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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
a rule of action; a precept or command, coming from a superior authority, which an inferior is bound to obey. The manner in which God governs rational creatures is by a law, as the rule of their obedience to him, and this is what we call God's moral government of the world. The term, however, is used in Scripture with considerable latitude of meaning; and to ascertain its precise import in any particular place, it is necessary to regard the scope and connection of the passage in which it occurs. Thus, for instance, sometimes it denotes the whole revealed will of God as communicated to us in his word. In this sense it is generally used in the book of Psalms, Psalms 1:2; Psalms 19:7; Psalms 119; Isaiah 8:20; Isaiah 42:21 . Sometimes it is taken for the Mosaical institution distinguished from the Gospel, John 1:17; Matthew 11:13; Matthew 12:5; Acts 25:8 . Hence we frequently read of the law of Moses as expressive of the whole religion of the Jews, Hebrews 9:19; Hebrews 10:28 . Sometimes, in a more restricted sense, for the ritual or ceremonial observances of the Jewish religion. In this sense the Apostle speaks of "the law of commandments contained in ordinances."
Ephesians 2:15; Hebrews 10:1; and which, being only "a shadow of good things to come," Christ Jesus abolished by his death, and so in effect destroyed the ancient distinction between Jew and Gentile, Galatians 3:17 . Very frequently it is used to signify the decalogue, or ten precepts which were delivered to the Israelites from Mount Sinai. It is in this acceptation of the term that the Lord Jesus declares he "came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it," Matthew 5:17; and he explains its import as requiring perfect love to God and man Luke 10:27 . It is in reference to this view that St. Paul affirms, "By the deeds of the law shall no flesh living be justified; for by the law is the knowledge of sin,"
Romans 3:20 . The language of this law is, "The soul that sinneth it shall die," and "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written," or required, "in the book of the law, to do them," Galatians 3:10 . To deliver man from this penalty, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being himself made a curse for us," Galatians 3:13 . The law, in this sense, was not given that men should obtain righteousness or justification by it, but to convince them of sin, to show them their need of a Saviour, to shut them up, as it were, from all hopes of salvation from that source, and to recommend the Gospel of divine grace to their acceptance, Galatians 3:19-25 . Again, the law often denotes the rule of good and evil, or of right and wrong, revealed by the Creator and inscribed on man's conscience, even at his creation, and consequently binding upon him by divine authority; and in this respect it is in substance the same with the decalogue. That such a law was connate with, and, as it were, implanted in, man, appears from its traces, which, like the ruins of some noble building, are still extant in every man. It is from those common notions, handed down by tradition, though often imperfect and perverted, that the Heathens themselves distinguished right from wrong, by which "they were a law unto themselves, showing the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness," Romans 2:12-15 , although they had no express revelation.
The term law, is, however, eminently given to the Mosaic law; on the principles and spirit of which, a few general remarks may be offered. The right consideration of this divine institute, says Dr. Graves, will surround it with a glory of truth and holiness, not only worthy of its claims, but which has continued to be the light of the world on theological and moral subjects, and often on great political principles, to this day. If we examine the Jewish law, to discover the principle on which the whole system depends, the primary truth, to inculcate and illustrate which is its leading object, we find it to be that great basis of all religion, both natural and revealed, the self-existence, essential unity, perfections, and providence of the supreme Jehovah, the Creator of heaven and earth. The first line of the Mosaic writings inculcates this great truth: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." When the lawgiver begins to recapitulate the statutes and judgments he had enjoined to his nation, it is with this declaration: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord,"
Deuteronomy 6:4; or, as it might be more closely expressed, Jehovah our Elohim, or God, is one Jehovah. And at the commencement of that sublime hymn, delivered by Moses immediately before his death, in which this illustrious prophet sums up the doctrines he had taught, the wonders by which they had been confirmed, and the denunciations by which they were enforced, he declares this great tenet with the sublimity of eastern poetry, but at the same time with the precision of philosophic truth: "Give ear," says he, "O ye heavens, and I will speak: and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop rain: my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb and as the showers upon the grass," Deuteronomy 32:1 , &c. What, is that doctrine so awful, that the whole universe is thus invoked to attend to it? so salutary as to be compared with the principle whose operation diffuses beauty and fertility over the vegetable world? Hear the answer: "Because I will publish the name of Jehovah; ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the rock, his work is perfect: a God of truth, and without iniquity, just and right is he."
This, then, is one great leading doctrine of the Jewish code. But the manner in which this doctrine is taught displays such wise accommodation to the capacity and character of the nation to whom it is addressed, as deserves to be carefully remarked. That character by which the supreme Being is most clearly distinguished from every other, however exalted; that character from which the acutest reasoners have endeavoured demonstratively to deduce, as from their source, all the divine attributes, is self-existence. Is it not then highly remarkable, that it is under this character the Divinity is described on his first manifestation to the Jewish lawgiver? The Deity at first reveals himself unto him as the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; and therefore the peculiar national and guardian God of the Jewish race. Moses, conscious of the degeneracy of the Israelites, their ignorance of, or their inattention to, the true God, and the difficulty and danger of any attempt to recall them to his exclusive worship, and to withdraw them from Egypt, seems to decline the task; but when absolutely commanded to undertake it, he said unto God, "Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I am that I am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you,"
Exodus 3:13-14 . Here we observe, according to the constant method of the divine wisdom, when it condescends to the prejudices of men, how in the very instance of indulgence it corrects their superstition. The religion of names arose from an idolatrous polytheism; and the name given here directly opposes this error, and in the ignorance of that dark and corrupted period establishes that great truth, to which the most enlightened philosophy can add no new lustre, and on which all the most refined speculations on the divine nature ultimately rest, the self-existence, and, by consequence, the eternity and immutability, of the one great Jehovah.
But though the self-existence of the Deity was a fact too abstract to require its being frequently inculcated, his essential unity was a practical principle, the sure foundation on which to erect the structure of true religion, and form a barrier against the encroachments of idolatry: for this commenced not so frequently in denying the existence, or even the supremacy, of the one true God, as in associating with him for objects of adoration inferior intermediate beings, who were supposed to be more directly employed in the administration of human affairs. To confute and resist this false principle was, therefore, one great object of the Jewish scheme. Hence the unity of God is inculcated with perpetual solicitude; it stands at the head of the system of moral law promulgated to the Jews from Sinai by the divine voice, heard by the assembled nation, and issuing from the divine glory, with every circumstance which could impress the deepest awe upon even the dullest minds: "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; thou shalt have no others gods beside me," Exodus 20:2-3 . And in the recapitulation of the divine laws in Deuteronomy, It is repeatedly enforced with the most solemn earnestness: "Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord,"
Deuteronomy 6:4 . And again: "Unto thee it was showed, that thou mightest know that the Lord he is God; there is none else beside him. Know, therefore, this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord he is God in heaven above, and in the earth beneath: there is none else,"
Deuteronomy 4:35; Deuteronomy 4:39 .
This self-existent, supreme and only God is moreover described as possessed of every perfection which can be ascribed to the Divinity: "Ye shall be holy," says the Lord to the people of the Jews; "for I the Lord your God am holy," Leviticus 19:2 . "Ascribe ye," says the legislator, "greatness unto our God; he is the rock; his work is perfect; a God of truth, and without iniquity, just and right is he," Deuteronomy 32:4 . And in the hymn of thanksgiving on the miraculous escape of the Israelites at the Red Sea, this is its burden: "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like unto thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" Exodus 15:11 . And when the Lord delivered to Moses the two tables of the moral law, he is described as descending in the cloud, and proclaiming the name of the Lord: "And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty," Exodus 34:6-7 .
But to teach the self-existence, the unity, the wisdom, and the power of the Deity, nay, even his moral perfections of mercy, justice, and truth, would have been insufficient to arrest the attention, and command the obedience of a nation, the majority of which looked no farther than mere present objects, and at that early period cherished scarcely any hopes higher than those of a temporal kind,—if, in addition to all this, care had not been taken to represent the providence of God as not only directing the government of the universe by general laws, but also perpetually superintending the conduct and determining the fortune of every nation, of every family, nay, of every individual. It was the disbelief or the neglect of this great truth which gave spirit and energy, plausibility and attraction to the whole system of idolatry. While men believed that the supreme God and Lord of all was too exalted in his dignity, too remote from this sublunary scene, to regard its vicissitudes with an attentive eye, and too constantly engaged in the contemplation of his own perfections, and the enjoyment of his own independent and all-perfect happiness, to interfere in the regulation of human affairs, they regarded with indifference that supreme Divinity who seemed to take no concern in their conduct, and not to interfere as to their happiness. However exalted and perfect such a Being might appear to abstract speculation, he was to the generality of mankind as if he did not exist; as their happiness or misery were not supposed to be influenced by his power, they referred not their conduct to his direction. If he delegated to inferior beings the regulation of this inferior world; if all its concerns were conducted by their immediate agency, and all its blessings or calamities distributed by their immediate determination; it seemed rational, and even necessary, to supplicate their favour and submit to their authority; and neither unwise nor unsafe to neglect that Being, who, though all-perfect and supreme, would, on this supposition appear, with respect to mankind, altogether inoperative. In truth, this fact of the perpetual providence of God extending even to the minutest events, is inseparably connected with every motive which is offered to sway the conduct of the Jews, and forcibly inculcated by every event of their history. This had been manifested in the appointment of the land of Canaan for the future settlement of the chosen people on the first covenant which God entered into with the Patriarch Abraham; in the prophecy, that for four hundred years they should be afflicted in Egypt, and afterward be thence delivered; in the increase of their nation, under circumstances of extreme oppression, and their supernatural deliverance from that oppression. The same providence was displayed in the destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea; the travels of the thousands of Israel through the wilderness, sustained by food from heaven; and in their subsequent settlement in the promised land by means entirely distinct from their own strength. Reliance on the same providence was the foundation of their civil government, the spirit and the principle of their constitution. On this only could they be commanded to keep the sabbatic year without tilling their land, or even gathering its spontaneous produce; confiding in the promise, that God would send his blessing on the sixth year, so that it should bring forth fruit for three years, Leviticus 25:21 . The same faith in Divine Providence alone could prevail on them to leave their properties and families exposed to the attack of their surrounding enemies; while all the males of the nation assembled at Jerusalem to celebrate the three great festivals, enjoined by divine command, with the assurance that no man should desire their land when they went up to appear before the Lord their God thrice in the year, Exodus 34:24 . And, finally, it is most evident, that, contrary to all other lawgivers, the Jewish legislator renders his civil institutions entirely subordinate to his religious; and announces to his nation that their temporal adversity or prosperity would entirely depend, not on their observance of their political regulations; not on their preserving a military spirit, or acquiring commercial wealth, or strengthening themselves by powerful alliances; but on their continuing to worship the one true God according to the religious rites and ceremonies by him prescribed, and preserving their piety and morals untainted by the corruptions and vices which idolatry tended to introduce.
Such was the theology of the Jewish religion, at a period when the whole world was deeply infected with idolatry; when all knowledge of the one true God, all reverence for his sacred name, all reliance on his providence, all obedience to his laws, were nearly banished from the earth; when the severest chastisements had been tried in vain; when no hope of reformation appeared from the refinements of civilization or the researches of philosophy; for the most civilized and enlightened nations adopted with the greatest eagerness, and disseminated with the greatest activity, the absurdities, impieties, and pollutions of idolatry. Then was the Jewish law promulgated to a nation, who, to mere human judgment, might have appeared incapable of inventing or receiving such a high degree of intellectual and moral improvement; for they had been long enslaved to the Egyptians, the authors and supporters of the grossest idolatry; they had been weighed down by the severest bondage, perpetually harassed by the most incessant manual labours; for the Egyptians "made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field," Exodus 1:14 . At this time, and in this nation, was the Mosaic law promulgated, teaching the great principles of true religion, the self- existence, the unity, the perfections, and the providence of the one great Jehovah; reprobating all false gods, all image worship, all the absurdities and profanations of idolatry. At this time, and in this nation, was a system of government framed, which had for its basis the reception of, and steady adherence to, this system of true religion; and establishing many regulations which would be in the highest degree irrational, and could never hope to be received, except from a general and thorough reliance on the superintendence of Divine Providence, controlling the course of nature, and directing every event, so as to proportion the prosperity of the Hebrew people, according to their obedience to that law which they had received as divine.
It is an obvious, but it is not therefore a less important remark, that to the Jewish religion we owe that admirable summary of moral duty, contained in the ten commandments. All fair reasoners will admit that each of these must be understood to condemn, not merely the extreme crime which it expressly prohibits, but every inferior offence of the same kind, and every mode of conduct leading to such transgression; and, on the contrary, to enjoin opposite conduct, and the cultivation of opposite dispositions. Thus, the command, "Thou shalt not kill," condemns not merely the single crime of deliberate murder, but every kind of violence, and every indulgence of passion and resentment, which tends either to excite such violence, or to produce that malignant disposition of mind, in which the guilt of murder principally consists: and similarly of the rest. In this extensive interpretation of the commandments, we are warranted, not merely by the deductions of reason, but by the letter of the law itself. For the addition of the last, "Thou shalt not covet," proves clearly that in all, the dispositions of the heart, as much as the immediate outward act, is the object of the divine Legislator; and thus it forms a comment on the meaning, as well as a guard for the observance, of all the preceding commands. Interpreted in this natural and rational latitude, how comprehensive and important is this summary of moral duty! It inculcates the adoration of the one true God, who "made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is;" who must, therefore, be infinite in power, and wisdom, and goodness; the object of exclusive adoration; of gratitude for every blessing we enjoy; of fear, for he is a jealous God; of hope, for he is merciful. It prohibits every species of idolatry; whether by associating false gods with the true, or worshipping the true by symbols and images. Commanding not to take the name of God in vain, it enjoins the observance of all outward respect for the divine authority, as well as the cultivation of inward sentiments and feelings suited to this outward reverence; and it establishes the obligation of oaths, and, by consequence, of all compacts and deliberate promises; a principle, without which the administration of laws would be impracticable, and the bonds of society must be dissolved. By commanding to keep holy the Sabbath, as the memorial of the creation, it establishes the necessity of public worship, and of a stated and outward profession of the truths of religion, as well as of the cultivation of suitable feelings; and it enforces this by a motive which is equally applicable to all mankind, and which should have taught the Jew that he ought to consider all nations as equally creatures of that Jehovah whom he himself adored; equally subject to his government, and, if sincerely obedient, entitled to all the privileges his favour could bestow. It is also remarkable, that this commandment, requiring that the rest of the Sabbath should include the man-servant, and the maid-servant, and the stranger that was within their gates, nay, even their cattle, proved that the Creator of the universe extended his attention to all his creatures; that the humblest of mankind were the objects of his paternal love; that no accidental differences, which so often create alienation among different nations, would alienate any from the divine regard; and that even the brute creation shared the benevolence of their Creator, and ought to be treated by men with gentleness and humanity.
When we proceed to the second table, comprehending more expressly our social duties, we find all the most important principles on which they depend clearly enforced. The commandment which enjoins, "Honour thy father and mother," sanctions the principles, not merely of filial obedience, but of all those duties which arise from our domestic relations; and, while it requires not so much any one specific act, as the general disposition which should regulate our whole course of conduct in this instance, it impresses the important conviction, that the entire law proceeds from a Legislator able to search and judge the heart of man. The subsequent commands coincide with the clear dictates of reason, and prohibit crimes which human laws in general have prohibited as plainly destructive of social happiness. But it was of infinite importance to rest the prohibitions, "Thou shalt not kill," "Thou shalt not commit adultery," "Thou shalt not steal," "Thou shalt not bear false witness," not merely on the deductions of reason, but also on the weight of a divine authority. How often have false ideas of public good in some places, depraved passions in others, and the delusions of idolatry in still more, established a law of reputation contrary to the dictates of reason, and the real interests of society. In one country we see theft allowed, if perpetrated with address; in others, piracy and rapine honoured, if conducted with intrepidity. Sometimes we perceive adultery permitted, the most unnatural crimes committed without remorse or shame; nay, every species of impurity enjoined and consecrated as a part of divine worship. In others, we find revenge honoured as spirit, and death inflicted at its impulse with ferocious triumph. Again, we see every feeling of nature outraged, and parents exposing their helpless children to perish for deformity of body or weakness of mind; or, what is still more dreadful, from mercenary or political views; and this inhuman practice familiarized by custom, and authorized by law. And, to close the horrid catalogue, we see false religions leading their deluded votaries to heap the altars of their idols with human victims; the master butchers his slave, the conqueror his captive; nay, dreadful to relate, the parent sacrifices his children, and, while they shriek amidst the tortures of the flames, or in the agonies of death, he drowns their cries by the clangour of cymbals and the yells of fanaticism. Yet these abominations, separate or combined, have disgraced ages and nations which we are accustomed to admire and celebrate as civilized and enlightened,—Babylon and Egypt, Phenicia and Carthage, Greece and Rome. Many of these crimes legislators have enjoined, or philosophers defended. What, indeed, could be hoped from legislators and philosophers, when we recollect the institutions of Lycurgus, especially as to purity of manners, and the regulations of Plato on the same subject, in his model of a perfect republic; when we consider the sensuality of the Epicureans, and immodesty of the Cynics; when we find suicide applauded by the Stoics, and the murderous combats of gladiators defended by Cicero, and exhibited by Trajan. Such variation and inconstancy in the rule and practice of moral duty, as established by the feeble or fluctuating authority of human opinion, demonstrates the utility of a clear divine interposition, to impress these important prohibitions; and it is difficult for any sagacity to calculate how far such an interposition was necessary, and what effect it may have produced by influencing human opinions and regulating human conduct, when we recollect that the Mosaic code was probably the first written law ever delivered to any nation; and that it must have been generally known in those eastern countries, from which the most ancient and celebrated legislators and sages derived the models of their laws and the principles of their philosophy.
But the Jewish religion promoted the interests of moral virtue, not merely by the positive injunctions of the decalogue; it also inculcated clearly and authoritatively the two great principles on which all piety and virtue depend, and which our blessed Lord recognised as the commandments on which hang the law and the prophets,—the principles of love to God and love to our neighbour. The love of God is every where enjoined in the Mosaic law, as the ruling disposition of the heart, from which all obedience should spring, and in which it ought to terminate. With what solemnity does the Jewish lawgiver impress it at the commencement of his recapitulation of the divine law: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might," Deuteronomy 6:4-5 . And again: "And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul?" Deuteronomy 10:12 . Nor is the love of our neighbour less explicitly enforced: "Thou shalt not," says the law, "avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord,"
Leviticus 19:18 . The operation of this benevolence, thus solemnly required, was not to be confined to their own countrymen; it was to extend to the stranger, who, having renounced idolatry, was permitted to live among them, worshipping the true God, though without submitting to circumcision or the other ceremonial parts of the Mosaic law: "If a stranger," says the law, "sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord thy God," Leviticus 19:33-34 .
Thus, on a review of the topics we have discussed, it appears that the Jewish law promulgated the great principles of moral duty in the decalogue, with a solemnity suited to their high preeminence; that it enjoined love to God with the most unceasing solicitude, and love to our neighbour, as extensively and forcibly, as the peculiar design of the Jewish economy, and the peculiar character of the Jewish people, would permit; that it impressed the deepest conviction of God's requiring, not mere external observances, but heart-felt piety, well regulated desires, and active benevolence; that it taught sacrifice could not obtain pardon without repentance, or repentance without reformation and restitution; that it described circumcision itself, and, by consequence, every other legal rite, as designed to typify and inculcate internal holiness, which alone could render men acceptable to God; that it represented the love of God as designed to act as a practical principle, stimulating to the constant and sincere cultivation of purity, mercy, and truth; and that it enforced all these principles and precepts by sanctions the most likely to operate powerfully on minds unaccustomed to abstract speculations and remote views, even by temporal rewards and punishments; the assurance of which was confirmed from the immediate experience of similar rewards and punishments, dispensed to their enemies and to themselves by that supernatural Power which had delivered the Hebrew nation out of Egypt, conducted them through the wilderness, planted them in the land of Canaan, regulated their government, distributed their possessions, and to which alone they could look to obtain new blessings, or secure those already enjoyed. From all this we derive another presumptive argument for the divine authority of the Mosaic code; and it may be contended, that a moral system thus perfect, promulgated at so early a period, to such a people, and enforced by such sanctions as no human power could undertake to execute, strongly bespeaks a divine original.
2. The moral law is sometimes called the Mosaic law, because it was one great branch of those injunctions which, under divine authority, Moses enjoined upon the Israelites when they were gathered into a political community under the theocracy. But it existed previously as the law of all mankind; and it has been taken up into the Christian system, and there more fully illustrated. As the obligation of the moral law upon Christians has, however, been disputed by some perverters of the Christian faith, or held by others on loose and fallacious grounds, this subject ought to be clearly understood. It is, nevertheless, to be noticed, that the morals of the New Testament are not proposed to us in the form of a regular code. Even in the books of Moses, which have the legislative form to a great extent, not all the principles and duties which constituted the full character of "godliness," under that dispensation, are made the subjects of formal injunction by particular precepts. They are partly infolded in general principles, or often take the form of injunction in an apparently incidental manner, or are matters of obvious inference. A preceding code of traditionary moral law is all along supposed in the writings of Moses and the prophets, as well as a consuetudinary ritual and a doctrinal theology, both transmitted from the patriarchs. This, too, is eminently the case with Christianity. It supposes that all who believed in Christ admitted the divine authority of the Old Testament; and it assumes the perpetual authority of its morals, as well as the truth of its fundamental theology. The constant allusions in the New Testament to the moral rules of the Jews and patriarchs, either expressly as precepts, or as the data of argument, sufficiently guard us against the notion, that what has not in so many words been re-enacted by Christ and his Apostles is of no authority among Christians. In a great number of instances, however, the form of injunction is directly preceptive, so as to have all the explicitness and force of a regular code of law, and is, as much as a regular code could be, a declaration of the sovereign will of Christ, enforced by the sanctions of eternal life and death. This, however, is a point on which a few confirmatory observations may be usefully adduced. No part of the preceding dispensation, designated generally by the appellation of "the law," is repealed in the New Testament, but what is obviously ceremonial, typical, and incapable of coexisting with Christianity. Our Lord, in his discourse with the Samaritan woman, declares, that the hour of the abolition of the temple worship was come; the Apostle Paul, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, teaches us that the Levitical services were but shadows, the substance and end of which is Christ; and the ancient visible church, as constituted upon the ground of natural descent from Abraham, was abolished by the establishment of a spiritual body of believers to take its place. No precepts of a purely political nature, that is, which respect the civil subjection of the Jews to their theocracy, are, therefore, of any force to us as laws, although they may have, in many cases, the greatest authority as principles. No ceremonial precepts can be binding, since they were restrained to a period terminating with the death and resurrection of Christ; nor are even the patriarchal rites of circumcision and the passover obligatory upon Christians, since we have sufficient evidence that they were of an adumbrative character, and were laid aside by the first inspired teachers of Christianity.
With the moral precepts which abound in the Old Testament the case is very different, as sufficiently appears from the different, and even contrary, manner in which they are always spoken of by Christ and his Apostles. When our Lord, in his sermon on the mount, says, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil;" that is, to confirm or establish it; the entire scope of his discourse shows that he is speaking exclusively of the moral precepts of "the law," eminently so called, and of the moral injunctions of the prophets founded upon them, and to which he thus gives an equal authority. And in so solemn a manner does he enforce this, that he adds, doubtless as foreseeing that attempts would be made by deceiving or deceived men, professing his religion, to lessen the authority of the moral law, "Whosoever, therefore, 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, as St. Chrysostom interprets, "He shall be the farthest from attaining heaven and happiness, which imports that he shall not attain it at all." In like manner St. Paul, after having strenuously maintained the doctrine of justification by faith alone, anticipates an objection by asking, "Do we then make void the law through faith?" and subjoins, "God forbid: yea, we establish the law;" meaning by "the law," as the context and his argument clearly show, the moral and not the ceremonial law.
After such declarations, it is worse than trifling for any to contend that, in order to establish the authority of the moral law of the Jews over Christians, it ought to have been formally reenacted. To this we may, however, farther reply, not only that many important moral principles and rules found in the Old Testament were never formally enacted among the Jews; were traditional from an earlier age; and received at different times the more indirect authority of inspired recognition; but, to put the matter in a stronger light, that all the leading moral precepts of the Jewish Scriptures are, in point of fact, proposed in the New Testament in a manner which has the full force of formal reenactment, as the laws of the Christian church. This argument, from the want of formal reenactment, will therefore have no weight. The summary of the law and the prophets, which is to love God with all our heart, and to serve him with all our strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves, is unquestionably enjoined, and even reenacted by the Christian lawgiver. When our Lord is explicitly asked by "one who came unto him and said, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" the answer given shows that the moral law contained in the decalogue is so in force under the Christian dispensation, that obedience to it is necessary to final salvation:— "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." And that nothing ceremonial is intended by this term, is manifest from what follows: "He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal," &c. Matthew 19:17-19 . Here, also, we have all the force of a formal reenactment of the decalogue, a part of it being evidently put for the whole. Nor were it difficult to produce passages from the discourses of Christ and the writings of the Apostles, which enjoin all the precepts of this law taken separately, by their authority, as indispensable parts of Christian duty, and that, too, under their original sanctions of life and death; so that the two circumstances which form the true character of a law in its highest sense, divine authority and penal sanctions, are found as truly in the New Testament as in the Old. It will not, for instance, be contended, that the New Testament does not enjoin the acknowledgment and worship of one God alone; nor that it does not prohibit idolatry; nor that it does not level its maledictions against false and profane swearing; nor that the Apostle Paul does not use the very words of the fifth commandment preceptively, when he says, "Honour thy father and mother, which is the first commandment with promise," Ephesians 6:2; nor that murder, adultery, theft, false witness, and covetousness are not all prohibited under pain of exclusion from the kingdom of God. Thus, then, we have the whole decalogue brought into the Christian code of morals, by a distinct injunction of its separate precepts, and by their recognition as of permanent and unchangeable obligation; the fourth commandment, respecting the Sabbath only, being so far excepted, that its injunction is not so expressly marked. This, however, is no exception in fact; for beside that its original place in the two tables sufficiently distinguishes it from all positive, ceremonial, and typical precepts, and gives it a moral character, in respect to its ends, which are, first, mercy to servants and cattle, and, second, the worship of almighty God, undisturbed by worldly interruptions and cares, it is necessarily included in that "law" which our Lord declares he came not to destroy, or abrogate; in that "law" which St. Paul declares to be "established by faith," and among those "commandments" which our Lord declares must be "kept," if any one would "enter into life." To this, also, the practice of the Apostles is to be added, who did not cease themselves from keeping one day in seven holy, nor teach others so to do; but gave to "the Lord's day" that eminence and sanctity in the Christian church which the seventh day had in the Jewish, by consecrating it to holy uses; an alteration not affecting the precept at all, except in an unessential circumstance, (if indeed in that,) and in which we may suppose them to have acted under divine suggestion.
Thus, then, we have the obligation of the whole decalogue as fully established in the New Testament as in the Old, as if it had been formally reenacted; and that no formal reenactment of it took place, is itself a presumptive proof that it was never regarded by the lawgiver as temporary, which the formality of republication might have supposed. It is important to remark, however, that, although the moral laws of the Mosaic dispensation pass into the Christian code, they stand there in other and higher circumstances; so that the New Testament is a more perfect dispensation of the knowledge of the moral will of God than the Old. In particular, (1.) They are more expressly extended to the heart, as by our Lord, in his sermon on the mount; who teaches us that the thought and inward purpose of any offence is a violation of the law prohibiting its external and visible commission.
(2.) The principles on which they are founded are carried out in the New Testament into a greater variety of duties, which, by embracing more perfectly the social and civil relations of life, are of a more universal character.
(3.) There is a much more enlarged injunction of positive and particular virtues, especially those which constitute the Christian temper.
(4.) By all overt acts being inseparably connected with corresponding principles in the heart, in order to constitute acceptable obedience, which principles suppose the regeneration of the soul by the Holy Ghost. This moral renovation is, therefore, held out as necessary to our salvation, and promised as a part of the grace of our redemption by Christ.
(5.) By being connected with promises of divine assistance, which is peculiar to a law connected with evangelical provisions.
(6.) By their having a living illustration in the perfect and practical example of Christ.
(7.) By the higher sanctions derived from the clearer revelation of a future state, and the more explicit promises of eternal life, and threatenings of eternal punishment. It follows from this, that we have in the Gospel the most complete and perfect revelation of moral law ever given to men; and a more exact manifestation of the brightness, perfection, and glory of that law, under which angels and our progenitors in paradise were placed, and which it is at once the delight and the interest of the most perfect and happy beings to obey.
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Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Law'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/l/law.html. 1831-2.