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§ 56. The Destroyingand Fulfillingof the Law.

But although we infer that Paul’s doctrine of the disjunction of Christianity from the Mosaic law was derived, mediately at least, from Christ’s own words, we must admit that the Judaizing Christians, unfit as they were, from their Jewish stand-point, fully to apprehend his teaching, might have found some support for their peculiar opinions both in his words and in his actions. Take, for instance, the passage, “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law and the Prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”140140   Matt. v. 17. Their Jewish views might interpret this to mean that he did not intend to abrogate the ceremonial part of the law, but to bring about a strict observance of it. Nor shall we apply here the distinction between the moral and the ritual law; neither the connexion of the passage nor the stand-point of the Old Testament would justify this. Certainly, as he used the terms Law and Prophets to denote the two great divisions of the Old Testament, and declared he would not destroy either, he must have had in view the entire law; it was the law, as a whole, that he came not to destroy, but to fulfil.

We need only to understand correctly what kind of “destroying” it is which Christ disclaims. It is a “destroying” which excludes “fulfilling;” a destroying which is not at the same time a fulfilling. The general positive clause, “I am come to fulfil,” is used as proof of the special and negative clause, “I am not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets;” nor are we to make the former a special one, by seeking 92an object for it in the preceding words. On the contrary, the general proposition, “I am come to fulfil,” which holds good of Christ’s entire labours, is, in this case, specially applied to his relation to the Old Testament. Christ’s activity is in no sense a destroying and negative, but in every respect a fulfilling and creative agency. For instance, by that agency human nature is to lose none of its essential features; but only to be freed from the bonds and defects which sin has imposed upon it, so that its ideal, as originally designed by the Creator, may become the real. This is fulfilling; but yet it must be accompanied by the destroying of whatever opposes it. We apply the same principle to Christ’s relation to the Mosaic law. The Mosaic Institute, as the fundamental law of the special Theocracy exhibited in the Jewish nation, was a veil, a limited form, in which the will of God, the eternal law of the Theocracy, was appropriately impressed upon the men of that time. But the general and eternal Theocratic law could not find its free developement and fulfilment in the form of an outward State law. The law (in its whole extent I mean, including what is called in a narrower sense the moral, as well as the ritual law) aimed to realize the will of God, to present the true δικαιοσύνη under the relations above defined. But what the law, in its whole extent, aimed at, is accomplished through Christ; the veil is rent, the bonds are loosed by the liberating Spirit, and the law reaches its before unattainable fulfilment. This fulfilment, indeed, involves the removal of all obstructions; but this destroying process cannot be called destroying, as it is an essential condition, and a negative element, of the fulfilment itself. So the fulfilment of prophecy in the manifestation and labours of Christ necessarily involved the destruction of the prophetic veil and covering of the Messianic idea.141141   We shall see hereafter how this interpretation of Christ’s words is verified in the whole train of thought in the Sermon on the Mount.

The Ebionites, adhering only to the letter, misunderstood Christ’s declarations on this subject; but Paul, viewing them in their true spirit and universal bearing, obtained those views on the relation of the Law and the Gospel which he presents in such passages as Rom., iii., 31: viii., 3, 4.


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