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III. The Law of Christian Life the Fulfilment of the Old Law.

§ 153. Fulfilling of the Law and the Prophets: (1.) General View; (2.) Particular Exposition; (3.) Demand for a Higher Obedience than that of the Pharisees. (Matt., v., 17-20.)


After commanding his disciples to become the “ salt” of the earth, and to “let their light so shine before men that they might see their good works, and glorify their Father in heaven,” it remained for him to set vividly before them, by specific illustrations, the mode in which they were to let their light shine through their actions; which would distinguish them palpably from those who then passed for holy men among the Jews.

This gave him occasion to refute the charge spread abroad by the Pharisees, that he aimed to subvert the authority of the law. But, instead of confining himself to a mere refutation, he took a course conforming with the dignity of his character, and justified himself in a positive way, by unfolding the relation in which his New Creation stood to the stand-point of the Old Covenant. He incorporated this, moreover, very closely with the practical purpose of the whole discourse (v. 17, seq.). He characterizes the new law of life by distinct and separate traits. He proclaims the new law as the fulfilment of the old. For since the old law proceeds from the commandment “to love God above all things, and our neighbour as ourselves,” it contains the eternal law of the kingdom of God; and only where love rules the whole life can we secure this object, which the whole religious law of the Old Testament aimed at, but could not realize. “On these two commandments (says Christ, Matt., xxii., 40) hang all the law and the prophets,” i. e., the whole Old Testament. They could not be fulfilled from the Old Testament stand-point, because men needed, in order to fulfil them, a new life, proceeding from the spirit of love; and this Christ came to impart. He presupposes its existence in those for whom he communicates the new law.

Moreover, although the everlasting Theocratic law could be derived from the two commandments specified, yet its spirit, tied down to the stand-point of the political Theocracy, and cribbed in its contracted forms could not attain its free and full developement. But Christ, by 230freeing it from this bondage of forms, brought it into complete developement, not only in the consciousness, but in the practical life. In this respect, then, he fulfilled the law; and this was the object for which he appeared.394394   Cf. p. 91, 92.


Christ begins, therefore, by saying, Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fufil.395395   Gfrörer asserts (“Heilige Sage,” ii., 84, seq.) that these words were not Christ’s, but were more likely put into his mouth by the later Judaists in their controversies with Paul; an opinion adopted also by Dr. Roeth (Epist. ad Hebr. non ad Hebraeos, sed ad Christianos genere gentiles Scriptam esse, Francof., 1836, p. 214). The former writer thinks that these striking words, had they existed, would have been used against Paul by the strenuous advocates of the continued validity of the Mosaic law; which, he infers, they did not do, from the silence of Paul’s epistles on the subject. We are compelled directly to contradict this assertion; it is refuted sufficiently by the close connexion of the words with the current of thought in the context. Paul understood their import too well to find any embarrassment from them in his controversies with the Judaists. If they were quoted against him, he refuted the false use made of them by his developement of the whole doctrine, rather than by separate and detailed quotation, as was his custom in controversy. By this we are to understand the whole of the Old Testament religion; he came to annul neither of its chief divisions, as his general mission was (last clause of v. 17396396   De Wette, in explaining the 17th verse, attempts to prove, from Matt., vii., 12, and xxii., 40, that the “law and prophets” were conceived, also, as the source of the moral law, and deems that the words are here to be taken only in that sense, with no reference at all to the prophetic element of the Old Testament. I cannot agree with him. Even the passages which he adduces do not refer exclusively to the moral contents of the Old Testament, but to the Old Testament in its whole nature and extent. Christ designates—as the end and aim to which the whole Old Testament tends—only the quintessence of the whole Theocracy, religious as well as moral, viz.: the spirit of love; as also the end and aim of Redemption is to make love the ruling principle of man’s nature. De Wette argues that “no one of his hearers could have imagined that Christ wished to be received as Messiah in opposition to all the prophecies of the Prophets; so he speaks afterward only of the fulfilling of the law.” Now the question is, was Christ speaking against a misunderstanding of his disciples, or against an accusation of his enemies? If the latter, as we suppose, he had good call to prove that his ministry was opposed neither to the “law” nor to the “prophets,” and that he would show himself to be Messiah by fulfilling both. His subsequently making one part (the law) particularly prominent is no proof that he had not both in his mind before. Moreover, even De Wette has to admit that the prophetic element is alluded to in v. 18. We infer, therefore, that both “law” and “prophets” are referred to from the beginning.) “not to destroy, but to fulfil.” He adds, in a still stronger averment (v. 18), that not one jot or tittle of the law should lose its validity, but that all have its fulfilment, until the consummation of the kingdom of God.397397   Cf. Tholuck on v. 18. This last will be the great “fulfilment,” for which all previous stages of the kingdom were but preparatory.

Here, again, it is shown that, in this sense, “destroying” and “fulfilling” are correlative ideas. The consummation of the kingdom will be the “fufilling” of all which was contained, in germ, in the preparatory 231stand-point; it will, on the other hand, be the “destroying” of all that was, in itself, only preparatory. In pointing to this consummation of the kingdom of God as the final “fulfilling” of all, Christ at the same time fixes the final end for the fulfilment of all the promises connected with the beatitudes. Thus the connexion with the words sp( ken before is closely preserved.398398   By assuming this relation to the law and the prophets, Christ gave himself out as Messiah. How untenable, then, is Strauss’s assertion that at that time Jesus had not decidedly presented himself as Messiah! We have shown that the passage is too closely bound up with the organism of the whole sermon to be considered an interpolation.


Passing from the Old Testament in general to the “law” in particular, and applying to it the general proposition that he had advanced, Christ commands his disciples (v. 19, 20) to fulfil the law in a far higher sense than those did who were at that time considered patterns of righteousness. In proportion as each fulfilled the law was he to have a higher or a lower place in the developement of the kingdom (v. 19). The principle of life which they all possessed in common (the essential requisite for fulfilling any of the demands of the sermon) by no means precluded differences of degree; it might penetrate one more thoroughly than another, and display itself in a more (or less) complete fulfilling of the law. Christ illustrates the same doctrine in the parable of the Sower.

Such, then, and so superior is the fulfilling of the law which Christ requires of all who would belong to his kingdom: Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven.399399   The γάρ in verse 20 obviously introduces a confirmation of the preceding verse; and this opposes Olshauser’s view of the connexion, although he has well marked the distinction between verses 19 and 20.

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