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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.
THERE is no saying in the whole gospel which the Jews did so frequently object to the Christians as this of our blessed Saviour, as if his words and actions were plainly repugnant and contrary to one another: for when it is evident, say they, that he took away so many ceremonies, purifications, distinctions of meats, sacrifices, judicial laws, and many other things; yet he says, he came not “to destroy the; law or the prophets;” so that it is plain that he did throw down the law of Moses, and in so doing contradicted his own saying, that he did not intend “to destroy the law. To clear our Saviour’s words of this objection, it will be requisite to consider the scope and design of his discourse in this chapter, by which we shall fully understand the sense and meaning of these words in the text.
Our Saviour, in this sermon (which contains the sum and substance of his religion) doth earnestly recommend to his disciples and followers, and strictly enjoins the perfect practice of, all goodness and virtue, declaring to them, that he came to bring in and establish that righteousness which the Jewish religion indeed aimed at, but, through the weakness and imperfection of that dispensation, was not able 324to effect and accomplish. And to take away all suspicion of a design to contradict the former revelations of God, made to the Jews by Moses and the prophets, or to destroy their Divine authority, by carrying on a design contrary to them; I say to prevent any imagination of this kind, he does here, in the text, expressly declare the contrary: “Think not,” &c. intimating that some either did, or at least might be apt to suspect, that his design was to destroy the obligation of the law, and to undermine the authority of Moses and the prophets: to free them from this jealousy, he declares plainly, that he had no such thought and intention—it was far from him.
“I come not to destroy,” καταλῦσαι, to abrogate, or dissolve the law, to encourage men to the breach and violation of it; for the word is of the same sense with λῦειν, at the nineteenth verse. “Whoso ever shall break one of these least commandments;” and with καταργῆσαι, (Rom. iii. 31.) νόμον οὖν καταργοῦμεν; “Do we then make void the law by faith?” which is the same question with that of the same apostle, (Gal. iii. 21.) “Is the law then against the promises of God?” that is, are the law and gospel contrary? do they contradict one another? So that the meaning of our Saviour’s declaration is this: that he was not come to dissolve and abrogate and make void the law, or to encourage men to the breach of it; that the precepts of his religion were in no wise contrary to those of the law and the prophets, did not thwart and oppose them, or any ways contradict the main design and intention of the law and the prophets, that is, of the Jewish religion; for so “the law and the prophets” do frequently signify: (Matt, vii. 12.) “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would 325that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets;” that is, this is the main scope and intention of what your religion, contained in “the law and the prophets,” teacheth concerning your duty to one another. So, likewise, (Matt. xxii. 40.) “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets;” that is, this is the sum of all the duties of religion; to these two laws, all that the Jewish religion teacheth may be referred. “I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil;” to carry on the same design which was intended by the Jewish religion, and to perfect and accomplish it; to supply all the defects and weaknesses and imperfections of that dispensation: this is the plain meaning of this caution and declaration of our Saviour’s—“Think not, &c.
For the clearing of this matter, viz. That the design of our Saviour’s doctrine and religion is not contrary to those former revelations, which God made to the Jews by Moses and the prophets; this will evidently appear, whether we consider the prophecies and predictions of the Old Testament, or the laws and precepts therein contained.
First, The prophecies and predictions of the Old Testament: our Saviour came not to contradict and overthrow these; but to fulfil them. The chief predictions of “the law and the prophets” were concerning the Messias and his spiritual kingdom. In the law it was foretold, that—God would raise to them a prophet like unto Moses, whom they ought to hear and obey; and to him all the prophets of the Old Testament gave witness—foretelling the time of his coming, his extraction, the manner and circumstances of his birth, the purity and efficacy of his doctrine, the actions and miracles of his life, his 326passion, death, and burial, with the particular circumstances of them, his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into heaven, and exaltation at the right hand of God; so that this part of “the law and prophets” he did accomplish and fulfil in a most eminent and remarkable manner: all things that the prophets had foretold, concerning the Messias, were punctually made good in the person, and actions, and sufferings of our Saviour.
Secondly, As to the laws and precepts of the Jewish religion, the doctrine and the laws of Christianity did not clash with them; nor properly abrogate them, and make them void, especially as to the moral precepts, which were the very life and spirit, the ultimate scope and design of that religion; nay, so far was it from doing so, that the main and proper intention of Christianity, was to clear and establish that which was the main design of “the law and prophets,” to perfect the law in this part, and to raise and advance morality to its highest pitch, to supply all the defects and imperfections of the Jewish religion, and to make men much better than that weak and imperfect institution was able to do. This was the great design of Christianity; and it is very probable that our Saviour had a principal if not a sole respect to the precepts of the moral law, when he here says, that “he came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to perfect and fulfil them;” as I shall have occasion by and by to shew more at large.
But that we may give a full answer to the objection of the Jews against this saying of our Saviour’s, I shall shew that he did not come to thwart and contradict, and properly to abrogate and make void the Jewish law, in any part of it, neither the civil and judicial, nor the ritual and ceremonial, 327much less the moral and natural precepts of it. This is more than I think to be absolutely necessary, to reconcile this saying of our Saviour with the rest of his doctrine and actions; for though he had properly abrogated the ceremonial law, and in no sense fulfilled it; yet, notwithstanding this, it may be true, that “he came not to destroy the law and the prophets;” that is, to destroy the obligation of moral duties, which he speaks of in this chapter, and elsewhere declares to be the ultimate scope, the sum and substance of “the law and the prophets;” for if the ceremonial law was not designed by God to be perpetual, but to give way to a more perfect dispensation; then our Saviour did no way thwart and contradict “the law and the prophets;” by abrogating the ceremonial law, at that time, when God designed that a period should be put to it. But yet, for the fuller satisfaction to this objection, I shall shew that our Saviour did not properly abrogate any part of the Jewish law, no, not the ritual and ceremonial part of it; but did fulfil it.
First, Not their civil and judicial laws. These, in the original intention of them, were not laws designed for mankind, but suited and fitted to the disposition and temper, the condition and circumstances, of a particular people and nation; to these our Saviour taught obedience, and paid it himself, and never did any thing contrary to them, nor in the least weaken the obligation of them; but they continued in full force, until that nation and commonwealth was dissolved. So that these laws were no way impeached or abrogated by the Christian religion; but they fell for want of a subject to exercise their power upon, and because the people that were to be governed by them were destroyed or dissipated; 323and though they neither are, nor ever were, obligatory to other nations, as given by Moses, and as they were the peculiar laws of a particular nation; yet the natural reason and equity of them, so far as it concerned mankind, is duly considered and regarded by us, and many of these laws are adopted into the laws of most Christian nations. It is plain, then, that this part of the Jewish law received no prejudice by Christianity, but continued in full force, so long as that nation and commonwealth lasted, which was to be governed by it.
Secondly, As to the ritual and ceremonial part of the Jewish law, which consisted in circumcision, and purifications, and sacrifices, in distinction of meats, and times, and innumerable other rites and observances; this was not properly abrogated and made void by the coming of Christ, but fulfilled and made good by him. The rites and ceremonies of the law, were the types and shadows of those future good things which were promised under the gospel; a kind of rude draught of a better and more perfect institution, which was designed, and at last finished and perfected by the Christian religion. This account the apostle gives of the legal rites and observances: (Col. ii. 10, 17.) “Let no man judge you in meat or in drink, or in respect of a holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days, which are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ; “that is, he is the substance and reality of all those things, which were shadowed and figured by those legal observances. And so the apostle to the Hebrews calls the priests and sacrifices of the law, the “examples and shadows of heavenly things, (chap. viii. 5.) and (so chap. x. 1.) “the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very 329image of the things; “that is, being but an obscure type, and not a perfect representation of the blessings and benefits of the gospel, which we now have in truth and reality. Now reason will tell us, that the laws concerning these types and shadows, were only to continue till the substance of the things signified by them should come, and that they would be of no longer use, when that more perfect institution, which was figured by them, should take place, and then they would expire, and become void of themselves; because the reason and use of them ceasing, they must necessarily fall.
But they did not expire immediately upon the coming of Christ, and therefore he himself submitted to these laws, so long as they continued in force; he was circumcised, and presented in the temple, and performed all other rites required by the law; that first covenant to which these laws and ordinances belonged, continuing in force till the ratification of the second covenant by the death of Christ, and then these laws expired, or rather were fulfilled, and had their accomplishment in the sacrifice of Christ, which made all the sacrifices and other rites of the Jewish religion needless, and of no use for the future; Christ having, by this “one sacrifice of himself, perfected for ever them that are sanctified,” as the same apostle speaks. (Heb. x. 14.) So that Christ did not properly abrogate and repeal those ritual and ceremonial laws; but they, having continued as long as they were designed to do, and there was any use of them, they abated and ceased of themselves.
And that the death of Christ was the time of their expiration, because then the new covenant took place, St. Paul expressly tells us: (Eph. ii. 15.) 330“having abolished or voided in his flesh the law of commandments contained in ordinances;” and this, (ver. 16.) he is said to have done by his cross; and y more plainly, (Col. ii. 14.) “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances, which was against us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.”
So that ye see that even the ceremonial law was not so properly abrogated by the sacrifice and death of Christ, but rather had its accomplishment, and attained its end, in the sacrifice of Christ; which by the eternal efficacy of it to the expiation of sin, and the purifying of our consciences, hath made all the sacrifices and washings, and other rites of the ceremonial law, for ever needless and superfluous.
Thirdly, But especially as to the moral law, and those precepts which are of natural and perpetual obligation, our Saviour did not come either to dissolve, or to lessen and slacken the obligation of them.
And of this I told you our Saviour doth principally, if not solely, speak here in the text, as will appear to any one that shall attentively consider the scope of his discourse. In the beginning of his sermon he promiseth blessing to those, and those only, who were endowed with those virtues which are required by the precepts of the moral law, or comprehended in them; and then he tells them, that Christians must be very eminent and conspicuous for the practice of them: (ver. 16.) “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven: “and then he cautions them not to entertain any such imaginations, as if he intended to dissolve the obligation of the law, and to free men from the practice of moral duties, which probably some might have suggested against him: “Think not that I am come 331to destroy the law and the prophets; 1 as if he had said—you cannot entertain any such conceit, if you consider that the precepts, of which I inculcate upon you, and those virtues, the practice whereof I recommend to you, are the same which are contained in the law and the prophets. So that I am so far from crossing the main design of the law and the prophets, and taking away the obligation of moral duties enjoined by the Jewish religion, that I come purposely to carry on the same design to further perfection, to give a more perfect and clear law, and to give a greater enforcement and encouragement to the practice of moral duties: these were always the sum and substance of religion, the ultimate design of the law and the prophets; and therefore I am so far from discharging men from the obligation of the moral precepts of the law, that I come to bind them more strongly upon you. And, “verily I say unto you,” that is, I solemnly declare, “that whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven;” that is, he shall in no wise enter therein. You think the scribes and pharisees very pious and excellent men, and to have attained to a high pitch of righteousness; “but I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And then he instanceth in several precepts of the moral law, which in the letter of them, especially as they were interpreted by the teachers of the law among the Jews, were very much short of that righteousness and perfection which he now requires of his disciples and followers. So that his whole discourse is about precepts and obligations of the moral 332law, and not a word concerning the ritual and ceremonial law; which makes me very prone to think, that our Saviour’s meaning in the text is this, that his religion was so far from thwarting and op posing that which was the main design of “the law and the prophets,” that is, of the Jewish religion, that the principal intention of Christianity was to advance the practice of goodness and virtue, by strengthening the obligation of moral duties, and giving us a more perfect law and rule of life, and offering better arguments and greater encouragements to the obedience of this law. Therefore, for the fuller explication and illustration of this matter, I shall endeavour 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 moral 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 this purpose.
Thirdly, That the Christian religion hath supplied all the defects, and weaknesses, and imperfections of that dispensation. These three particulars will fully clear our Saviour’s meaning in this text.
First, That the main and ultimate design of “the law and the prophets,” was to engage men to the practice of moral duties; that is, of real and substantial goodness, consisting in those virtues which our Saviour mentions at the beginning of this sermon; humility, and meekness, and mercy, and righteousness, and purity, and peaceableness. This our Saviour more than once tells us was the sum and substance, the main scope and design of the whole doctrine of “the law and the prophets:” (Matt. vii. 12.) “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto yon, do ye even so unto them; for this is the law and the prophets.” (And Matt. xxii. 40.) That the love of God and our neighbour, those two great commands, to which all moral duties are reduced, are the two great hinges of the Jewish religion; on these two hang all “the law and the prophets.” St. Paul calls love, “the fulfilling of the whole law;” (Rom. xiii. 10.) St. James, “the perfect and the royal law,” as that which hath a sovereign influence upon all parts of religion. And therefore the apostle (Rom. iii. 21.) tells us, that this more perfect righteousness which was brought in by the gospel, or the Christian religion, is witnessed by “the law and the prophets.” And, indeed, the prophets every where do slight and undervalue the ritual and ceremonial part of religion, in comparison of the practice of moral duties: (Isa. i. 11.) “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? bring no more vain oblations; your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth.” But what then are the things that are acceptable to God? He tells us at the 1 6th verse: “Wash ye, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” And by the prophet Jeremiah, God tells that people, that the business of sacrifices was not the thing primarily designed by God, but obedience to the moral law; the ritual law came in upon occasion, for the prevention of idolatry, and by way of condescension to the temper of that people; and thus Maimonides and the learned Jews understood these words: (Jer. vii. 22, 23.) “I spake not unto your fathers, nor 334commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings and sacrifices; but this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and walk in all the ways that I have commanded, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” So likewise, in the prophet Hosea, God plainly prefers the moral before the ritual part of religion, as that which was principally designed and intended by him: (Hos. vi. 6.) “I desired mercy and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings; “but most plainly and expressly, (Mic. vi. 6.) “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings? will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, and ten thousand of rivers of oil? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? “These, it seems, were the great things which God stood upon, and required of men even under that imperfect dispensation; and these are the very things which the Christian religion doth so strictly enjoin and command; so that this righteousness, which the gospel requires, was witnessed to by “the law and the prophets.” I proceed to the
Second point, That the law of Moses, or the dispensation of the Jewish religion, was comparatively very weak, and insufficient to make men truly good, and for the promoting of real and inward righteousness: it gave laws, indeed, to this purpose, but those not so clear and perfect, or at least not so clearly understood, as they are now under the gospel; and it made no express promises of inward grace and assistance, to quicken and strengthen us in the doing of our duty; it made no explicit promises 335of any blessing and reward to the doing of our duty beyond this life; so that the best and most powerful arguments and encouragements to obedience, were either wholly wanting, or very obscurely revealed under this dispensation.
And this insufficiency of the Jewish dispensation, both to our justification and sanctification, to the reconciling of us to God, and the making of us really good, the apostle frequently inculcates in the New Testament: (St. Paul, 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; and, (Rom. viii. 3.) “What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh;” that is, by reason of the carnality of that dispensation, consisting in the purification of the body: (Gal. iii. 21.) he calls it a law unfit to give life: “If there had been a law which could have given life, verily righteousness had been by the law.” And the apostle to the Hebrews, (chap. viii. 6, 7, 8, &c.) finds fault with the dispensation of the law, for the lowness and meanness of its promises, being only of temporal good things; and for want of conferring an inward and a powerful principle to enable men to obedience; “but now hath he obtained (speaking of Christ) a more excellent ministry, by how much, also, he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises; for if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for a second;” and this second and better covenant, he tells us, was foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament; for, finding fault with them, 336he saith, “Behold the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and the house of Judah; not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers. 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 (chap. x. 1. 4.) he shews the inefficacy of their sacrifices for the real expiation of sin: “The law having but a shadow of good things to come, and not the lively representation of the things themselves, can never, with those sacrifices, which they offered year by year continually, make the comers thereunto perfect; for it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.”
I should now have proceeded to the third particular; namely, that the Christian religion hath supplied all the defects, and weakness, and imperfection of the Jewish dispensation; but that I shall not now enter upon, but make one plain inference from the substance of what I have already discoursed upon this argument.
If our Saviour came not to dissolve and loosen the obligation of moral duties, but to confirm and establish it, and to enforce and bind the practice of these duties more strongly upon us, then they do widely and wilfully mistake the design of Christianity, who teach that it dischargeth men from the obligation of the moral law, which is the fundamental and avowed principle of the antinomian doctrine, but directly contrary to this declaration of our Saviour in the text: “That he came not to destroy the law and the prophets,” but to perfect and fulfil them; (for to take away the obligation of 337a law, is plainly to destroy and make it void;) and contrary to the apostle’s solemn resolution of this matter: (Rom. iii. 31.) “Do we then make void the law through faith?” that is, does the gospel destroy and take away the obligation of the law? “God forbid; yea, we establish the law; the Christian religion is so far from designing or doing any such thing, that it gives new strength and force to it.
But surely they that teach this doctrine, did never duly consider that terrible threatening of our Saviour, after the text, which seems to be so directly levelled at them: “Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven;” for how can men more effectually teach the violation, not only of the least, but of the greatest of God’s commandments, than by declaring that the gospel hath set men free from the obligation of the moral law? which is, in effect, to say, that Christians may act contrary to all the duties of morality; that is, do the most impious things in the world without any offence against God; and, not withstanding this, continue to be his children, and highly in the favour of God.
And all the security they have against this impious consequence is, that weak and slender pretence, that gratitude and love to God will preserve them from making this ill use of the grace of the gospel, and oblige them to abstain from sin, and to endeavour to please God as much as any law could do. But then they do not consider the nonsense of this: for there can be no such thing as sin, if the obligation of the law be taken away; for “where there is no law there can be no transgression,” as the apostle, and common reason likewise, tell us; so that 338the law being removed and taken away, all actions become indifferent, and one thing is not more a sin, or offence against God, than another. And what, then, is it they mean, that gratitude will oblige men to, or preserve them from? when there can be no such thing as sin or duty, as pleasing or offending God, if there be no law to oblige us to the one, or restrain us from the other.
And what is, if this be not, “to turn the grace of God into wantonness,” and to make Christian liberty a cloak for all sorts of sins? A man cannot do a greater despite to the Christian religion, nor take a more effectual course to bring it into contempt, and to make it to be hissed out of the world, than to represent it as a lewd and licentious doctrine, which gives men a perfect discharge from all the duties of morality, and obligeth them only to believe confidently, that Christ hath purchased for them a liberty to do what they will; and that, upon these terms, and no other, they are secured of the favour of God in this world, and eternal salvation in the other. This is the sum, and the plain result, of the antinomian doctrine, the most pernicious heresy, and most directly destructive of the great end and design of Christianity, that ever yet was broached in the world. “But ye have not so learned Christ,” if so be ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, “as the truth is in Jesus; that ye put off, concerning your former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”339
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