us to love God, to love our neighbour, to be meek, humble, or holy : We feel that we are not sufficient for these things; yea, that "with man this is impossible: " But we see a promise of God, to give us that love, and to make us humble, meek, and holy: We lay hold of this gospel, of these glad tidings; it is done
unto us according to our faith; and "the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us," through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
We may yet farther observe, that every command in Holy Writ is only a covered promise. For by that solemn declaration," This is the covenant I will make after those days, saith the Lord I will put my laws in your minds, and write them in your hearts." God hath engaged to give whatsoever he commands. Does he command us then to 66 pray without ceasing ?" to 66 rejoice evermore ?" to be "holy as He is holy?" It is enough: He will work in us this very thing: It shall be unto us according to his word.
4. But if these things are so, we cannot be at a loss what to think of those who, in all ages of the Church, have undertaken to change or supersede some commands of God, as they professed, by the peculiar direction of his Spirit. Christ has here given us an infailible rule, whereby to judge of all such pretensions. Christianity, as it includes the whole moral law of God, both by way of injunction and of promise, if we will hear him, is designed of God to be the last of all his dispensations. There is no other to come after this. This is to endure till the consummation of all things. Of consequence, all such new revelations are of Satan and not of God; and all pretensions to another more perfect dispensation fall to the ground of course. "Heaven and earth shall pass away;" but this word "shall not pass away."
III. 1. "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."
Who, what are they, that make the preaching of the Law a character of reproach? Do they not see on whom the reproach must fall,-on whose head it must light at last? Whosoever on this ground despiseth us, despiseth Him that sent us. For did ever any man preach the law like Him, even when he came not to condemn, but to save, the world; when he came purposely to "bring life and immortality to light through the gospel?" Can any preach the law more expressly, more rigorously, than Christ docs in these words? And who is he that shall amend them?
Who is he that shall instruct the Son of God how to preach? Who will teach him a better way of delivering the message which he hath received of the Father?