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SERMONS OF PROF. THOLUCK.'
THE RELATION OF CHRISTIANS TO THE LAW.
If we institute a comparison between the form which piety assumes in our own time, and that which it assumed in the time of our forefathers, we shall find that a prominent distinction between the two is the following: the piety of our forefathers was connected in a high degree with an external discipline in religious duties, while piety with us is dependent upon this discipline no further than the feelings of any one may more or less incline him to make it so. Our fathers were stimulated by faith in these words of the apostle,'God will have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth; and they demanded therefore of every one, that he pray 'with fear and trembling,' that he seek, that he knock, until the door be opened, until Christ come and keep the sacramental feast with his soul. We, on the contrary, seem to be often influenced by an impression, that the language of the apostle, 'all men have not faith,' has no other meaning than this,-in order to have faith men must be inwardly organized as it is called, in an appointed way. And accordingly we see, that the one class of believers displayed, in their life, a fertile power of faith, and brought forth much fair fruit; while the other class remain dry and unfruitful trees. Our fathers however found a great part of their guilt to consist in the fact, that the discipline of the law did not control, with sufficient power, their internal christian character. If now we take notice that Christians of modern days are speaking constantly and exclusively of Freedom, of Spirit, of the Children of God, but very seldom of the Discipline of Law, of Self-denial, and the true idea of
1 See Note A, at the close of the Sermons.
* An Analysis of each sermon is given in the notes. For an analysis of this, see Note B, at the close of the Sermons.
the word Servant of God; we shall regard it as a profitable exercise, to examine the question, what is the true idea of the outward disciplinary influence of law upon the inward christian character. A comprehensive and profound explanation of the subject we find in the expression of our Lord, Mark 2: 27, 28. "And he said unto them, the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath day.”
There is something enigmatical in these words, and yet their meaning may be easily discovered. That the Saviour permitted his disciples to pluck the ears of corn on the Sabbath, and thus to break the law of a rigid observance of the day, has been a stumbling stone to theologians. By this act the Lord shows what is the binding force of an external, and especially a ceremonial law. Man, he says, was not made for the Sabbath; that is, the end of man's existence is not attained by the observance of the ceremonial law, the end of his existence is life in God; instead of man's being made for the Sabbath, the Sabbath was made for him, that is, such external ordinances as the Sabbath, are instituted only for the purpose of educating man; they are an external discipline, designed to form him from without to that character, for which he has no strength to determine himself from within. The thoughts of man, created as he is by God, should habitually come forth from within, to fasten on his Creator. The flesh, however, is weak; Israel must therefore have its Sabbath and Christendom its Sunday, so that by this outward discipline, the spirit may be educated to the same goodness which it ought to work out from its inward impulses. And as these ceremonial commands and ordinances are given merely for the sake of man, so likewise in a certain sense may it be said, that all the moral commands of God, as far as they are mere commands, are given for the same end. Only while the Spirit of God does not incline us from within to all good, are these commands necessary. But the Son of man, as it is here said, is Lord of the Sabbath; for whoever has the Spirit without measure, as Christ is represented to have had, can stand in no need of a law educating from without.
You see, my worshipping friends, how clearly as well as profoundly this language of the Saviour instructs us in the application of the outward discipline of law to faithful Christians. The Son of man and of God is Lord over the law, because he has the Spirit
1 See Note C, at the close of the Sermons.
without measure. The same Spirit, however, will be given to his followers through faith and therefore this language teaches us, in the first place, that where the Spirit of God controls, the outward discipline of the law ceases; but it teaches us, with the same certainty, in the second place, that where the Spirit of God does not yet control, there the outward discipline of the law must remain.
I say, where the Spirit of God controls, there all outward discipline of the law ceases. To the righteous, says the apostle, no law is given; and again, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty; and still again, all things are yours; and finally, I have all power.1 These are bold, they are hazardous words. They are such words, as a fanatic hurls, as he would a burning torch, into the world. And yet, beloved, we have long known, that as there must be a light to make a shadow, so there must be a great truth to correspond with every great error; that the errors, which we call effective, only borrow their efficiency from a great truth deformed. It is undeniable, that Christianity, in its development, aims at a state, in which there is a degree of freedom, which excludes all kind of restraint. Where the Spirit of God controls the inmost affections with absolute sway, there, certainly, the commands of religion cease to interfere with the man's will; yea, no commands at all are given to such a man. What does he know of the command, Love God above all things else, when the love of God is to him the very life of his soul? What does he know of the command, Love thy brother, when brotherly love has become so much of a second nature to him, that he ceases to breathe when he ceases to love? The same may be
said of all the commands of religion, of self-denial, chastity, humility. As it stands recorded of the pious man, that he is a tree planted by the water-brooks, which bringeth forth its fruit in its season, so all good works, in their season, that is, whenever they are called for from without, are performed by the man of this priestly spirit, without his even thinking of the fact, that they are required by a command.
Does this ideal of character, which I present before you, seem too elevated? Consider the manner in which we, who have received the first fruits of the Spirit, are already affected in reference to civil laws? Who is influenced by the consideration, that the
I See 1 Tim. 1: 9. 2 Cor. 3: 17. 1 Cor. 3: 21. 2 Cor. 4: 15: 6. 10. Phil. 4: 13. 1 Cor. 6: 12, 10; 23.-TR.
civil law commands, under severe penalties, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery. These commands are obeyed by us from our own inward impulses. We should be obliged to deny ourselves, in order to conduct differently from what the law requires; and therefore amid all the restraints of command, we know ourselves to be free.-Oh how happy is that state, when we do not need to urge ourselves to obey the law of God; when, as Paul says, the Spirit of God incites the children of God; when it is no more commanded from without, do this, do that, forsake this, forsake that; when to do the will of the Deity is the food of our souls. He who has been made by the Divine Spirit, thus inwardly free from all law; how he stands up, untrammelled amid the restraints imposed by all the relations of the world, yea even by its calamities! He is free when in chains, free in the prison, free under the pressure of gnawing disease.-It is the will of God which has selected for me the chain, the prison, the disease; and as my will is not discordant with the Divine, so under all these restrictions I am free. Imagine, what must be my consciousness of king-like elevation, when all the events, which occur to me as by necessity from without, are yet freely chosen and determined by myself. That was the sentiment of a king, with which the first Christians went through the world, and with which Paul cried out, All things are yours. Yea truly where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom; but where it is not, there discipline is imperiously needed.
And does this Spirit of the Lord rule constantly in us, who are believers? If Paul speaks of himself and of all Christians, as those who have received only the first fruits of the Spirit, and who are even yet waiting for the full harvest ;-and not only the creature, he says, but we ourselves also, who have received the first fruits of the Spirit, long within ourselves after the adoption; if he speaks thus of himself, what must we, in our poverty, say of ourselves? This we must say; that where the Spirit of God does not control, there the external discipline of the law must remain. Yea, friends, so far as the Spirit of God does not bear the sceptre within us all, so far we still need the law. And particularly, we need the law, in the first place, as a representative of the virtue which we do not possess; in the second place, as a barrier against the sin which
1 Rom. 8: 23.
importunes us; and in the third place, as a seal of the method of salvation which we have chosen, of salvation by grace.1
We need the law, as a representative of the virtue which we do not possess. The knowledge of sin, says Paul, comes from the law, and in this manner we obtain an idea of that virtue of which we are destitute. Many proofs may be given of the truth of Christianity, and of the divine origin of the Holy Scriptures; but, my friends, I am not able to mention a single proof, which is higher and more urgent than this, there is no book which unfolds, as the Bible does, the secrets of the human heart. The mysteries of God are great in the height to which the Bible has carried us; but truly the mysteries of the human heart, in the depth to which the Bible has carried us, are equally great; and in proportion as the Spirit of the Lord does not rule in our affections, we must be educated, all the days of our life, in this school of self-knowledge. Paul was far advanced in the knowledge of himself, and yet he felt obliged to utter the memorable remark, It is to me a small thing, that I should be judged before a human tribunal; I even judge not mine own self: I am conscious of nothing amiss, but by this pure consciousness I am not justified; it is the Lord who judgeth me."2 If you would perceive, my friends, how far you have advanced in the knowledge of yourselves, then answer the question, can you repeat, in sincere self-application, these words of the apostle? Are you actually persuaded, that if you were conscious of having committed no sin at all, still you would not be thereby justified? If you can and must acknowledge this, then you need a mirror, which may show you the virtue which is wanting; you need the mirror of the divine law.
To be particular, I understand here by the term law, not merely the laws of the Old Testament, but every thing which stands recorded in the Scriptures, so far as we consider it as a command, from which may be learned the claims of God. Thus the narrations of the Old Testament, in which God contends with his people, because they were continually forsaking the fountain of life, and becoming idolaters, are a mirror of the law, a constant proclamation to the heart of man,- Thou shalt have no other Gods besides me.' So the whole history of Jesus Christ is a proclamation to the heart of 1 Salvation is here used in its wide sense, as exemption from punishment hereafter, and from its precursors here.-TR.
1 Cor. 4: 2, 3. See Calvin on the passage. Vol. I. P. 257.-TR.