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§ 154. “Fufilling of the Lawin the Higher Sense.—General Contrast between the Juridical and Moral stand-points.

In verses 22-48 Christ illustrates, in a number of special examples, the sense in which the law was, not “destroyed,” but “ fulfilled” through him; also the sense in which the members of his kingdom were to signalize themselves by zeal in fulfilling the law; and also (but here subordinately) the difference between their righteousness—answering to their position in the new developement of the Divine kingdom—and the seeming righteousness of the Pharisees.

In these illustrations he contrasts the eternal Theocratic law with the political Theocratic law; the absolute law with the particular law of Moses. Although the former lay at the foundation of the latter, it could not, in that limited and contracted system, unfold and display itself; 232and it could not be fully developed until the shell, the restraining form, which had cribbed and confined the spirit, was broken and destroyed.400400   I agree with the Greek and Socinian interpreters in thinking that Christ means here not merely the Pharisaic interpretations of the law, but also the legal stand-point in general. This follows necessarily, (1) from the connexion as we have unfolded it; (2) from the fact that he quotes the commandments in their literal Old Testament form. (Even “thou shalt hate thy enemy” (v. 43), though not found literally in the commandment, is implied in the preceding positive commandment, as limited by the particular Theocratic stand point); (3) because ἐῤῥέθη τοῖς ἀρχαίοις (v. 33) cannot well be interpreted otherwise than “it has been said to the men of old” (the fathers, hence during the Mosaic promulgation of the law). Had Christ referred to the statutes of the elders (which would not agree so well with the whole form of the expression either), he would have used πρεσβυτέροις, as also De Wette acknowledges. Tholuck’s argument, of an antithesis between ἀρχαίοις and ἐγώ is not to the point; the connexion does not require such an antithesis. The opposition is not in the subject of the commandment, but in its conception. Christ recognized the voice of God in the Old Testament, and Moses as sent of God; but he wished to oppose the fulfilling form of the new legislation to the narrow and deficient form of Old Testament legislation, which belonged to a temporary and preparatory epoch. Had Christ had the subject of the commandment in view, τοῖς ἀρχαίοις would naturally have preceded ἐῤῥέθη; while the present collocation of the words indicates that the opposition is instituted between what was said in earlier times and what was then said by him. The prominence that he assigns to the Pharisaical conception and application of the law connects very well with this opposition to the old law in general; for the Pharisees especially refused to admit the spirit to pass from the old law and find its fulfilment in the new, but adhered to the letter in a one-sided and exclusive way. Pharisaism, in a word, was the culmination of the old stand-point, adhering to the letter, and estranged from the spirit. The opposition is between the law as bearing only upon the overt act, and the law as bearing upon the heart, and fulfilled in it; between the juridical and the moral stand-point.

We infer, then, as a rule in interpreting the following separate precepts, that outward acts are to be taken as vivid exhibitions of a required inward disposition, and are to be understood literally only when they are the necessary expression of such a state of heart.


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