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CHRISTIANITY DOTH NOT DESTROY, BUT PERFECT THE LAW OF MOSES.
Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.—Matt. v. 17.
I HAVE considered this saying of our Saviour’s with respect to the moral law, and those precepts which are of natural and perpetual force, and that our Saviour did not come either to dissolve or loosen the obligation of them; for the illustration of which, I propounded to clear these three points:
First, That the main and ultimate design of “the law and the prophets,” was to engage men to the practice of royal duties; that is, of real and substantial goodness.
Secondly, That the law of Moses, or the dispensation of the Jewish religion, was comparatively very weak and insufficient to make men truly good, and ineffectual to promote and reward real righteousness. These two points I have spoken to. I shall now proceed to the
Third, namely, That the Christian religion doth supply all the defects, and weaknesses, and imperfections of the Jewish dispensation.
The Jewish religion had very considerable advantages above the mere light of nature, which was all that the heathen world had to conduct them to wards eternal happiness; the Jews had the knowledge 340of the one true God, and very signal and particular testimonies of the Divine Providence, which did naturally tend to beget in them good hopes of a future life, and the rewards of another world; they had the natural law revealed, and the main precepts of it written with God’s own hand, and by Moses delivered to them; by which means they had a more certain and distinct knowledge of their duty: they had prophets frequently sent to them, to admonish them of their duty, and to exhort them to repentance, and to warn them of approaching judgments. They had good encouragement given to hope for the pardon of sin, by God’s appointment of several ways^of expiation; which, how unlikely soever they were to be available to the effectual expiation of sin, yet they did signify, that the Divine nature was placable, and did seem to figure some more effectual way, designed by God for that purpose, that should be exhibited in due time. And, finally, they had most express promises and threatenings of temporal blessings and judgments, to en courage them in their obedience, and to deter them from the transgression of God’s laws. These advantages the Jews plainly had above the rest of the world; God did not deal so with other nations, neither had the heathen such a knowledge of God’s laws.
But notwithstanding this, the Jewish religion was very short and defective, very weak and ineffectual to the great end of righteousness and true holiness, and to raise men to that perfection of goodness, of which human nature, through the grace of God, is capable; and therefore there wanted a more perfect institution, to supply the defects, and weakness, and imperfection even of that Divine revelation which 341God had made to the Jews, and really to effect and accomplish that which the Jewish religion attempted and aimed at, and was but, as I may say, rudely begun, under that imperfect institution. And this the gospel, or the Christian religion revealed by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, hath fully effected, as will evidently appear by a particular survey and consideration of the main defects of the Jewish religion, which I shall shew to be all perfectly made up by the revelation of the gospel, and the doctrine of Christianity, in these following particulars.
First, It was a great defect of the Jewish religion, that a considerable part of it was merely external, concerning the purification of the body and the flesh, and only figurative of that inward purity and real righteousness, which renders men truly good, and like to God; for which reason the Jewish institution is by the apostle to the Hebrews called the law of a carnal commandment: (Heb. vii. 16; and chap. ix. 10.) is said to consist only (that is chiefly) “in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances imposed on them until the time of reformation;” that is, till the Messias should come and give such laws as should really tend to reform the hearts and lives of men; and therefore these laws and ordinances are called poor pitiful elements, and the rudiments of the world, fitted rather for children in understanding and goodness, than to bring men to any maturity and perfection in goodness. All their rites of purification did only sanctify to the purifying of the flesh; but did not purge the conscience from dead works, as the apostle to the Hebrews speaks, (chap. ix. 13, 14.) “they could not make those that performed and observed them perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;” 342(ver. 9.) that is, these laws had no effect upon the minds of men, to make them really better, to cure them of their moral defects and impurities, their sins and vices.
But the Christian institution doth perfectly supply this defect, by taking us off from those carnal and external observances, and principally requiring that we “worship God in spirit and in truth;” by giving us such laws as wholly tend to advance real and substantial goodness, purity and holiness of heart and life, such as mainly tend to reform the minds and manners of men, and to make us like to that holy and perfect Being whom we worship: and besides an external, humble, and reverent demeanour of ourselves in the worship of God, (to which natural religion doth likewise direct,) Christianity hath only instituted two solemn external rites; viz. baptism, and the Lord’s supper; whereby we solemnly oblige ourselves to the practice of all virtue and goodness; I say only these two, that, by the multitude of external observances, Christians might not be taken off from the minding of the real and substantial duties of religion.
And therefore the church of Rome have extremely abated and weakened the force of Christianity upon the hearts and lives of men, by amusing them with external rites, which they have multiplied to that excessive degree, as to make the yoke of Christ really heavier than that of Moses, and the Christian religion a more external and carnal commandment than that of the law; and by this means have diverted and taken off the minds of men from the main design of Christianity, insomuch that they are so employed and taken up with matters of external ceremony, that they have no leisure to think of 343being good men, and to mind the great and substantial duties and virtues of the Christian life; so that they have spoiled the Christian religion of one of its chief excellences and perfections, I mean the simplicity of its worship, which they have now en cumbered with so many foolish and frivolous rites and observances, as do not only render it more burthensome, but less apt to make men inwardly and substantially good, than even Judaism itself. This is so true and so visible, that the wiser and better sort of them have complained of it for several ages, and still do, as much as they dare for fear of the inquisition, or some other censure.
Secondly, Another defect of the law of Moses was, that it did not give encouragement enough to repentance, by declaring and assuring to us any certain way and method for the expiation and forgiveness of sin. This the rites of all religions aimed at, and pretended to; but were very ineffectual to that end. The heathen sacrifices, and all the cruel and barbarous rites belonging to them, did all pretend to be so many ways of appeasing the offended Deity, and of making atonement and expiation for sin: and the sacrifices of the Jews were instituted by God himself, to make an external and legal expiation, and to be the types and shadows of a better and more perfect sacrifice, which should really expiate sin: but even this was very darkly and imperfectly discovered to them; besides that, the expiations of the law did only extend to the least sort of sins, those of ignorance and inadvertency, but not at all to presumptuous sins, and such as were committed with n high hand, nor to wilful and deliberate sins, except in some very few and rare cases particularly mentioned in the law; so that 344though a great part of the religious rites, both of the pagan and Jewish religion, aimed at the expiation of sin, yet were they really ineffectual to that end; and, upon the whole matter, mankind, though they conceived good hope of God’s mercy and forgiveness in case of repentance, (“Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his anger?”) yet they were unacquainted with any certain and effectual means to that purpose.
It remains, then, that this great blessing of the forgiveness of sins, was never sufficiently declared and assured to mankind, but through Jesus Christ in the gospel. So St. Paul expressly asserts: (Acts xiii. 38, 39.) “Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins, and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” The gospel hath provided an expiation for all sins in general, and that by a sacrifice of inestimable value,—the blood of the Son of God. And this is a mighty encouragement to repentance, and one most effectual means to reclaim men from their sins, to be assured that they are indemnified for what is past. And this the apostle means when he says, (Gal. iii. 13.) that “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us;” that is, whereas the law left sinners, as to those sins which stood most in need of pardon, under a curse, having provided no expiation for them, Christ hath redeemed them from that curse by making a general expiation for sin; and in this sense it is that the author to the Hebrews says, (chap. ix. 15.) that Christ died for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant; that is, 345 for those sins for which the covenant of the law had provided no way of forgiveness; and therefore St. John says emphatically, (1 John i. 7.) that “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin.”
Thirdly, The law did not afford sufficiently plain and certain rules and directions for a good life. As the corruption and degeneracy of mankind grew worse, so the light of nature waxed dimmer and dimmer, and the rule of good and evil was more doubtful and uncertain, and that in very consider able instances of our duty. The law of Moses was peculiar to the Jews: and even to them, who only had the benefit and advantage of it, it did not give clear and perfect light and direction as to moral duties, and those things which are of an eternal and immutable reason and goodness. And therefore our Saviour in this sermon explains it to a greater perfection than it was understood to have among the Jews, or the letter of it seemed to intend, and hath not only forbidden several things permitted by that law, as divorce and retaliation of injuries; but hath heightened our duty in several instances of it, requiring us to love our enemies, and to forgive the greatest injuries and provocations, though never so often repeated, and not only not to revenge them, but to requite them with good turns; which were not understood by mankind to be laws before; but yet, when duly considered, are very agreeable to right reason, and the sense of the wisest and best men. So that the Christian religion hath not only fixed and determined our duty, and brought it to a greater certainty, but hath raised it to a greater perfection, and rendered it every way fit to bring the minds of men to a more Divine temper, and a more 346reasonable and perfect way of serving God, than ever the world was instructed in before.
Fourthly, The promises and threatenings of the law were only of temporal good and evil things, which are, in comparison of the endless rewards and punishments of another world, but very languid and faint motives to obedience. Not but that the Jews under the law had such apprehensions of their own immortality, and of a future state of happiness and misery after this life, as natural light suggested to them; which was in most but a wavering and uncertain persuasion, and consequently of small efficacy to engage men to their duty; but the law of Moses added little or nothing to the clearness of those natural notions concerning a future state, and the strengthening of this persuasion in the minds of men; it did rather suppose it, than give any new force and life to it. And for this reason more particularly the apostle tells us, that the law was but weak to make men good; because it did not work strongly enough upon the hopes and fears of men by the weight of its promises, and the terror of its threatenings; and that for this weakness and imperfection of it, it was removed, and a more powerful and awakening dispensation brought in the place of it: (Heb. vii. 18, 19.) “For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment that was before (that is, of the Jewish law) for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof; for the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did;” that is, the covenant of the gospel, which promiseth eternal life. And, (chap. viii. 6.) for this reason, more especially, the apostle says, that Christ had “obtained a more excellent ministry, being the Mediator 347of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.” And (Rom. i. 16, 18.) St. Paul tells us, that for this reason “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation,” because “therein the wrath of God is revealed from heaven, against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” The clear revelation of a future judgment, was that which made the gospel so proper and so powerful an instrument for the salvation of men. The great impiety of mankind, and their impenitency in it, was not so much to be wondered at before, while the world was, in a great measure, ignorant of the infinite danger of a wicked life; and therefore God is said, in some sort, to overlook it; “but now he commands all men every where to repent, because he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained, whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” (Acts xvii. 30, 31.) The clear discovery and perfect assurance of a future judgment, calls loudly upon all men to leave their sins and turn to God.
Fifthly, The covenant of the law had no spiritual promises contained in it of the grace and assistance of God’s Holy Spirit for the mortifying of sin, and enabling men to their duty, and supporting them under sufferings; but the gospel is full of clear and express promises to this purpose. Our Saviour hath assured us, that “God will give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him,” (Luke xi. 13.) and this the apostle tells us is actually conferred upon all true Christians, those who do sincerely embrace and believe the gospel: (Rom. viii. 9.) “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Hence 348the gospel is called, by the same apostle, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus:” (ver. 2, of that chap.) “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death;” and in the next words he tells us, that herein manifestly appeared the weakness of the law, that it left men destitute of this mighty help and advantage (at least to any special promise of it): “What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and, by making him a sacrifice for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit;” that is, that that righteousness which the law aimed at and signified, but was too weak to effect, might be really accomplished in us, “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit;” that is, who are acted and assisted by a higher and better principle than men either have in nature, or the carnal dispensation of the law did endow men withal. And because of this great defect the law is said to be a state of bondage and servitude; and, on the contrary, the gospel, by reason of this mighty advantage, is called a state of adoption and liberty: (ver. 15.) “For ye have not received the Spirit of bondage, but the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father;” and (2 Cor. iii. 17.) “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” And to this very thing St. Paul appeals, as that whereby men might judge whether the law or the gospel were the more excellent and powerful dispensation: (Gal. iii. 2.) “This only would I learn of you, received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” As if he had said let this one thing determine that whole matter; 349were ye made partakers of this great privilege and blessing of the Spirit, while ye were of the Jewish religion, or since ye became Christians? And (ver. 14.) he calls it “the blessing of Abraham;” that is, the blessing promised to all nations by Abraham’s seed, namely, the Messias; “that the blessing of Abraham might come on the gentiles through Jesus Christ, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
And then, for the supporting us under afflictions, the gospel promiseth an extraordinary assistance of God’s Holy Spirit to us: (1 Pet. iv. 14.) “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye, for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you.”
But were there no good men under the dispensation of the law? Yes, certainly there were, and they were so by the grace and assistance of God’s Holy Spirit; but then this was an effect of the Divine goodness, but not of any special promise, contained in that covenant, of Divine grace and assistance to be conferred on all those that were admitted into it. But thus it is in the new covenant of the gospel, and therefore the law is called “a dead letter,” “the oldness of the letter,” and “the ministration of the letter;” in opposition to the gospel, which is called the “ministration of the Spirit.” And this the apostle lays special weight upon, as a main difference between these two covenants, that the first gave an external law, but the new covenant offers inward grace and assistance to enable men to obedience, and hath an inward and powerful efficacy upon the minds of men, accompanying the ministration of it: (Heb. viii. 7-10.) “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place 350have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them he saith, Behold the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, &c. For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts.”
And of this inward grace and assistance we are further secured, by the powerful and prevalent and perpetual intercession of our High Priest for sinners at the right hand of God; not like the inter cession of the priests under the law, who, being sinners themselves, were less fit to intercede for others; but “we have an High Priest that is holy, harm less, undefiled, and separate from sinners; who, by the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God,” to purchase for us those blessings which he intercedes for. The priests under the law were intercessors upon earth; but “Christ is entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” (Heb. ix. 24.) The priests under the law were removed from this office by death; but Christ, because he continues for ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood, and is an everlasting advocate and intercessor for us, in the virtue of his most meritorious sacrifice continually presented to his Father, where he is always at the right hand of God, to present our prayers to him, and to obtain pardon of our sins, and grace to help in time of need, and by his intercession in heaven, to procure all those blessings to be actually conferred upon us, which he purchased for us by his blood upon earth; “wherefore he is able to save to the utmost all those 351that come to God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them,” as the same apostle speaks, Heb. vii. 25.
And thus I have, as briefly as well I could, shewed how the Christian religion doth supply all the weaknesses and imperfections of the Jewish religion; and, consequently, does in no wise contradict or interfere with the great design of the law and the prophets, but hath perfected and made up whatever was weak or wanting in that institution, to make men truly good; or, as the expression is in the prophet Daniel, “to bring in everlasting righteousness;” that is, to clear and confirm those laws of holiness and righteousness, which are of indispensable and eternal obligation.
And if this be the great design of our Saviour’s coming, and the Christian doctrine be every way fitted to advance righteousness and true holiness, and to make us as excellently good as this imperfect state of mortality will admit, since it hath many advantages incomparably beyond any religion or institution that ever was in the world, both in respect of the perfection of its laws, and the force of its motives and arguments to repentance and a holy life, and in respect of the encouragements which it gives, and the examples which it sets before us, and the powerful assistance which it offers to us, to en able us “to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God;” what a shame is this to us, who are under the power of this excellent institution, if the temper of our minds, and the tenor of our conversation, be not in some measure answerable to the gospel of Christ! The greater helps and advantages we have of being good, the greater things may justly be expected 352from us; for “to whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required.”
Christianity is the fulfilling of the righteousness of the law, by walking not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, by mortifying the deeds of the flesh, and by bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit, which are “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, and temperance.” The righteousness of faith doth not consist in a barren and effectual life of the gospel, in a mere embracing of the promises of it, and relying upon Christ for salvation; in “a faith without works,” which is dead; but in “a faith which worketh by love,” in becoming “new creatures, “and in “keeping the commandments of God, the righteousness of faith speaking on this wise.” “This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment;” (1 John iii. 23.) and “this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God, love his brother also,” (1 John iv. 21.) “That we approve the things that are excellent, being filled -with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God,” (Phil. i. 10, 11.) “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, what soever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, mind these things,” (chap. iv. 8.)
And then, considering what abundant provision the gospel hath made for our attainment of everlasting salvation, we are altogether without excuse, if we perish. Since God hath raised up so mighty a salvation for us; how shall we escape? If we die 353in our sins, it is not because God would not forgive them, but because we would not repent and be saved; the fault is all our own, and we owe it wholly to ourselves, if we be lost and undone for ever. If when life and death, heaven and hell, are so plainly set before us, eternal misery and perdition fall to our lot and portion, it is not because we were not warned of our danger, or because happiness and the things of our peace were hid from our eyes, but because we have made death and destruction our obstinate and final choice.
“But, beloved, I hope better things of you, and things which accompany salvation, though I thus speak. Only let your conversation be as becometh the gospel of Christ;” and if we be careful to perform the conditions which the gospel requires on our part, we shall not fail to be made “partakers of that eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, hath promised to us, for his mercy’s sake in Jesus Christ.”354
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