The Law and the Prophets

Matthew 5:17

OUR Lord’s relation to the Mosaic Law has been misunderstood grievously. He declared that He came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17), and that is the key to the whole matter. Some speak slightly of the law, as though our Lord roughly disannulled it, but He regarded it as sacred. The law was the bud and He the blossom fulfilling it, but both bud and blossom are perfect in their own way.

The law is “holy, just and good,” but believers are not under law but under grace and in-lawed to Christ—”married to another” (Rom. 7:4). Christ was born under the law (Gal. 4:4), lived under the law, kept the law perfectly, bore the curse of the law in His death, and thereby redeemed us from it that we might be dead to it and bear fruit unto God (Rom. 7:4).

In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord set forth His relation to the Law and the Prophets. Far from disregarding the law, He declared that every jot and tittle should be fulfilled. Our righteousness must exceed the law-righteousness of the Pharisees, and it does because Christ Himself is our righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Cor. 1:30).

Then our Lord went back of the law to show that the real offense lay in a persons evil motive, the cause of sin. He showed that murder went back to hatred and anger, adultery to lust. He then laid down the only reason for divorce: fornication. Frivolous swearing and serious oaths alike are set aside in favor of letting “yes” and “no” suffice. He condemned revenge and set forth the ideal of the other cheek and the second mile. Much argument has raged as to how far we may practice this injunction in the present age, but the spirit of the second mile should be in every believer instead of that all-too-common “chip-on-the-shoulder” attitude. Impartial love to friend and enemy alike is the spirit of Christ, but, alas, we still love most those from whom we hope to receive.

Our Lord concluded this portion of His discourse by saying, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Here the idea is that of completeness, not sinless perfection. But even at that, the Sermon on the Mount sets before us an impossible ideal except for Calvary. Idealists and dreamers through the ages have tried to create communities where people lived by the Sermon on the Mount, but the ventures have been pitiful failures. Tolstoy and his colony were examples of this misguided impulse which has led many astray. Many preachers today follow only the Christ of the Mount, but we can only reach the Mount by way of Calvary. Christ met the demands of the law, and it is only Christ living within the believer who can live out the principles He Himself laid down. As I receive Him by faith and abide in Him, the Holy Spirit produces in me the fruits which the law demanded but could not create.

Nothing is more discouraging than the Sermon on the Mount unless we see it through the light of the cross. Only Christ can meet His own ideals, but this He will do in everyone who receives Him. Even then, we believe that the literal application of this sermon awaits the kingdom age to come—but the spiritual application is for us now, and is met by Christ through the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer.

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