“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” – Matthew 5:17
The “Law” is summed up in the Commandments, which were given from Sinai and were called the “covenant” with the children of Israel.
In Leviticus we read: “If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them… I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.”
There are passages in both the Old and New Testaments which have been interpreted to imply that the commandments will sometime be suspended or outgrown and other laws will take their place. Those who take this view call attention to the fact that Jeremiah tells of a time when the Lord will make a new covenant with His people: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord,” and that the Lord says, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time… But I say unto you…”
But Jeremiah continues: “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people,” and the Lord also says, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”
The inference that the Word teaches that in time the Commandments will become obsolete and inoperative is entirely unwarranted. The Scriptures nowhere teach any such doctrine. Such inferences, like the doctrine of tripersonality, are read into Scripture, not drawn from it. The Scriptures teach throughout that “The Lord thy God is one Lord,” and that His truth endures forever.
The Commandments were given from Mount Sinai by Divine command, after a careful guarding of the approaches to the mountain, and attended by thunder, lightning, and an earthquake, and the sounding of a trumpet. Then, we are told, God spoke with His own voice the Ten Commandments.
This is indeed a wonderful story, yet it is literally true. The awful majesty in which the Commandments were given has inspired in men a realization of their deep and holy authority. It has raised them above merely human maxims, and made them a firm and abiding foundation of law that changes not from age to age. The Christian Church needs to emphasize this fact, for we frequently hear it said that morals change, that what is good today may not be so regarded tomorrow, and that men make their own laws and can make new ones at their pleasure.
We will recall that the Commandments, after being given with the living voice, were written by the finger of God on two tables of stone, and placed in the Ark of the Testimony, which Ark was the sole article of furniture in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle, the place where God was believed to abide, and whence He answered the inquiries of the priests.
Because of the presence of the Commandments in the ark, it was the center of power so long as the people were obedient to the laws contained in it. The waters of Jordan were parted by it, the walls of Jericho fell before it. But when, in disobedience to the commandment, it was carried into battle by a corrupt priesthood, the battle was lost, the guardians of the Ark were slain, and the Ark itself was captured by the Philistines. Even then it had the power to overthrow the Philistine idol and to destroy their people.
There is something remarkable about the Commandments. They were the very first words given to Moses for our Bible and constitute, as it were, a summary of the whole Word, which was to be completed by continuance of revelation through the prophets. In giving them God speaks – for the first time in Israelitish history, or in Bible history, or in the world’s history – in the hearing of a multitude of people, and utters plain and definite commands. Often we read of God’s speaking to patriarch or prophet. In the Gospels we read of a voice from heaven, which some heard as thunder, others as an angel speaking; but now all the people hear the same message and realize that God has talked with them from heaven.
The fact that these laws, differently from all others, were spoken by the voice of God and written by His finger, and were placed in the Holy of Holies, and gave power and strength to the children of Israel is of vital, practical significance. If men deny their heavenly origin, their souls are in danger. If the Commandments fail to be regarded as civil and moral laws by the community or nation, society becomes disintegrated, and nations totter and fall. In their letter they have justly been called the constitution of the universe and are the basis of citizenship. In their spirit they are the foundation of heaven and of angelhood.
If we look at history and get a comprehensive view of the drama of human life as it has been acted out on the stage of actual events, and examine the motives which have impelled nations, and discern the forces which have led to their rise and overthrow, we will not make the careless utterance that there is no real fixed basis of morality or that that which is called right in one age is wrong in another, or that what are called good and evil are simply differences in human development.
The world of nature has its fixed laws. The sun, the moon, the stars, and the earths are governed by laws that change not. Must not this be equally true of the moral and spiritual universe? Can the laws of man’s body be fixed and the laws of his soul be variable?
What is the lesson for us?
If we think of the Commandments as the laws of God, we will recognize that it is not possible for us to change them. If they are the invention of men, then there is no supreme authority back of them. What comes from man himself he has the power to change or to transcend. In searching for truth, for absolute truth, we need to go further than merely human fancy. We must seek the Divine standard. The standard of evil and good is in the Decalogue. However far men may advance, these laws will remain the same.
Says the Psalmist, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The literal laws – Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, Honor thy father and thy mother, Thou shalt not kill, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, covet – must evermore stand as the literal as well as the spiritual requirements demanded by the Law of God. Outside of them there can be no safety to society or to the individual human soul. The Commandments have their inner and deeper meanings, but their literal meaning must not be spiritualized away. For God’s laws are not conventional customs. There are no laws that can take their place. The time may come when we may not need to remember not to kill or steal, but it will be only in the sense that, as the foundations of a house are underground out of sight after the house is built, they are still the basis on which the whole structure rests and endures.
It is useless to hew at the Rock of Ages. It cannot be destroyed. It is written, “Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” The Decalogue, spoken by God’s voice and written by His finger, is forever to be literally observed. Other precepts may change from age to age, but these never.
There is only one way to escape their severity. That is by fulfilling them in act and in spirit, and this is the second part of our lesson. “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart.” The old covenant is the law written upon stone. It is the covenant of hard obedience, of living according to the letter of the law whether we want to or not. The new covenant is not a new set of laws. “This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.” There is no abrogation of the law here. The new covenant is the voluntary reception of love and truth from God, and is represented by the sacrament of the Holy Supper. If we keep faithfully the covenant in the letter, because it is from God, the time will come when this same law will be written in our heart, and we shall keep the covenant in spirit as well as in the letter.
“Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.”