Considered with respect both to

                         its own nature, and to its relative

                         place in successive dispensations.





                                    Patrick Fairbairn, D.D.







Report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt:






















               T. & T. Clark's 1869















THE subject handled in the following Lectures enters

so deeply into the whole scheme and objects of

Divine Revelation, that no apology can be required for

directing public attention to it; at any period, and in

any circumstances of the church, it may fitly enough be

chosen for particular inquiry and discussion. But no

one acquainted with the recent phases of theological

sentiment in this country, and with the prevailing

tendencies of the age, can fail to perceive its special

appropriateness as a theme for discussion at the present

time.  If this, however, has naturally led to a somewhat

larger proportion of the controversial element than might

otherwise have been necessary, I have endeavoured to

give the discussion as little as possible of a polemical

aspect; and have throughout been more anxious to unfold

and establish what I conceive to be the true, than to go

into minute and laboured refutations of the false. On

this account, also, personal references have been omitted

to some of the more recent advocates of the views here

controverted, where it could be done without prejudice to

the course of discussion.



viii                                PREFACE.


The terms of the Trust-deed, in connection with

which the Lectures appear, only require that not fewer

than six be delivered in Edinburgh, but as to publica-

tion wisely leave it to the discretion and judgment of the

Lecturer, either to limit himself to that number, or to

supplement it with others according to the nature and

demands of his subject.  I have found it necessary to

avail myself of this liberty, by the addition of half as

many more Lectures as those actually delivered; and one

of these (Lecture IV.), from the variety and importance

of the topics discussed in it, has unavoidably extended to

nearly twice the length of any of the others. However

unsuitable this would have been if addressed to an

audience, as a component part of a book there will be

found in it a sufficient number of breaks to relieve the

attention of the reader.

The Supplementary Dissertations, and the exposition

of the more important passages in St Paul’s writings in

reference to the law, which follow the Lectures, have

added considerably to the size of the volume; but it

became clear as I proceeded, that the discussion of the

subject in the Lectures would have been incomplete

without them.  It is possible, indeed, that in this

respect some may be disposed to note a defect rather

than a superfluity, and to point to certain other topics or

passages which appear to them equally entitled to a place.

I have only to say, that as it was necessary to make a

selection, I have endeavoured to embrace in this portion

what seemed to be, for the present time, relatively the

most important, and, as regards the passages of Scripture,


                                  PREFACE.                                 ix


have, I believe, included all that are of essential moment

for the ends more immediately contemplated.  But

several topics, I may be allowed to add, very closely

connected with the main theme of this volume, have

been already treated in my work on the ‘Typology of

Scripture;’ and though it has been found impracticable

to avoid coming here occasionally on the ground which

had been traversed there, it was manifestly proper that

this should not be done beyond what the present subject,

in its main features, imperatively required.


GLASGOW, October 1868.






                                                   LECTURE I.


INTRODUCTORY-Prevailing Views in respect to the Ascendency of Law

    (1) In the Natural; (2) In the Moral and Religious Sphere; and

    the Relation in which they stand to the Revelations of Scripture on

    the subject,        .         .         .         .         .         .         .         .         . 1-33


                                                  LECTURE II.

The Relation of Man at Creation to Moral Law—How far or in what

    respects the Law in its Principles was made known to him- The

    grand Test of his Rectitude, and his Failure under it, .   .         .         . 34-60


                                                  LECTURE III.

The Revelation of Law, strictly so called, viewed in respect to the Time

    and Occasion of its Promulgation, . .         .         .         .         .         61-81


                                                  LECTURE IV.

The Law in its Form and Substance—Its more Essential Characteristics

    —and the Relation of one Part of its Contents to another, .     .         .82-146


                                                  LECTURE V.

The Position and Calling of Israel as placed under the Covenant of Law,

    what precisely involved in it—False Views on the subject Exposed

    —The Moral Results of the Economy, according as the Law was

    legitimately used or the reverse, .     .         .         .         .         .        147-179


                                                  LECTURE VI.

The Economical Aspect of the Law—The Defects adhering to it as such

    —The Relation of the Psalms and Prophets to it—Mistaken Views

    of this Relation—The great Problem with which the Old Testament

    closed, and the Views of different Parties respecting its Solution, .  180-213



                                                 LECTURE VII.

The Relation of the Law to the Mission and Work of Christ—The

    Symbolical and Ritual finding in Him its termination, and the Moral its

    formal Appropriation and perfect Fulfilment,       .         .         .      214-252


                                                 LECTURE VIII.

The Relation of the Law to the Constitution, the Privileges, and the

    Calling of the Christian Church, .     .         .         .         .         .       253-291


                                                  LECTURE IX.

The Re-introduction of Law into the Church of the New Testament, in

    the sense in which Law was abolished by Christ and His Apostles, 292-323



                            SUPPLEMENTARY DISSERTATIONS.


I. The Double Form of the Decalogue, and the Questions to which it

        has given rise,         .         .         .         .         .         .         .        325-334


II. The Historical Element in God’s Revelations of Truth and Duty,

        considered with an especial respect to their Claim on Men’s

        Responsibilities and Obligations, .         .         .         .         .       335-355


III. Whether a Spirit of Revenge is countenanced in the Writings of

        the Old Testament,  .         .         .         .         .         .         .       356-364







                                       PAGE                                                          PAGE

2 Cor. iii. 2-18,      366                       Rom. v. 12-21,                415

Gal. ii. 14-21,         385                         " vi. 14-18,                    421

  " iii. 19-26,          391                         " vii.,                            425

  " iv. 1-7,              400                         " x. 4-9,                         442

  " v. 13-15,           403                         " xiv. 1-7                       448

Rom. ii. 13-15,      405                       Eph. ii. 11-17,                 453

  " iii.19,20,            408                       Col.ii.11-17,                    462

  " iii. 31,               412                       1 Tim. i. 8-11,                  474



                                                  LECTURE I.









AMONG the more marked tendencies of our age,

especially as represented by its scientific and literary

classes, may justly be reckoned a prevailing tone of sen-

timent regarding the place and authority of law in the

Divine administration.  The sentiment is a divided one;

for the tendency in question takes a twofold direction,

according as it respects the natural, or the moral and

religious sphere—in the one exalting, we may almost say

deifying law; in the other narrowing its domain, some-

times even ignoring its existence.  An indissoluble chain

of sequences, the fixed and immutable law of cause and

effect, whether always discoverable or not, is contem-

plated as binding together the order of events in the

natural world; but as regards the spiritual, it is the

inherent right or sovereignty of the individual mind that

is chiefly made account of, subject only to the claims of

social order, the temporal interests of humanity, and the

general enlightenment of the times.  And as there can

be no doubt that these divergent lines of thought have

found their occasion, and to some extent also their ground,

2                       INTRODUCTORY.              [LECT. I.


the one in the marked advancement of natural science,

the other in the progress of the Divine dispensations, it

will form a fitting introduction to the inquiry that lies

before us to take a brief review of both, in their general

relation to the great truths and principles of Scripture.


I.  We naturally look first, in such a survey, to the

physical territory, to the vast and complicated field of

nature. Here a twofold disturbance has arisen—the one

from men of science pressing, not so much ascertained

facts, as plausible inferences or speculations built on them,

to unfavourable conclusions against Scripture; the other

from theologians themselves overstepping in their inter-

pretations of Scripture, and finding in it revelations of

law, or supposed indications of order, in the natural

sphere, which it was never intended to give.  As so inter-

preted by Patristic, Mediaeval, and even some compara-

tively late writers, the Bible has unquestionably had its

authority imperilled by being brought into collision with

indisputable scientific results.  But the better it is under-

stood the more will it be found to have practised in this

respect a studious reserve, and to have as little invaded

the proper field of scientific inquiry and induction, as to

have assumed, in regard to it, the false position of the

nature-religions of heathenism.  It is the moral and

religious sphere with which the Bible takes strictly to

do; and only in respect to the more fundamental things

belonging to the constitution of nature and its relation to

the Creator, can it be said to have committed itself to any

authoritative deliverance.  Written, as every book must

be that is adapted to popular use, in the language of

common life, it describes the natural phenomena of which

it speaks according to the appearances, rather than the

realities, of things. This was inevitable and requires to

LECT. I.]           INTRODUCTORY.                           3


be made due account of by those who would deal justly

with its contents. But while freely and familiarly dis-

coursing about much pertaining to the creation and pro-

vidence of the world, the Bible does not, in respect to the

merely natural frame and order of things, pronounce upon

their latent powers or modes of operation, nor does it

isolate events from the proper instrumental agencies.  It

undoubtedly presents the works and movements of nature

in close connection with the will and pervasive energy of

God; but then it speaks thus of them all alike—of the

little as well as the great—of the ordinary not less than

the extraordinary, or more striking and impressive.

According to the Bible, God thunders, indeed, in the

clouds; but the winds also, even the gentlest zephyrs,

blow at His command, and do His bidding.  If it is He

who makes the sun to know his going forth, and pour

light and gladness over the face of nature, it is He also

who makes the rain to fall and the seeds of the earth to

spring, and clothes the lilies of the field with beauty.

Not even a sparrow falls to the ground without Him.

And as in the nearer and more familiar of these opera-

tions everything is seen to be accomplished through

means and ordinances bound up with nature’s constitu-

tion; so, it is reasonable to infer, must it be with the

grander and more remote.  In short, while it is the

doctrine of the Bible that God is in all, and in a sense

does all, nothing is authoritatively defined as to the how

or by what they are done; and science is at perfect

liberty to prosecute its researches with the view of dis-

covering the individual properties of things, and how,

when brought into relation, they act and react on each

other, so as to produce the results which appear in the

daily march of providence.

Now, let this relation of the Bible, with its true


4                   INTRODUCTORY.               [LECT. I.


religion, to the pursuits of science, be placed alongside

that of the false religions of Greek and Roman poly-

theism which it supplanted, and let the effect be noted—

the legitimate and necessary effect—of the progress of

science in its clearest and best established conclusions on

the one as compared with the other.  Resting on an

essentially pantheistic basis, those ancient religions ever

tended to associate the objects and operations of nature

with the immediate presence and direct agency of some

particular deity—to identify the one in a manner with

the other; and very specially to do this with the greater

and more remarkable phenomena of nature.  Thus Helios,

or the Sun, was deified in Apollo, and was not poetically

represented merely, but religiously believed, to mount

his chariot, drawn by a team of fiery steeds, in the morn-

ing, to rise by a solid pathway to mid-heaven, and then

descend toward the western horizon, that his wearied

coursers might be refreshed before entering on the labours

of another day.  Selené, or the Moon, in like manner,

though in humbler guise, was contemplated as pursuing

her nocturnal course.  Sun, moon, and stars, it was

believed, bathed themselves every night in the waves of

ocean, and got their fires replenished by partaking of the

Neptunian element.  Eclipses were prodigies—portentous

signs of wrath in heaven—which struck fear into men’s

bosoms, as on the eve of direful calamities, and sometimes

so paralysing them as to become itself the occasion of the

sorest disasters.  Hence, the philosophy which applied

itself to explore the operation of physical properties and

laws in connection with natural events, was accounted

impious; since, as Plutarch remarks,1 it seemed ‘to

ascribe things to insensate causes, unintelligent powers,

and necessary changes, thereby jostling aside the divine.’


         1 Life of Nicias.


LECT. I.]      THE ASCENDENCY OF LAW.           5


On this account Anaxagoras was thrown into prison by

the Athenians, and narrowly escaped with his life.

Socrates was less fortunate; he suffered the condemna-

tion and penalty of death, although he had not carried

his physical speculations nearly so far as Anaxagoras.

At his trial, however, he was charged with impiety, on

the ground of having said that the sun was a stone, and

the moon earth; he himself, however, protesting that

such was not his, but the doctrine of Anaxagoras; that he

held both sun and moon to be divine persons, as was

done by the rest of mankind.  His real view seems to

have been, that the common and ordinary events of Pro-

vidence flowed from the operation of second causes, but

that those of greater magnitude and rarer occurrence

came directly from the interposition of a divine power.

Yet this modified philosophy was held to be utterly

inconsistent with the popular religion, and condemned as

an impiety.  Of necessity, therefore, as science proceeded

in its investigations and discoveries, religion fell into the

background; as the belief in second causes advanced, the

gods, as no longer needed, vanished away.  Physical

science and the polytheism of Greece and Rome were in

their very nature antagonistic, and every real advance of

the one brought along with it a shock to the other.

It is otherwise with the religion of the Bible, when

this is rightly understood, and nothing from without,

nothing foreign to its teaching, is imposed on it.  For it

neither merges God in the works and operations of nature,

nor associates Him with one department more peculiarly

than another; while still it presents all—the works them-

selves, the changes they undergo, and every spring and

agency employed in accomplishing them—in dependence

on His arm and subordination to His will: He is in all,

through all, and over all.  So that for those who have


6                   INTRODUCTORY.                      [LECT. I.


imbibed the spirit of the Bible, there may appear the

most perfect regularity and continued sequence of opera-

tions, while God is seen and adored in connection with

every one of them.  It is true, that the sensibilities of

religious feeling, or, as we should rather say, the fresh-

ness and power of its occasional outbursts, are less likely

to be experienced, and in reality are more rarely mani-

fested, when, in accordance with the revelations of science,

God’s agency is contemplated as working through material

forces under the direction of established law, than if,

without such an intervening medium, in specific acts of

providence, and by direct interference, He should make

His presence felt.  The more that anything ceases to

appear strange to our view, abnormal—the more it comes

to be associated in our minds with the orderly domain of

law—the less startling and impressive does it naturally

become as an evidence of the nearness and power of God-

head: it no longer stands alone to our view, it is part of

a system, but still a system which, if viewed aright, has

been all planned by the wisdom, and is constantly sus-

tained and directed by the providence of God.

In this, as in so many other departments of human

interest and experience, there is a compensation in things.

What science may appear to take with one hand, it gives

—gives, one might almost say, more liberally with

another.  If, for example, the revelation on scientific

grounds of the amazing regularity and finely-balanced

movements which prevail in the constitution and order of

the material universe, as connected with our planetary

system,—if this, in one aspect of it, should seem to have

placed God at a certain distance from the visible world,

in another it has but rendered His presiding agency and

vigilant oversight more palpably indispensable. For

such a vast, complicated, and wondrous mechanism, how


LECT. I.]      THE ASCENDENCY OF LAW.            7


could it have originated?  or, having originated, how

could it be sustained in action without the infinite skill

and ceaseless activity of an all-perfect Mind?  There is

here what is incalculably more and better than some

occasional proofs of interference, or fitful displays of

power, however grand and imposing.  There is clear-

sighted, far-reaching thought, nicely planned design,

mutual adaptations, infinitely varied, of part to part, the

action and reaction of countless forces, working with an

energy that baffles all conception, yet working with the

most minute mathematical precision, and with the effect

of producing both the most harmonious operation, and

the most diversified, gigantic, and beneficent results.

It is, too, the more marvellous, and the more certainly

indicative of the originating and controlling agency of

mind, that while all the planetary movements obey with

perfect regularity one great principle of order, they do so

by describing widely different orbits, and, in the case of

some, pursuing courses that move in opposite directions to

others.  Whence should such things be?  Not, assuredly,

from any property inherent in the material orbs them-

selves, which know nothing of the laws they exemplify,

or the interests that depend on the order they keep:

no, but solely from the will and power of the infinite and

eternal Being, whose workmanship they are, and whose

purposes they unconsciously fulfil.  So wrote Newton

devoutly, as well as nobly, at the close of his incompar-

able work: ‘This beautiful system of sun, planets, and

comets, could have its origin in no other way than by the

counsel and sovereignty of an intelligent and powerful

Being.  He governs all things—not as the soul of the

world, but as the Lord of the universe....We know

Him only through His qualities and attributes, and

through the most wise and excellent forms and final


8                   INTRODUCTORY.                     [LECT. 1.


causes, which belong to created things; and we admire

Him on account of His perfections; but for His sovereign

lordship, we worship and adore Him;’—thus in the

true spirit of the Psalmist, and as with a solemn halle-

lujah, winding up the mighty demonstration.l

We are informed, in a recent publication by a noble

author,2 that modern science is again returning to this

view of things; returning to it, I suppose, as becoming

conscious of the inadequacy of the maxim of an earlier

time, in respect to creation, ‘That the hypothesis of a

Deity is not needed.’  Speaking of the mystery which

hangs around the idea of force, even of the particular

force which has its seat in our own vitality, he says, ‘If,

then, we know nothing of that kind of force which is so

near to us, and with which our own intelligence is in

such close alliance, much less can we know the ultimate

nature of force in its other forms.  It is important to

dwell on this, because both the aversion with which some

men regard the idea of the reign of law, and the triumph


1 On this point, Dr Whewell has some remarks in his ‘Philosophy of the

Inductive Sciences,’ which another great authority in natural science, Sir John

Herschel, has characterized admirable (‘Essays and Addresses,’ p. 239). ‘The

assertion appears to be quite unfounded, that as science advances from point to

point, final causes recede before it, and disappear one after the other.  The

principle of design changes its mode of application indeed, but it loses none of

its force.  We no longer consider particular facts as produced by special inter-

positions, but we consider design as exhibited in the establishment and adjust-

ment of the laws by which particular facts are produced.  We do not look upon

each particular cloud as brought near us that it may drop fatness on our fields;

but the general adaptation of the laws of heat, and air, and moisture, to the

promotion of vegetation, does not become doubtful.  We are rather, by the

discovery of the general laws of nature, led into a scene of wider design, of

deeper contrivance, of more comprehensive adjustments.  Final causes, if they

appear driven farther from us by such an extension of our views, embrace us

only with a vaster and more majestic circuit; instead of a few threads connect-

ing some detached objects, they become a stupendous network which is wound

round and round the universal frame of things.—Vol. I. p. 635.

2 The Duke of Argyle, ‘Reign of Law,’ p. 122.


LECT. I.]    THE ASCENDENCY OF LAW.              9


with which some others hail it, are founded on a notion,

that when we have traced any given phenomena to what

are called natural forces, we have traced them farther

than we really have.  We know nothing of the ultimate

nature, or of the ultimate seat of force [that is, know

nothing scientifically].  Science, in the modern doctrine of

the conservation of energy and the convertibility of forces,

is already getting something like a firm hold of the idea,

that all kinds of force are but forms or manifestations of

some central force issuing from some one Fountainhead of

power.  Sir John Herschel has not hesitated to say, that

it is but reasonable to regard the force of gravitation as

the direct or indirect result of a consciousness or a will

existing somewhere.  And even if we cannot certainly

identify force in all its forms with the direct energies of

one omnipresent and all-pervading will, it is, at least, in

the highest degree unphilosophical to assume the con-

trary; to speak or to think as if the forces of nature were

either independent of, or even separate from, the Creator’s

power.’  In short, natural science, in its investigations

into the forces and movements of the material universe,

finds a limit which it cannot overpass, and in that limit

a felt want of satisfaction, as conscious of the necessity of

a spontaneity, a will, a power to give impulse and direc-

tion to the whole, of which nature itself can give no

information, because lying outside of its province, and

which, if discovered to us at all, must be certified through

a supernatural revelation.

But this is still not the whole of the argument for the

pervading causal connection of God with the works of

nature, and His claim in this respect to our devout recog-

nition of His will as the source of its laws, and His power

as the originator and sustainer of its movements. For,

besides the admirable method and order, the simplicity in


10                       INTRODUCTORY.               [LECT. I.


the midst of endless diversity, which are found to charac-

terize the system of material nature, there is also to be

taken into account the irrepressible impulse in the human

mind to search for these, and the capacity to discern and

appreciate them as marks of the highest intelligence.  A

pre-established harmony here discovers itself between the

world of thought within, and the world of material order

and scientific adjustment without, bespeaking their mutual

co-ordination by the wise foresight and plastic energy of

one Supreme Mind.  ‘Copernicus1 (it has been remarked),

in the dedication of his work to Pope Paul III., confesses

that he was brought to the discovery of the sun's central

position and of the diurnal motion of the earth, not by

observation or analysis, but by what he calls the feeling

of a want of symmetry in the Ptolemaic system.  But

who had told him that there must be symmetry in all the

movements of the celestial bodies, or that complication

was not more sublime than simplicity?  Symmetry and

simplicity, before they were discovered by the observer,

were postulated by the philosopher;’ and by him, we

may add, truly postulated, because first existing as ideas

in the Eternal Mind, whose image and reflex man’s is.

So also with Newton: the principle of gravitation, as an

all-embracing law of the planetary system, was postulated

in his mind before he ascertained it to be the law actually

in force throughout the whole, or even any considerable

part of the system—mind in man thus responding to mind

in God, and finding, in the things which appear, the evi-

dence at once of His eternal power and Godhead, and of the

similitude of its own understanding to that of Him by

whom the world has been contrived and ordained.

There is a class of minds which such considerations

cannot reach.  They would take a position above them;


    1 Max Müller,  ‘Lectures on Language,’ p. 19.


LECT. I.]     THE ASCENDENCY OF LAW.        11


and adventuring upon what tends to perplex and con-

found, rather than satisfy, the reason, they raise such

questions respecting the Absolute and Infinite, as in a

manner exclude the just and natural conclusions deduced

from the works of creation concerning the Being and

Government of the Creator.  But questions of that de-

scription, pressing as they do into a region which tran-

scends all human thought and known analogy, it is pre-

sumption in man to raise, folly to entertain; for ‘man is

born,’ as Goethe well remarked, ‘not to solve the

problems of the universe, but to find out where the

problem for himself begins, and then restrain himself

within the limits of the comprehensible.’  Considered

from this point of view, the reflections which have been

submitted as to the prevalence of natural law in the

general economy of the world of matter, in its relation

to God and its bearing on the religion of the Bible, are

perfectly legitimate; and they might easily be extended

by a diversified application of the principles involved in

them to the arrangements in the natural world, which

stand more closely related to men's individual interests

and responsibilities.  But to sum up briefly what relates

to this branch of our subject, there are three leading

characteristics in the teaching of the Bible respecting the

relation of God to the merely natural world, and which,

though they can only in a qualified sense be termed a

revelation of law, yet form, so to speak, the landmarks

which the Bible itself sets up, and the measure of the

liberty it accords to the cultivators of science.

(1.) The first of these is the strict and proper person-

ality of God, as distinct from, and independent of, the

whole or any part of the visible creation.  This to its

utmost limits is His workmanship—the theatre which

His hands have reared, and which they still maintain, for


12                   INTRODUCTORY.                 [LECT. I.


the outgoing of His perfections and the manifestation of

His glory.  As such, therefore, the things belonging to it

are not, and cannot possibly be, a part of His proper self.

However pervaded by His essential presence and divine

energy, they are not ‘the varied God,’ in the natural

sense of the expression.  They came into being without

any diminution of His infinite greatness, and so they

may be freely handled, explored, modified, made to

undergo ever so many changes and transformations,

without in the slightest degree trenching on the nature

of Him, who is ‘without variableness or shadow of turn-

ing.’  Such is the doctrine of the Bible—differing from

mere nature-worship, and from polytheism in all its forms,

which, if it does not openly avow, tacitly assumes the

identification of Deity with the world.  The Scripture

doctrine of the Creator and creation, of God and the

world, as diverse though closely related factors, leaves

to science its proper field of inquiry and observation, un-

trammelled by any hindrance arising from the view there

exhibited of the Divine nature.

(2.) A second distinguishing feature in the revelations

of the Bible is, that they rather pre-suppose what belongs

to the domain of natural science, than directly interfere

with it.  With the exception of the very earliest part of

the sacred records, it is the supernatural—the supernatural

with respect more immediately to moral relations and

results—which may be designated their proper field; and

while in this the supernatural throughout bases itself on

the natural, the natural itself is little more than inci-

dentally referred to, or very briefly indicated.  Even in

the account given of the formation of the world and the

natural constitution of things therewith connected, it is

obviously with the design of forming a suitable introduc-

tion to the place of man in the world, his moral relation


14                      INTRODUCTORY.               [LECT. I.


on scientific ground, stand, as a whole, in such striking

accord even now with the established results of science—

exhibiting, by means of a few graphic lines, not merely

the evolution from dark chaos of a world of light, and

order, and beauty, but the gradual ascent also of being

upon earth, from the lowest forms of vegetable and

animal life, up to him, who holds alike of earth and heaven

—at once creation’s head, and the rational image and

vicegerent of the Creator.  Here, substantially at least,

we have the progression of modern science; but this com-

bined, in a manner altogether peculiar, with the peerless

dignity and worth of man, as of more account in God’s

sight than the entire world besides of animated being,

yea, than sun, and moon, and stars of light, because

incomparably nearer than them all to the heart of God,

and more closely associated with the moral aims, to which

everything in nature was designed to be subordinate.

Better than all science, it reveals alike man's general place

in nature and his singular relation to God.l

(3.) A third characteristic of Bible teaching in this

connection is the free play it allows to general laws and

natural agencies, or to the operation of cause and effect;

and this, not merely as bearing on simply natural results,

but also as connected with spiritual relations and duties.

Those laws and agencies are of God; as briefly expressed

by Augustine, ‘God’s will constitutes the nature of things’

(Dei voluntas rerum natura est); or more fully by Hooker,2

‘That law, the performance whereof we behold in things

natural, is as it were an authentic or original draft written

in the bosom of God himself, whose Spirit being to exe-

cute the same with every particular nature, every mere

natural agent is only as an instrument created at the

beginning, and ever since the beginning used, to work His


     1 See Butler, ‘Analogy,’ P. I. c. 7.    2 ‘Eccl. Polity,’ B. I. c. 3, sec. 4.


LECT. I.]         THE ASCENDENCY OF LAW.             15


own will and pleasure withal.  Nature, therefore, is nothing

else but God’s instrument.’  Whence the various powers

and faculties of nature, whether in things animate or inani-

mate, her regular course and modes of procedure, are not

supplanted by grace, but are recognised and acted upon

to the full extent that they can be made subservient to

higher purposes.  Thus, when in respect to things above

nature, God reveals His mind to men, He does it through

men, and through men not as mere machines unconsciously

obeying a supernatural impulse, but acting in discharge

of their personal obligations and the free exercise of their

individual powers and susceptibilities.  So also the

common subject of grace, the ordinary believer, obtains

no warrant as such to set at nought the settled laws and

ordinances of nature, no right to expect aught but mis-

chief if he should contravene their action, or fail to adapt

himself to their mode of operation; and at every step in

his course toward the final goal of his calling, reason,

knowledge, cultivation, wise discretion, and persevering

diligence have their parts to play in securing his safety

and progress, as well as the divine help and internal

agency of the Spirit.  It is, therefore, within the boundary-

lines fixed by nature, and in accordance with the prin-

ciples of her constitution, alike in the mental and the

material world, that the work of grace proceeds, though

bringing along with it powers, and influences, and results

which are peculiarly its own.  And even as regards the

things done for the believer in the outer field of provi-

dence, and in answer to humble prayer, there may be no

need (for aught we know to the contrary) for miraculous

interference, in the ordinary sense of the term, but only

for wise direction, for timely and fitting adjustment.  It

may even be, as Isaac Taylor has said, ‘the great miracle

of providence, that no miracles are needed to accomplish

16                        INTRODUCTORY.               [LECT. I.


its purposes;’ that ‘the materials of the machinery of

providence are all of ordinary quality, while their com-

bination displays nothing less than infinite skill;’ and, at

all events, within this field alone of divine foresight and

gracious interventions through natural agencies, there is in

the hand of God ‘a hidden treasury of boons sufficient for

the incitement of prayer and the reward of humble faith.’l

The three principles or positions now laid down in

respect to God’s operations in nature and providence,

seem to comprise all that is needed for the maintenance

of friendly relations between the religion of the Bible and

the investigations of science; on the one side, ample scope

is left to these investigations, while, on the other, nothing

has been actually established by them which conflicts with

the statements of the Bible interpreted by the principles

we have stated.  But undoubtedly there is in them what

cannot be reconciled with that deification of material forces,

which some would identify with strict science—as if every-

thing that took place were the result of the action only

of unconscious law—law working with such rigid, un-

broken continuity of natural order, as to admit of no

break or deviation whatever (such as is implied in miracles),

and no special adaptation to individual cases (as a parti-

cular providence would involve).  Both miracles and a

particular providence, within certain limits, and as means

to the attainment of important ends, are postulated and

required in the revelations of the Bible.  For if, as it

teaches, there be a personal God, an infinite and eternal

Spirit, distinct from the works of creation, and Himself

the author of the laws by which they are governed—if

also this God sustains the character of moral Governor

in regard to the intelligent part of His creation, and

subordinates everything in His administration to the


              1 ‘Natural History of Enthusiasm,’ sec. vi.


LECT. I.]     THE ASCENDENCY OF LAW.           17


principles and interests therewith connected—then the

possibility, at least, of miracles and a particular providence

(to say nothing at present of their evidence), can admit of

no reasonable doubt.  This does not imply, as the oppo-

nents of revelation not unfrequently assume, the produc-

tion in certain cases of an effect without a cause, or the

emerging of dissimilar consequents from the same ante-

cedents.  For, on the supposition in question, the ante-

cedents are no longer the same; the cause which is of

nature has superadded to it a cause which is above nature,

in the material sense—the will and the power of a personal

Deity.  We reason here, as in other things, from the human

to the divine.  Mind in man is capable of originating a

force, which within definite limits can suspend the laws of

material nature, and control or modify them to its desired

ends.  And why, then, should it be thought incredible or

strange, that the central Mind of the universe, by whom

all subsists, should at certain special moments, when the

purposes of His moral government require a new order of

things to be originated, authoritative indications of His

will to be given, or results accomplished unattainable in

the ordinary course of nature, bring into play a force

adequate to the end in view?  It is merely supposing the

great primary cause interposing to do in a higher line of

things what finite beings are ever doing in a lower; and

the right, and the power, and the purpose to do it, resolve

themselves (as we have said) into the question, whether

there really be a God, exercising a moral government over

the world, capable for its higher ends of putting forth

acts of supernatural agency—a question which natural

science has no special mission to determine, or peculiar

resources to explicate.1


1 See M'Cosh, ‘Method of Divine Government,’ B. II. cap. i. sec. 7.  And

for an admirable and conclusive exposure of the views of the chief opponents

18                       INTRODUCTORY.               [LECT. I.


The subject of a particular providence so far differs

from that of miraculous action, that, to a large extent,

its requirements may be met through the operation of

merely instrumental causes, fitly disposed and arranged

by Divine wisdom to suit the ever-varying conditions of

individual man.  To have respect to the individual in

His method of government cannot be regarded as less


in the present day of all miraculous agency, even in creation and intelligent

design as connected with the works of nature—namely, the advocates of natural

selection and progressive development—see particularly ‘The Darwinian Theory

of Development examined by a Cambridge Graduate.’  It is there stated, as a

remarkable thing, that this theory, which professes to be based on scientific

grounds, yet expresses itself in the form of a creed: the words ‘We must

believe,’ ‘I have no difficulty in believing,’ etc., are perpetually recurring, and,

in fact, form the necessary links in the chain of so-called deductions.  Hence,

while setting out with the object of avoiding the miraculous, the end is not

attained.  ‘In the old method, the great physiologists take it for granted that

their researches can only reach a certain point, beyond which they cannot

penetrate; there they come to the inexplicable; and they believe that barrier

to be the Creator’s power, which they leave at a respectful distance. This,

according to the feelings of the ancients, was “the veil of nature which no

mortal hand had ever withdrawn,” and, as they approached it, they felt and

spoke of it with reverence.  Now, the new method is to discard the belief in

a Creator, to reject the omniscience and omnipotence of a Maker of all things,

to charge us who believe in it with endeavouring to conceal our ignorance by

an imposing form of words; and to undertake to explain the origin of all

forms of life by another and a totally different hypothesis.  What, then, is the

result?  A long list of new and doubtful assertions, some of them of surpassing

novelty and wildness, and all of them unaccompanied by proof, but proposed

as points of belief.  The marvellous in the old method is in one point only,

and that, for the most part, more implied than expressed—the belief in a para-

mount Intellect ordaining life and providing for its success.  The marvellous

in the new way is a vast assemblage of prodigies, strange and unheard-of events

and circumstances that cannot be confirmed by any authentic evidence, and

which, indeed, are out of the reach of evidence—a throng of aëry dreams and

phantasies, evoked by the imagination, which we are called on to believe as

realities, as it is impossible to prove that they are so’ (p. 355).  A distinguished

naturalist has said, ‘No one who has advanced so far in philosophy as to have

thought of one thing in relation to another, will ever be satisfied with laws

which had no author, works which had no maker, and co-ordinations which

had no designer’ (Phillips, ‘Life on Earth’).  The development school vainly try

to satisfy themselves by making enormous drafts on their imagination and faith.


LECT. I.]       THE ASCENDENCY OF LAW.         19


consistent with the nature of an all-wise and omnipotent

Being, than to restrain His working within the bounds of

general laws; and nature itself is a witness to the infinite

minuteness of the care and oversight of which even the

smallest forms in the animated creation are the object.

Besides, in a vast multitude of instances, probably in by

far the greater number of what constitute special acts of

providence for individuals, it is not the law of cause and

effect in material nature that is interfered with, but the

operations of mind that are controlled—the Eternal Spirit

directly, or by some appropriate ministry, touching the

springs of thought and feeling in different bosoms, so

as to bring the resolves and procedure of one to bear

upon the condition and circumstances of another, and

work out the results which need to be accomplished.  In

the ordinary affairs of life, where secular ends alone are

concerned, we see what a complicated network of mutual

interconnection and specific influences is formed, by the

movements of mind transmitted from one person to

another, and the same we can readily conceive to exist

in relation to spiritual ends; in this case, indeed, even

more varied and far-reaching, as the ends to be secured

are of a higher kind, and there is the action of minds

from the heavenly places coming in aid of the move-

ments which originate upon earth.  But without dilating

further, the principle of the whole matter in this, as well

as the previous aspect of it, is embodied in another grand

utterance of Newton’s, in which, after describing God as

a being or substance, ‘one, simple, indivisible, living,

and life-giving, everywhere and necessarily existing,’ etc.,

it is added, in these remarkable words, ‘perceiving and

governing all things by His essential presence, and con-

stantly co-operating with all things, according to fixed

laws as the foundation and cause of all nature, except


20                       INTRODUCTORY.              [LECT. I.


when it is good to act otherwise (nisi ubi aliter agere

bonum est):’ the Will of the great Sovereign of the

universe being thus placed above every impressed law

and instrumental cause of nature, and conceived free to

adopt other and more peculiar lines of action as the higher

ends of His government might require.


II. We turn now from the physical to the moral and

religious sphere, the one with which in the present dis-

cussion we have more especially to do; and in doing so

we pass into quite another region as regards the tendency

of thought in the current literature and philosophy of the

day.  For here, undoubtedly, the disposition with many

is to fall as much short of the teaching of Scripture in

respect to the supremacy of law, as in the other depart-

ment to go beyond it.  But opinions on the subject are

really so diverse, they differ so much both in respect to

the forms they assume and the grounds on which they

are based, that it is not quite easy in a brief space, and

impossible without some detail, to give a distinct repre-

sentation of them.

(1.) At the farthest remove from the Scriptural view

stand the advocates of materialism—those who would

merge mind and matter ultimately into one mass, who

would trace all mental phenomena to sensations, and

account for everything that takes place by means of the

affinities, combinations, and inherent properties of matter.

In such a philosophy there is room for law only in the

physical sense, and for such progress or civilization as may

arise from a more perfect acquaintance therewith, and a

more skilful use or adaptation of it to the employments

and purposes of life.  The personality of God, as a living,

eternal Spirit, cannot be entertained; and, of course,




responsibility in the higher sense, as involving subjection

to moral government, and the establishment of a Divine

moral order, can have no place.  For, mind is but a

species of cerebral development; thought or desire but

an action of the brain; man himself but the most perfectly

developed form of organic being, the highest type in the

scale of nature’s ascending series of productions, whose

part is fulfilled in doing what is fitted to secure a health-

ful organization, and provide for himself the best condi-

tions possible of social order and earthly wellbeing.  But,

to say nothing of the scheme in other respects, looking at

it simply with reference to the religion and morality of

the Bible, it plainly ignores the foundation on which

these may be said to rest; namely, the moral elements in

man’s constitution, or the phenomena of conscience, which

are just as real as those belonging to the physical world,

and in their nature immensely more important.  In so

doing, it gives the lie to our profoundest convictions, and

loses sight of the higher, the more ennobling qualities of

our nature, indeed would reduce man very much to the

condition of a child and creature of fate—capable, indeed,

of being influenced by sensual desires, prudential motives,

and utilitarian considerations, but not called to aim at

conformity to any absolute rule of right and wrong, or to

recognise as binding a common standard of duty.  Such

an idea is strongly repudiated by writers of this school;

each man, it is contended, has a right or ‘just claim to

carry on his life in his own way,’ ‘his own mode of laying

out his existence is the best, not because it is the best in

itself, but because it is his own mode;’ hence, on the

other side, Calvinism, which appears to be taken as

another name for evangelical Christianity, is decried as

comprising all the good of which humanity is capable in


22                     INTRODUCTORY.                    [LECT. I.


obedience, and prescribing a way of duty which shall be

essentially the same for all.l

(2.) Formally antagonistic to this sensational or mate-

rialistic school—occupying, one might say, the opposite

pole of thought in respect to moral law, yet not less

opposed to any objective revelation of law—is the view of

the idealists, or, as a portion of them at least are some-

times called, the ideal pantheists.  With them, mind and

God are the two great ideas that are to rule all; God

first, indeed, whether as the personal or ideal centre of

the vital forces that work, and the fundamental principles

that should prevail throughout the moral universe; but

also mind in man as the exemplar of God, the exponent

of the Divine, and the medium through which it comes

into realization.  Man, accordingly, by the very constitu-

tion of his being, is as a God to himself; or, in the lan-

guage of one who, more perhaps than any other, may be

regarded as the founder of the school, ‘Man, as surely

as he is a rational being, is the end of his own existence;

he does not exist to the end that something else may be,

but he exists absolutely for his own sake; his being is its

own ultimate object.’  Consequently, ‘all should proceed

from his own simple personality,’ and should be deter-

mined by what is within, not by a regard to what is

external to himself, though this latter element will

usually more or less prevail, and bring on a sort of con-


1 J. S. Mill  ‘On Liberty,’ ch. iii.  In referring to Mr Mill, we certainly take

one of the less extreme, as well as most respectable and able of the advocates of

a materialistic philosophy—one, too, who in his work on Utilitarianism has

laboured hard to make up, in a moral respect, for the inherent defects of his

system.  But there still is, as Dr M’Cosh has shown ( ‘Examination of Mill’s

Philosophy,’ ch. xx.), the fundamental want of moral law, the impossibility of

giving any satisfactory account of the ideas of moral desert and personal obliga-

tion, and such loose, uncertain drawing of the boundary lines between moral

good and evil, as leaves each man, to a large extent, the framer of his own

moral standard.



tradiction, empirically or as matter of fact, to his proper

self.  But he should be determined by nothing foreign,

and ‘the fundamental principle of morality may be ex-

pressed in such a formula as this, “So act, that thou

mayest look upon the dictate of thy will as an eternal

law to thyself.”’l  Thus the Divine becomes essentially

one with the human; the law for the universe is to be

got at through the insight and monitions of the indivi-

dual, especially of such individuals as have a higher range

of thought than their fellow-men; the heroes of humanity

are, in a qualified sense, its legislators.  ‘What,’ asks

Carlyle,2 ‘is this law of the universe, or law made by

God?  Men at one time read it in their Bible.  In many

bibles, books, and authentic symbols and monitions of

nature, and the world (of fact), there are still some clear

indications towards it.  Most important it is, that men

do, and in some way, get to see it a little.  And if no

man could now see it by any bible, there is written in

the heart of every man an authentic copy of it, direct from

Heaven itself: there, if he have learnt to decipher

Heaven's writing, and can read the sacred oracles, every

born man may find some copy of it.’ An element of

truth, doubtless, is in such utterances—a most important

element, which Scripture also recognises—but inter-

mingled with what is entirely alien to the spirit and

teaching of Scripture.  For, it proceeds on the supposition

of man being still in his normal state, and as such per-

fectly capable, by the insight of his own rational and

moral nature, to acquaint himself with all moral truth

and duty.  The inner consciousness of man is entitled to

create for itself a morality, and a religion (if it should

deem such a thing worthy of creation) ; it is, in effect,

deified—though itself, as every one knows, to a large


       1 Fichte, ‘Vocation of Man.’            2 ‘Latter Day Pamphlets,’ No. II.


24                    INTRODUCTORY.                [LECT. I.


extent the creature of circumstances.  And thus all takes

a pantheistic direction—the Divine is dragged down to a

level with the human, made to coalesce with it, instead

of the human (according to the Scriptural scheme) being

informed by and elevated to the Divine.l  And the general

result, in so far as such idealism prevails, is obviously to

shut men up to ‘measureless content’ with themselves,

and dispose them to resist the dictation of any external

authority or revelation whatever.  This result is beyond

doubt already reached with considerable numbers among

the educated classes, and is also pressing through manifold

channels of influence into the church!  For it is of this

that the historian of rationalism speaks when he says,2

‘The tendency of religious thought in the present day is

all in one direction, towards the identification of the

Bible and conscience.  Generation after generation the

power of the moral faculty becomes more absolute, the

doctrines that oppose it wane and vanish, and the various

elements of theology are absorbed and recast by its in-

fluence.’  The representation is plausibly made, and only

when taken in its connection is its full import seen; for

the meaning is, that the identification in question pro-

ceeds, not from the conscience finding its enlightenment

in the Bible, but from the Bible being made to speak in

accordance with the enlightenment of conscience.  The

intellectual and moral idealism of the age, if still holding

by the Bible, reads this in its own light, and throws into

the background whatever it disrelishes or repudiates.

(3.) This species of idealism—allying itself with the

Bible, though sprung from philosophy, and in itself

naturally tending to pantheism—has its representatives

in the Christian church, especially among the class whose


         1 See Morell, ‘Hist. of Modern Philosophy,’ Vol II. p. 611.

              2 Lecky's ‘Hist. of Rationalism,’ Vol I. p. 384.




tastes lie more in literature than in theology.  Of culti-

vated minds and refined moral sentiments, such persons

readily acknowledge the ascendency of law in the govern-

ment of God, but, in accordance with their idealism, it is

law in a somewhat ethereal sense, having little to do with

definite rules or external revelations, recognised merely

in a kind of general obligation to exercise certain feelings,

emotions, or principles of action.  Hence in the same

writers you will find law at once exalted and depreciated;

at one time it appears to be everything, at another nothing.

‘This universe,’ says a religious idealist of the class now

referred to,l ‘is governed by laws.  At the bottom of

everything here there is law.  Things are in this way and

not that; we call that a law or a condition.  All depart-

ments have their own laws.  By submission to them you

make them your own.’ And still more strongly in another

place, adopting the very style of the pantheistic idealists,2

‘I think a great deal of law.  Law rules Deity, and its

awful majesty is above individual happiness.  This is

what Kant calls the “categorical imperative;” that is, a

sense of duty which commands categorically or absolutely

—not saying, “It is better,” but “Thou shalt.”  Why?

Because “Thou shalt”—that is all.  It is not best to do

right, thou must do right; and the conscience that feels

that, and in that way, is the nearest to divine humanity.’

But in other passages language equally decided is used

in disparagement of anything in the moral or spiritual

sphere carrying the form of law.  Nothing now must rest,

we are told, on enactment; if necessary, it is not on that

account, ‘not because it is commanded; but it is com-

manded because it is necessary’3—hence binding on the


1 Robertson of Brighton, ‘Sermons,’ 2d Series, p. 114.

2 ‘Life and Letters,’ Vol. I. p. 292.

3 ‘Life,’ in a Letter, October 24, 1849.


26                     INTRODUCTORY                [LECT. I.


conscience only so far as it is perceived to be necessary.

And again, professing to give the drift of St Paul’s

admonitions to the Galatians respecting observance, it is

said,l ‘All forms and modes of particularizing the Chris-

tian life he reckoned as bondage under the elements or

alphabet of the law;’ so that, though the Christian life

might, if it saw fit, find a suitable expression for itself

in any particular observance, this could be defended ‘on

the ground of wise and Christian expediency alone, and

could not be placed on the ground of a Divine statute or

command.’  Professor Jowett seems to carry the idealizing

a little further; he thinks that, under the Old Testament

itself, the period emphatically of law, there is evidence of

its adoption by the more thoughtful and intelligent of the

covenant people.  The term ‘law,’ he says, is ambiguous

in Scripture;2 ‘it is so in the Old Testament itself. In

the prophecies and psalms, as well as in the writings of

St Paul, the law is in a great measure ideal.  When the

Psalmist spoke of “meditating in the law of the Lord,” he

was not thinking of the five books of Moses.  The law

which he delighted to contemplate was not written down

(as well might we imagine that the Platonic idea was a

treatise on philosophy); it was the will of God, the truth

of God, the justice and holiness of God.  In later ages the

same feelings began to gather around the volume of the

law itself.  The law was ideal still’—though he admits

that ‘with this idealism were combined the reference to

its words, and the literal enforcement of its precepts.’

A strange sort of idealism, surely, which could not sepa-

rate itself from the concrete or actual, and continued

looking to this for the material alike of its study and

its observance!  But it is the view only we at pre-

sent notice, the form of thought itself respecting the law,


     1 ‘Sermons,’ 2d Series, p. 184.      2 ‘Epistles of St Paul,’ II. p. 501.




not its consistence either with itself or with the statements

of Scripture.  It clearly enough indicates how idealism

has been influencing the minds of Christian writers in

this direction, and how, along with much that is sound,

pure, and sometimes elevating in the sentiments they

utter, there is also a certain laxity as to particular things,

an asserted superiority for the individual over law in

respect to everything like explicit rules and enactments.

(4.) There is, however, a class of Christian writers,

more properly theological and also of a somewhat realistic

character, who so far concur with the idealists, that they

maintain the freedom of the Christian from obligation to

the law distinctively so called—the law in that sense is

abolished by the Gospel of Christ, or, as sometimes put,

dead and buried in His grave; but only that a new and

higher law might come in its place, the law of Gospel life

and liberty.  This view is what in theological language

bears the name of Neonomianism—that is, the doctrine

of a new law, in some respects differing from or opposed

to the old—a law of principles rather than of precepts,

especially the great principles of faith and love, which

it conceives to be carried now higher than before.  The

view is by no means of recent origin; it was formally

propounded shortly after the Reformation, was adopted

by the Socinians as a distinguishing part of their system,

and with certain unimportant variations has often been

set forth afresh in later times.1  Dr Whately puts it thus:

The law as revealed in the Old Testament bears on the

face of it that the whole of its precepts, moral as well as


1 Zanchius, who belongs to the Reformation era, states expressly that we

have nothing to do with the moral precepts of Moses, except in so far as they

agree with the common law of nature, and are confirmed by Christ (Op. IV.

1. i c. 11).  To the same effect, Musculus, ‘De Abrogatione Legis Mos.;’ and

more recently, Knapp, ‘Christian Theology,’ sec. 119, ‘Bialloblotzky, De

Abrog. L. Mos.,’ &c.


28                       INTRODUCTORY.               [LECT. I.


ceremonial, ‘were intended for the Israelites exclusively;’

therefore ‘they could not by their own authority be

binding on Christians,’ and are by the apostle in explicit

terms denied to be binding on them, hence as regards

them abolished.1  ‘But, on the other hand, the natural

principles of morality which (among other things) it

inculcates, are from their own character of universal

obligation; so that Christians are bound to the observance

of those commandments which are called moral—not,

however, because they are commandments of the Mosaic

law, ‘but because they are moral.’  The moral law, as

written upon man’s heart, remains still, as ever, authori-

tative and binding, and ‘is by the Gospel placed on higher

grounds.  Instead of precise rules, it furnishes sublime

principles of conduct, leaving the Christian to apply these,

according to his own discretion, to each case that may

arise.’  In a somewhat modified form, the same view has

been presented after this manner: ‘Under the Christian

dispensation, the law in its outward and limited form—in

its form as given to Israel—has passed away; but the

substance, the principles, of the law remain.  Would we

be free from that substance, these principles must be

written on our hearts.  If they are not so written, we

ourselves reduce them to an outward and commanding

law, which, not being obeyed, brings bondage with it.’

The law, therefore, in one sense has passed away, in

another not; it is improper to speak of it as dead and

buried in the grave of Christ, for in its great principles it

never dies; but ‘the outward, the limited, the command-

ing form of it may be said to be dead;’ or, as otherwise

expressed, ‘that law in a particular and local form has

been taken up and widened out into a higher law, in Him

who not only exhibits it in its most perfect form, but gives


1 ‘Essay on the Abolition of the Law,’ secs. 1, 2.




the strength in which alone we can obey.’l  The differ-

ence between this and the other mode of representation is

evidently not material: in both alike the revelation of law

in the Old Testament is held to be not directly, and in

its letter, binding upon Christians; but its essential prin-

ciples, which constitute the basis of all morality, being

recognised and embraced in the Gospel, developed also to

nobler results and enforced by higher motives, these are

binding, and if not strictly law, at least in the stead of

law, and more effectively serving its interests.

( 5.) A still farther development in the same direction

is what is known under the name of Antinomianism—

antithesis to the law, in the sense of formal opposition to

it, as from its very nature destructive of what is good for

us in our present state—an occasion only and instrument

of death.  It is the view of men, evangelical indeed, but

partial and extreme in their evangelism—who, in their

zeal to magnify the grace of the Gospel, lay stress only

upon a class of expressions which unfold its riches and its

triumphs, as contrasted with the law’s impotence in itself,

yea, with the terror and condemnation produced by it,

and silently overlook, or deprive of their proper force,

another class, which exhibit law in living fellowship with

grace—joint factors in the accomplishment of the same

blessed results.  But it is right to add, the spirit and

design with which this is done differ widely in the hands

of different persons.  Some so magnify grace in order to

get their consciences at ease respecting the claims of

holiness, and vindicate for themselves a liberty to sin

that grace may abound—or, which is even worse, deny

that anything they do can have the character of sin,

because they are through grace released from the demands

of law, and so cannot sin.  These are Antinomians of the


1 Milligan on ‘The Decalogue and the Lord’s Day,’ pp. 96, 108, 111.


30                      INTRODUCTORY.           [LECT. I.


grosser kind, who have not particular texts merely of

the Bible, but its whole tenor and spirit against them.

Others, however, and these the only representatives of

the idea who in present times can be regarded as having

an outstanding existence, are advocates of holiness after

the example and teaching of Christ.  They are ready to

say, ‘Conformity to the Divine will, and that as obedi-

ence to commandments, is alike the joy and the duty of

the renewed mind.  Some are afraid of the word obedi-

ence, as if it would weaken love and the idea of a new

creation.  Scripture is not.  Obedience and keeping the

commandments of one we love is the proof of that love,

and the delight of the new creature.  Did I do all right,

and not do it in obedience, I should do nothing right,

because my true relationship and heart-reference to God

would be left out.  This is love, that we keep His com-

mandments.’l  So far excellent; but then these com-

mandments are not found in the revelation of law,

distinctively so called.  The law, it is held, had a specific

character and aim, from which it cannot be dissociated,

and which makes it for all time the minister of evil.

‘It is a principle of dealing with men which necessarily

destroys and condemns them.  This is the way (the

writer continues) the Spirit of God uses law in contrast

with Christ, and never in Christian teaching puts men

under it.  Nor does Scripture ever think of saying, You

are not under the law in one way, but you are in another;

you are not for justification, but you are for a rule of life.

It declares, You are not under law, but under grace; and

if you are under law, you are condemned and under a

curse.  How is that obligatory which a man is not under

—from which he is delivered?’2  Antinomianism of this

description—distinguishing between the teaching or com-


1 Darby ‘On the Law,’ pp. 3, 4.                2 Ibid. p. 4.




mandments of Christ and the commandments of the law,

holding the one to be binding on the conscience of Chris-

tians and the other not—is plainly but partial Antino-

mianism; it does not, indeed, essentially differ from

Neonomianism, since law only as connected with the

earlier dispensation is repudiated, while it is received as

embodying the principles of Christian morality, and asso-

ciated with the life and power of the Spirit of Christ.

(6.) Still it is clear, from this brief review, that there

is a very considerable diversity of opinion on the subject

of law, in a moral or spiritual respect, even among those

who are agreed in asserting our freedom from its re-

straints and obligations in the more imperative form;

and from not a little of the philosophic, and much of

the current secular literature of the age, a tendency is

continually flowing into the church, which is impatient

of anything in the name of moral or religious obligation,

beyond the general claims of rectitude and benevolence.

In respect to everything besides, the individual is held

to have an absolute right to judge for himself. It can-

not, therefore, appear otherwise than an important line

of inquiry, and one specially called for by the present

aspect of things, what place does law hold in the revela-

tions of Scripture?  How far has it varied in amount of

requirement or form of obligation, at different periods of

the Divine administration?  What was the nature of

the change effected in regard to it, or to our relation to

it, by the appearance and work of Christ?  It is of the

more importance that such questions should receive a

a thoughtful and considerate examination, as the confes-

sional position of most churches, Reformed as well as

Catholic, is against the tendency now described, and on

the side of law, in the stricter sense of the term, having

still a commanding power on the consciences of men.


32                       INTRODUCTORY.       [LECT. I.


At the farthest extreme in this direction stands the

Roman Catholic church, which holds Christ to be a

legislator in the same sense as Moses was, and deems

itself entitled by Divine right to bind enactments of

moral and religious duty upon the consciences of its

members, similar in kind, and greatly more numerous

and exacting in the things required by them, than those

imposed by the legislation of Moses.  There are sections

also of the Protestant church, and parties of considerable

extent and influence in particular churches, who have

ever endeavoured to find, either by direct imposition, or

by analogical reasonings and necessary implication, autho-

rity in Scripture for a large amount of positive law as

well as moral precept, to be received and acted on by

the Christian church.  And from the opposite quarter,

we may say, of the theological heavens, there has recently

been given a representation of Christ, in which the

strongest emphasis is laid on His legislative character.

Speaking of the first formation of the Christian society,

the author of ‘Ecce Homo’ says,l  ‘Those who gathered

round Christ did in the first place contract an obliga-

tion of personal loyalty to Him.  On the ground of this

loyalty He proceeded to form a society, and to promulgate

an elaborate legislation, comprising and intimately con-

nected with certain declarations, authoritatively delivered,

concerning the nature of God, the relation of man to Him,

and the invisible world.  In doing so He assumed the

part of a second Moses;’ and he goes on to indicate the

specific character of the legislation, and the sanctions

under which it was established, both materially differing

from the Mosaic.  Yet this seems again virtually recalled

by other representations, in which the New Testament is

declared to be ‘not the Christian law;’2 not ‘the pre-


                    1 P. 80.                                  2 P. 202.




cepts of apostles,’ not even ‘the special commands of

Christ.’ ‘The enthusiasm of humanity in Christianity is

their only law;’ ‘what it dictates, and that alone, is law

for the Christian.’  But apart from this, which can only

be set down to prevailing arbitrariness and uncertainty

on the subject, the Protestant churches generally stand

committed to the belief of the moral law in the Old

Testament as in substance the same with that in the

New, and from its very nature limited to no age or

country, but of perpetual and universal obligation.  They

have ever looked to the Decalogue as the grand summary

of moral obligation, under which all duty to God and man

may be comprised.  Is this the true Scriptural position?

or in what manner, and to what extent, should it be



34             RELATION OF MAN TO MORAL LAW.      [LECT. II.





                                     LECTURE II.







WHEN opening the sacred volume for the purpose of

ascertaining its revelations of Divine law, it appears

at first sight somewhat strange that so little should be

found of this in the earlier parts of Scripture, and that

what is emphatically called THE LAW did not come into

formal existence till greatly more than half the world’s

history between Adam and Christ had run its course.

‘The law came by Moses.1  The generations of God’s

people that preceded this era are represented as living

under promise rather than under law, and the covenant of

promise—that, namely, made with Abraham—in the

order of the Divine dispensations took precedence of the

law by four hundred and thirty years.2  Yet it is clear

from what is elsewhere said, that though not under law

in one sense, those earlier generations were under it in

another; for they were throughout generations of sinful

men, subject to disease and death on account of sin, and

sin is but the transgression of law; ‘where no law is,

there is no transgression.’3  So that when the apostle

again speaks of certain portions of mankind not having

the law, of their sinning without law, and perishing

without law, 4 he can only mean that they were without


1 John i. 17.                              2Gal. iii. 17.

3 Rom. v. 12, 13 ; iv. 15; vi. 2, 3.          4 Rom. ii 12, 14.




the formal revelation of law, which had been given through

Moses to the covenant-people, while still, by the very

constitution of their beings, they stood under the bonds

of law, and by their relation to these would be justified

or condemned.  But this plainly carries us up to the

very beginnings of the human family; for as our first

parents, though created altogether good, sinned against

God, and through sinning lost their proper heritage of

life and blessing, their original standing must have been

amid the obligations of law.  And the question which

presses on us at the outset—the first in order in the line

of investigation that lies before us, and one on the right

determination of which not a little depends for the correct-

ness of future conclusions—is, what was the nature of the

law associated with man’s original state?  and how far

or in what respects, did it possess the character of a



I. The answer to such questions must be sought,

primarily at least, in something else than what in the

primeval records carries the formal aspect of law—the

commands, namely, given to our first parents respecting

their place and conduct toward the earth generally, or

the select region they more peculiarly occupied; for it is

remarkable that these are in themselves of a merely

outward and positive nature—positive, I mean, as contra-

distinguished from moral; so that, in their bearing on

man’s original probation, they could only have been

intended to form the occasions and tests of moral obedi-


1 In discussing this subject, it will be understood that I take for granted the

truth of the history in Genesis i.-iii., and the fact of man’s creation in a state

of manhood, ripeness, and perfection.  The impossibility of accounting for the

existence and propagation of the human race otherwise, has been often demon-

strated.  See Dr Moore’s ‘First Man and his Place in Creation,’ and the autho-

rities there referred to.




ence, not its proper ground or principle.  Underneath

those commands, and pre-supposed by them, there must

have been certain fundamental elements of moral obliga-

tion in the very make and constitution of man—in his

moral nature, to which such commands addressed them-

selves, and which must remain, indeed, for all time the

real basis of whatever can be justly exacted of man, or

is actually due by him in moral and religious duty.  In

applying ourselves, therefore, to consider what in this

respect is written of man’s original state, we have to do

with what, in its more essential features, relates not to

the first merely, but to every stage of human history—

with what must be recognised by every law that is really

Divine, and to which it must stand in fitting adaptation.

The notice mainly to be considered we find in that part

of the history of creation, which tells us with marked

precision and emphasis of the Divine mould after which

his being was fashioned: ‘Let us make man,’ it was said

by God, after the inferior creatures had been formed each

after their kind, ‘in our image, after our likeness (or

similitude).’  And the purpose being accomplished, it is

added, ‘So God created man in His own image, in the

image of God created He him’—the rational offspring,

therefore, as well as the workmanship of Deity, a repre-

sentation in finite form and under creaturely limitations

of the invisible God.  That the likeness had respect to

the soul, not to the body of man (except in so far as this is

the organ of the soul and its proper instrument of working)

cannot be doubted; for the God who is a Spirit could find

only in the spiritual part of man’s complex being a subject

capable of having imparted to it the characteristics of His

own image.  Nor could the dominion with which man was

invested over the fulness of the world and its living

creaturehood, be regarded as more than the mere con-




sequence and sign of the Divine likeness after which man

was constituted, not the likeness itself; for this mani-

festly pointed to the distinction of his nature, not to

some prerogative merely, or incidental accompaniment of

his position.  Holding, then, that the likeness or image

of God, in which man was made, is to be understood of

his intellectual and moral nature, what light, we have

now to ask, does it furnish in respect to the line of

inquiry with which we are engaged?  What does it

import of the requirements of law, or the bonds of moral


Undoubtedly, as the primary element in this idea must

be placed the intellect, or rational nature of the soul in

man; the power or capacity of mind, which enabled him

in discernment to rise above the impressions of sense, and

in action to follow the guidance of an intelligent aim or pur-

pose, instead of obeying the blind promptings of appetite

or instinct.  Without such a faculty, there had been want-

ing the essential ground of moral obligation; man could

not have been the subject either of praise or of blame;

for he should have been incapable, as the inferior animals

universally are, of so distinguishing between the true

and the false, the right and the wrong, and so appreciat-

ing the reasons which ought to make the one rather than

the other the object of one’s desire and choice, as to

render him morally responsible for his conduct.  In God,

we need scarcely say, this property exists in absolute

perfection; He has command over all the treasures of

wisdom and knowledge—ever seeing things as they really

are, and with unerring precision selecting, out of number-

less conceivable plans, that which is the best adapted to

accomplish His end.  And made as man was, in this

respect, after the image of God, we cannot conceive of him

otherwise than as endowed with an understanding to




know everything, either in the world around him or his

own relation to it, which might be required to fit him

for accomplishing, without failure or imperfection, the

destination he had to fill, and secure the good which

he was capable of attaining.  How far, as subservient to

this end, the discerning and reasoning faculty in un-

fallen man might actually reach, we want the materials

for enabling us to ascertain; but in the few notices given

of him we see the free exercise of that faculty in ways

perfectly natural to him, and indicative of its sufficiency

for his place and calling in creation. The Lord brought, it

is said, the inferior creatures around him—those, no doubt,

belonging to the paradisiacal region—‘to see what he

would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every

creature, that was the name of it.’1  The name, we are

to understand, according to the usual phraseology of

Scripture, was expressive of the nature or distinctive

properties of the subject; so that to represent Adam as

giving names to the different creatures was all one with

saying, that he had intelligently scanned their respective

natures, and knew how to discriminate, not merely

between them and himself, but also between one creature

and another.  So, again, when a fitting partner had been

formed out of his person and placed before him, he was

able, by the same discerning faculty, to perceive her like-

ness and adaptation to himself, to recognise also the

kindredness of her nature to his own—as ‘bone of his

bones, and flesh of his flesh’—and to bestow on her a

name that should fitly express this oneness of nature and

closeness of relationship (isha, woman; from ish, man).

These, of course, are but specimens, yet enough to shew

the existence of the faculty, and the manner of its exer-

cise, as qualifying him—not, indeed, to search into all


1 Gen. ii. 19.




mysteries, or bring him acquainted with the principles of

universal truth (of which nothing is hinted)—but to know

the relations and properties of things so far as he had

personally to do with them, or as was required to guide

him with wisdom and discretion amid the affairs of life.

To this extent the natural intelligence of Adam bore the

image of his Maker’s.l

The rational or intellectual part of man’s nature, how-

ever, though entitled to be placed first in the character-

istics that constitute the image of God (for without this

there could be no free, intelligent, or responsible action)

does not of itself bring us into the sphere of the morally

good, or involve the obligation to act according to the

principles of eternal rectitude.  For this there must be a

will to choose, as well as a reason to understand—a will


1 This view of man's original state in an intellectual respect, while it is

utterly opposed to the so-called philosophic theory of the savage mode of life,

with all its ignorance and barbarity, having been the original one for mankind,

is at the same time free from the extravagance which has appeared in the de-

scription given by so-called divines of the intellectual attainments and scientific

insight of Adam—as if all knowledge, even of a natural kind, had been neces-

sary to his perfection, as the Image of God!  Thomas Aquinas argues,* that if

he knew the natures of all animals, he must by parity of reason have had the

knowledge of all other things; and that, as the perfect precedes the imperfect,

and the first man being perfect must have had the ability to instruct his pos-

terity in all that they should know, so he must have himself known ‘whatever

things men in a natural way can know.’  Protestant writers have occasionally,

though certainly not as a class, carried the matter as far.  And, as if such

innate apprehension of all natural knowledge, and proportionate skill in the

application of it to the arts and usages of life, were necessarily involved in the

Scriptural account of man’s original state, geologists, in the interest of their

own theories, have not failed to urge, that, with such ‘inspired knowledge,’† the

remains should be found of the finest works of art in the remotest ages, ‘lines

of buried railways, or electric telegraphs,’ &c.  It is enough to say, that no

enlightened theologian would ever ascribe such a reach of knowledge to

primeval man, and that what he did possess soon became clouded and disturbed

by sin.


* Summa, P. I. Quaest. 94, art. 3.       † Sir G. Lyell, on ‘The Antiquity of Man,’ p. 378.




perfectly free in its movements, having the light of reason

to direct it to the good, but under no constraining force

to obey the direction; in other words, with the power to

choose aright conformably to the truth of things, the

power also of choosing amiss, in opposition to the truth.

This liberty of choice, necessary from the very nature of

things to constitute man a subject of moral government,

was distinctly recognised by God in the scope given to

Adam to exercise the gifts and use the privileges con-

ferred on him, limited only by what was due to his place

and calling in creation.  It was more especially recognised

in the permission accorded to him to partake freely of

the productions of the garden, to partake even of the tree

of the knowledge of good and evil, though with a stern

prohibition and threatening to deter him from such a

misuse of his freedom.  But the will in its choice is just

the index of the nature; it is the expression of the pre-

vailing bent of the soul; and coupled as it was in Adam

with a spiritual nature untainted with evil, the reflex of

His who is the supremely wise and good, there could not

but be associated with it an instinctive desire to exercise

it aright,—a profound, innate conviction that what was

perceived to be good should carry it, as by the force of

an imperative law, over whatever else might solicit his

regard; resembling herein the Divine Author of his

existence, whose very being ‘is a kind of law to His

working, since the perfection which God is gives perfec-

tion to what He does.’l  Yet, while thus bearing a

resemblance to God, there still was an essential differ-

ence.  For in man’s case all was bounded by creaturely

limitations; and while God never can, from the infinite

perfection of His being, do otherwise than choose with

absolute and unerring rectitude, man with his finite


1 Hooker, ‘Eccl. Polity,’ B. I. c. 2.




nature and his call to work amid circumstances and con-

ditions imposed on him from without, could have no

natural security for such unfailing rectitude of will; a

diversity might possibly arise between what should have

been, and what actually was, willed and done.

These, then, are the essential characteristics of the

image of God, in which man was made—first, the noble

faculty of reason as the lamp of the soul to search into

and know the truth of things; then the will ready at the

call of reason, with the liberty and the power to choose

according to the light thus furnished; and, finally, the

pure moral nature prompting and disposing the will so to

choose.  Blessedness and immortality have by some been

also included in the idea.  And undoubtedly they are

inseparable accompaniments of the Divine nature, but

rather as results flowing from the perpetual exercise of its

inherent powers and glorious perfections, than qualities

possessed apart—hence in man suspended on the rightful

employment of the gifts and prerogatives committed to

him.  Blessed and immortal life was to be his portion if

he continued to realize the true idea of his being, and

proved himself to be the living image of his Maker; not

otherwise.  But that the spiritual features we have ex-

hibited as the essential characteristics of this image are

those also which Scripture acknowledges to be such,

appears from this, that they are precisely the things

specified in connection with the restoration to the image

of God, in the case of those who partake in the new crea-

tion through the grace and Gospel of Christ.  It is said

of suchl that they are created anew after God, or that

they put on the new man (new as contradistinguished

from the oldness of nature’s corruptions), which is renewed

after the image of Him that created him.  And the


1Eph. Iv. 24; Col iii. 10




renewal is more especially described as consisting in

knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness—knowledge,

the product of the illuminated reason made cognizant of

the truth of God; righteousness, the rectitude of the

mind’s will and purpose in the use of that knowledge;

true holiness, the actual result of knowledge so applied

in the habitual exercise of virtuous affections and just

desires.  These attributes, therefore, of moral perfection

must have constituted the main features of the Divine

image in which Adam was created, since they are what

the new creation in Christ purposely aims at restoring.

And in nature as well as in grace, they were of a deriva-

tive character; as component elements in the human con-

stitution they took their being from God, and received

their moral impress from the eternal type and pattern of

all that is right and good in Him.  Man himself no more

made and constituted them after his own liking, or can

do so, than he did his capacity of thought or his bodily

organization; and the power of will which it was given him

to exercise in connection with the promptings of his moral

nature, had to do merely with the practical effect of its

decisions, not with the nature of the decisions themselves,

which necessarily drew their character from the conscience

that formed them.  If, therefore, this conscience in man,

this governing power in his moral constitution, had in

one respect the rightful place of authority over the other

powers and faculties of his being, in another it stood

itself under authority, and in its clearest utterances con-

cerning right and wrong could only affirm that there was

a Divine must in the matter—the law of its being ren-

dered it impossible for it to think or judge otherwise.

In reasoning thus as to what man originally was, when

coming fresh and pure from the hands of his Creator, we

must, of course, proceed in a great degree on the ground




of what we still know him to be—sin, while it has sadly

vitiated his moral constitution, not having subverted its

nature or essentially changed its manner of working.

The argument, indeed, is plainly from the less to the

greater: if even in its ruin the actings of our moral

nature thus lead up to God, and compel us to feel our-

selves under a rule or an authority established by Him,

how much more man in the unsullied greatness and beauty

of his creation-state, with everything in his condition

fitted to draw his soul heavenwards, standing as it were

face to face with God!  Even now, ‘the felt presence of

a judge within the breast powerfully and immediately

suggests the notion of a supreme judge and sovereign,

who placed it there.  The mind does not stop at a mere

abstraction; but, passing at once from the abstract to the

concrete, from the law of the heart it makes the rapid in-

ference of a lawgiver.’l  Or, as put more fully by a

German Christian philosopher,2 ‘There is something

above the merely human and creaturely in what man is

sensible of in the operation of conscience, whether he may

himself recognise and acknowledge it as such or not.

The workings of his conscience do not, indeed, give

themselves to be known as properly divine, and in reality

are nothing more than the movements of the human soul;

but they involve something which I, as soon as I reflect

upon it, cannot explain from the nature of spirit, if this

is contemplated merely as the ground in nature of my

individual personal1ife, which after a human manner has

been born in me.  I stand before myself as before a riddle,

the key of which can be given, not by human self-con-

sciousness, but by the revelation of God in His word.  By

this word we are made acquainted with the origination of

the human soul, as having sprung from God, and by God


     1 Chalmers, ‘Nat. Theology,’ B. III. c. 2.     2 Harless, ‘Christ. Ethik.,’ sec. 8.




settled in its creation-state.  This relationship as to origin

is an abiding one, because constituted by God, and, how-

ever much it may be obscured, incapable of being dissolved.

It is one also that precedes the development of men’s

self-consciousness; their soul does not place itself in

relation to God, but God stands in relation to their soul.

It is a bond co-extensive with life and being, by which,

through the fact of the creation of their spirit out of God,

it is for the whole course of its creaturely existence indis-

solubly joined to God; and a bond not destroyed by the

instrumentality of human propagation, but only trans-

mitted onwards.  On this account, what is the spirit of

life in man is at the same time called the light (lamp) of

God (Prov. xx. 27).’1

On these grounds, derived partly from the testimony

of Scripture, partly from the reflection on the nature and

constitution of the human soul, we are fully warranted to

conclude, that in man’s creation-state there were implanted

the grounds of moral obligation—the elements of a law


1 In substance, the same representations are given in all our sounder writers

on Christian ethics—for example, Butler, M’Cosh, Mansel.  ‘Why (asks the

last named writer) has one part of our constitution, merely as such, an impera-

tive authority over the remainder?  What right has one part of the human

consciousness to represent itself as duty, and another merely as inclination?

There is but one answer possible.  The moral reason, or will, or conscience of

man can have no authority, save as implanted in him by some higher spiritual

Being, as a Law emanating from a Lawgiver.  Man can be a law unto himself,

only on the supposition that he reflects in himself the law of God.  If he is

absolutely a law unto himself, his duty and his pleasure are undistinguishable

from each other; for he is subject to no one, and accountable to no one.

Duty in his case becomes only a higher kind of pleasure—a balance between

the present and the future, between the larger and the smaller gratification.

We are thus compelled by the consciousness of moral obligation to assume the

existence of a moral Deity, and to regard the absolute standard of right and

wrong as constituted by the nature of that Deity, (‘Bampton Lecture,’ p. 81,

Fifth Ed.).  For some partial errors in respect to conscience in man before the

fall, as, compared with conscience subsequent to the fall, see Delitzsch, ' Bibl.

Psych.,’ iii. sec. 4.




inwrought into the very framework of his being, which

called him perpetually to aim at conformity to the will

and character of God.  For what was the law, when it

came, but the idea of the Divine image set forth after its

different sides, and placed in formal contrast to sin and

opposition to God?1  Strictly speaking, however, man

at first stood in law, rather than under law—being formed

to the spontaneous exercise of that pure and holy love,

which is the expression of the Divine image, and hence also

to the doing of what the law requires.  Not uncommonly

his relation to law has had a more objective representation

given to it, as if the law itself in some sort of categorical

form had been directly communicated to our first parents.

Thus Tertullian, reasoning against the Jews, who sought

to magnify their nation, by claiming as their exclusive

property the revelation of law, says,2 that ‘at the begin-

ning of the world God gave a law to Adam and Eve’—

he refers specifically to the command not to eat of the

tree of the knowledge of good and evil; but he thus

expounds concerning it, ‘In this law given to Adam we

recognise all the precepts as already established which

afterwards budded forth as given by Moses. . . . . . For

the primordial law was given to Adam and Eve in para-

dise as the kind of prolific source (quasi matrix) of all

the precepts of God.’  In common with him Augustine

often identifies the unwritten or natural law given

originally to man, and in a measure retained generally,

though imperfectly, in men’s hearts, with the law after-

wards introduced by Moses and written on the tables of

stone (On Ps. cxviii., Sermo 25, § 4, 5; Liber de Spiritu

et Lit., § 29, 30 ; Opus Imp., Lib. vi. §15).  In later times,

among the Protestant theologians, from the Loci Theol.

of Melancthon downwards, the moral law was generally


   1 See Sartorius, ‘Heilige Liebe,’ p. 168.     2 Adv. Judæos, c. 2.



regarded as in substance one with the Decalogue, or the

two great precepts of love to God and love to man, and

this again identified with the law of nature, which was in

its fulness and perfection impressed upon the hearts of

our first parents, and still has a certain place in the hearts

of their posterity; hence such statements as these: ‘The

moral law was written in Adam’s heart,’ ‘The law was

Adam’s lease when God made him tenant of Eden’ (Light-

foot, Works, iv. 7, viii. 379); ‘The law of the ten com-

mandments, being the natural law, was written on Adam's

heart on his creation’ (Boston, ‘Notes to the Marrow,’

Introd.); or, as in the Westminster Confession, ‘God gave

to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound

him to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience;’

which law, after the fall, ‘continued to be a perfect ru1e

of righteousness, and, as such, was delivered by God upon

Mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two

tables’ (ch. xix.).  We should, however, mistake such

language did we suppose it to mean, that there was either

any formal promulgation of a moral law to Adam, or that

the Decalogue, as embodying this law, was in precise

form internally communicated by some special revelation

to him.  It was a brief and popular style of speech, inti-

mating that by the constitution of his spiritual nature,

taken in connection with the circumstances in which he

was placed, he was bound, and knew that he was bound,

to act according to the spirit and tenor of what was after-

wards formally set forth in the ten commands.  And so

Lightfoot, for example, who is one of the most explicit

in this mode of representation, brings out his meaning,

‘The law writ in Adam’s heart was not particularly

every command of the two tables, written as they were

in two tables, line by line; but this law in general,

of piety and love towards God, and of justice and love




toward our neighbour.  And in these lay couched a

law to all particulars that concerned either—to branch

forth as occasion for the practice of them should arise: as

in our natural corruption, brought in by sin, there is

couched every sin whatsoever too ready to bud forth,

when occasion is offered.’l  In like manner, Delitzsch,

who among Continental writers adheres to the same

mode of expression, speaks of the conscience in man, pre-

eminently of course in unfallen man, by what it indi-

cates of moral duty, as ‘the knowing about a Divine law,

which every man carries in his heart,’ or ‘an actual con-

sciousness of a Divine law engraven in the heart;’ but

explains himself by saying, that ‘the powers of the

spirit and of the soul themselves are as the decalogue of

the Thora (Law) that was in creation imprinted upon us;’2

that is to say, those powers, when in their proper state,

work under a sense of subjection to the will of God, and

in conformity with the great lines of truth and duty un-

folded in the Decalogue.3

Understood after this manner, the language in question


1 Sermon on Exodus xx. 11, Works, IV. 379.

2 ‘Biblische Psychologie,’ pp. 138, 140.

            3 Were it necessary, other explanations of a like kind might be given, espe-

cially from our older writers.  Thus, in the ‘Marrow of Modern Divinity,’

where the language is frequently used of the law of the two tables being

written on man’s heart, and forming the matter of the covenant of works,* this

is again explained by the fact of man having been made in God’s image or

likeness, and more fully thus, ‘God had furnished his soul with an understand-

ing mind, whereby he might discern good from evil and right from wrong;

and not only so, but also in his will was most perfect uprightness (Eccl. vii.

29), and his instrumental parts (i.e., his executive faculties and powers) were in

an orderly way framed to obedience.’  Much to the same effect Turretine,

‘Inst. Loc. Undecimus, Quæst. II.,’ who represents the moral law as the same

with that which in nature was impressed upon the heart, as to its substance,

though not formally and expressly given as in the Decalogue, sec. III. 2. xvii.;

also Colquhoun, ‘Treatise on the Law and the Gospel,’ p. 7.

* P. I. c. 1.




is quite intelligible and proper, though certainly capable

of being misapplied (if too literally taken), and in form

slightly differing from the Scriptural representation;1 for

in the passage which most nearly resembles it, and on which

it evidently leans, the apostle does not say that the law

itself, but that the work of the law, was written on men’s

hearts, in so far as they shewed a practical acquaintance

with the things enjoined in it, and a disposition to do

them.  Such in the completest sense was Adam, as made

in the Divine image, and replenished with light and

power from on high.  It was his very nature to think

and act in accordance with the principles of the Divine

character and government, but, at the same time also, his

imperative obligation; for to know the good, and not to

choose and perform it, could not appear otherwise than

sin.  Higher, therefore, than if surrounded on every side

by the objective demands of law, which as yet were not

needed—would, indeed, have been out of place—Adam

had the spirit of the law impregnating his moral being;

he had the mind of the Lawgiver Himself given to bear

rule within—hence, not so properly a revelation of law, in

the ordinary sense of the term, as an inspiration from the

Almighty, giving him understanding in regard to what,

as an intelligent and responsible being, it became him to

purpose and do in life.  But this, however good as an

internal constitution—chief, doubtless, among the things

pronounced at first very good by the Creator—required,

both for its development and its probation, certain ordi-

nances of an outward kind, specific lines of action and

observance marked out for it by the hand of God, for the

purpose of providing a proper stimulus to the sense

right and wrong in the bosom, and bringing its relative

strength or weakness into the light of day.  And we now


1 Rom. ii. 14, 15.




therefore turn, with the knowledge we have gained of

the fundamental elements of man’s moral condition, to

the formal calling and arrangements amid which he was

placed, to note their fitness for evolving the powers of his

moral nature and testing their character.


II.  The first in order, and in its nature the most

general, was the original charge, the word of direction

and blessing, under which mankind, in the persons of the

newly-created pair, were sent on their course of develop-

ment—that, namely, which bade them be fruitful, mul-

tiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have

dominion over its living creatures and its powers of pro-

duction.  This word was afterwards brought into closer

adaptation to the circumstances of our first parents, in

the appointment given them to dress and keep the

blessed region, which was assigned them as their more

immediate charge and proper domain.  Taken by itself,

it was a call to merely bodily exercise and industrious

employment.  But considered as the expression of the

mind of God to those who were made in the Divine

image, and had received their place of dignity and lord-

ship upon earth, for the purpose of carrying out the

Divine plan, everything assumes a higher character; the

natural becomes inseparably linked to the moral.  Realiz-

ing his proper calling and destiny, man could not look

upon the world and the interests belonging to it, as if he

occupied an independent position; he must bear himself

as the representative and steward of God, to mark the

operations of His hand, and fulfil His benevolent design.

In such a case how could he fail to see in the ordin-

ances of nature, God’s appointments?  and in the laws of

life and production, God’s methods of working?  Or if so

regarding them, how could he do otherwise than place him-




self in loving accord with them, and pliant ministration?

Not, therefore, presuming to deem aught evil which bore

on it the Divine impress of good; but, as a veritable

child of nature, content to watch and observe that he

might learn, to obey that he might govern; and thus,

with ever growing insight into nature’s capacities and

command over her resources, striving to multiply around

him the materials of well-being and enjoyment, and

render the world a continually expanding and brightening

mirror, in which to see reflected the manifold fulness and

glorious perfections of God.

Such, according to this primary charge, was to be

man’s function in the world of nature—his function as

made in God’s image—and as so made capable of under-

standing, of appropriating to himself, and acting out the

ideas which were embodied in the visible frame and order

of things. He was to trace, in the operations proceeding

around him, the workings of the Divine mind, and then

make them bear the impress of his own.  Here, there-

fore, stands rebuked for all time the essential ungoli-

ness of an indolent and selfish repose, since only to man’s

habitual oversight and wakeful industry was the earth

to become what its Maker designed it, and paradise itself

to yield to him the attractive beauty and plenteousness

of a proper home.  Here, too, stands yet more palpably

rebuked the monkish isolation and asceticism, which

would treat the common gifts of nature with disdain, and

turn with aversion from the ordinary employments and

relations of life: as if the plan of the Divine Architect

had in these missed the proper good for man, and a nobler

ideal were required to correct its faultiness, or supple-

ment its deficiencies!  Here yet again was authority

given, the commission, we may say, issued, not merely for

the labour of the hand to help forward the processes of



nature, and render them productive of ever varying and

beneficent results, but for the labour also of the intellect

to explore the hidden springs and, principles of things, to

bring the scattered materials which the experience of

every day was presenting to his eye and placing at his

disposal under the dominion of order, that they might be

made duly subservient to the interests of intellectual life

and social progress; for in proportion as such results might

be won was man’s destined ascendency over the world

secured, and the mutual, far-reaching interconnections

between the several provinces of nature brought to light,

which so marvellously display the creative foresight and

infinite goodness of God.

We may even carry the matter a step farther.  For, con-

stituted as man was, the intelligent head and responsible

possessor of the earth’s fulness, the calling also was his

to develop the powers and capacities belonging to it for

ornament and beauty, as well as for usefulness.  With

elements of this description the Creator has richly im-

pregnated the works of His hand, there being not an

object in nature that is incapable of conveying ideas of

beauty;1 and this beyond doubt that each after its kind

might by man be appreciated, refined, and elevated.

‘Man possessed,’ so we may justly say with a recent

writer,2  ‘a sense of beauty as an essential ground of his

intelligence and fellowship with Heaven.  He was there-

fore to cultivate the feeling of the beautiful by cultivating

the appropriate beauty inherent in everything that lives.

Nature ever holds out to the hand of man means by

which his reason, when rightly employed, may be enriched

with true gold from Heaven’s treasury.  And eve.n now,

in proportion to the restoration to heavenly enlighten-


1 Ruskin’s ‘Modern Painters,’ Vol. II. p. 27.

2 Moore’s ‘First Man and his Place in Creation,’ p. 299.




ment, we perceive that every kind of beauty and power

is but an embodiment of truth, a form of love, revealing

the relation of the Divine creative mind to loveliness,

symmetry, and justness, as well as expressing tender

thought towards the susceptibilities of all His sentient

creatures, but especially for the instruction and happy

occupation of man himse1f.’  This too, then, is to be

reckoned among the things included in man’s destination

to intelligent and fruitful labour—an end to be prosecuted

in a measure for its own sake, though in great part realiz-

ing itself as the incidental result of what was otherwise

required at his hand.

But labour demands, as its proper complement, rest:

rest in God alternating with labour for God.  And here

we come upon another part of man’s original calling;

since in this respect also it became him, as made in God’s

image, to fall in with the Divine order and make it his

own.  ‘God rested,’l we are told, after having prosecuted,

through six successive days of work, the preparation of the

world for a fit habitation and field of employment for man.

‘He rested on the seventh day from all His work which

He had made; and He blessed the seventh day and

sanctified it, because that in it He had rested from all

His work which he created and made’—a  procedure in

God that would have been inexplicable except as furnish-

ing the ground for a like procedure on the part of man,

as, in that case, the hallowing and benediction spoken of

must have wanted both a proper subject and a definite aim.

True, indeed, as we are often told, there was no formal

enactment binding the observance of the day on man;

there is merely an announcement of what God did, not a

setting forth to man of what man should do; it is not said,

that the Sabbath was expressly enjoined upon man.  And


1Gen. ii. 2, 3.



neither, we reply, should it have been; for, since man was

made in the image of God, it was only, so long as this

image remained pure, the general landmarks of moral and

religious duty, which were required for his guidance, not

specific and stringent regulations: he had the light of

Heaven within him, and of his own accord should have

taken the course, which his own circumstances, viewed in

connection with the Divine procedure, indicated as dutiful

and becoming.  The real question is, did not the things

recorded contain the elements of law?  Was there not in

them such a revelation of the mind of God, as bespoke

an obligation to observe the day of weekly rest, for those

whose calling was to embrace the order and do the works

of God?  Undoubtedly there was—if in the sacred record

we have, what it purports to give, a plain historical

narrative of things which actually occurred.  In that case

—the only supposition we are warranted to make—the

primeval consecration of the seventh day has a moral, as

well as religious significance.  It set up, at the threshold

of the world’s history, a memorial and a witness, that as

the Creator, when putting forth His active energies on

the visible theatre of the universe, did not allow Himself

to become absorbed in it, but withdrew again to the

enjoyment of His own infinite fulness and sufficiency; so

it behoved His rational creature man to take heed, lest,

when doing the work of God, he should lose himself amid

outward objects, and fail to carry out the higher ends

and purposes of his being with reference to God and

eternity.  Is it I alone who say this?  Hear a very able

and acute German moralist: ‘It is, indeed, a high

thought (says Wuttke1) that in Sacred Scripture this

creation-rest of God is taken as the original type and

ground of the Sabbath solemnity.  It is thereby indi-


1 ‘Handbuch der Christlichen Sittenlehre,’ I. p. 469




cated, that precisely the innermost part of what constitutes

the likeness of God is that which demands this solemnity

—the truly reasonable religious-moral nature of man, and

not the natural necessity of test and enjoyment.  What

with God are but two sides of the eternal life itself, no

temporal falling asunder into active working, and then re-

treating into one’s self, that with respect to the finite spirit

falls partially, at least, into separate portions—namely, into

work and Sabbath-rest.  God blessed the seventh day:

—there rests upon the sacred observance of this day a

special and a higher blessing, an imparting of eternal,

heavenly benefits, as the blessing associated with work is

primarily but the imparting of temporal benefits.  The

Sabbath has not a merely negative significance; it is not

a simple cessation from work; it has a most weighty, real

import, being the free action of the reasonable God-like

spirit rising above the merely individual and finite, the

reaching forth of the soul, which through work has been

drawn down to the transitory, toward the unchangeable

and Divine.’  Hence (as the same writer also remarks),

the ordinance of the Sabbath belongs to the moral sphere

considered by itself, not merely to the state of redemp-

tion struggling to escape from sin—though such a state

obviously furnishes fresh reasons for the line of duty con-

templated in the ordinance.  But at no period could it

be meant to stand altogether alone.  Neither before the

fall nor after it, could such calm elevation of the soul to

God and spiritual rest in Him be shut up to the day

specially devoted to it; each day, if rightly spent, must

also have its intervals of spiritual repose and blessing.

So far, then, all was good and blessed.  Man, as thus

constituted, thus called to work and rest in harmony and

fellowship with God, was in a state of relative perfection

—of perfection after its kind, though not such as pertains




to the regeneration in Christ.  Scripture itself marks the

difference, when it speaks of the natural or psychical

(yuxiko<n) coming first, then that which is spiritual (pneu-

matiko<n, 1 Cor. xv. 46).  The first man was of the earth,

earthy—in the frame and mould of his being simply a part

of this mundane existence, though incomparably its noblest

part, and allied, through his spirit, with the Divine; but

the second man was the Lord from heaven.  The creation

of the one was welcomed by the silent homage and regard

of the living creaturehood on earth; the advent of the

other was celebrated by angelic hosts in anthems of joy

from the heavenly places.  In Adam there was an intelli-

gence that could discriminate wisely between irrational

natures and his own, as also between one kind of inferior

natures and another; in Christ there was a spirit that

knew what was in man himself, capable of penetrating

into his inmost secrets, yea, even of most perfectly know-

ing an revealing the Father.  Finally, high as man’s

original calling was to preside over and subdue the earth,

to improve and multiply its resources, to render it in all

respects subservient to the ends for which it was made;

how mightily was this calling surpassed by the mission of

Him, who came to grapple with the great controversy

between sin and righteousness, to restore the fallen, to

sanctify the unclean, and bring in a world of incorruptible

glory and blessed life, with which God should be most

intimately associated, and over which He should per-

petually rejoice!

The superiority, however, of the things pertaining to

the person and the work of Christ does not prevent those

relating to man’s original state from being fitly viewed as

relatively perfect.  But then there was no absolute guar-

antee for this being continued; there was a possibility of

all being lost, since it hung on the steadfastness of a



merely created head; and hence, as regarded man himself,

there was a need for something of a more special and

definite kind to test his adherence to the perfect order and

rectitude incumbent on him.  There might, we can readily

conceive, have been defections from the right and good in

respect to his general calling and destination—failures

distinct enough, perhaps, in themselves, but perceptible

only to the eye of Him who can look on the desires and

intents of the heart.  Here, however, it was indispensable

that the materials for judgment should be patent to all.

For, in Adam humanity itself was on its trial—the whole

race having been potentially created in him, and destined

to stand or fall, to be blessed or cursed, with him.  The

question, therefore, as to its properly decisive issue, must

be made to turn on conformity to an ordinance, at once

reasonable in its nature and specific in its requirements—

an ordinance which the simplest could understand, and

respecting which no uncertainty could exist, whether it

had been kept or not.  Such in the highest degree was

the appointment respecting the tree of the knowledge of

good and evil, forbidding it to be eaten on the pain of

death—an appointment positive in its character, in a

certain sense arbitrary, yet, withal, perfectly natural, as

relating to a particular tree singled out for the purpose

from many others around it, imposing no vexatious

burden, requiring only the exercise of a measure of

personal restraint in deference to the authority, and

acknowledgment of the supreme right, of Him of whom

all was held—in short, one of the easiest, most natural,

most unexceptionable of probationary enactments.  It was

not exactly, as put by Tertullian, as if this command re-

specting the tree of knowledge formed the kind of quint-

essence or prolific source of all other moral commands;

for in itself, and apart from the Divine authority imposing




it, there was nothing about it strictly moral: not on this

account therefore was it given, but as serving to erect a

standard, every way proper and becoming, around which,

the elements of good and evil might meet, and the

ascendency of the one or the other be made manifest.1

And so the Sovereign Disposer of events by the very

appointment undertook to order it.  If the Divine image

should anyhow begin to lose the perfection of its parts,

if a spirit of disaffection should enter the bosoms of our

first parents, it could not be left to their own choice or to

merely adventitious circumstances, in what form or direc-

tion this should appear.  It must assume an attitude of

contrariety to this Divine ordinance, and discover itself in

a disposition to eat of that tree of which God had said,

They should not eat of it, lest they died.  There, pre-

cisely, and not elsewhere—thus and not otherwise was

it to be seen, if they could maintain their part in this

covenant of life; or, if not, then the obvious mastery of

the evil over the good in their natures.


III.  We are not called here to enter into any formal

discussion of the temptation and the fall.  Profound

mysteries hang around the subject; but the general

result, and the overt steps that led to it, are known to

all.  Hearkening to the voice of the tempter, that they

should be as God, knowing good and evil, our first parents

did eat of the interdicted tree; and, in doing so, broke

through the law of their being, which bound them ever


1 So, indeed, Tertullian, when he explains himself, virtually regarded it:

‘Denique si dominum deum suum dilexissent’ (viz. Adam and Eve). ‘contra

præceptum ejus non fecissent; si proximum diligerent, id est semetipsos, per-

suasioni serpentis non credidissent,’ etc. And the general conclusion he draws

is, 'Denique, ante legem Moysi scriptam in tabulis lapideis, legem fuisse con-

tendo non scriptam, quæ naturaliter intelligebatur et a patribus custodiebatur.’

(Adv. Judæos, sec. 2).




to live and act in loving allegiance to the God who made

them, and of whom they held whatever they possessed.

Self now took the place of God; they would be their own

rule and their own end, and thereby gave way to the

spirit of apostacy; first entertaining doubts of God’s

goodness, as if the prohibition under which they had been

placed laid an undue restraint on their freedom, limited

too much their range of action and enjoyment; then

disbelieving God’s testimony as to the inevitable result

of disobedience; finally, making the gratification of their

own self-will and fleshly desire the paramount considera-

tion which was to determine their course.  At every step

a violation of the principle of love—of love in both its

departments; first, indeed, and most conspicuously, in

reference to God, who was suspected, slighted, disobeyed;

but also in reference to one another, and their prospective

offspring, whose interests were sacrificed at the shrine of

selfishness.  The high probation, therefore, issued in a

mournful failure; humanity, in its most favoured condi-

tions, proved unequal to the task of itself holding the

place and using the talents committed to it, in loving

subjection to the will of Heaven; and the penalty of sin,

not the guerdon of righteousness, became its deserved

portion.  Shall not the penalty take effect?  Can the

Righteous One do otherwise than shew Himself the enemy

and avenger of sin, by resigning to corruption and death

the nature which had allied itself to the evil?  Where,

if He did, would have been the glory of His name?

Where the sanction and authority of His righteous

government?  It was for the purpose, above all, of insti-

tuting such a government in the world, and unfolding by

means of it the essential attributes of His character, that

man had been brought on the stage of being as the proper

climax of creation; and if, for this end, it was necessary



that righteousness should be rewarded, was it not equally

necessary that sin should be punished?  So, death

entered, where life only should have reigned; it entered

as the stern yet sublime proof, that in the Divine govern-

ment of the world the moral must carry it over the

natural; that conformity to the principles of righteous-

ness is the indispensable condition of blessing; and that

even if grace should interpose to rectify the evil that had

emerged, and place the hopes of mankind on a better

footing than that of nature, this grace must reign

through righteousness, and overcome death by overcom-

ing the sin which caused it.

To have these great principles written so indelibly and

palpably on the foundations of the world’s history was of

incalculable moment for its future instruction and well-

being; for the solemn lessons and affecting memories of

the fall entered as essential elements of men’s view of

God, and formed the basis of all true religion for a sinful

world.  They do so still.  And, certainly, if it could be

proved by the cultivators of natural science, that man,

simply as such—man by the very constitution of his

being—is mortal, it would strike at the root of our reli-

gious beliefs; for it would imply, that death did not come

as a judgement from God, and was the result of physical

organization or inherent defectibility, not the wages of

sin.  This, however, is a point that lies beyond the range

of natural science.  It may be able to shew, that death

is not only now, but ever has been, the law of merely

sentient existence, and that individual forms of sentient

life, having no proper personality—if perpetuated at all,

must be perpetuated in the species.  But man is on one

side only, and that the lower side, related to sentient

forms of being.  In what constitute the more essential

characteristics of his nature—intelligence, reason, will,




conscience—he stands in close affinity to God; he is

God’s image and representative, and not a liability to

death, but the possession of endless life, must be regarded

as his normal state of being.  And to secure this for the

animal part of his frame, so long as spiritually he lived to

God, was, at least, one part of the design of the tree of

life (whatever higher purposes it might also have been

intended to serve as the pledge or symbol of life to his

soul): it was the specific antidote of death.  A most in-

adequate provision, it may perhaps be alleged, for such

a purpose, suited only for a single pair, or for a compara-

tive handful of people, but by no means for a numerous

race.  Let it be so: He who made the provision knew

well for how many, or how long, it might be required;

and, in point of fact, from no misarrangement or defect

in this respect, the evil it was ordained to guard against

found an entrance into the world.  By man’s dis-

obedience, by that alone, came sin, and death by sin—

such is the teaching of Scripture alike in its earlier and

later revelations; and the theology which would elimi-

nate this doctrine from its fundamental beliefs must be

built on another foundation than the word of the living








                                    LECTURE III.





A PRINCIPLE of progression pervades the Divine

plan as unfolded in Scripture, which must be borne

in mind by those who would arrive at a correct under-

standing, either of the plan as a whole, or of the charac-

teristic features and specific arrangements which have

distinguished it at one period, as compared with another.

We can scarcely refer in proof of this to the original con-

stitution of things, since it so speedily broke up—though,

there can be no doubt, it also had interwoven with it a

principle of progression.  The charge given to man at the

moment of creation, if it had been in any measure exe-

cuted, would necessarily have involved a continuous rise

in the outward theatre of his existence; and it may justly

be inferred, that as this proceeded, his mental and bodily

condition would have partaken of influences fitted in-

definitely to ennoble and bless it.  But the fatal blow

given by the fall to that primeval state rendered the real

starting-point of human history an essentially different

one.  The progression had now to proceed, not from a

less to a more complete form of excellence, but from

a state of sin and ruin to one of restored peace, life, and

purity, culminating in the possession of all blessing and

glory in the kingdom of the Father.  And, in accordance

with this plan of God for the recovery and perfecting of

those who should be heirs of salvation, His revelation

62        THE REVELATION OF LAW.           [LECT. III.


spiritual and divine things assumes the form of a gradual

development and progressive history—beginning as a

small stream amid the wreck and desolation of the fall

just enough to cheer the heart of the fallen and brace it

for the conflict with evil, but receiving additions from

age to age, as the necessities of men and the purpose of

God required, until, in the incarnation and work of Christ

for the salvation of the world, it reached that fulness of

light and hope, which prompted an apostle to say, ‘The

darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.’

It may seem strange to our view—there is undoubtedly

in it something of the dark and mysterious—that the

plan of God for the enlightenment and regeneration of

the world should have been formed on such a principle

of progression, and that, in consequence, so many ages

should have elapsed before the realities on which light

and blessing mainly depended were brought distinctly

into view.  Standing, as we ourselves do, on a point of

time, and even still knowing but in part the things of

God’s kingdom, we must be content, for the present, to

remain ignorant of the higher reasons which led to the

adoption of this principle as a pervading characteristic of

the Divine administration.  But where we can do little

to explain, we are able to exemplify; for the ordinary

scheme of providence presents us here with a far-reaching

and varied analogy.  On the same principle of progres-

sion is the life-plan of each individual constructed; so

that, on an average, a half, and in the case of multitudes

greatly more than a half, of their earthly life is spent

before the capacity for its proper employments has been

attained.  In the history, also, of nations and com-

munities, of arts and sciences, we see the principle in

constant operation, and have no difficulty in connecting

with it much of the activity, enjoyment, and well-being


LECT. III.]      TIMES OF PREPARATION.             63


of mankind.  It is this very principle of progression

which is the mainspring of life’s buoyancy and hopeful-

ness, and which links together, with a profound and

varied interest, one stage of life with another.  Reasons

equally valid would doubtless be found in the higher line

of things which relates to the dispensations of God

toward men, could we search the depths of the Divine

counsels, and see the whole as it presents itself to the

eye of Him who perceives the end from the beginning.

It is the fact itself, however, which we here think it

of importance to note; for, assuming the principle in

question to have had a directive sway in the Divine

dispensations, it warrants us to expect measures of light

at one stage, and modes of administration, which shall

bear the marks of relative imperfection as compared with

others.  This holds good of the revelation of law, which

we now approach, when placed beside the manifestation of

God in the Gospel; and even in regard to the law itself

the principle of progression was allowed to work; for it

might as well be said, that the law formed the proper

complement and issue of what preceded it, as that it

became the goundwork of future and grander revelations.

To this, as a matter of some importance, our attention

must first be given.

Considering the length of the period that elapsed from

the fall of man to the giving of the law, the little that

remains in the Divine records of explicit revelation as to

moral and religious duty, appears striking, and cannot be

regarded as free from difficulty when contemplated from

a modern point of view.  It may be so, however, chiefly

from the scantiness of our materials, and our consequent

inability to realize the circumstances of the time, or to

take in all the elements of directive knowledge which

were actually at work in society.  This deficiency is

64       THE REVELATION OF LAW.         [LECT. III.


certainly not to be supplied, after the fashion of Blunt,

by combining together the scattered notices in the early

history of the Bible, and looking upon them as so many

hints or fragmentary indications of a regularly constituted

patriarchal church, with its well furnished rubric as to

functions, places, times, and forms of worship.1  These are

not the points on which the comparatively isolated and

artless families of those early times might be expected to

have received special and unrecorded communications

from Heaven.  It had been as much out of place for them

as for the early Christian communities, while worshipping

in upper chambers, hired school-rooms, and sequestered

retreats, to have had furnished to their hand a ritual of

service fit only for spacious cathedrals and a fully deve-

loped hierarchy.  We are rather to assume, that brief as

the outline which Scripture gives of the transactions of

the period, it is still one that contains whatever is to be

deemed essential to the matter as a history of Divine

revelation; and that only by making proper account of

the things which are recorded, not by imagining such as

are not, can we frame to ourselves an adequate or well-

grounded idea of the state of those earlier generations of

mankind, as to the means of knowledge they possessed,

or the claims of service that lay upon them, in respect

to moral and religious duty.  Let us endeavour to indi-


1 Some of these, as might be expected, are obtained in a very arbitrary

manner, and look almost like a caricature of the text of Scripture:–as when in

Esau’s ‘goodly raiment,’ furtively used by Jacob, is found the sacerdotal robes

of the first-born,* and something similar also in Joseph’s coat of many colours—

as if this mere boy were already invested with priestly attire, and not only so,

but in that attire went about the country, since he certainly wore it when he

visited his brethren at Dothan.  Can any parallel to this be found even in the

complicated legislation of the Mosaic ritual?  The priests who were ministering

at the tabernacle or temple had to wear robes of office, but not when engaged

in ordinary employments.

* ‘Scripture Coincidences,’ p. 12.

LECT. III.]        TIMES OF PREPARATION.             65


cate some of the leading points suggested by Scripture on

the subject, without, however, dwelling upon them, and

for the purpose more especially of apprehending the rela-

tion in which they stood to the coming legislation of Sinai.

          1.  At the foundation of all we must place the fact of

man’s knowledge of God—of a living, personal, righteous

God—as the, Creator of all things, and of man himself as

His intelligent, responsible creature, made after His image,

and subject to His authority.  Whatever effect the fall

might ultimately have on this knowledge, and on the

conscious relationship of man to his maker, his moral

and religious history started with it—a knowledge still

fresh and vivid when he was expelled from Eden, in

some aspects of it even widened and enlarged by the

circumstances that led to that expulsion.  ‘Heaven lies

about us in our infancy:’—it did so pre-eminently, and

in another sense than now, when the infancy was that of

the human race itself; and not as by ‘trailing clouds of

glory’ merely, but by the deep instincts of their moral

being, and the facts of an experience not soon to be for-

gotten, its original heads knew that they came from

God as their home.’  Here, in a moral respect, lay their

special vantage-ground for the future; for not the authority

of conscience merely, but the relation of this to the higher

authority of God, must have been among their clearest

and most assured convictions.  They knew that it had its

eternal source and prototype in the Divine nature, and

that in all its actings it stood under law to God.  Good-

ness after the pattern of His goodness must have been

what they felt called by this internal monitor to aim at;

and in so far as they might fall beneath it, or deviate

from it, they knew—they could not but know—that it

was the voice of God they were virtually disobeying.

2. Then, as regards the manner in which this call


66         THE REVELATION OF LAW.       [LECT. III.


to imitate God’s goodness and be conformed to His will

was to be carried out, it would of course be understood

that, whatever was fairly involved in the original destina-

tion of man to replenish and cultivate the earth, so as to

make it productive of the good of which it was capable,

and subservient to the ends of a wise and paternal

government, this remained as much as ever his calling

and duty.  Man’s proper vocation, as the rational head of

this lower world, was not abolished by the fall; it had

still to be wrought out, only under altered circumstances,

and amid discouragements which had been unknown, if

sin had not been allowed to enter into his condition.  And

with this destination to work and rule for God on earth,

the correlative appointment embodied in God’s procedure

at creation, to be ever and anon entering into His rest,

must also be understood to have remained in force.  As

the catastrophe of the fall had both enlarged the sphere

and aggravated the toil of work, so the calm return of

the soul to God, and the gathering up of its desires and

affections into the fulness of His life and blessing, especially

on the day peculiarly consecrated for the purpose, could

not but increasingly appear to the thoughtful mind an

act of homage to the Divine will, and an exercise of pious

feeling eminently proper and reasonable.

3.  Turning now, thirdly, to the sphere of family and

domestic life, the foundation laid at the first, in the for-

mation of one man, and out of this man one woman to be

his bosom companion and wife, this also stood as before-

and carried the same deep import.  The lesson originally

drawn from the creative act, whether immediately drawn

by Adam himself or not—‘therefore shall a man leave his

father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and

they shall be one flesh’1—was a lesson for all time.  Our


1 Gen. ii. 24.

LECT. III.]      TIMES OF PREPARATION.            67


Lord (who as the creative Word was the immediate agent

in the matter) when on earth set to His seal, at once to

the historical fact, and to the important practical deduction

flowing from it; and He added, for the purpose of still

further exhibiting its moral bearing, ‘So then they are

no more twain, but one flesh.  What therefore God hath

joined together, let not man put asunder.’1  Thus was im-

pressed on the very beginnings of human history the

stamp of God’s appointed order for families—the close

and endearing nature of the marriage-tie—the life-union

it was intended to form—the mutual sympathy and affec-

tion by which it should be sustained—and the common

interest it created, as well as the loving regard it naturally

tended to evoke, in behalf of the offspring that might

issue from it.  All this, though not formally imposed by

definite rules and prescriptions, was yet by the moral

significance of that primeval fact laid upon the consciences

of men, and indicated the place which the family constitu-

tion and its relative duties were to hold in the organization

and progress of socIety.2


1 Mark x. 8, 9.

2 The objections that have been made to the sacred narrative respecting

the fact of Eve’s formation out of a rib of Adam, as that it was unworthy of God;

that his posterity are not deficient in that part of their bodily organization,

which they would have been if Adam had been actually deprived of a rib;

that we have therefore in the story not a fact but a myth, teaching the com-

panionship of the woman to man—are entitled to no serious consideration.  It

is the very foundations of things we have here to do with, in a social and moral

respect, and for this, not shadowy myths (the inventions, always, of a cornpara-

tively late age) but great outstanding facts were necessary to furnish the requisite

instruction.  Since important moral ends were in view for all coming time, why

could not God have taken a portion of Adam’s frame for the formation of his

partner in life, and afterwards repaired the loss?  or, if the defect continued

in him as an individual, prevented its transmission to posterity?  Somehow,

the formation of the first woman, as well as the first man, had to be brought

about by a direct operation of Deity; and why not thus rather than otherwise,

if thus only it could be made the symbol of a great truth, the embodiment of

an imperishable moral lesson?  No reason can be shewn to the contrary.


68           THE REVELATION OF LAW.             [LECT. III.


4.  Of devotion as consisting in specific acts of religious

worship, the record of man’s creation, it must be admitted,

is altogether silent, nor does anything appear in the form

of a command for ages to come.  This cannot, however,

be fairly regarded as a proof, either that nothing in the

matter of worship was involved in the fundamental

grounds of moral obligation, or that the sense of duty in

that respect did not from the first find some fitting ex-

pression.  The hallowing of a particular day of the week,

and connecting with its observance a peculiar blessing,

evidently implied the recognition of the religious senti-

ment in man’s bosom, and formed an ever-recurring call

to exercises of devotion.  For what is devotion in its

proper nature, and stript of its mere accessories?  It is

just the Sabbath idea realized, or, in the simple but

expressive language of Bishop Butler,l ‘Devotion is retire-

ment from the world God has made, to Him alone: it is

to withdraw from the avocations of sense, to employ our

attention wholly upon Him as upon an object actually

present, to yield ourselves up to the influence of the Divine

presence, and to give full scope to the affections of gratitude,

love, reverence, trust, and dependence, of which infinite

power, wisdom, and goodness is the natural and only

adequate object.’  The constitution of man’s nature, and

the circumstances in which he was originally placed, could

not but lead him to cherish and exercise the feelings of

such a spirit of devotion—though with what accompani-

ments of outward form we have no indication, nor is it

of any practical moment, since they can only be under-

stood to have been the natural and appropriate manifesta-

tions of what was felt within.  With the fall, however,

matters in this respect underwent a material change; for

the worship which became a sinner could not be the same


1 Sermons, Ser. XIV.

LECT. III.]        TIMES OF PREPARATION.           69


with that which flowed spontaneously from the heart of

one who was conscious only of good, nor could it be left

entirely to men’s own unaided conceptions; for if so left,

how could they be assured that it was accepted of their

Maker?  how know it to be such as He would bless?

Somehow, therefore—apparently, indeed, in connection

with the clothing of the shame of our first parents by

means of the skins of slain victims—they were guided to

a worship by sacrifice as the one specially adapted to their

state as sinners, and one which probably from the very

first (by means of the supernatural agencies associated

with the entrance to Eden and its tree of life, viz., the

flaming sword and the cherubim), received upon it the

marks of Divine approval.  At all events, in the history of

their earliest offspring, worship by the sacrifice of slain

victims becomes manifest as the regular and approved mode

of access to God in its more formal acts of homage.  Here

then, again Without any positive command, far less any

formally prescribed ritual, there still were in the Divine

procedure, taken in connection with men’s moral convic-

tions and feelings, the grounds of moral obligation and

specific duty—not law, indeed, in the formal sense of the

term, but the elements of law, or such indications of the

Divine will as were sufficient to guide truly humble and

God-fearing men in the earlier ages of the world to give

expression to their faith and hope in God by a mode of

worship suited to their condition and acceptable to Heaven.

5. Another thing also ought to be borne in mind in

respect to those varied materials of moral and religious

duty, which is this—that while they belonged to the

origination of things on earth, to things of which the first

heads of the human family were either the only witnesses,

or the direct and immediate subjects, they had the advan-

tage of being associated with a living testimony, which




was capable of preserving it fresh and unimpaired for

many generations.  The longevity of the first race of

patriarchs had doubtless many important ends to serve;

but we cannot be wrong in mentioning this among the

chief.  He who had received his being direct and pure

from the hand of God, to whom had been revealed the

wonders of God’s work in creation, who had himself

walked with God in paradise, was present with his living

voice to tell of all he had seen and heard, and by his

example (as we can scarcely doubt) to confirm and com-

mend his testimony, down even to the times of Lamech,

the father of Noah.  So that, if the materials of knowledge

respecting God’s will to men were comparatively few, and

were in many respects linked to the facts of a primeval past,

this continuous personal testimony served to render that

past a kind of perpetual present, and so to connect, as by

a living bond, the successive generations of men with the

original grounds of faith and hope for the world.  There

were, also, as is clear from the case of Enoch and other

incidental notices, closer communings occasionally main-

tained by God with believing men, and for special seasons

more definite communications made of His will.  Sparse,

therefore, as the memorials are, in a religious respect,

which belong to this period, as compared with its great

length, God still did not leave Himself without a wit-

ness; and men who were alive to the responsibilities of

their position, and disposed to follow the impulses of

their moral nature, could not complain of being without

any sure direction as to the great landmarks of truth

and duty.

6.  Yet, it is impossible to carry the matter further;

and to speak of law in the moral and religious sphere—

law in some definite and imperative form, standing out-

side the conscience, and claiming authority to regulate

LECT. III.]      TIMES OF PREPARATION.             71


its decisions, as having a place in the earlier ages of man-

kind, is not warranted by any certain knowledge we

possess of the remoter periods of God’s dispensations.

That ‘all human laws are sustained by one that is

divine’ (a saying ascribed to Heraclitus), seems, as several

others of a like kind that might be quoted, to point to a

traditional belief in some primitive Divine legislation;

and in a well-known noble passage of Cicero, which it is

well to bring into remembrance in discussions of this

nature, there is placed above all merely local and con-

ventional enactments of men, a law essentially Divine, of

eternal existence and permanent universal obligation,1

Est quidem vera lex, etc.  ‘There is indeed a true law,

right reason, conformable to nature, diffused among all,

unchanging, eternal, which, by commanding, urges to

duty; by prohibiting, deters from fraud; not in vain com-

manding or prohibiting the good, though by neither

moving the wicked.  This law cannot be abrogated, nor

may anything be withdrawn from it; it is in the power

of no senate or people to set us free from it; nor is there

to be sought any extraneous teacher or interpreter of it.

It shall not be one law at Rome, another at Athens; one

now, another at some future time; but one law, alike

eternal and unchangeable, shall bind all nations and

through all time; and one shall be the common teacher,

as it were, and governor of all—God, who is Himself the

Author, the Administrator, and Enactor of this law.’

Elsewhere, he expresses it as the opinion of the wisest

men,2 that ‘this fundamental law and ultimate judgment

was the mind of Deity either ordering or forbidding all

things according to reason; whence that law which the

gods have given to mankind is justly praised.  For it

fitly belongs to the reason and judgment of the wise to


1 De Republica, III. 22.                         2 De Leg., II. 4.

72             THE REVELATION OF LAW.        [LECT. III.


enjoin one thing and prohibit another.’  And in thus

having its ground in right reason, which is the property

of man as contradistinguished from beasts, and is the

same in man as in God, he finds the reason of this law

being so unchanging, universal, and perpetually binding.

But the very description implies that no external legisla-

tion was meant coming somewhere into formal existence

among men; it is but another name for the findings of

that intelligent and moral nature, which is implanted in

all men, though in some is more finely balanced and

more faithfully exercised than in others.  Under the

designation of the supremacy of conscience, it appears

again in the discourses of Bishop Butler, and is analysed

and described as ‘our natural guide, the guide assigned

us by the Author of our nature,’ that by virtue of which

‘man in his make, constitution, or nature, is, in the

strictest and most proper sense, a law to himself,’ whereby

‘he hath the rule of right within; what is wanting is

only that it be honestly attended to.’  But this has

already been taken into account, and placed at the

head of those moral elements in man’s condition which

belonged to him even as fallen, and which, though pos-

sessing little of the character of objective or formal law,

yet earned with them such directive light and just

authority as should have had the force of law to his

mind, and rendered inexcusable those who turned aside

to transgression.1

7. The result, however, proved that all was insuffi-

cient; a grievous defect lurked somewhere.  The means

of knowledge possessed, and the motives to obedience


1 It is only in this sense, and as connected with the means of instruction

provided by the course of God’s providential dealings, that we can speak of the

light possessed by men as sufficient for moral and religious duty.  The light of

conscience in fallen man by itself can never reach to the proper knowledge of

the things which concern his relation to God and immortality.

LECT. III.]       TIMES OF PREPARATION.            73


with which they were accompanied, utterly failed with

the great majority of men to keep them in the path of

uprightness, or even to restrain the most shameful de-

generacy and corruption.  The principle of evil which

wrought so vehemently, and so early reached an over-

mastering height in Cain, grew and spread through a

continually widening circle, till the earth was filled with

violence, and the danger became imminent, unless averted

by some forcible interposition, of all going to perdition.

Where lay the radical defect?  It lay, beyond doubt, in

the weakness of the moral nature, or in that fatal rent

which had been made by the entrance of sin into man’s

spiritual being, dividing between his soul and God, divid-

ing even between the higher and the lower propensities

of his soul, so that the lower, instead of being regulated

and controlled by the higher, practically acquired the

ascendency.  Conscience, indeed, still had, as by the

constitution of nature it must ever have, the right to

command the other faculties of the soul, and prescribe

the rule to be obeyed; but what was wanting was the

power to enforce this obedience, or, as Butler puts it, to

see that the rule be honestly attended to; and the want

is one which human nature is of itself incompetent to

rectify.  For the bent of nature being now on the side of

evil, the will, which is but the expression of the nature,

is ever ready to give effect to those aims and desires

which have for their object some present gratification,

and correspondingly tend to blunt the sensibilities and

overbear the promptings of conscience in respect to things

of higher moment.  In the language of the apostle, the

flesh lusts against the spirit, yea, and brings it into bon-

dage to the law of sin and death.  And the evil, once

begun, is from its very nature a growing one, alike in the

individual and in the species.  For when man, in either


74              THE REVELATION OF LAW.      [LECT. III.


respect, does violence to the better qualities of his nature,

when he defaces the Divine image in which he was made,

he instinctively turns away from any close examination

of his proper likeness—withdraws himself also more and

more from the thoughts and the companionships which

tend to rebuke his ungodliness, and delights in those

which foster his vanity and corruption.  Hence, the

melancholy picture drawn near the commencement of the

epistle to the Romans, as an ever deepening and darken-

ing progression in evil, realizes itself wherever fallen

nature is allowed to operate unchecked.  It did so in the

primitive, as well as the subsequent stages of human

history: First, men refused to employ the means of

knowledge they possessed respecting God’s nature and will,

would not glorify Him as God (gno<ntej to>n qeo>n ou]k e]do<casan);

then, having thus separated themselves from the true

light, they fell into the mazes of spiritual error and will-

worship, became frivolous, full of empty conceits, mis-

taking the false for the true, the shadowy for the real;

finally, not thinking it worth while to keep by the right

knowledge of God (ou]k e]doki<masan to>n qeo>n e@xein e]n e]pgnw<sej),

treating it as comparatively a thing of nought, they

were themselves made to appear worthless and vile—

given up by God to a reprobate mind (a]do<kimon nou?n)

whereby they lost sight of their true dignity, and became

the slaves of all manner of impure, hurtful, and pernicious

lusts, which drove them headlong into courses equally

offensive to God, and subversive of their own highest


8. This process of degeneracy, though sure to have

taken place anyhow, had opportunities of development

and license during the earlier periods of the world’s

history, which materially helped to make it more rapid

and general.  If there were not then such temptations to

LECT. III.]        TIMES OF PREPARATION.         75


flagrant evil as exist in more advanced states of society,

there were also greatly fewer and less powerful restraints.

Each man was to a larger extent than now the master of

his own movements: social and political organizations

were extremely imperfect; the censorship of the press,

the voice of an enlightened public opinion in any syste-

matic form, was wanting, and there was also wanting the

wholesome discipline and good order of regularly con-

stituted churches; so that ample scope was found for

those who were so inclined, to slight the monitions of

their moral sense, and renounce the habits and observ-

ances which are the proper auxiliaries of a weak virtue,

and necessary in the long run to the preservation of a

healthful and robust piety in communities.  The fer-

mentation of evil, therefore, wrought on from one stage

to another, till it reached a consummation of appalling

breadth and magnitude.  And yet not for many long ages

—not till the centuries of antediluvian times had passed

away, and centuries more after a new state of things

had commenced its course—did God see meet to manifest

Himself to the world in the formal character of Lawgiver,

and confront men’s waywardness and impiety with a code

of objective commands and prohibitions, in the peremptory

tone, Thou shalt do this, and Thou shalt not do that:—

A proof, manifestly, of God’s unwillingness to assume this

more severe aspect in respect to beings He had made in

His own image and press upon them, in the form of

specific enactments, His just claims on their homage and

obedience!  He would rather—unspeakably rather—that

they should know Him in the riches of His fatherly good-

ness, and should be moved, not so much by fear, as by

forbearance and tenderness, to act toward Him a faithful

and becoming part!  Hence He delayed as long as

possible the stringent and imperative revelation of law,


76             THE REVELATION OF LAW.      [LECT. III.


which by the time alone of its appearance is virtually

acknowledged to have been a kind of painful necessity,

and in its very form is a ‘reflection upon man’s incon-

stancy of homage and love.’1

God did not, however, during the long periods referred

to, leave Himself without witness, either as to His dis-

pleasure on account of men’s sin, or the holiness in heart

and conduct which He required at their hands.  If His

course of administration displayed little of the formal

aspect of law, it still was throughout impregnated with

the principles of law; for it contained manifestations of

the character and purposes of God which were both fitted

and designed to draw the hearts of men toward Him in

confiding love, and inspire them with His own supreme

regard to the interests of righteousness.  Of law, strictly

so called, we find nothing applicable to the condition of

mankind generally, from the period of the fall to the

redemption from Egypt, except the law of blood for blood,

introduced immediately after the Deluge, and the ordi-

nance of circumcision, to seal the covenant with Abraham,

and symbolize the moral purity which became those who

entered into it.  But even these, though legal in their

form, partook in their import and bearing of the character

of grace; they came in as appendages to the fresh and

fuller revelations which had been given of God’s mercy

and loving-kindness—the one in connection with Noah’s

covenant of blessing, and as a safeguard thrown around

the sacredness of human life; the other in connec-

tion with the still richer and more specific covenant of

blessing established with Abraham.  Indeed, during the

whole of what is usually called the patriarchal period,

the most prominent feature in the Divine administration

consisted in the unfoldings of promise, or in the materials


1 ‘Ecce Deus,’ p. 234.

LECT. III.]     TIMES OF PREPARATION.           77


it furnished to sinful men for the exercise of faith and

hope.  God again condescended to hold familiar inter-

course with them.  He gave them, not only His word of

promise, but His oath confirming the word, that He might

win from them a more assured and implicit confidence;

and by very clear and impressive indications of His mind

in providence, He made it to be understood how ready

He was to welcome those who believed, and to enlarge,

as their faith and love increased, their interest in the

heritage of blessing.  It is the story of grace in its

earlier movements—grace delighting to pardon, and by

much free and loving fellowship, by kind interpositions of

providence, and encouraging hopes, striving to bring the

subjects of it into proper sympathy and accord with the

purposes of Heaven.

Yet here also grace reigned through righteousness;

and the righteousness at times ripened into judgement.

There was the mighty catastrophe of the Deluge lying in

the background—emphatically God’s judgment on the

world of the ungodly, and the sure presage of what

might still be expected to befall the wicked.  At a later

period, and within the region of God’s more peculiar

operations in grace, there was the overthrow of the cities

of the plain, which were made for their crying enor-

mities to suffer ‘the vengeance of eternal fire.’  So still

onwards, and in the circle itself of the chosen seed,

or the races most nearly related to them, there were

ever and anon occurring marks of Divine displeasure,

rebukes in providence, which were designed to temper

the exhibitions of mercy, and keep up salutary impres-

sions of the righteous character of God.  And it may

justly be affirmed, that for those who were conversant

with the events which make up the sacred history of

the period, it was not left them to doubt that the face



of God was towards the righteous, and is set against

them that do wickedly.

9. Such, certainly, should have been the result; such

also it would have been, if they had wisely considered the

matter, and marked the character and tendency of the

Divine dispensations.  But this, unfortunately, was too

little done; and so the desired result was most imper-

fectly reached.  So much so, indeed, that at the close of

the patriarchal period all seemed verging again to utter

ruin.  The heathen world, not excepting those portions

of it which came most in contact with the members of

God’s covenant, had with one consent surrendered them-

selves to the corruptions of idolatry; and the covenant

seed themselves, after all the gracious treatment they

had received, and the special moral training through

which they had passed, were gradually sinking into the

superstitious and degrading manners of Egypt—their

knowledge of Jehovah as the God of their fathers became

little better than a vague tradition, their faith in the

promise of His covenant ready to die, and all ambition

gone, except with the merest remnant, to care for more

than a kind of tolerable existence in the land of Goshen.l

A change, therefore, in the mode of the Divine admini-

stration was inevitable, if living piety and goodness were

really to be preserved among men, and the cause of

righteousness was not wholly to go down.  This cause had

come to be quite peculiarly identified with the people of

Israel.  God’s covenant of blessing was with them; they

were the custodiers of His word of salvation for the

world; and to fulfil their calling they must be rescued

from degradation, and placed in a position of freedom

and enlargement.  But even this was not enough.  The

history of the past had made it manifest that other


1 Exodus, ii. 14; v. 21; xvi. 4.  Ezekiel, xxiii. 25, 39.



securities against defection, more effectual guarantees

for righteousness than had yet been taken, would require

to be introduced.  Somehow the bonds of moral obliga-

tion must be wound more closely around them, so as to

awaken and keep alive upon their conscience a more pro

found and steadfast regard to the interests of righteous-

ness.  And when, looking forward to what actually took

place, we find the most characteristic feature in the new

era that emerged to be the revelation of law, we are

warranted to infer that such was its primary and leading

object.  It could not have been intended—the very time

and occasion of its introduction prove that it could not

have been intended—to occupy an independent place; it

if was of necessity but the sequel or complement of the

covenant of promise, with which were bound up the hopes

of the world’s salvation, to help out in a more regular

and efficient manner the moral aims which were involved

in the covenant itself, and which were directly contem-

plated in the more special acts and dealings of God

toward His people. It formed a fresh stage, indeed, in

the history of the Divine dispensations; but one in which

the same great objects were still aimed at, and both the

ground of a sinner’s confidence towards God, and the

nature of the obligations growing out of it, remained

essentially as they were.

10. This becomes yet more clear and conclusively cer-

tain, when we look from the general connection which

the revelation of law had with preceding manifestations

of God, to the things which formed its more immediate

prelude and preparation.  The great starting-point here

was the redemption from Egypt; and the direct object

of this was to establish the covenant which God had

made with the heads of the Israelitish people.  Hence,

when appearing for the purpose of charging Moses to

80           THE REVELATION OF LAW.       [LECT. III.


undertake the work of deliverance, the Lord revealed

Himself as at once the Jehovah, the one unchangeable

and eternal God, and the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and

of Jacob,l who was going at last to do for their posterity

what He had pledged His word to accomplish for them:

And as soon as the deliverance was achieved, and the

tribes of Israel lay at the foot of Sinai, ready to hear what

their redeeming God might have to say to them, the first

message that came to them was one that most strikingly

connected the past with the future, the redeeming grace

of a covenant God with the duty of service justly ex-

pected of a redeemed people: ‘Thus shalt thou say to

the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;2 Ye

have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I

bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.

Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep

my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto

me above all people: for all the earth is mine.  And ye

shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy

nation.  These are the words which thou shalt speak unto

the children of Israel.’  They were, indeed, words of

profound significance and pregnant import, comprising in

substance both the gospel and the law of the covenant.

Primarily, indeed, the gospel; for Jehovah announces

Himself at the outset as, in a quite peculiar sense, the

God of Israel, who had vindicated them to Himself by

singular displays of His power and glory—had raised

them to the position of a people, given them national

existence, for the very purpose of endowing them with

the richest tokens of His favour and loving-kindness.  It

drew a broad distinction between Israel as a nation, and

all merely worldly kingdoms, which spring into existence

by dint of human powers and earthly advantages, and


1 Ex. iii. 6, 9, 13, 15-17.                       2 Ex. xix. 3-7.

LECT. III.]       TIMES OF PREPARATION.         81


can attain to nothing more than that kind of  secondary

glory and evanescent greatness, which such inferior means

and resources may be able to secure.  Israel, however,

stands related from the first to a higher sphere; it comes

into being under special acts of Divine providence, and

has both its place of peculiar honour assigned it, and the

high prerogatives and powers needful for fulfilling aright

its calling by reason of its living connection with Him

who is the eternal source of all that is great and good.

Considered, therefore, in its now ransomed and indepen-

dent position among the nations, Israel is the creation

of God’s omnipotent goodness—the child, in a manner,

which He has taken to His bosom, which He will

endow with His proper inheritance,l and whose future

safety and well-being must be secured by Divine faith-

fulness and power.  But for this very reason that God

identified himself so closely with Israel, Israel in return

must identify itself with God.  Brought into near rela-

tionship and free intercommunion with the Source of holi-

ness and truth, the people must be known as the holy

nation; they must even be as a kingdom of priests, receiv-

ing from His presence communications of His mind and

will, and again giving forth suitable impressions of what

they have received to the world around them.  This,

henceforth, was to be their peculiar calling; and to in-

struct them how to fulfil it—to shew them distinctly

what it was (as matters then stood) to be a kingdom of

priests and an holy nation—the law came with its clear

announcements of duty and its stern prohibitions against

the ways of transgression.  What, then, are the main

characteristics of this law?  and how, in one part of its

enactments, does it stand related to another?  This

naturally becomes our next branch of inquiry.


1 Lev. xxv. 23.


82             THE REVELATION OF LAW.           [LECT. IV.





                                    LECTURE IV.






IN this particular part of our inquiry, there is much

that might be taken for granted as familiarly known

and generally admitted, were it not that much also is

often ignored, or grievously misrepresented; and that, for

a correct view of the whole, not a little depends on a

proper understanding of the spirit as well as formal con-

tents of the law, of its historical setting, and the right

adjustment of its several parts.  If, in these respects, we

can here present little more than an outline, it must

still be such as shall embrace the more distinctive features

of the subject, and clear the ground for future statements

and discussions

I.  We naturally look first to the DECALOGUE—the ten

Words, as they are usually termed in the Pentateuch,

which stand most prominently out in the Mosaic legisla-

tion, as being not only the first in order, and in them-

selves a regularly constructed whole, but the part which

is represented as having been spoken directly from

Heaven in the audience of all the people, amid the most

striking indications of the Divine presence and glory—

the part, moreover, which was engraven by God on

the mount, on two tablets of stone—the only part so

engraven—and, in this enduring form, the sole contents




of that sacred chest or ark which became the centre of

the whole of the religious institutions of Judaism—the

symbolical basis of God’s throne in Israel.  Such varied

marks of distinction, there can be no reasonable doubt,

were intended to secure for this portion of the Sinaitic

revelation the place of pre-eminent importance, to render

it emphatically the law, to which subsequent enact-

ments stood in a dependent or auxiliary relation.

1. And in considering it, there is first to be noted the

aspect in which the great Lawgiver here presents Him-

self to His people: ‘I am Jehovah thy God, who have

brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of

bondage.’ The words are merely a resumption of what

had been shortly before, and somewhat more fully, de-

clared in the first message delivered from Sinai; they

give, in a compendious form, the Gospel of the covenant

of promise.  Jehovah, the unchangeable and eternal, the

great I am; this alone, had it been all, was a lofty idea

for men who had been so long enveloped in the murky

atmosphere of idolatry; and if deeply impressed upon

their hearts, and made a pervading element in their reli-

gion and polity, would have nobly elevated the seed of

Israel above all the nations then existing on the earth.

But there is more a great deal than this in the personal

announcement which introduces the ten fundamental pre-

cepts; it is that same glorious and unchangeable Being

coming near to Israel in the character of their redeeming

God, and by the very title, with the incontestable fact

on which it rested, pledging His faithful love and

sufficiency for all future time, to protect them from

evil or bring them salvation.1  So that, in coming forth in

such a character to declare the law that was henceforth

to bind their consciences and regulate their procedure


1 Ex. xv. 26.

84          THE REVELATION OF LAW.       [LECT. IV.


alike toward Himself and toward one another, there was

embodied the all-important and salutary principle, that

redemption carries in its bosom a conformity to the

Divine order, and that only when the soul responds to

the righteousness of Heaven is the work of deliverance


The view now given received important confirmation in

the course of the historical transactions which immediately

ensued.  The people who had heard with solemn awe

the voice which spake to them from Sinai, and undertook

to observe and do what was commanded, soon shewed

how far they were from having imbibed the spirit of the

revelation made to them, how far especially from having

attained to right thoughts of God, by turning back in

their hearts to Egypt, and during the temporary absence

of Moses on the mount, prevailing upon Aaron to make a

golden calf as the object of their worship.  The sensual

orgies of this false worship were suddenly arrested by the

re-appearance of Moses upon the scene; while Moses

himself, in the grief and indignation of the moment, cast

from him the two tables of the law, and broke them at

the foot of the mount1—an expressive emblem of that

moral breach which the sin of the people had made

between them and God.  The breach, however, was

again healed, and the covenant re-estab1ished; but before

the fundamental words of the covenant were written

afresh on tables of stone, the Lord gave to Moses, and

through him to the people, a further revelation of His

name, that the broken relationship might be renewed

under clearer convictions of the gracious and loving

nature of Him whose yoke of service it called them to

bear.  Even Moses betrayed his need of some additional

insight in this respect, by requesting that God would


1 Ex. xxxii. 19.



shew him His glory; though, as may seem from the

response made to it, he appears to have had too much in

his eye some external form of manifestation.  Waiving,

however, what may have been partial or defective in the

request—at least, no farther meeting it than by present-

ing to the view of Moses what, perhaps, we may call a

glimpse of the incarnation in a cleft of the rock—the

Lord did reveal His more essential glory—revealed it by

such a proclamation of His name as disclosed all His

goodness.1  ‘The Lord,’ it is said, ‘passed by before

Moses, and proclaimed, Jehovah, Jehovah God, merciful

and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness

and truth; keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving

iniquity, transgression, and sin, and that will by no

means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the

fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s chil-

dren, unto the third and to the fourth generation.’  This

emphatic proclamation of the Divine name, or description

of the character in which God wished to be known by

His people, is in principle the same with that which

heads the ten words; but it is of greater compass, and

remarkable chiefly for the copious and prominent exhibi-

tion it gives of the gracious, tender, and benignant

-character of God, as the Redeemer of Israel, that they

might know how thoroughly they could trust in His

goodness, and what ample encouragement they had to

serve Him.  It intimates, indeed, that justice could not

forego its claims, that obstinate transgressors should meet

their desert, but gives this only the subordinate and

secondary place, while grace occupies the foreground.

Was this, we ask, to act like One, who was more anxious

to inspire terror, than win affection from men?  Did it

seem as if He would have His revelation of law associated


1 Ex. xxxiii. 19; xxxiv. 6, 7.


86           THE REVELATION OF LAW.      [LECT. IV.


in their minds with the demands of a rigid service, such

as only an imperious sense of duty, or a dread of conse-

quences, might constrain them to render?  Assuredly

not; and we know that the words of the memorial-name

which He so closely linked with the restored tables of the

law, did take an abiding hold of the more earnest and

thoughtful spirits of the nation, and ever and anon, amid

the seasons of greatest darkness and despondency, came

up with a joyous and re-assuring effect into their hearts.1

So that, whatever of awful grandeur and majesty attended

the revelation of the law from Sinai, as uttered amid

thrilling sounds and sights that flashed amazement on

the eyes of the beholders, it still had its foundation in

love, and came from God expressly in the character of

their most gracious and faithful Redeemer, as well as

their righteous Lord.

2. Yet—and here is a second point to be noted—it

did not the less on that account assume—being a revela-

tion of law in form as well as substance, it could not

but assume—a predominantly stringent and imperative

character.  The humane and loving spirit in which it

opens, is not, indeed, absent from the body of its enact-

ments, though, for the most part, formally disguised;

but even in form it reappears more than once—especially

in the assurance of mercy to the thousands who should

love God and keep His commandments, and the promise

of long continuance on the land of rest and blessing,

associated respectively with the second and the fifth

precepts of the law.  But these are only, as it were, the

relieving clauses of the code—reminiscences of the grace

and loving-kindness which had been pledged by the

Lawgiver, and might be surely counted on by those who

were willing to yield themselves to His service: the law


1 Ps. lxxxvi. 5, 15; ciii. 8; cxlv. 8; Joel ii. 13; Jonah iv. 2; Neh. ix. 17.



itself, in every one of the obligations it imposes, takes

(as we have said) the imperative form—‘Thou shalt do

r this,’ ‘Thou shalt not do that;’ and this just because it is

law, and must leave no doubt that the course it pre-

scribes is the one that ought to be taken, and must be

taken, by every one who is in a sound moral condition.

This is the case equally whether the precepts run in the

positive or the negative form.  For, as justly stated by

a moralist formerly quoted,1  ‘Since morality rests upon

freedom of choice, and this again consists in the fact, that

under several modes of action that are possible, a parti-

cular one is chosen through one’s own independent exer-

cise of will, every moral act is at the same time also

a refraining from a contrary mode of action that might

have been taken.  The moral law is hence always double-

sided; it is at once command and prohibition; nor can

it make any essential difference, whether the law comes

forth in the one or the other form; and as the moral life

of man is a continuous one, he must every moment be

fulfilling a Divine law; a mere abstaining would be a

disowning of the moral.’  No peculiar learning or pro-

found reach of thought is required to understand this;

it must commend itself to every intelligent and serious

mind; for if, in respect to those precepts which take the

negative form of prohibitions, the mere omitting to do

the thing forbidden were all that is enjoined, there would

be nothing properly moral in the matter—the command

might be fulfilled by the simple absence of moral action,

by mere inactivity, which in the moral sphere is but

another name for death.  Hence it has ever been the

maxim of all judicious and thoughtful commentators on

the law of the two tables, that when evil is forbidden,

the opposite good is to be understood as enjoined; just


1 Wuttke, ‘Handbuch der Christlichen Sittenlehre,’ I. p. 385.

88          THE REVELATION OF LAW.      [LECT. IV.


as, on the other side, when a duty is commanded, every-

thing contrary to it is virtually forbidden.  Thus Calvin,

after substantially affirming the principle now stated,

referring to the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’

repudiates the idea that it is to be regarded merely as

an injunction to abstain from all injury, or wish to inflict

it.1  ‘I hold (he says) that it means besides, that we are

to aid our neighbour’s life by every means in our power.’

And he proves it thus: ‘God forbids us to injure or hurt

a brother, because He would have his life to be dear and

precious to us; and therefore when He so forbids, He at

the same time demands all the offices of charity which

can contribute to his preservation.’  So also Luther, who,

under the same precept, considers all indeed forbidden

that might lead to murder, but holds this also to be

included, that ‘we must help our neighbour and assist

him in all his bodily troubles.’  Higher than both, our

Lord Himself brings out the principle strongly in His

exposition of that and of other precepts of the Decalogue

in His sermon on the mount; as again also in reference

to the prohibition regarding work on the Sabbath, when

taken as an excuse for refusing to administer help to a

brother’s necessities, by asking, ‘Is it lawful on the

sabbath-days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or

to destroy it ?’2—which plainly involves the principle,

that mere negatives in matters of moral obligation have

the force of positives; that to reject virtue is to choose

vice; that not to do the good we can is to consent to

the evil we allow; to let a life we might have saved

perish, is to be guilty of another’s death.

On this ground, which has its justification in the very

nature of things, there can manifestly be no adequate

knowledge of this revelation of law, or proper exhibition


1 ‘Institutes,’ B. II. c. 8, sec. 9.             2 Luke vi. 9.



of its real nature and place in the Divine economy, with-

out perceiving its relation, as well in those who received

as in Him who gave it, to the great principle of love.

Apart from this, it had been a body without a soul, a call

to obedience without the slightest chance of a response;

for aiming, as the law did, at securing a conformity in

moral purpose and character between a redeeming God

and a redeemed people, not one of its precepts could

reach the desired fulfilment, unless the love which had

exhibited itself as the governing principle in the one

should find in the other a corresponding love, which

might be roused and guided into proper action.  Hence,

as if to make this unmistakeably plain, no sooner had

Moses given a rehearsal of the Decalogue in the book of

Deuteronomy, than he proclaimed aloud the memorable

words: ‘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:’1

—which our Lord declared to be the first and great com-

mandment,2 and He added another, which He pronounced

the second and like to it, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour

as thyself’—the same also which centuries before had

issued from the lips of Moses.3  ‘On these two command-

ments,’ He further declared, ‘hang all the law and the

prophets.’  The apostles also freely interchange the pre-

cept of love with the commands of the Decalogue, as

mutually explanatory of each other.4  And thus, in part

at least, may be explained the negative form of the ten

commandments.  They assume throughout the known

existence of a positive; and that, primarily, in the moral

nature of man, as the image (though marred) of the

Divine—without which, latent but living in the bosom,


1 Deut. vi. 4, 5.                         2 Matt. xxii. 40.

3 Lev. xix. 18.                           4 Rom. xiii. 9, 10; Jas. ii. 8-11.


90          THE REVELATION OF LAW.        [LECT. IV.


they had been incapable of awakening any response,

creating the slightest sense of obligation.  Yet not

that alone does the law assume the existence of a posi-

tive, but also in the revealed character of God, as recog-

nised and exhibited in the law itself.  There Israel, as

the redeemed of Jehovah, had ever before them the per-

fection of excellence, which they were bound to aim at,

and for the sake of which—lest they should lose sight of

it, or think little of the obligation—they had their path

fenced and guarded by those prohibitions of law, on the

right hand and the left.  Still, the negative is doubtless in

itself the lower form of command; and when so largely

employed as it is in the Decalogue, it must be regarded

as contemplating and striving to meet the strong current

of evil that runs in the human heart.  This may not im-

properly be deemed the main reason—only not the

exclusive one, since even in paradise a negative form was

given to the command which served as the peculiar test

of love.

3. Viewing the law thus, as essentially the law of love,

which it seeks to guard and protect, as well as to evoke

and direct, let us glance briefly at the details, that we

may see how entirely these accord, alike in their nature

and their orderly arrangement, with the general idea, and

provide for its proper exemplification.  As love has un-

speakably its grandest object in God, so precedence is

justly given to what directly concerns Him—implying

also that religion is the basis of morality, that the right

adjustment of men’s relation to God tends to ensure the

proper maintenance of their relations one to another.

God, therefore, must hold the supreme place in their

regard, must receive the homage of their love and obedi-

ence:—and this in regard to His being, His worship, His

name, and His day.  He is the one living God—therefore



no others must be set up in His presence; He alone must

have the place of Deity (the first).  Spiritual in His own

nature, His worship also must be spiritual—therefore no

idol-forms are to appear in His service, for none such can

adequately represent Him; they would but degrade men’s

notions concerning Him, virtually change His truth into

a lie (second).  His name is the expression of whatever is

pure, holy, and good—therefore it must be lifted up to

nothing that is vain, associated with nothing false, cor-

rupt, wicked, or profane, but only with words and deeds

which breathe its Spirit and reflect its glory (third).

The day, too, which He has specially consecrated for Him-

self, being the signature of His holiness on time and

labour—the check He lays upon human activity as natu-

rally tending to work only for self, His ever-recurring

call in providence on men to work so as to be again

perpetually entering into His rest—this day, therefore,

must be kept apart from servile labour, withdrawn from

the interests of the flesh, and hallowed to God (fourth).

          The next command may also be taken in the same

connection—a step further in the same line, since earthly

parents are in a peculiar sense God’s representatives among

men, those whom He invests with a measure of His own

authority, as standing for a time in His stead to those

whom instrumentally they have brought into being, and

whom they should train for His service and glory—these,

therefore, must be honoured with all dutiful and ready

obedience, that the hearts of the fathers may in turn

become the hearts of the children.  This, however, touches

on the second division of moral duty, that which concerns

men’s relation to each other; and according to the parti-

cular aspect in which it is contemplated, the fifth command

may be assigned to the first or to the second table of the

law.  Scripture itself makes no formal division. Though

92           THE REVELATION OF LAW.      [LECT. IV.


it speaks frequently enough of two tables, it nowhere

indicates where the one terminates and the other begins

—purposely, perhaps, to teach us that the distinction is

not to be very sharply drawn, and that the contents of

the one gradually approximate and at last pass over into

the other.  Already, in the fourth commandment, distinct

reference is made to persons in the humbler ranks of life,

and a kind consideration is required to be had of them—

though still the primary aim and aspect of the command

bore upon interests in which all were alike concerned.

In like manner with the fifth: what it directly enjoins is

certainly such love and regard as is due from one human

being to another; and yet the relation involved is not

that exactly of neighbour to neighbour, but rather of

wards under persons bearing Heaven’s delegated trust

and authority; so that in the honouring of these God

Himself receives somewhat of the homage due to Him,

and they who render it, as the apostle says, ‘shew piety

at home.’l  With the sixth command, however—the first

of the second five—we are brought to what most dis-

tinctly relates to the human sphere, and to the exercise

of that love, which may in the strictest sense be called

love to one’s neighbours.  These the law enjoins us not

to injure, but to protect and cherish, in regard to their

life; then, to what next to life should be dearest to them,

the chastity and honour of wife or daughter, to their

property, to their character and position in life.  In re-

spect to one and all of these, the imperative obligation

imposed is, that we do our neighbour no harm by the

false testimony of our tongues, or the violence of our

hands, or any course of procedure that is fitted to tell

injuriously upon what he has and loves.  And, finally,

to shew that neither tongue, nor hands, nor any other


1 I. Tim. v. 4.




member of our body, or any means and opportunities at

our command—that not these alone are laid under contri-

bution to this principle of love, but the seat also and

fountain of all desire, all purpose and action—the Deca-

logue closes with the precept which forbids us to lust

after or covet wife, house, possessions, anything whatever

that is our neighbour’s—a precept which reaches to the

inmost thoughts and intents of the heart, and requires

that all even there should be under the control of a love

which thinketh no evil, which abhors the very thought of

adding to one’s own heritage of good by wrongfully

infringing on what is another’s.

Viewed thus as enshrining the great principle of love,

and in a series of commands chalking out the courses of

righteous action it was to follow, of unrighteous action it

was to shun, the law of the two tables may justly be

pronounced unique—so compact in form, so orderly in

arrangement, so comprehensive in range, so free from

everything narrow and punctilious—altogether the fitting

reflex of the character of the Supremely Pure and Good

in His relation to the members of His earthly kingdom.

It is emphatically a revelation of God—of God generally,

indeed, as the moral Governor of the world, but more

peculiarly as the Redeemer of Israel; and to lower it to

the position of a kind of semi-political and religious code,

were to deprive it of all that is most distinctive in its

spirit and bearing, and render utterly inexplicable the

singular prominence assigned it, not alone in the legisla-

tion of the old covenant, but in the Scriptures generally

alike of the Old and the New.1


1 Those who will calmly reflect on the statements advanced in the preceding

pages will not, I think, be much moved by the extraordinary assertions in the

following passage: ‘What is termed the moral law is certainly in no way to be

peculiarly identified with the Decalogue, as some have strangely imagined

94              THE REVELATION OF LAW.       [LECT. IV.


II. Subordinate to this grand revelation of moral law,

yet closely related to it, is what has usually been called

the judicial law of the Theocracy—though this is too

limited a term for what must be comprised under it.  A

more fitting designation would be, Statutory directions and

enactments for the practical ordering of affairs amid the

complicated relations and often untoward events of life.


[some indeed!].  Though moral duties are specially enjoined in many places of

the Law, yet the Decalogue most assuredly does not contain all moral duties,

even by remote implication, and on the widest construction.  It totally omits

many such, as, e.g., beneficence, truth, justice, temperance, control of temper,

and others; and some moral precepts omitted here are introduced in other

places.  But many moral duties are hardly recognised, e.g., it is difficult to find

any positive prohibition of drunkenness in the Law.  In one passage only an

indirect censure seems to be implied (Deut. xxix. 19).’*  As if God’s grand

summary of moral law might be expected to run in the style of an act of Parlia-

ment, and go into endless specifications of the precise kinds and forms of

wickedness which would constitute breaches of its enactments!  Such cumbrous

details would have been unsuited to its design, and marred rather than aided

its practical effect.  What was needed was a brief but comprehensive series of

precepts, which for thoughtful and considerate minds would be found to

embrace the wide range of duty, and, if honestly complied with, would render

acts of ungodliness and crime practically unknown.  And this is what the

Decalogue really contains.  That anyone who sincerely opens his heart to the

reception of its great principles of truth and duty, and lives in the loving con-

nection it implies with God and his fellow-men, should deem himself otherwise

than bound to practise justice, temperance, beneficence, and truth, it is impos-

sible to conceive.  And the same substantially may be said of another alleged

omission—the moral obligation of missions.  For, how could anyone entering

into the spirit of the revelation of law, and believing the practical acknowledg-

ment of its great principles of truth and righteousness to be the essential

condition of all true peace and well-being, fail to recognise it as his duty to do

what he could to bring others acquainted with them?  The very position and

calling of Israel partook of a missionary character: it had for its grand aim the

communication of the peculiar blessing of the covenant to all nations; and the

missionary spirit breathed in such passages as Ps. lxvii., lxxii., xcviii.; Isa. ii.,

xlix., lx., etc., is but an expression of the love, in its higher exercise, which, as

members alike of the covenant of law and the covenant of promise, the people

of God were bound, as they had opportunity, to manifest.—For some points of

a formal kind connected with the Decalogue, see Supplementary Dissertation,

No. I.

* Baden Powell’s ‘Christianity without Judaism,’ p. 104.





The law, strictly so called, being the absolute expression

of the Divine will toward a people redeemed for the

Divine service and glory, was necessarily oblivious of

difficulties and defects; it peremptorily required confor-

mity with its own perfect ideal of rectitude, and made no

account of any deviation from this, except to warn against

and condemn it.  But in the circumstances in which

mankind generally, and the Israelites in particular,

actually stood, such conformity could never be more than

partially realized; transactions, interests, would be sure

to come up, which might render it doubtful even to

sincere men how to apply, or how far to carry out, the

precepts of the Decalogue; and, what was likely to be of

much more frequent occurrence, wayward and selfish men

would take occasion to traverse the pure and comely

order, which it was the design of those precepts to estab-

lish among the covenant people.  In the event of such

things arising, how was the external polity to be re-

gulated and maintained?  What modes of procedure in

definite circumstances should be held in accordance with

its spirit?  What, as between one member of the com-

munity and another, might be tolerated, though falling

somewhat below the Divine code of requirements?  What,

again, calling for excision, as too flagrantly opposed to it

to consist with the very being of the commonwealth?

It was to provide some sort of answer to these ques-

tions that the statutory directions and enactments now

under consideration were introduced.  They are called,

in the first mention that is made of them, the mishpatim,l

the statutes or judgments, because bearing that character

in relation to the ten commandments going immediately

before.  A series of particular cases is supposed—by way

of example and illustration, of course, not as if exhausting


1 Ex. xxi. 1.

96           THE REVELATION OF LAW.     [LECT. IV.


the entire category of possible occurrences—and, in con-

nection with them, instructions are given as to what may

or should be done, so as to preserve the spirit of the con-

stitution, and to restrain and regulate, without unduly

cramping, the liberty of the people.  Indeed, the range

which is allowed through the whole class of provisions

now in question, for the exercise of individual liberty in

official and even social arrangements, is one of the most

noticeable points connected with them.  In civil and

economical respects, the people were left in great measure

to shape their domestic institutions, and model their

administrative polity as they thought fit.  There were to

be judges to determine in matters of dispute between

man and man, and to maintain the fundamental laws of

the kingdom; but how these judges were to be ap-

pointed, or what their relative places and spheres of juris-

diction, nothing is prescribed.  A regular gradation of

officers was introduced by Moses shortly before the giving

of the law;l but this was done at the suggestion of

Jethro, as a merely prudential arrangement, and, for any-

thing that appears, was in that specific form confined to

the wilderness-sojourn.  Neither the time, nor the mode

of its introduction, brings it properly within the circle of

legal appointments.  Even when, at a later period, the

supposition is made of the general government assuming

a kingly form, it is spoken of as a thing to be left to the

people’s own choice, restricted only by such rules and

limitations regarding the mode of election, and the future

conduct of the king, as would render the appointment

compatible with the Theocratic constitution.2  And a

similar reserve was maintained in respect to whatever

did not come distinctly within the province of religion

and morals; the people stood, in regard to it, much on


1 Ex. xviii.                     2 Deut. xvii. 14-20.



the same platform as the other nations of the earth.

And these, we know, were still in a comparatively im-

perfect state of order and civilization: education and

learning in the modern sense were unknown, the arts and

conveniences of life in their infancy, the civil rights of

the different classes of society little understood, and

usages of various kinds prevailing which partook of the

rudeness of the times.  It was in such a state of things

that the kingdom of God, with its formal revelation of

law, was set up in Israel; and while that revelation, in

so far as it met with due consideration and was honestly

applied, could not fail to operate with effect in elevating the

tone and habits of society even in the strictly temporal and

earthly sphere, yet, we must remember, it only indirectly

bore upon this, and had to make its way amid much that

was out of course, and that could only admit of a gradual

amelioration.  Here, too, unless violence were to be done

to the natural course of development, and a mechanical

order made to supersede the free action of mind, the

principle of progression must have had scope given it to

work, and consequently, in the actual administration of

the affairs of the kingdom, not always what was abso-

lutely the best, but only the best practicable in the cir-

cumstances, was to be authoritatively enjoined.  If only

contemplated thus from a right point of view, the things

sometimes excepted against in this part of the Mosaic

legislation would be seen to admit of a just defence or

reasonable explanation.

1. But to take the points connected with it in order.

A considerable portion of the statutes and judgments are,

as we have said, a simple application of the great prin-

ciples of the Decalogue to particular cases, intended at

once to explain and confirm them.  That in its general

spirit and tenor the Decalogue is an embodiment of love

98           THE REVELATION OF LAW.         [LECT. IV.


—in its second part of brotherly love, extending through

the entire circle of one’s thoughts, words, and deeds—

might be conceded.  But must it be exercised in every

case? even toward one from whom injury has been

received?  If we think he has acted to us unjustly, may

not we in turn take our revenge?  No; the judicial reply

is—a neighbour, though an enemy, in trouble, as when

his ass or his ox strays, or his ass has fallen helplessly

under a burden, ought to receive our help.1  So that the

action of love enjoined in the command must not be

thought to depend on the mere accidents of one’s position;

and in the most untoward circumstances, in respect even

to an enemy, must shew itself in the positive as well as

the negative form.  Revenge is strictly excluded, and

love to every brother or neighbour enforced;2 nor in

words merely, but also in giving to him in his time of

need without usury, and imitating toward him the Divine

beneficence.3  Other statutes in the same line cut off the

excuse, which some might be ready to offer, that the

injury sustained by their neighbour had been done by a

mere act of mad vertence or rashness on their part (as by

kindling a fire, which spread into another’s vineyard, or

by keeping open a pit into which his ox fell);4 done, per-

haps, in a sudden outburst of passion,5 or through the

vicious propensities of their cattle;6 for such things also

men were held responsible, because failing to do within

their proper domain the kind and considerate part of love

to those around them.  But then it was possible some

might be disposed occasionally to press the matter too

far, and hold a man equally responsible for any violence

done by him to the life or property of another, whether

done from sheer carelessness, from heedless impetuosity,


1 Ex. xxiii. 4, 5.             2 Lev. xix. 18.               3 Ex. xxii. 25-27.

4 Ex. xxii. 5, xxi. 33.      5 Ex. xxi. 22-27.           6 Ex. xxi. 28-36.



or from deliberate malice.  Here, again, the statutory

enactments come in with their wise and discriminating

judgments—distinguishing, for example, between death

inflicted unwittingly, or in self-defence, or in the attempt

to arrest a burglary, and murder perpetrated in cool

blood.1  Thus there is delivered to us, for a principle of

interpretation and personal guidance, that the law under

any particular head is violated or fulfilled, not by the

bare act anyhow performed, but by the act taken in con-

nection with the circumstances, especially the feeling and

intent of the heart, under which it has been done.  Once

more, the question might be stirred by some in a per-

verse, by others in a partial or prejudiced spirit, whether

the law should be understood as applying to all with

absolute equality? whether an exemption more or less

might not be allowed, at least to persons in what might

be called the extremes of social position?  Here, also,

the decision is given with sufficient plainness, when it is

ordained that the poor man was neither to have his

judgment wrested, nor be unduly countenanced in his

cause, from respect to his poverty; that even the friend-

less stranger was to be treated with kindness and equity;

and that the rich and powerful were not to be allowed to

use their resources for the purpose of gaining an advan-

tage to which they were not entitled.2

2. It thus appears that the class of enactments referred

to have an abiding value, as they serve materially to

throw light on the import and bearing of the Decalogue,

confirming the views already given of its spiritual and

comprehensive character.  Another class, which, like the

preceding, involve no difficulty of interpretation, also

reflect, in a somewhat different way, a measure of light

on the Decalogue, viz., by the judicial treatment they


1 Ex. xxi. 12-14, xxii. 2.            2 Ex. xxiii. 2, 3, 6, 9; Deut. i. 17, xix. 7-19.

100     THE REVELATION OF LAW.          [LECT. IV.


award to the more flagrant violation of its precepts.  The

deeds which were of this description had all the penalty of

death attached to them—shewing that the precepts they

violated were of a fundamental character, and entered as

essential principles into the constitution of the Theocracy.

Such was the doom suspended over the introduction of

false gods, in violation of the first command,1 to which

also belong all the statutes about witchcraft, divination,

and necromancing, which involved the paying of homage

to another object of worship than Jehovah; over the wor-

shipping of God by idols, in violation of the second com-

mand;2 over the profanation of God’s name, in violation

of the third;3 over the deliberate profanation of the

Sabbath, in violation of the fourth;4 over shameful dis-

honour and violence done to parents, in violation of the

fifth;5 over murder, adultery, bestiality, men-stealing,

and the more extreme cases of oppression, violence, and

false witness-bearing, in violation of the successive com-

mands of the second table.6  Why the breaches of these

great precepts of the Decalogue should have been met

so uniformly with the severity of capital punishment, is

to be accounted for by the nature of the kingdom set up

in Israel, which was a theocracy, having God for its

supreme Lawgiver and Head, and for its subjects a

people bearing His name and occupying His land.  How

completely would the great end of such an institution

have been frustrated, if the holiness to which the people

were called had been outraged, and the sins which ran

counter to it openly practised?  To act thus had been to

traverse the fundamental laws of the kingdom, nay, to


1 Ex. Xxii. 20; Deut. xiii. 9, 10. 2 Ex. xxxii.; Deut. iv. 25-28.

3 Ex. xx. 7; Lev. xiiv.16.                        4 Ex. xxxi. 14, 15; Numb. xv. 35.

5 Ex. xxi. 15-17.

6 Ex. xxi. 12; Lev.xxiv. 17, xx. 10; Ex. Xxii. 19, 22-24; Deut. xix. 21.






manifest an unmistakeable hatred to its Divine Head,

and could no more be tolerated there than overt treason

in an earthly government.  The law, therefore, right-

eously laid the sin of deliberate transgression on the head

of the sinner as guilt, which could only be taken away

by the punishment of him who committed it.1  If this

should be deemed excessive severity, it can only be

because the right is virtually denied on the part of God

to establish a Theocracy among men in conformity with

His own revealed character, and for the manifestation of

His name.  That right, however, is assumed as the

ground on which the whole legislation of Sinai proceeds;

and if the penal enactments of the Theocracy are to be

rightly interpreted, they must be placed in immediate

connection with the authority and honour of God.  In

respect to all judicial action, when properly administered,

the judgment, though administered by man, was held to

be the Lord’s.2  To bring a matter up for judgment was

represented as bringing it to God (so the rendering

should be in Ex. xxii. 8, 9, not ‘the judges,’ as in the

English version); and persons standing before the priests

and the judges to have sentence pronounced upon them,

were said to stand before the Lord.3  If the judges and

the judged realized this to be their position, would there

have been any just ground to complain of undue severity?

Would there not rather have been diffused throughout

the community a deep sense of the Divine righteous-

ness, and an earnest striving to have its claims and

penalties enforced, as the indispensable pre-requisite of

peace and blessing?4  Besides, it was not they alone who


1 See Weber, ‘Von Zorne Gottes,’ p. 142.        2 Deut. i. 17.     3 Deut. xix. 17.

4 Human theories of jurisprudence often entirely repudiate the relation here

implied of sin or crime to punishment.  The maxim of Seneca (nemo prudens

punit, quia peccatum est, sed ne peccetur; revocari enim praeterrita non possunt,

futura prohibentur), which abjures the thought of inflicting punishment, except

102      THE REVELATION OF LAW.        [LECT. IV.


were to be considered; for in planting them in Canaan,

‘in the midst of the nations,’ and furnishing them with

such a polity, God’s design was to use them as a great

teaching institute—a light placed aloft on the moral

heights of the world amid surrounding darkness.  What

incalculable blessings might have accrued to ancient

heathendom had that high calling been fulfilled!  But

to this end the stern proscription of open ungodliness and

flagrant immoralities was indispensable.1

3. Another class of the statutes and judgments under

consideration is one which more directly bore on the im-

perfect state of order and civilization then everywhere

existing, and which has often been misunderstood and

objected to.  The law of compensation—frequently,

though improperly, termed the law of retaliation—does

not strictly belong to the class, but may be included in it,

on account of the assaults to which it has been subjected.

It is, indeed, so far of the class in question, as it comes

first directly into view in connection with a very rude

and barbarous state of manners.  The supposition is made


as a check or means of prevention against its future commission, has found not

a few defenders in recent times, though more in Germany than here.  Yet

there also some of the profoundest thinkers have given it their decided oppo-

sition.  Hegel, for instance, taught that ‘punishment is certainly to be regarded

as the necessary abolition of crime which would otherwise predominate, and as

the re-establishment of right.’  More fully and distinctly Stahl, ‘To man is

given, along with the power, the authority also of performing a deed, but this

he can only have with God, not against Him.  If, therefore, he acts amiss, he

comes to have a glory in the world antagonistic to God.  Not, however, to

undo the deed itself, and its consequence, can be demanded by the Divine

righteousness, but only to destroy this glory of the deed; and if this can be

destroyed, the antagonism is brought to an end.’—(See in Baumgarten’s Comm.

on Pent., II. pp. 29, 30.)  But the relation of capital punishment to moral trans-

gressions of the first table, and to some extent also of the second, which was

proper to a Theocracy, cannot be justly transferred to an ordinary civil com-

monwealth; and, in this respect, Christian states have often grievously erred

in assimilating their penal statutes too closely to those of the Mosaic legislation.

1 See the remarks in my ‘Commentary on Ezekiel,’ pp. 68-70.



of two men striving together, and a woman with child

(whether by chance or from well-meant interference on her

part) happening to receive some corporeal injury in the

fray; and it was ordained, that her husband was entitled

to claim compensation from the offender, according to the

extent of the injury; proceeding further, the statute pro-

vides generally for all like cases, that there should be

‘life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand,

foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound,

stripe for stripe.’l  Stript of its concrete form, this is

simply a rule for the proper administration of justice

between man and man, requiring that when a particular

wrong was done to anyone, and through him to society,

an adequate compensation should be rendered.  So far

from being peculiar to the Mosaic code, no legislation

that is not capricious and arbitrary can dispense with

such a rule, nor could society exist in peace and comfort

without its faithful application.  ‘In fact,’ to use the

words of Kalisch in his commentary on the passage, ‘our

own Christian legislation could not dispense with similar

principles: life is punished with life, and intentional

injuries are visited with more than equivalent penalties.

Not even the most sentimental and romantic legislator

has ever had the fancy to pardon all criminals out of

Christian love.  For, in reality, every simple law in our

criminal code is based on the jus talionis (the law of com-

pensation), with the limitation that bodily mutilation is

converted into an adequate pecuniary fine, or incarcera-

tion; but the same modification (he adds) has been

universally adopted by traditional Judaism.’  Such a

limitation was in perfect accordance with the general

spirit of the Mosaic code, and must have been from the

first intended.  The literal application of the rule, as in


1 Ex. xxi. 22-25.

104        THE REVELATION OF LAW.        [LECT. IV.


the case of burning for burning, or wound for wound,

would often have been impracticable, for who could have

undertaken to make a second that should always be pre-

cisely equivalent to the first? or unjust, for the severity

of a bodily infliction may, in particular circumstances, be

a widely different thing to one person from what it is to

another.  To insist on the exact counterpart of such

corporeal injuries, even when it could have been secured,

in preference to a reasonable compensation, would plainly

have been to gratify a spirit of revenge; and this, as

already stated, was expressly disallowed.  There was one

thing, and only one, in regard to which compensation was

formally interdicted: the life of a deliberate murderer

must be given for the life of  the murdered, without

satisfaction, without pity;1 and the emphatic exclusion

of compensation here, was justly regarded by the Jewish

doctors as virtually sanctioning its admission in cases of a

lighter kind, where no such exclusion was mentioned.

The real bearing of this law, then, when rightly understood

and applied as it was meant, in judicial decisions, was in

perfect accordance with the principles of equity; it was

merely a practical embodiment of these; and the reference

made to it by our Lord in His sermon on the mount,

where it forms a kind of contrast to the injunction laid

on His followers not to resist evil, but when smitten on

the one cheek to turn the other also, and so on,2 can

imply no disparagement of the old rule in its proper

intention.  In so far as it breathed a tone of censure, or

assumed a position of antagonism, it was only in regard

to those who, in their personal endeavours after the pure

and good, had not known to rise above the level of a

formal and rigid justice.  Not questioning the claims of

justice in the public administration of affairs, our Lord


1 Numb. xxxv. 31; Deut. xix. 13.           2 Mat. v. 38.



still made it to be known that He sought a people who

would be ready to forego these, whenever by doing so

they could promote the good of their fellow-men.  But

the law of brotherly love, when requiring the suppression

of revenge, and the exercise of forbearance and kindness

even to an enemy, in reality did the same, as was per-

fectly understood by the better spirits of the old cove-

nant.1  So that nothing properly different, but only a

greater fulness and prominence in the exhibition or

enforcement of such love, can be claimed for the Gospel


4. More distinctly than the statutes just noticed may

some of those connected with the punishment of murder

be ranked in the class now under consideration.  In this

branch of the Mosaic legislation there is generally apparent

a spirit of humanity and moderation.  First of all, murder

in the proper sense is carefully discriminated from death

brought about in some casual manner.  In every case of

real murder it was necessary to prove preceding malice or

hatred, a lying in wait or taking deliberate measures to

compass the death of its victim, and an assault with

some violent weapon accomplishing the end in view.3

But if, on the other hand, while a man had proved

the cause of a neighbour’s death, the act inflicting it was

merely the throwing of a stone or other weight, which

incidentally lighted upon some one, and took away his


1 Ps. vii. 4 ; Prov. xxv. 21, 22; 1 Sam. xxiv., xxvi.

2 The same view is given of the Mosaic statute by the leading authorities;

for example, by Michaelis, Salvador ‘His. des Institutions de Moise’ (who

says, ‘The jus talionis is a principle rather than a law; as a law it cannot, nor

does it actually come in general to be executed’); Saalschtütz ‘Des Mosaische

Recht;’ Kalisch gives some specimens of the Rabbinical discussions on the sub-

ject, from Bab. Talmud; and Maimonides.  For the compensations by which

the Arabs and Egyptians carry out the principle, see Kitto’s ‘Pictorial Bible,’

on Ex. xxi., and Lane’s ‘Modern Egyptians,’ ch. III.

3 Deut. xix. 2.

106         THE REVELATION OF LAW.       [LECT. IV.


life—or if by some sort of sudden thrust in a freak or

fury, without aught of preconceived malice or deliberate

intent, a neighbour’s life was sacrificed, the instrument

of doing it could not be arraigned for murder; but neither

could he be deemed altogether innocent.  There must

usually have been, in such cases, at least a culpable degree

of heedlessness, which would always call for careful inves-

tigation, and might justly subject the individual to a

limited amount of trouble, or even of punishment.  It

does so still in the civilized communities of modern times,

with their regulated forms of judicial procedure and vigi-

lant police: the man-slayer, however unwittingly he may

have been the occasion of taking another’s life, must lay

his account to the solemn inquest, often also the personal

arrest, and it may be, ultimately, the severe reprimand,

pecuniary fine, or temporary imprisonment, which may be

thought due as a correction to his improper heedlessness

or haste.  But at the period of Israel’s settlement in

Canaan there were not the opportunities for calm inquiry,

and patient, satisfactory adjustment of such cases as exist

now; and there were, besides, feelings deeply rooted in

Asiatic society, and usages growing out of them, which

tended very considerably to embarrass the matter, and yet

could not be arbitrarily set aside.  These arose out of the

relation of Goel, according to which the nearest of kin had

the wrongs, in particular circumstances, as well as the

rights of the deceased, devolved upon him; especially the

obligation to avenge his blood in the event of its having

been unrighteously shed.  On this account the term Goel

is very commonly reckoned synonymous with ‘avenger’

(Goel haddam, avenger of blood), and in the passages bear-

ing on this subject they are invariably so rendered in our

English Bible.l  To the mere English reader, however,


1 Numb. xxxv. 12; Deut. xix. 6, 12; Jos. xx. 5,9, etc.



in modern times, this is apt to convey a somewhat wrong

idea; for in its proper import Goel means not avenger,

but redeemer (as in Job xix. 25, ‘I know that my Re-

deemer liveth’), and Goel haddam is strictly ‘redeemer of

blood,’ one to whom belonged the right and duty of

recovering the blood of the murdered kinsman, of vindi-

cating in the only way practicable its wronged cause, and

obtaining for it justice.  In him the blood of the dead, as

it were, rose to life again and claimed its due.  In other

cases, it fell to the Goel to redeem the property of his

relative, which had become alienated and lost by debt;l

to redeem his person from bondage, if through poverty he

had been necessitated to go into servitude;2 even to

redeem his family, when by dying childless it was like to

become extinct in Israel, by marrying his widow and

raising up a seed to him.3  It thus appears that a humane

and brotherly feeling lay at the root of this Goel-relation-

ship; and in regard to the matter more immediately

before us, it did not necessarily involve anything revenge-

ful or capricious in its mode of operation.  In ordinary

cases, all its demands might have been satisfied by the

Goel appearing before the judges as the prosecutor of the

man-slayer, and calling upon them to examine the case

and give judgment in behalf of the deceased.  But there

can be no doubt that it might also quite readily run to

evil, that it might degenerate—if not very carefully

guarded and checked—into what, from time immemorial,

it has been among the Arab races—a kind of wild and

vengeful spirit of justice, which would take the law

into its own hands, and, in defiance alike of personal

danger and of the forms of legal procedure, would pursue

the shedder of blood till his blood in turn had been shed.

This was the vicious extreme of the system; yet one, it


1 Lev. xxv. 25.       2 Lev. xxv. 48-50.  3 Deut. xxv. 5-10.


108          THE REVELATION OF LAW.      [LECT. IV.


ought to be remembered, which operated as a powerful

check—perhaps, in the circumstances of the place and

times, the only valid check that could be devised against

another and still more pernicious extreme, for which

peculiar facilities were afforded by the vast deserts of

Arabia and the regions lying around Palestine.  How

easy might it have been for the daring and successful

murderer, by making his escape into these, to get beyond

the reach of the regular tribunals and officers of justice!

Only the dread of being tracked out and having his own

measure summarily meted back to him, by one on whom

the charge to avenge the wrong lay as a primary and

life-long obligation, might be sufficient to deter him from

trusting in such a refuge from evil.  We have it on the

testimony of those who have been most thoroughly con-

versant with the regions in question, and the races,

inhabiting them, that nothing has contributed so much

as this institution (even in its most objectionable Arab

form) to prevent the warlike tribes of the East from

exterminating one another.1

In these circumstances, Moses, legislating for a people

already familiar with the Goel-relationship, and going to

occupy a region which presented to the more lawless

spirits of the community, tempting opportunities for

escaping from judicial treatment of a more orderly kind,

took the wise course of grounding his statutes in respect

to manslaughter and murder on the hereditary rights and

duties of the Goel.  But he so restrained and regulated

them, that, if faithfully carried out, the checks he intro-

duced could scarcely fail to arrest the worst tendencies

of the system, and indeed reduce the position of the Goel

to that of the recognised and rightful prosecutor of the


1 See in Layard’s ‘Nineveh and Babylon,’ p. 305, for his own and Burck-

hardt’s testimony.




shedder of blood.  To prevent any sudden assault upon

the latter, and afford time for the due investigation of

his deed, a temporary asylum was provided for him in the

cities of refuge, which were appointed for this purpose at

convenient distances—three on the one side and three on

the other of the Jordan.l  When actually appointed, the

cities were most wisely distributed, and belonged also to

the class of Levitical cities (Golan in Bashan, Ramoth in

Gilead, and Bezer on the east side; Kadesh in Galilee,

Shechem and Hebron on the west),2 and as such were sure

to contain persons skilled in the knowledge of the law and

capable of giving intelligent judgment.  Arrived within

the gates of one of these cities, the man-slayer was safe

from the premature action of the Goel; but only that the

judges and elders of the place might take up the case and

pronounce impartial judgment upon it.  If they found

reason to acquit him of actual murder, then he remained

under their protection, but was obliged to submit to a kind

of partial imprisonment, because not allowed to go beyond

the borders of the city till the death of the existing high-

priest—after which, if he still lived, he was at liberty to

return to his own possession.  Were not these conditions,

however, somewhat arbitrary?  If not really guilty of

blood in the proper sense, why should he not have been

placed at once under the protection of the law, and

restored, to his property and home?  And why should the

period of his release have been made to hang on the

uncertain and variable moment of the high-priest’s death?

Perhaps there may have been grounds for these limitations

at the time they were imposed, which cannot now be

ascertained; but a little consideration is sufficient to shew

that they could not be deemed unreasonable.  In the

great majority of cases, the death of the person slain must


1 Numb. xxxv.                 2 Jos. xx. 7, 8.


110          THE REVELATION OF LAW.        [LECT. IV.


have been owing to the want of due circumspection, fore-

thought, or restraint on the part of him who had occasioned

it; and it could not, to thoughtful minds, appear other-

wise than a salutary discipline, that he should be adjudged

to a temporary abridgment of his liberty.  Arbitrarily to

break through this restraint after it had been judicially

imposed, would clearly have argued a self-willed, im-

petuous, and troublesome humour, which refused correc-

tion, and might readily enough repeat in the future the

rashness or misdeed of the past; so that it was but deal-

ing with him according to his folly to leave him in such a

case at the mercy of the Goel.1  Nor could the connection

of the period of the release with the death of the existing

high-priest carry much of a strange or capricious aspect

to the members of the Theocracy.  For the high-priest

was, in everything pertaining to sin and forgiveness, the

most prominent person in the community; in such things,

he was the representative of the people, making perpetual

intercession for them before God; and though there was

nothing expiatory in his death, yet being the death of

one in whom the expiatory ritual of the old covenant had

so long found its centre and culmination, it was natural—

more than natural, it was every way proper and becom-

ming—that when he disappeared from among men, the

cause of the blood that had been incidentally shed in his

life-time, and from its nature could admit of no very

definite reckoning, should be held to have passed with

him into oblivion—its cry was to be no more heard.2

          It was made very clear, however, by other statutes on


1 Lev. xxv. 26, 27.

2 This appears to me the natural explanation of the rule, and sufficient for

the purpose intended.  The older evangelical divines (some also still, as Keil)

think that in the death of the high-priest there was a shadow of the death of

Christ; consequently something that might be regarded as having a sort of

atoning value for the sins of the people.  This I cannot but consider arbitrary



this subject, that when actual murder had been com-

mitted, no advantage was to accrue to the perpetrator

from the cities of refuge; though he might have fled

thither, he was, on the proof of his guilt, to be delivered

up to the Goel for summary execution.1  Nor was the

altar of God—a still more sacred place than the cities of

refuge, and in ancient times almost universally regarded

as an asylum for criminals—to be permitted in such cases

to afford protection; from this also the murderer was to

be dragged to his deserved doom.2  In short, deliberate

murder was to admit of no compromise and no palliation:

the original law, ‘whoso sheddest man’s blood by man

shall his blood be shed,’3 must be rigorously enforced;

and, doubtless, mainly also on the original ground,

‘because in the image of God made He him.’  To dis-

regard the sanctity of human life, and tread it vilely in

the dust, was like aiming a thrust at God Himself, dis-

paraging His noblest work in creation, and the one that

stood in peculiar relationship to His own spiritual being.

Therefore, the violation of the sixth command by deli-

berate murder involved also a kind of secondary violation

of the first; and to suffer the blood of the innocent to lie

unavenged, was, in the highest sense, to pollute the

land;4 it was to render it unworthy of the name of God’s

inheritance.  So great was the horror entertained of this

unnatural crime, and so anxious was the Lawgiver to

impress men with the feeling of its contrariety to the whole

spirit and object of the law, that, even in the case of an


in interpretation, and involving a dangerous element in respect to the work of

atonement.  For if the death of a sinful man, because he was anointed with

oil, the symbol of the Spirit’s grace, had such a value then, why should not the

death of martyrs and other saints, richly endowed with the Spirit, have some-

thing of the same now?

1 Deut. xix. 11-16.                    2 Ex. xxi. 14.

3 Gen. ix. 6.                              4 Numb. xxxv. 34.


112            THE REVELATION OF LAW.     [LECT. IV.


uncertain murder, there was a cry of blood which could

not be disregarded; and when every effort had failed to

discover the author of the deed, the elders of the city

which lay nearest to the corpse were to regard themselves

as in a manner implicated; they had to come publicly

forward, and not only protest their innocence of the crime,

and their ignorance of the manner in which it had been

committed, but also to go through a process of purifica-

tion by blood and water, that the charge of blood-guilti-

ness might not rest upon them and their land.1

5. We pass on now to the statutes on slavery and the

treatment of those subject to it; which have in various re-

spects been deemed inconsistent with the spirit of the

Decalogue, as embodying the law of brotherly love.

Here, again, it is especially necessary to bear in mind the

state of the world at the time the law was given, and the

relation in which it stood to manners and usages, which

bespoke a very imperfect development both of economical

science and of civil rights.  It was necessary that the

law should take things as it found them, and, while

setting before the covenant people the correct ideal of all

that was morally right and good, should still regulate

what pertained to the enforcement of discipline with a

due regard to circumstances more or less anomalous and

perplexing.  By constitutional right, all the members of

the covenant were free; they were the Lord’s redeemed

ones, whom He vindicated to Himself from the house of

bondage, that they might be in a condition to serve and

honour Him;2 they were not again to be sold as bond-

men;3 and that they might remain in this freedom from

human servitude, every one had an inheritance assigned

sufficient for the maintenance of himself and his family.

The precautions, too, which were taken to secure the


1 Deut. xxi. 1-9.            2 Ex. xx. 2; Deut. xv. 15.           3 Lev. xxv. 42.



perpetuity of these family possessions, were admirably

devised; if properly guarded and carried out, nothing

had been wanting to provide, so far as external arrange-

ments could effect it, the means of a comfortable liveli-

hood and independence for the families of Israel.  But

much must still depend on the individual character of

the people, and the current of events in their history.  If,

through adverse circumstances, desolation fell on any por-

tion of the territory—or if, from slothful neglect, particular

inheritances were not duly cultivated, or the resources

they furnished were again improvidently squandered—

above all, if the people in whole or in part should become

involved in the reverses or triumphs of war—such in-

equalities might readily spring up as, in the existing

state of civic life and political arrangements, would most

naturally lead to the introduction of a certain kind of

slavery.  It is even possible that, as matters then stood,

the humanest, if not the only practicable thing, that

could be done by legislative enactment, was to bound

and regulate, rather than absolutely interdict, some modi-

fied form of this in itself unhappy relationship.  Such, at

least, appears to have been the view countenanced by

the Divine Head of the Theocracy; for the statutes bear-

ing on the subject of slavery are entirely of the kind just

indicated, and, when temperately considered, will be found

to involve a wise adaptation to the circumstances of the

time.  Even a brief outline may be enough to establish


(1.) The language alone is of importance here, as indi-

cative of the spirit of the Hebrew Theocracy: it had no

term to designate one class as slaves (in the stricter

sense) and another who did hired service.  The term for

both alike is Ebed (db,f,), properly, a labourer or worker, and

hence very naturally one whose calling in life is emphati-



114                       THE REVELATION OF LAW.                   [LECT. IV.


cally of this description, a servant.  And, as justly noted

by Saalschütz,l ‘among a people who were engaged in

agricultural employments, whose lawgiver Moses, and

whose kings Saul and David, were taken straight from the

flock and the plough to their high calling, there could not

seem to be anything degrading in a designation derived

from work; and the name of honour applied to Moses

and other righteous men was that of “servant of God.”’

The only ground for concern could be, lest occasion might

be taken to render work galling and oppressive, or inci-

dentally subversive of the great principles of the consti-


(2.) As a check upon this, at the outset a brand was

set upon man-stealing; he who should be found to have

kidnapped a soul (meaning thereby man or woman) of

the children of Israel, for the purpose of using or selling

that soul as a slave, incurred the penalty of death, as a

violator of the fundamental laws of the kingdom.2

(3.) But a man might, under the constraint of circum-

stances, to save himself and his family from the extre-

mities of want, become fain to part with his freedom, and

bind himself in servitude to another.  In such cases, which

should never have been but of an exceptional kind, a

whole series of prescriptions were given to set bounds to

the evil, and secure, during its continuance, the essentials

of a brotherly relationship.  The service required was in

no case to be that of an absolute bondman—or, as the

expression literally is, service of a servant (db,fA tdbofa)—

rigorous service, such as might be expected of one into

whose condition no higher element entered.3  His relation

to Jehovah as the Redeemer of Israel must not be allowed

to fall into abeyance.  Hence, his general rights and


1 ‘Mosaische Recht,’ c. 101, sec. 1.                  2 Lev. xxi. 17; Deut. xxiv. 7.

3 Lev. xxv. 39-43.



privileges as a member of the covenant remained un-

touched: he could inherit property if it accrued to him,

could be redeemed by a kinsman at a fair ransom, was

entitled to the rest of the weekly Sabbaths, and to the

joy and consolation of the stated festivals.1  Besides, the

period of service was limited; it could not extend beyond

six years, after which, in the seventh, came the year

of release; and even then the master was not to let

him go empty, but was to furnish him with supplies to

help him toward an independent position (Ex. xxi. 2;

Deut. xv. 12-14).2  So that the relation of a Hebrew

bondman to his master did not materially differ from

that of one now, who sells his labour to a particular

person, or engages to work to him on definite terms,

for a stated period.  A certain exception, no doubt, has

to be made in respect to the provision concerning his

wife and. children: if the wife belonged to him when he

entered into the bond-service, then both wife and children

went out with him; but if the wife had been given

him by the master, wife and children could be claimed

by the master.  In the latter case, of course, the servant


1Lev. xxv. 42-52.

2 In respect to the period of release, there is an apparent discrepance in the

passages relating to it; in Ex. xxi. 2, also Deut. xv. 12, the seventh year is

fixed definitely as the time of release; while in Lev. xxv. 40, the year of

Jubilee is named as the terminating point.  In the latter passage, and through-

out the chapter, the chief subject of discourse is the Jubilee, and it is only as

connected with it that the other subject comes into consideration.  The natural

explanation, therefore, as given by many of our recent writers, is, that in ordi-

nary circumstances the servitude terminated with the commencement of the

seventh year, but when a Jubilee intervened, the bond of servitude, like all

other bonds, ceased as a matter of course.  This simple explanation renders

quite unnecessary Ewald’s resort to his theory of earlier and later documents.

The seventh year, however, was not the Sabbatical year, but the seventh from

the entrance of the servitude—the principle of the arrangement being, that,

as after seven days’ work there came the day of rest, and after seven years’

husbandry a year of repose, so after seven years’ servitude a return to freedom.

116    THE REVELATION OF LAW.                [LECT. IV.


would be at perfect liberty to refuse what was offered;

and as it must have been a person of heathen birth that

in the case supposed was offered him for wife (for Hebrew

maid-servants were, equally with the men, entitled to

release in the seventh year),1 the proper Israelite could

not have complied with it, unless the woman had ceased

in spirit to be a heathen, and he had himself made up his

mind to abide in perpetual servitude to his master.  The

laws respecting marriage involved these two conditions,

as in a moral respect binding upon the individual in

question; for temporary marriages, and marriages with

unconverted heathens, were alike forbidden.  A man

might, however, choose to remain in the position of a

bondman, rather than avail himself of his right to become

free; the supposition of such a case is distinctly made,

and it was ordered that he should go through what could

not but be regarded as a degrading ceremony.  On de-

claring that he loved his master, his wife and children,

and that he would not go out free, his master was to

place him before the judges, and in their presence bore

his ear through with an awl into the door or door-post.2

The perforating of the ear and fixing it with the awl to

the door (as appears from the passage in Deuteronomy

to have been the full rite), was undoubtedly intended to

signify the servant’s personal surrender of the freedom

proper to him as an Israelite, that he might attach him-

self to the authority and interest of the master.  By the

door, therefore, is most naturally understood the door of

the master’s house, in which the man and his family now

became a kind of fixtures; but whether the ‘for ever’

connected with his obligation of servitude indicated a

strictly life-long continuance, or an unbroken service only

till the year of Jubilee, is differently understood, and can-


1 Deut. xv. 12.              2 Ex. xxi. 6; Deut. xv. 17.



not be quite definitely determined—though the natural

impression is in favour of the former view.  The whole

object and bearing of the ceremony were obviously to fix

a sort of stigma on anyone who voluntarily assumed the

condition of such prolonged servitude.  His claim, how-

ever, to lenient treatment, and the usual Israelitish

privileges, remained as before.

(4.) A still further supposition is made, that, namely,

of the daughter of an Israelite—not going into ordinary

servitude for the legal term of years, as in Deut. xv. 12,

in which case the regulations laid down for male servants

were in substance applicable here—but being sold (accord-

ing to a prevailing custom in the East) with the double

view of service and betrothal.l  She was, in the circum-

stances, supposed to go as a maid-servant, namely, to

engage actively in domestic work; and, at the same

time, she is represented as standing in a betrothed con-

dition to her master.  If he was satisfied with her, and

either himself took her to wife, or gave her to his son in

that capacity, then she, of course, became a member of

the family and had the rights of a spouse; but if the con-

nexion, after being formed, was again broken off, then

(besides all the moral blame that might be incurred in

the matter, of which this branch of the law does not

treat) the master was obliged to forfeit the money he had

paid—the maid could not be re-sold, but was instantly to

regain her liberty; though it may be doubtful if she had

the right to sue for a regular divorce.  This part of the

question, however, belongs rather to the subject of mar-

riage than to that of servitude.

(5.) Servitude, in a stricter sense than that which the

preceding regulations contemplate, might be exacted of

foreigners.  Of the heathen that were round about them,


                                                1Ex. Xxi. 7-11.
118      THE REVELATION OF LAW.         [LECT. IV.


the Israelites might buy persons for bondmen and bond-

maids, also of the strangers who might be sojourning

among them.1  Then, those who were taken captive in

war, as a matter of course fell into the hands of the

victors, and were reduced to the condition of bondmen.2

The children also, if any should be born to either of the

preceding classes, formed a third source of supply.  But

from the very constitution of the kingdom, which secured

a general distribution of the land along with the rights of

citizenship, and rendered next to impossible large accu-

mulations of property, or fields of enterprise that would

call for much servile labour, there was comparatively

little scope or occasion for the growth of this kind of

population.  The circumstances of the covenant-people

presented no temptation to it; beyond very moderate

limits, the presence of such a population must have been

a source of trouble and annoyance, rather than of comfort

or strength; and hence, in the historical records, no

indication exists of any regular commerce being carried

on in this line, or even of any considerable numbers

being held in the condition of bondmen.  The Phœnician

slave trade is noticed only in connection with what Israel

suffered by it, not for anything they gained;3 and so

little sympathy were they to have with the slave system

practised among the nations around them, that a slave

flying to them for refuge from his heathen master was

not to be delivered up, but to be allowed, under Israelitish

protection, to fix his abode in whatever city he himself

might choose.4  The strangers or foreigners sometimes men-

tioned, and especially in the times of David and Solomon,

as ready for the execution of servile work,5 seem rather

to have been a kind of serfs, than slaves in the ordinary


    1 Lev. xxv. 44, 45.    2 Num. xxxi 26-35; Deut. xx. 14, etc.   3 Mic. i. 9; Ob.20.

    4 Deut. xxiii. 15-17.   5 1 Kings ix. 20; 2 Chron. ii. 16; viii. 7.



sense—chiefly the descendants, in all probability, of the

heathen families that remained in the land.  Of that

class certainly were the Gibeonites, only with a special

destination as to the form of service they were taken

bound to render.1

From the facts just stated, one is naturally led to infer,

that bond-service in the strict sense must have been of

very limited extent among the covenant people, and that,

in so far as it did exist, it must have ever tended to

work toward its own extinction.  This also is the im-

pression which the particular statutes on the subject are

fitted to convey.  As a rule, the persons belonging to the

house as bondmen or bondmaids were to be treated as

members of the family; they were to enjoy the Sabbath

rest, and partake of the sacrificial meals;2 even if the

priest should have any servants in that position, they

were to eat of the consecrated food which fell to the share

of the master.3  When they submitted to the rite of cir-

cumcision—which, according to Rabbinical tradition, and,

indeed, to the obvious proprieties of things, required

their own deliberate consent—as they thereby entered

into the bond of the covenant, so they became entitled to

eat of the Passover, and, of course, to participate fully in

all the privileges of the covenant.4  If the master should

smite any of his bondmen with a murderous weapon, so

as to cause his death, he was himself liable to the penalty

of murder—for smiting to death with intent to kill is,

without exception, in the case of the stranger as well as the

native Israelite, placed under one condemnation.Smit-

ing only to the effect of destroying a tooth or an eye, was

to be followed with the freedom of the slave.6  But when


1 Jos. ix. 23; 2 Sam. xxi.                       2 Deut. v. 14, xii. 12, xvi. 11.

3 Lev. xxii. 11.                          4 Ex. xii. 44.

5 Ex. xxi. 12 ; Numb. xxxv. 16-18; Lev. xxiv. 17-22.

6 Ex. xxi. 26, 27.


120     THE REVELATION OF LAW.              [LECT. IV.


smiting of that description—smiting, namely, with a rod in

the way of chastisement, with no intent to kill—went so

far as to produce death, it was to be met by deserved

punishment—the atrocity was to be avenged—though it

is not said by what particular infliction (Ex. xxi. 20.)1  The

penalty was apparently left to the discretion of the judges,

and would doubtless vary according to the circumstances.

But if death did not immediately follow, if the servant

lingered a day or two, no additional penalty was to

be imposed; the delay was to be taken as proof that no

fatal result was contemplated by the master, and, in a

pecuniary respect, the death of the victim had itself in-

flicted a heavy mulct.2  Not that, in a moral point of

view, this was an adequate compensation for the undue

severity he had practised, but that the temporal loss

having equalled the recognised value of the subject, it

was deemed inexpedient to go farther in that direction.

For the higher bearing of his procedure, he had still to

place himself in contact with the revelations respecting

sin and atonement.

Taken as a whole, the statutes upon the subject of

slavery, it is impossible to deny, are largely pervaded by

a spirit of mildness and equity, tolerating rather than

properly countenancing and approving of it, and giving

to it a very different character, both as to extent and

manner of working, from what belonged to it in the

nations of heathen antiquity.  If brought into comparison,

indeed, with the arrangements of modern civilization, one


1 I take here the view which seems the most probable, which is that

also of Saalschütz, Kalisch, (Ehler in ‘Hertzog,’ art. Sklaverei, and many

others.  The smiting to death, in the verse referred to, was only with a rod—

not with a heavy or deadly weapon; and the death, though immediate, was

not intentional.  The phrase, he shall be avenged or punished, must therefore

refer to something less than capital punishment.

2 Ex. xxi. 21.



can readily point to features in it which, considered by

themselves, were not in accordance with the ideal of a

well-ordered commonwealth.  But such a comparison

would be essentially unfair.  For, however high the

standard of moral rectitude set up in the Hebrew com-

monwealth, and in its entireness laid upon the consciences

of the people, the commonwealth in its political adminis-

tration could not move in total isolation from the state

of things around it.  At various points it necessarily

took a certain impress from the age and time; and from

the universal prevalence of slavery among their heathen

neighbours, it must often have been impracticable for the

people, when seeking the service they needed, to obtain

it otherwise than in the form of bond service.  But as

the persons acquired for the purpose must usually have

been brought from heathen districts, they could not pos-

sibly be placed on a footing with the proper subjects of

the Theocracy.  Even, however, as strangers in a de-

pressed condition, they were to be treated in a kind and

considerate manner, as by those who, in their own persons

or through their ancestors, had known the heart and

experience of a stranger;1 and all proper facilities were

besides afforded them, and reasonable encouragements

held out, to their entering into the bond of the covenant,

and merging their condition and prospects with those of

the covenant people.  If, after all, things were often not

ordered as they should have been, who that calmly con-

siders the actual position of affairs, would venture to

affirm that it could have been made better by any statu-

tory regulations given for authoritative enforcement?

These must limit themselves to the practically attainable

—if they were not to produce other, and perhaps greater,

evils than those they were intended to prevent.


1Ex. xxiii. 9.

122           THE REVELATION OF LAW.           [LECT. IV.


6.  The only remaining class of statutes and judgments

calling for consideration here are those relating to the

subject of marriage.  The fundamental law on the sub-

ject merely declared, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery;’

but, as in all the other precepts of the Decalogue, so here,

what should constitute a breach of the command was left

to the moral instincts of mankind; no specific description

was given of adultery, nor was a right marriage relation-

ship more nearly defined.  But that marriage, according

to its proper ideal, consisted of the life-union of one man

and one woman, and that the violation of this union by

sexual commerce with another party constituted adultery,

was well enough understood in the earlier ages of the

world, and especially among the covenant-people.  ‘The

notion of matrimony has in the Old Testament, from the

very commencement, been conceived in admirable purity

and perfection.  Already the wife of Adam is called “a

help at his side,” that is, a companion through life, with

whom he coalesces into one being’ (Gen. ii. 18-24).1  And

this being testified of man in his normal state, as he came

pure and good from the hand of his Creator, clearly

indicated for all coming time what in a family respect

should be his normal condition—as is, indeed, formally

stated in the inference drawn from the original fact:

‘Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother,

and shall cleave to his wife (his wife, the one individual

standing to him in that relation), and they shall be one

flesh.’  It was a great thing for the covenant-people, to

have had this view of the marriage relation placed so

prominently forward in those sacred records which to-

gether formed their Thorah, or law.  And we see it

distinctly reflected, both in the dignity which is thrown

around the wife in ancient Scripture, and in the prevalent


1 Kalisch on Exod. xx. 13.




feeling in behalf of monogamy as the proper form of

matrimonial life.  The two, indeed, hang inseparably

together; for wherever polygamy exists, woman falls in

the social scale.  But in the glimpses afforded us of family

life in Israel, the women have much freedom and con-

sideration accorded to them;1 and those of them especi-

ally who are presented as the more peculiar types of their

class, appear in an honourable light, as the fitting hand-

maids of their husbands, the rightful mistresses of the

house.  Such, certainly, was Sarah in relation to Abraham,

and Rebekah to Isaac; and similar examples, ever and

anon throughout the history, rise into view of married

women, who acted with becoming grace and dignity the

part that properly belonged to them in the household—

as the wife of Manoah, Hannah, Abigail the prudent and

courteous spouse of Nabal, the Shunamite woman, who

dealt so kindly with Elisha, and others of a like description.

It was from no fancy musings, but from living exemplars

such as these, that Solomon drew his noble portraiture,

unequalled in any ancient writing, of the virtuous wife;2

and pronounced such a wife to be a crown to her husband,

and a gift bestowed on him from the Lord.3  So fully

also did the lawgiver himself accord with these senti-

ments, that he allowed the new married man to remain at

home for a year, free from military service and other

public burdens, that he might gladden his wife;4  and in

the reverence and affection charged on children towards

their parents, the mother ever has her place of honour

beside the father.5

In perfect accordance with this regard for woman as

the proper handmaid and spouse of man, there is evidence

of a prevailing sense in men’s minds in favour of mono-


  1 Ex. xv. 20; 1 Sam. xviii 6, 7; Ps. lxviii. 25, etc.    2 Prov. xxxi. 10-31.

  3Prov. Xii. 4; xix. 14.  4Deut. xxiv. 5.               5Ex. xx. 12; xxi. 17, etc.

124           THE REVELATION OF LAW.       [LECT. IV.


gamy as the normal state of things, while polygamy

carried with it an aspect of disorder and trouble.  It was

not by accident, but as an indication and omen of its real

character, that the latter first made its appearance in the

Cainite section of the human family, and has its memorial

in an address savouring of violence and blood.1  How

strongly the mind of Abraham was set against any de-

parture from the original order, is evident from his reluct-

ance to think of anyone but Sarah as the mother of the

seed promised to him—only at last yielding to her advice

respecting Hagar, when no other way seemed open to him

for obtaining the seed he had been assured of—yet for

this also receiving palpable rebukes in providence to mark

the course that had been pursued as an improper violation

of the Divine order.  We see this order beautifully kept

by Isaac, though his patience was long tried with the

apparently fruitless expectation of a promised seed; no

thought of another spouse than Rebekah seems ever to

have been entertained by him; nor did Jacob purpose

differently, till by deceit in the first instance, then by

artful cozening, he was drawn into connexions which

brought their recompenses of trouble after them.  The

sons of Jacob, the patriarchal heads of the covenant-

people, are at least not known (with the exception, per-

haps, of Simeon) to have possessed more at a time than

one wife; such, more certainly, was the case with Moses,

as also with Aaron; and in the rule laid down for the

priests, who might be regarded as the pattern-men for

Israel, it was ordained that each should take a virgin of

his own people for wife2—purposely contemplating but

one such connexion.  In the later descriptions also of

rightly constituted and happy families, the wife is always

spoken of as the one spouse and mother of offspring; and


1 Gen. iv. 23, 24.                      2 Lev. xxiii. 14.



severe denunciations are occasionally uttered against un-

fair dealing toward her.1  So that, while there were

unquestionably notorious exceptions, especially among per-

sons in high places, yet with the great mass of the cove-

nant-people monogamy must have been the general rule,

and the one properly recognised order.

Holding this view of the marriage union, the greater

part of the statutes bearing on it in the books of Moses

present no difficulty; their obvious design was to guard

its sanctity, and punish with unsparing rigour its de-

liberate violation.  Sexual commerce with another man’s

wife rendered both parties liable to the penalty of

death;2 and if the woman, instead of being actually mar-

ried, was simply betrothed, the penalty remained the

same.3  A man who seduced a girl, and robbed her of

her chastity, was obliged to marry her, and pay fifty

shekels to her father;4 on the other side, a married woman

who was only suspected of having improper intercourse

with another, was subjected to a severe and humiliating

test of her innocence;5 and while suppositions are made of

men having sexual connexion with women, not betrothed

or married, and of entering into relationships not consistent

with strict monogamy, there is never any pronounced

sanction of their conduct, nor is the word concubine (pile-

gesh) once named in the Mosaic statutes as a kind of

recognised relation, separate from and superadditional to

that of wife.  The nearest thing to it, perhaps, is in

Ex. xxi. 8, where we have the case formerly referred to

of a man purchasing a maid-servant, under a pledge or

betrothal to take her to wife, or to give her in that capa-

city to his son.  As a maid-servant she was so far in his

power, that he could, if he so pleased, break his connexion


    1 Ps. xlv., cxxviii.; Prov. xxxi.; Mal. ii. 14.     2 Lev. xx. 10; Deut. xxii. 22.

    3 Deut. xxii. 23.                     4 Deut. xxii. 28,29.                    5 Num. v.

126          THE REVELATION OF LAW.      [LECT. IV.


with her, and cease to keep her as a wife.  Yet this is

spoken of as a moral wrong; it was ‘dealing deceitfully

with her;’ and, as already noticed under the statutes

about slavery, he lost his purchase-money—the maid

regained her freedom—a penalty so far being thus imposed

on such capricious behaviour.  If, however, he should

retain the person so acquired for his wife, and at the same

time take another, the first was to be continued in her

rights—‘her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage’1

—as if still she alone properly stood in the relation of

spouse, and the other was superadded merely for show

or fleshly indulgence.  But did not this also involve a

wrong, as well as the former mode of treatment?  And

was it not an anomaly in legislation, that she should

have a certain compensation in the one case and none in

the other?  Nay, that while the man was bound by the

nature of the marriage tie to be as one flesh with her, he

should become the same with another person?

Undoubtedly, a certain ground existed for such ques-

tions; and the spiritual guides of the community should

have made it clear, that men had no constitutional right

to act after such a fashion; that in doing so they violated

great moral principles; and that the guilt and the respon-

sibility of such procedure were all their own—the judicial

statutes of the commonwealth only not interposing against

it by specific enactments and penalties.  In its moral

bearings, the case was very nearly parallel with another,

which has been even more generally excepted against,

and by our Lord Himself was allowed to be justly liable

to exception; that, namely, of a divorce executed against

a wife for some cause less than actual infidelity.2  This

was the point brought into consideration by the Pharisees

but it is proper to notice—the rather so as the English


            1Ex. xxi. 10.                              2Deut. xxiv. 1-4.



Bible fails to give a quite correct translation of the

original—that it was not the one which formed the direct

or formal subject of the statute.  Exactly rendered, the

passage stands thus:—‘When a man has taken a wife

and married her, and it come to pass that she does not

find favour in his sight, because he has found something

of shame (or nakedness) in her, and he writes for her a

bill of divorcement, and gives it into her hand, and sends

her out of his house: and she has departed from his

house, and gone and become another man’s: and the

latter husband hates her, and writes for her a bill of

divorcement, and gives it into her hand, and sends her

forth out of his house, or the latter husband has died

that took her to wife:—The first husband that sent her

away cannot return to take her for his wife after she has

been defiled; for that were abomination before Jehovah;

and thou shalt not pollute the land which Jehovah thy

God gives thee as an inheritance.’

Thus read, it will be seen that the thing directly

forbidden in the passage is simply the return of the

divorced woman to be again the wife of the man who had

first divorced her; this would indicate a total looseness

in regard to the marriage relationship, and was to be

interdicted as an abomination which would utterly pollute

the land.  There is marked, indeed, a double or pro-

gressive defilement: the woman was defiled by her com-

merce with another man after being divorced from her

first husband; and to re-marry her, when so defiled, was

to aggravate the pollution.  All, however, that goes

before this prohibitory part is simple narration: when a

man marries a woman, and is displeased with her, and

gives her a bill of divorce, and sends her from him, and

another man does after the same manner—not as our

translators, after Luther and some others, ‘then let him




write her a bill of divorce,’ and so on.  The words do

not properly admit of this rendering; and on that very

point may be said to turn the diversity of view exhibited

in the Gospel narrative,l the one presented by the Phari-

sees, the other given by our Lord.  They asked, ‘Why

did Moses command (e]netei<lato) to give a writing of

divorcement, and to put away?’  The Lord replied,

‘Moses, from respect (pro<j) to the hardness of your hearts,

suffered you (e]pe<treyen u[mi?n) to put away your wives:’—not

a privilege to be enjoyed, or a duty to be discharged, but

a permission or tolerance merely suffered to continue,

because of Israel’s participation in the evil of the times—

their moral unfitness for a more stringent application of

the proper rule.  The permission in question, so far as

the Mosaic legislation was concerned, went no further

than not distinctly pronouncing upon the practice, or

positively interdicting it.  The practice, it is implied,

was not unknown; in all probability it prevailed exten-

sively among the corrupt nations among whom Israel

was to dwell (since things greatly worse were of every-

day occurrence among them); and in so far as any might

adopt it, the judicial authorities were not empowered to

prevent it—that is all; but whatever rashness, or con-

travention of the proper spirit and design of the marriage

relation might be involved in it, this lay still with the

conscience of the individual; he was answerable for it.

Viewed in respect to the grounds of his supposed pro-

cedure, there is a certain vagueness in the form of ex-

pression, which gave rise even in ancient times to very

different modes of interpretation.  The two chief words in

the original (rbADA tvar;f,) certainly form a somewhat peculiar

combination—strictly, nakedness of a matter, and as the

term for nakedness is very commonly used for what is


1 Matt. xix. 7, 8.



unbecoming or indecent, it may most naturally be re-

garded as indicating something distasteful or offensive in

that direction.  The two great Jewish schools, those of

Hillel and Shammai, were divided in their opinions on

the subject; the school of Hillel included in the expres-

sion everything that might cause dissatisfaction in the

husband, even the bad cooking of his victuals,1 while the

school of Shammai restricted it to uncleanness in the

conjugal sense—defilement of the marriage bed.  That

something different, however, something less than this,

must have been intended, is evident alone from a com-

parison of other parts of the Mosaic legislation, which

ordained that a woman guilty of adultery should be, not

divorced, but put to death.  It is also evident from the

explanation of our Lord, which ascribed this liberty of

divorce to the hardness of the people’s hearts, and de-

clared its inconsistence with the fundamental principle of

the marriage union, which admitted of a justifiable dis-

solution only by the death or the adulterous behaviour of

one of the parties.  The truth appears to have lain between

the two extremes of the Jewish schools referred to; and

something short of actual impurity, yet tending in that

direction—something unbecoming, and fitted to create

dislike in the mind of the husband, or take off his affec-

tions from her—was understood to form, in the case sup-

posed, an occasion for dismissing a wife.  It is also

supposed, that if such a step were taken, it would be

done in an orderly manner—not by a mere oral renounce-

ment, as among some Eastern nations, but by a formal

writing, which would usually require the employment of

a neutral person, and perhaps also the signature of

witnesses; that this writing should be deliberately put

into the woman’s hand, and that she should thereafter


1 See quotations in Lightfoot and Wetstein, on the passage in Matthew.

130         THE REVELATION OF LAW.         [LECT. IV.


leave the house and go to another place of abode.  These

things, requiring some degree of deliberation and time,

and so far tending to serve as a check on the hasty im-

pulses of passion, are not directly enjoined (as already

said), but presupposed as customary and indispensable

parts of the process in question; and the liberty thereby

granted to the woman to ally herself to another man,

coupled with the strict prohibition against a return to

her first husband, were evidently intended as additional

checks—reasons calling for very serious consideration

before the consummation of an act which carried such

consequences along with it.  Still, the act could be done;

no positive statute, capable of legal enforcement, was

issued to prevent it; and was not the licence thus

granted, however arising, a sign of imperfection?

Beyond doubt it was; our Lord admits as much, when

He accounts for it by the hardness of the people’s hearts.

But the person who should avail himself of the licence

was not thereby justified—no more than in Christian

times a wife, or a husband, who, by wilful abandonment

or criminal behaviour, turns the marriage bond into a

nullity.  The apostle distinctly states, that a believing

woman is not bound by the law of her husband, when he,

remaining in unbelief and displeased with her procedure,

has forced her into separation;1 he holds such a case not

to be included in the general law of Christ respecting the

perpetuity of marriage, except through death or fornica-

tion; and, by parity of reason, the same must be held

respecting parties, either of whom has become incapable

of fulfilling matrimonial obligations, by being imprisoned

or banished for life.  There is here, at least, an approach

to the Old Testament state of things, arising from the

same cause, the hardness of the people’s hearts; and for


1 1 Cor. vii. 15.



the greater measure of licence, and consequently of prac-

tical imperfection adhering to the old, the question, in its

moral bearings, resolves itself into a wider one—it touches

the principle of progression in the Divine government;

for if, in progress of time the light and privileges granted

to men became much increased, should not the practical

administration or discipline in God’s house receive a cor-

responding elevation?  It stands to reason that it should;

and hence certain things might be tolerated, in the sense

of not being actively condemned, at an earlier stage of

the Divine dispensations, which should no longer be borne

with now; while still the standard of moral duty, abso-

lutely considered, does not change, but is the same for

men of every age.  There is the same relative difference,

and the same essential agreement, between the church in

its present and in its ultimate stage on earth—the period

of millennial glory: things tolerated now, will not be then.

It is further to be borne in mind, that this, above all

other points in the social system, was the one in respect

to which Orientals stood at a relative disadvantage, and

that feelings and practices were widely prevalent, which

would render stringent regulations of a disciplinary kind

worse than inoperative with a certain class of persons.

There was comparatively little freedom of intercourse,

prior to marriage, between the sexes, especially among

those who were of age.  In many cases espousals were

made for the young, rather than by them; multitudes

found themselves joined in wedlock who had scarcely

ever seen each other—never, at least, mingled in familiar

converse; and often, too, they came from such different

classes of society and spheres of life, especially when the

wife was purchased as a bond-maid, or taken as a captive

in war, that it would have been a marvel if estrange-

ments, jealousies, tempers that repelled each other rather

132         THE REVELATION OF LAW.      [LECT. IV.


than coalesced into a proper unity of heart and life, did

not at times appear as the result.  Still, doubtless, the

moral obligation remained, growing out of the essential

nature of the marriage relation, and no way invalidated

but enforced by the tenor of the Mosaic revelation, that

the parties should cleave one to another, and abstain

from all that might tarnish the sanctity of their union,

or mar the ends for which it was formed.  But in such a

state of things to exclude by positive and rigid enactment

any possibility of relief, even for such as did not in their

hearts realize that obligation, could only have tended to

produce a recoil in the opposite direction; it would have

led them probably to resort to violent measures to rid

themselves of the hated object, or to employ such treat-

ment as would have made death rather to be desired than


The general regulations of the judicial code in respect

to marriage, as well as to other points of moment, thus

appear to admit of justification, when they are considered

with reference to the actual condition of the world.  But

when particular cases are looked at, as they arose in the

subsequent history of the people, things are certainly

sometimes met with of which it is difficult to find any

adequate explanation:—the case, for example, of Elime-

lech, a Levite, and apparently a man of probity, not only

married to two wives without any specific reason assigned,

but one of these (Hannah) a person of distinguished piety,

and the subject of special direction and blessing from

Heaven; much more the case of David, and that of his

highly gifted and honoured son Solomon, adding wife to

wife, and concubines to wives, without any apparent con-

sciousness of wrong in the matter—yet all the while pos-

sessing the more peculiar endowments of God’s Spirit; and

though receiving counsels, revelations, sometimes also re-



bukes from above, still never directly reproved for depart-

ing on this point from the right ways of the Lord.  It is

true, on the other hand, they had no proper warrant for

what they did; they sinned against law—judicial as well as

moral law; and it is also true, that painful results attended

their course, such as might well be deemed practical

reproofs.  Such considerations do help us a certain way

to the solution—we can say no more; perplexing diffi-

culties still hang around the subject, which cannot mean-

while be cleared satisfactorily away, only they are

difficulties which relate to the practical administration of

affairs, rather than to the Divine constitution of the king-

dom.  There are certain things in other departments of

which the same might be affirmed.  But for all in the Old

Economy that bears on it the explicit sanction of Heaven,

though formally differing from what is now established,

the principle so finely exhibited by Augustine in his con-

tendings with the Manichees is perfectly applicable.

Having compared the kingdom of God to a well-regulated

house, in which for wise reasons certain things are per-

mitted or enjoined at one time, which are prohibited at

another, he adds: ‘So is it with these persons who are

indignant when they hear that something was allowed to

good men in a former age, which is not allowed in this;

and because God commanded one thing to the former,

another thing to the latter, for reasons pertaining to the

particular time, while each were alike obedient to the

same righteousness:—And yet in a single mall, and in a

single day, and in a single dwelling, they may see one

thing suiting one member, another a different one; one

thing permitted just now, and again after a time pro-

hibited; something allowed or ordered in a certain corner,

which elsewhere is fitly forbidden or punished.  Right-

eousness is not therefore various and mutable, is it?  But

134         THE REVELATION OF LAW.       [LECT. IV.


the times over which it presides do not proceed in a

uniform manner, just because they are times.  But men,

whose life on earth is short, because they are not able

intelligently to harmonize the causes of earlier times and

of other nations, of which they have not had cognizance,

with those wherewith they are familiar—though in one

body, or day, or house, they can easily see what would

suit a particular member, particular times, particular

offices or persons—take offence at the one, but fall in

with the other.’1


III.  There yet remains to be noticed the third great

division of the Law—namely, the rites and ceremonies

which more directly pertained to religion; or, as it is

very commonly designated, the Levitical code of worship

and observance.  In what are called the statutes and

judgments, which immediately succeeded the delivery of

the ten commandments, there is scarcely any reference

made to ordinances of this description.  A few words

were spoken to the people respecting the kind of altar

they should erect,2 implying that sacrifices were to form

an essential part of worship; also respecting the con-

secration of the first-born for special service to God, the

offering of the frst-fruits, and the appearance of the

males annually at three stated feasts before the Lord;

but that was all.  And it was only after the covenant

had been formally ratified and sealed with blood over


1 Confes. L. III. c. 7. Sic sunt isti qui indignantur, cum audierint illo

sæculo licuisse justis aliquid, quod isto non licet justis; et quia illis aliud

præcipit Deus, istis aliud pro temporalibus causis, cum eidem justitiæ utrique

serviunt; cum in uno homine, et in uno die, et in unis ædibus videant aliud

alii membro congruere, et aliud jamdudum licuisse, post horam non licere;

quiddam in illo ungulo permitti aut juberi, quod in isto juste vetetur et vinde-

citur, etc.

2 Ex. xx. 24-26.

LECT. IV.]      THE CEREMONIAL LAW.                 135


‘ten words’ from Sinai, with those supplementary

statutes, that the ritual of the Levitical system, in its

more distinctive form, came into existence.  From its

very place in the history, therefore, it is to be regarded,

not as of primary, but only of secondary moment in the

constitution of the Divine kingdom in Israel; not itself

the foundation, but a building raised on the foundation,

and designed, by a wise accommodation to the state of

things then present, and by the skilful use of material

elements and earthly relations, to secure the proper work-

ing of what really was fundamental, and render it more

certainly productive of the wished for results.  The

general connexion is this: God had already redeemed

Israel for His peculiar people, called them to occupy a

near relation to Himself, and proclaimed to them the

great principles of truth and duty which were to regulate

their procedure, so that they might be the true witnesses

of His glory, and the inheritors of His blessing.  And for

the purpose of enabling them more readily to apprehend

the nature of this relation, and more distinctly realize the

things belonging to it, the Lord instituted a visible bond

of fellowship, by planting in the midst of their dwellings

a dwelling for Himself, and ordering everything in the

structure of the dwelling, the services to be performed at

it, and the access of the people to its courts, after such a

manner as to keep up right impressions in their mind of

the character of their Divine Head, and of what became

them as sojourners with Him in the land that was to be

emphatically His own.  In such a case, it was indis-

pensable that all should be done under the express direc-

tion of God’s hand; for it was as truly a revelation of

His will to the members of the covenant as the direct

utterances of His mouth; it must be made and ordered

throughout according to the pattern of things presented

136           THE REVELATION OF LAW.       [LECT. IV.


to the view of Moses; while the people, on their part,

were to shew their disposition to fall in with the design,

by contributing the materials requisite for the purpose,

and fulfilling the offices assigned them.1

The connexion now indicated between the revelation of

law in the stricter sense, and the structure and use of the

sacred dwelling, comes out very strikingly in the descrip-

tion given of the tabernacle, which, after mentioning the

different kinds of material to be provided, begins first

with the ark of the covenant—the repository, as it might

equally be called, of the Decalogue, since it was merely a

chest for containing the tables of the law, and as such

was taken for the very seat or throne from which Jehovah

manifested His presence and glory.2  It was, therefore,

the most sacred piece of furniture belonging to the

Tabernacle—the centre from which all relating to men’s

fellowship with God was to proceed, and to derive its

essential character.  To break this link of connexion

between the ceremonial and the moral, or to invert their

relative order as thus impressed from the first on the

very framework of the Tabernacle, had been virtually to

reject the plan of God, and frustrate the design contem-

plated in this part of His covenant arrangements.  For

those who practically ignored the revelation of truth and

duty in the Decalogue, there was properly no house of

God in Israel, no local throne, in connexion with which

they could hold communion with the living Head of the

Theocracy, and present acceptable worship before Him.

And for such as did acknowledge and own that revela-

tion, there could be only this one.  The fundamental

truth, that Jehovah the God of Israel is one Lord, before

whom no other God can stand, nor even any form of

worship be allowed which might countenance the idea


1 Ex. xxv. 2, 9, 40, etc.             2 Ex. xxv. 21, 22.

LECT. IV.]       THE CEREMONIAL LAW.             137


of a diversity of nature or will in the supreme object

of worship—this must have its expression in the absolute

oneness of the place where Jehovah should put His name,

and where, in the more peculiar acts of worship, He

should be approached by the members of the covenant.

The place itself might be different at one time from what

it was at another; it was left, indeed, altogether unde-

termined at what particular point in the chosen territory,

or even within what tribe, the sacred dwelling should

have its location.  This might change from one period to

another; the dwelling itself also might, as the event

proved, change its exterior form—pass from the humble

tent to a gorgeous temple; but its unity must ever remain

intact, so as to exclude the entrance of different theo-

cratical centres, and thereby prevent what would, in

those times, have been its inevitable sequence, the idea

of a plurality of gods to be acknowledged and served.

When we proceed from the sacred dwelling itself to

the institutions and services associated with it, we find

only further proofs of the close connexion between the

Levitical code and the Decalogue, and of the dependence

of the one upon the other.  ‘The Levitical prescriptions,’

says Weber excellently,’1 follow the establishment of the

covenant and its realization in the indwelling of Jehovah

in Israel.  They are not conditions, but consequences of

the Sinaitic covenant.  After Jehovah, in consequence of

His covenant, had taken up His abode in Israel, and

Israel must now dwell before Him, it was necessary to

appoint the ordinances by which this intercourse should

be carried on.  Since Israel in itself is impure, and is

constantly defiling itself, because its natural life stands

under the power of sin, it cannot quite directly enter into

fellowship with Jehovah; but what took place at Sinai


1 ‘Von Zorne Gottes,’ p. 143.

138        THE REVELATION OF LAW.      [LECT. IV.


must be ever repeating itself—it must first, in order to

meet with Jehovah, undergo a purification.  Hence, one

department of the ordinances of purification in the Levi-

tical part of the Law.  But even when it has become

pure, it still cannot approach Jehovah in any manner it

may please, but only as He orders and appoints.  It will

not, in spite of all purifications, be so pure, as that it

could venture to approach immediately to the Lord.  The

glory of the Lord enthroned above the cherubim would

consume the impure.  Therefore must Israel come near

to the Lord through priests whom He has Himself

chosen; and still not personally, but by means of the

gifts which ascend in the fire and rise into Jehovah’s

presence, nor even so without the offerer having been

first covered from the fiery glance of the Holy One

through the blood of His victim.  This is the second part

of the Levitical law.’1

It would be impossible here, and, besides, is not required

for the purpose we have more immediately in view, to

go into all the details which belong to a complete and


1 In nothing is the imperfect and temporary nature of the Levitical

economy more distinctly marked than in the appointment of a separate priest-

hood, which was rather necessitated by circumstances, and superinduced upon

the original constitution of the Theocracy, than properly germane to its spirit.

The priestly institution sprang out of the weaknesses and defections of the

time (Ex. xix. 21-24, xxxii.; Lev. xvi; Num. xvi., etc.), hence was destined

to pass away when a higher spiritual elevation was reached by the people of

God.  And this (as justly remarked by Ewald, Vol. II. p. 185) ‘is the finest

characteristic of the Old Testament, that even when its original elevated truths

suffer through the violence of the times, it still always gives us to recognise the

original necessary thought, just because in this community itself the consciousness

of it could never be wholly lost.  At the last, there still stands prominently out,

here and alone; the great gospel of Ex. xix. 5, which was there before any kind

of hereditary priesthood, and continues after it, however firmly such a priest-

hood had for long ages rooted itself; and even while it stood, the circumstance

that this priesthood had always to tolerate by its side the freest prophetic

function, prevented it from becoming altogether like an Egyptian or a

Brahminical one.’

LECT. IV.]    THE CEREMONIAL LAW.             139


exhaustive treatment of the subject.  It will be enough

to indicate the leading points relating to it.  There is,

then, first of all, in the Levitical code, a teaching element,

which leans upon and confirms that of the Decalogue.

The grand lesson which it proclaimed through a multitude

of rites, and ordinances was, the pure, the good have access

to God’s fellowship and blessing; the unholy, the wicked

are excluded.  But who constitute the one class, and who

the other?  Here the Levitical code may be said to be

silent—excepting in so far as certain natural and outward

things were ingrafted into it as symbols of what, in the

spiritual sphere, is good or evil.  But for the things

themselves which properly are such, it was necessary to

look to the character of God, the Head of the Theocracy,

and as such the type of all who belonged to it—to His

character especially as revealed in that law of moral duty,

which He took for the foundation of His throne and the

centre of His government in Israel.  There the great land-

marks of right and wrong, of holy and unholy in God’s

sight, were set up; and in the Levitical code they are

presupposed, and men’s attention called to them, by its

manifold prescriptions concerning clean and unclean,

defilement and purification.  Thus, its divers washings

and ever-recurring atonements by blood bespoke existing

impurities, which were such because they were at vari-

ance with the law of righteousness imposed in the Deca-

logue.  The Decalogue had pointed, by the predominantly

negative form of its precepts, to the prevailing tendency

in human nature to sin; and in like manner the Levitical

code, by making everything that directly bore on genera-

tion and birth a source of uncleanness, perpetually re-

iterated in men’s ears the lesson, that corruption cleaved

to them, that they were conceived in sin and brought

forth in iniquity.  The very institution of a separate

140            THE REVELATION OF LAW.         [LECT. IV.


order for immediate approach to God, and performing, in

behalf of the community, the more sacred offices of religion,

was, as already noticed, a visible sign of actual short-

comings and transgressions among the people: it was a

standing testimony, that they were not holy after the

lofty pattern of holiness exhibited in the law of Jehovah’s

throne.  The distinction, also, between clean and unclean

in food, while it deprived them of nothing that was

required either to gratify the taste or minister nourish-

ment to the bodily life—granted them, indeed, what was

best adapted for both—yet served as a daily monitor in

respect to the spiritual dangers that encompassed them,

and of the necessity of exercising themselves to a careful

choosing between one class of things and another, re-

minded them of a good that was to be followed, and of

an evil to be shunned.  And then there is a whole series

of defilements springing from contact with what is

emphatically the wages of sin—death, or death’s livid

image, the leprosy, which, wherever it alighted, struck a

fatal blight into the organism of nature, and rendered it a

certain prey to corruption:—things, the very sight and

touch of which formed a call to humiliation, because

carrying with them the mournful evidence, that, while

sojourners with God, men still found themselves in the

region of corruption and death, not in that brighter and

purer region, where life, the life that is incorruptible and

full of glory, for ever dwells.1


1 The passages bearing on the particular subjects adverted to in the text are

contained chiefly in Lev. x.-xv., Numb. xix.  For detailed explanations respect-

ing them, and the specific import of each as briefly indicated in the preceding

remarks, see my ‘Typology,’ B. III. c. 8.  Though some of the ordinances

may now seem, in their didactic aspect, to be somewhat arbitrary, it would be

quite otherwise for those who were accustomed to symbolical institutions; if

sincere and earnest, they would readily pass from the natural to the spiritual,

and would find in them all the lesson expressed in regard to the class first

mentioned (Lev. xi. 44), that they should be holy as God Himself was holy.

LECT. IV.]         THE CEREMONIAL LAW.               141


Viewed in this light, the law of fleshly ordinances was

a great teaching institute—not by itself, but when taken

 (according to its true intent) as an auxiliary to the law

of the two tables.  Isolated from these, and placed in an

independent position, as having an end of its own to

reach, its teaching would have been at variance with the

truth of things; for it would have led men to make

account of mere outward distinctions, and rest in corporeal

observances.  In such a case it would have been the

antithesis rather than the complement of the law from

Sinai, which gave to the moral element the supreme

place: alike in God’s character, and in the homage and

obedience he requires of His people.  But, kept in its

proper relation to that law, the Levitical code was for the

members of the old covenant an important means of

instruction; it plied them with warnings and admonitions

respecting sin, as bringing defilement in the sight of God,

and thereby excluding from His fellowship.  That such,

however, was the real design of this class of Levitical

ordinances—that they had merely a subsidiary aim, and

derived all their importance and value from the connexion

in which they stood with the moral precepts of the Deca-

logue—is evident from other considerations than those

furnished by their own nature and their place in the

Mosaic legislation.  It is evident, first, from this, that

whenever the special judgments of Heaven were denounced

against the covenant people, it never was for neglect

of those ceremonial observances, but always for palpable

breaches of the precepts of the Decalogue;l evident,

again, from this, that whenever the indispensable condi-

tions of access to God’s house and abiding fellowship

with His love are set forth, they are made to turn on


1 Jer. vii. 22-31; Ezek. viii., xviii. 1-13; Hosea iv. 1-3; Amos ii. 4-9;

Micah v., vi.

142          THE REVELATION OF LAW.          [LECT. IV.


conformity to the moral precepts, not to the ceremonial

observances;l evident, yet again and finally, from this,

that whenever the ceremonial observances were put in the

foreground by the people, as things distinct from, and in

lieu of, obedience to the moral precepts, the procedure

was denounced as arbitrary, and the service rejected as a


Beside the teaching element, however, which belonged

to the Levitical institutions, there was another and still

more important one, which we may call their mediating

design.  Here also they stood in a kind of supplementary

relation to the law of the ten commandments, but a rela-

tion which implied something more than a simple re-

echoing of their testimony respecting holiness and sin—

something, indeed, essentially different.  For that law,

in revealing the righteous demands of God, from its very

nature could make no allowance or provision for the sins

and shortcomings by which those demands were dis-

honoured; it could but threaten condemnation, and, with

its cry of guilt under the throne of God, terrify from His

presence those who might venture to approach.  But the

Levitical code, with its mediating priesthood, its rites of

expiation, and ordinances of cleansing; had for its very

object the effecting of a restored communion with God for

those who through sin had forfeited their right to it.

While it by no means ignored the reality or the guilt of

sin—nay, assumed this as the very ground on which it

rested, and so far coincided with the Decalogue—it, at the

same time, secured for those who acknowledged their sin

and humbled themselves on account of it, a way of recon-

ciliation and peace with God.  The more special means

for effecting this was through sacrifice—the blood of slain


1 Ps. xv., xxiv., 1., etc.

2 1 Sam. xv. 22; Ps. xl. 7, li.; Isa. i. 2; Micah vi. 8.

LECT. IV.]         THE CEREMONIAL LAW.           143


victims—the life-blood of an irrational creature, itself un-

conscious of sin, being accepted by God in His character

of Redeemer for the life of the sinner.  A mode of satis-

faction no doubt in itself unsatisfactory, since there was

no just correspondence between the merely sensuous life

of an unthinking animal and the higher life of a rational

and responsible being; in the strict reckoning of justice

the one could form no adequate compensation for the

other.  But in this respect it was not singular; it was

part of a scheme of things which bore throughout the

marks of relative imperfection.  The sanctuary itself,

which was of narrow dimensions and composed of earthly

and perishable materials, how poor a representation was

it of the dwelling-place of Him who fills heaven and earth

with His presence!  And the occasional access of a few

ministering priests into the courts of that worldly sanc-

tuary—an access into its inmost receptacle by one person

only, and by him only once a year—how imperfect an

image of the believer’s freedom of intercourse with God,

and habitual consciousness of His favour and blessing!

Such things might be said to lie upon the surface, and

could not fail, as we shall see, to give a specific direction

to the minds of the more thoughtful and spiritual wor-

shippers.  But there still was, in the structure of the

tabernacle, and the regulated services of its worship,

provisional arrangement of Divine ordination by which

transgressors, otherwise excluded, might obtain the forgive-

ness of their sins, and enjoy the blessings of communion

with Heaven.  Through this appointed channel God did

in very deed dwell with men on earth; and men, who

would have been repelled with terror by His fiery law,

could come nigh to His seat, and in spirit dwell as in the

secret of His presence.1


1 For the specific ordinances, I must again refer to my ‘Typology,’ Vol. II.

144         THE REVELATI N OF LAW.     [LECT. IV.


One can easily see, however, that the very impeifec-

tions attendant on this state of things required that its

working be very carefully guarded.  Definite checks and

limits must be set to the possibility of obtaining the

blessings of forgiveness.  For, had an indefinite liberty

been given to make propitiation for sin, and to wash

away the stains of its defilement, how certainly would it

have degenerated into a corrupt and dangerous license!

The Levitical code would have become the foster-mother

of iniquity.  The ready access it gave to the means of

purification would have encouraged men to proceed on

their evil courses, assured that if they should add sin to

sin they might also bring victim after victim to expiate

their guilt.  Therefore, the right and privilege of expia-

tion were limited to sins of infirmity, or such as spring

from the weakness and imperfection of nature in a world

abounding with temptation; while sins committed with

a high hand, that is, in open and deliberate violation of

the great precepts of the Decalogue, were appointed only

to judgment, as subversive of the very ends of the Theo-

cracy.1  So that here, again, the Levitical code of ordi-

nances leant on the fundamental law of the Decalogue,

and did obeisance to its supreme authority.  Only they

who devoutly recognised this law, and in their conscience

strove to walk according to its precepts, had any title to

an interest in the provisions sanctioned for the blotting

out of transgression.  Then, as now, ‘to walk in dark-

ness,’ or persistently adhere to the practice of iniquity,

was utterly incompatible with having fellowship with


One thing further requires to be noted respecting the

Levitical institutions, which is, that while under one

aspect they constituted the rights and privileges of the


1 Lev. iv. 2; Num. xv. 22-30.                2 1 John i. 6.

LECT. IV.]       THE CEREMONIAL LAW.           145


Israelite, under another they added to his obligations of

duty.  They took the form of law, as well as the Deca-

logue, and, wilful violators of its, prescriptions, were not

less amenable to justice than those who were guilty of

gross immorality.1  And the reason is obvious: for these

Levitical ordinances of purification bore on them the autho-

rity of God as well as those which related to the strictly

moral sphere, and to set them at nought was to dishonour

God; it was also to make light of the means He had

appointed—the only available means—of having the guilt

of transgression covered, which therefore remained umor-

given, yea aggravated, by the despite that was done to the

riches of God’s mercy.  Yet, practically, the difficulty and

the danger did not lie much in this particular direction.

Though guilt was no doubt frequently incurred by neglect-

ing the provisions and requirements of the Levitical code,

yet this was sure to be preceded and accompanied by the

far greater guilt of violating the fundamental precepts of

the Decalogue.  And, hence, it was always guilt of this

latter description which drew down the heaviest judgments.

If anything, indeed, has more clearly discovered itself

than another, from the whole of this investigation, it is

the fundamental character of the Decalogue—its pre-

eminent and singular place in the Revelation of Law.

This was itself emphatically the law; and all, besides,

which bore that name was but of secondary rank, and

derived its proper value and significance from the relation

in which it stood to the other.  Hence, the prominent

regard, as in due time will appear, which, in the use of

the term Law by our Lord and His apostles, was had to

the moral precepts of the Decalogue.  Hence, also, the

groundlessness of the statement, which has been often

made by modern writers, that the distinction, with which


1 Lev. vii. 20, xvii. 4, 14; Num. ix. 13.

146          THE REVELATION OF LAW.         [LECT. IV.


we are so familiar, between moral and ceremonial, was not

so sharply drawn in the Books of Moses, and that pre-

cepts of both kinds are there often thrown together, as

if, in Jewish apprehension, no very material difference

existed between them.  It is easy to pick out a few

quotations which give a plausible support to such a view.

But a careful examination of the subject as a whole, and

of the relation in which one part stands to another, yields

a quite different result.  And Mr Maurice does not put

it too strongly when he says, ‘The distinction between

these commandments and the mere statutes of the Jewish

people has strongly commended itself to the conscience of

modern nations, not because they have denied the latter

to have a divine origin, but because they have felt that

the same wisdom which adapted a certain class of com-

mands to the peculiarities of one locality and age, must

intend a different one for another.  The ten command-

ments have no such limitation.  .  .  .  All the sub-

sequent legislation, though referred to the same authority,

is separated from these.  All the subsequent history was

a witness to the Jew, that in the setting up of any god

besides the Unseen Deliverer; in the fancy that there

could be any likeness of Him in heaven above, or in the

earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth; in the

loss of awe for His name; in the loss of the distinction

between work and rest as the ground of man’s life, and

as having its archetype in the Divine Being, and as

worked by Him into the tissue of the existence of His

own people; in the loss of reverence for parents, for life,

for marriage, for property, for character; and in the

covetous feeling which is at the root of these evils, lay

the sources of political disunion, and the loss of all per-

sonal dignity and manliness.”1


1 ‘Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy,’ p. 13.

















HAVING now considered the nature of the Law as

revealed from Sinai, and the relation in which both

the judicial statutes and the Levitical ordinances stood

to it, our next line of investigation naturally turns on

Israel’s position under it; in which respect such ques-

tions as these press themselves on our regard: How did

the being placed under the covenant of law of itself tend

to affect the real well-being of Israel as a people?  or

their representative character as the seed of blessing, the

types of a redeemed church?  How far did the proper

effects of the covenant realize themselves in their history,

or others not proper—the result of their own neglect and

waywardness—come in their stead?  And did the cove-

nant, in consequence of the things, whether of the one

sort or the other, which transpired during its continuance,

undergo any material alterations, or remain essentially

the same till the bringing in of the new covenant by the

mission and work of Christ?

1.  In entering upon the line of thought to which such

questions point, we are struck at the outset with a some-

what remarkable diversity in the representations of Scrip-


148             THE REVELATION OF LAW     [LECT. V.


ture itself respecting the natural tendency and bearing

of the law on those who were subject to it.  Coming

expressly from Jehovah in the character of Israel’s

Redeemer, it cannot be contemplated otherwise than as

carrying a benign aspect, and aiming at happy results.

Moses extolled the condition of Israel as on this very

account surpassing that of all other people: ‘What

nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto

them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call

upon him for?  And what nation is there so great, that

hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law,

which I set before you this day.’1  The very last recorded

utterance of the legislator was a rapturous exclamation

over Israel’s now enviable condition and joyful prospects:

‘Happy art thou, O Israel; who is like unto thee, O

people saved by the Lord!’2  And the sentiment is

re-echoed under various forms in other parts of ancient

Scripture, especially in the Psalms.  Among the great

acts of mercy and loving-kindness for which the Lord is

praised in Ps. ciii., is the fact that ‘He made known His

ways unto Moses, His acts unto the children of Israel;’

or, as it is put in another Psalm, ‘He shewed His sta-

tutes and His judgments to Israel; He hath not dealt

so with any nation.’3  And then the law itself, and the

blessedness arising from a just acquaintance with its

precepts, are celebrated in the very strongest terms: ‘The

law of the Lord is perfect, converting (quickening) the

soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the

simple: the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the

heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlighten-

ing the eyes.’4 ‘O how I love thy law!  it is my medita-

tion all the day.’  ‘I will never forget thy precepts, for


1 Deut. iv. 7, 8,                                     2 Deut. xxxiii. 29.

3 Ps. cx1vii. 19, 20.                              4 Ps. xix. 7, 8.



with them thou hast quickened me;’ and, generally,

‘Great peace have they who love thy law, and nothing

shall offend them.’1  But another set of passages appear

to point in the very opposite direction; they represent

the law as a source of terror or trouble—a bondage from

which it is true liberty to escape: ‘The law worketh

wrath;’ ‘by the law is the knowledge of sin;’ ‘the

strength of sin is the law;’ and referring distinctly to the

law in the stricter sense—as indeed these other passages

also do—the law engraven in stones—the apostle desig-

nates it ‘the ministration of condemnation and of death.’2

It is clear, on a moment’s reflection, that such diverse,

antagonistic representations could not have been given of

the law in the same respects, or with the same regard to

its direct and primary aim.  If both alike were true—as

we cannot doubt they were, being alike found in the

volume of inspiration—it must be from the law having

been contemplated in one of them from a different point

of view, or with regard to different uses and applications

of it from what it was in the other.  At present, as we

have to do with the place of the law in the Old Testa-

ment economy, it is more especially the happier class of

representations which come into consideration; they may

fitly, at least, be viewed as occupying the foreground,

while the others may come into particular notice after-


2. Now, the view which we have seen reason to take

of the nature of the law as revealed through Moses, will

render it unnecessary to do more than make a passing refer-

ence to such modes of explanation as would resolve every-

thing in the covenant with Israel into merely outward

and carnal elements—would make the law, as delivered


1 Ps. cxix. 93, 97, 165.

2 Ro. iii 20, iv. 15; 1 Cor. xv. 56; 2 Cor. iii 7,9; Gal iv. 1-3, v. 1-3.

150        THE REVELATION OF LAW.          [LECT. V.


to them at Sinai, a comparatively easy and lightsome

thing—satisfied if it could but secure outward wor-

shippers of Jehovah, and respectable citizens of the

commonwealth.  The law, we are told by writers of this

class, was one that dealt only ‘in negative measures:’

‘the precepts were negative that the obedience might be

the more possible;’ and he was ‘the good man who

could not be excused to have done what the law forbade,

he who had done the fewest evils.’  So Jeremy Taylor,l

and at more length Spencer, in his learned work on the

Laws of the Hebrews, who endeavoured to shew that the

one great end of the Decalogue, as well as of the cere-

monial law, was to extirpate idolatry, and the fruits that

more immediately spring from it.2  Warburton improved

on it a little, by turning the negative respecting idolatry

into a positive respecting God; but that was all.  The

primary end of the law (moral and ceremonial alike) accord-

ing to him was, ‘not to keep the Israelites from idolatry,’

but ‘to preserve the memory of the one God in an idola-

trous world till the coming of Christ,’3—a distinction,

one might almost say, without a difference, and of use

only as a polemical weapon in the hands of its author.

Michaelis followed in the same track, and could find

nothing in the first part of the Decalogue but a provision

for the acknowledgment and worship of one God, in

opposition to the idolatries of heathenism, nor in the

second—not even as condensed into the positive form of

love to one’s neighbour as one’s-self—but a dry injunction

to have respect to one another’s civil rights.4  And to

mention no more (though many more might be noticed),

we meet, in a comparatively late work, with such asser-

tions as the following respecting the Old Covenant, which


1 ‘On Conscience,’ B. II. C. 2, sec. 4; c. 3, sec. 2.        2 L. I. c. 2.

3 ‘Leg. of Moses,’ B. V. sec. 2.            4 ‘Laws of Moses,’ secs. 34, 72.






had the law of the two tables for its basis, that ‘it had

nothing whatever to do with any, except with the nation

of Israel, and nothing whatever with any mere individual

in that nation; that it was made with the nation collec-

tively, and was entirely temporal;’ that its whole sub-

stance lay in this, God promised to give the land of

Canaan to the nation of Israel, so long, but ‘only so long,

as the nation collectively acknowledged Jehovah as the

one God.’  Hence the holiness required was quite irre-

spective of individual righteousness;’ Israel was still the

holy nation, whatever sins might be harboured in its

bosom, so long as it did not cease from the formal recog-

nition and worship of Jehovah.l

We appeal from all such representations to the plain

reading of the law itself (as we have endeavoured to give

it), looked at, as it should be, in its historical connection

and its general bearings.  The blinding influence of theory

will obscure even the clearest light; but it is scarcely

possible that any unbiassed mind should apply itself

earnestly to the subject, and take up with so partial and

meagre a view of what, not in one place merely, but in

all Scripture, is made known to us as distinctively God’s

revelation of law to men.  The immediate circumstances

that led to it—the special acts and announcements which

might be said to form its historical introduction, are alone

sufficient to compel a higher estimate of the revelation.

The people had just been rescued, it was declared, from

Egypt, had been borne by God on eagles’ wings, and

brought to Himself—for what?  Not simply that they

might acknowledge His existence, or preserve His me-

mory, in the face of surrounding idolatry, but that they

might ‘obey His voice and keep His covenant,’ and so

be to Him ‘a kingdom of priests and an holy nation.’2


1 Johnstone’s ‘Israel after the Flesh,’ pp. 7, 87.             2 Ex. xix. 4-6.

152          THE REVELATION OF LAW.      [LECT. V.


Peculiar nearness to God in position, and, as the proper

consequence and result of that, knowing and reflecting

His character, entering into His mind and will, striving

to be holy as He is holy—this was the end to which all

was directed—the purpose, also, for which they stood

before God as a separate people, and were gathered around

Sinai to hear the law from His mouth:—And if that law

had been aught else than a real disclosure of the mind of

God as to what he demands of His people toward Him-

self and toward each other in the vital interests of truth

and righteousness, it had been (we need not hesitate to

say it) beneath the occasion; failing, as it should have

done, to present the proper ideal, which it was Israel’s

calling to endeavour constantly to have realized.  The

formal acknowledgment, forsooth, of Jehovah as the

one true God, and paying due respect to one another’s

civil rights!  And that, too, chiefly in the general,

without any distinct bond of obligation on the individual

conscience, quite irrespective of personal righteousness!

Was this a thing so important in itself, so well-pleasing

in the eyes of the pure and heart-searching Jehovah, that

the law requiring it should have been laid as the very

foundation of His throne in Israel, and that the period of

its promulgation should have formed a marked era in the

history of His dispensations among men?  The thought

is not for a moment to be entertained.  The eternal God

could not so abnegate or demean Himself—no more for

any temporal purpose than for one directly bearing on

the interests of eternity; for in such a matter nothing is

determined by the mere element of duration.  He could

not, in consistence with His own unchangeable character,

either ask or accept what should be other than a fit

expression of the homage that is supremely due to Him,

and the love that willingly yields itself to His require-


ments.l  This, also, is what a fair examination of the law

itself has impressed upon our minds.

Were it necessary to say more, we might add, that

there is a conclusive historical reason against the view of

the law, and the polity founded on it, to which we have

been adverting.  According to it, the religion of the Old

Covenant had been nothing more than a kind of bald

theism, adapted to the circumstances of the time—a sort

of natural religion, enshrined amid a cumbrous framework

of ordinances and political regulations, which partly

humoured the semi-heathenish state of the people, and

partly kept them off from the more flagrant pagan cor-

ruptions.  Had that, however, been all, the Jews of our

Lord’s time should have been presented to our view as

the best exemplars and most satisfactory results of the

Sinaitic covenant.  For in what age of its continuance

was the doctrine of the unity more strictly adhered to?

or when were the institutions connected with it more

generally and punctually observed?  It will not do to

say, by way of explanation, that in rejecting Jesus they

set themselves against the very Head of the Theocracy,

and so ran counter to its primary design; for it was not

in that character that He formally appeared and claimed

the homage of men, but rather as Himself the living

embodiment of its great principles, the culmination of its

spiritual aims.  It was the practical oversight of these

which constituted the fatal error of those later Jews; and


1 ‘To know and to serve God, that is religion, whether it be with a view to

the present life or to the next, and whatever inducements or encouragements

He may choose to supply.  The greatest rewards of endless felicity sought, or

expected, in any other service than His, cannot consecrate that service, nor make

it a part of essential religion.  In every original right of moral authority, the

essence of the obligation, and the virtue of compliance with it, are independent

of the kind, or the degree, of the retribution annexed.’—Davison ‘On Prophecy,’

Dis. IV.

154        THE REVELATION OF LAW.        [LECT. V.


the theoretical oversight of the same, in any view that

may be taken of the covenant of law under which they

were placed, must be equally fatal to its acceptance.

2. Belonging almost to the opposite pole of theological

sentiment, writers of the Cocceian school have sometimes

gone to a different extreme, and have given, if not a false,

yet an artificial and perplexing, rather than a plain and

Scriptural view of Israel’s position under the law. They

were themselves embarrassed by the habit of ranging

everything pertaining to covenant engagements under

one of two heads—the covenant of works, and the cove-

nant of grace.  They differ, however, to some extent in

their mode of representation—all, indeed, holding that

the ten commandments, in which the covenant of law

more peculiarly stood, was for substance the same with

the covenant of works; in other words, embodied that

perfect rule of rectitude, on conformity to which hung

man’s original possession of life and blessing; but differ-

ing as to the precise form or aspect under which they

supposed this rule of rectitude to have been presented to

Israel in the Sinaitic covenant.  Cocceius himself, in his

mode of representation, did not differ materially from

the view of Calvin, and that generally of the Reformed

theologians.  He held that the Decalogue was not for-

mally proposed to the Israelites as the covenant of works;

that it proceeded from Jehovah as the God and Redeemer

of Israel, implying that He had entered with them into a

covenant of grace; that the covenant of law was given to

subserve that covenant of grace, pointing out and enjoining

what was necessary to be done, in order that the children

of the covenant might see how they should live, if they

were to enjoy its blessings—precisely as the evangelical

precepts and exhortations in the New Testament do in

subservience to the Gospel.  Its language, he thinks,



was not, I demand that you do these precepts, and so live

(this had been to mock men with impossibilities); but, I

have called you to life, and now, laying aside fear, come

and hear my voice.1  Indeed, one might say Cocceius

leant rather too much to the assimilation of the law to

the form of things in the New Testament Scriptures.

Witsius, the more systematic expounder of the Cocceian

theology, discriminates more exactly; he finds in the

precepts of the Decalogue the moral elements of the

covenant of works, and in the terror and majesty with

which they were delivered, a sort of reduplication (ingemi-

nationem) of the covenant of works; but still they were

not proposed in the character of that covenant, as if

through obedience to its precepts the people were to

attain to life; they only assumed somewhat of the appear-

ance of the covenant of works to convince the people of

their sinfulness, and drive them out of themselves to look

for the hope of salvation in Christ.  But with all this it

in reality assumed and was founded upon the covenant

of grace already made with Israel—Israel, as partakers in

such a covenant of grace, promising to God a sincere

observance of the precepts imposed, and God in turn

promising to accept and bless such observance, though in

itself imperfect.2  A different view, however, came to


1 Animad. de Vet. Test. Quaest. 33; also De Foed., chap. xi. 49-58.

2 De Œcon. Foederum, Lib. IV. chap. iv. secs. 47-54.  It is astonishing how

Mr Johnstone, if he really had the entire work of Witsius in his hands, could

have so grossly misrepresented his views on this subject.  He says, p. 3, ‘It is

the usual, but an utterly unfounded conception of the old covenant, that “it

points out the way in which, by means of works, salvation is obtained;” that

“the form of this covenant is, The man which doeth these things shall live by

them, and that in it there is a promise of eternal life, consisting in the imme-

diate fruition of God.”  I do not hesitate to say, that there is not the shadow

of an authority for this all but universal view of the old covenant.’  The

authority referred to, and briefly quoted, for this sweeping declaration, is

Witsius, De Œcon. Foederum, Lib. I. chap. i. sec. 15.  But there Witsius is

treating, not of the old covenant properly so called, but of the covenants

156             THE REVELATION OF LAW.      [LECT. V.


prevail pretty generally among the English Puritans, who

generally belonged to the Cocceian school, and found its

expression in a book which attained to great popularity,

and became the occasion of a prolonged controversy—

Fisher’s ‘Marrow of Modern Divinity.’  Here it is broadly

asserted, and at some length maintained, that the ten

commandments were formally delivered on Mount Sinai

as the covenant of works, or as a renewal of the Adamic

covenant—not, however, as if the Israelites were expected

to fulfil it, and justify themselves by deeds of law—but

for this, and no other end, ‘that man being thereby con-

vinced of his weakness, might flee to Christ.  So that it

was renewed only to help forward and introduce another

and a better covenant.’1  And various authors are referred

to as having previously adopted the same style of repre-

sentation (in particular Preston, Pemble, Walker).  Boston,

who was a more correct theologian, and a more discrimi-

nating writer, than the author of the ‘Marrow,’ in his

notes to that work admits that the view in question was

held by ‘some late learned writers,’ but gave it only a

qualified approval.  He conceives that both covenants

were delivered on Mount Sinai to the Israelites: ‘First,

the covenant of grace made with Abraham, contained in

the preface, repeated and promulgated there to Israel, to

be believed and embraced by faith, that they might be

saved; to which were annexed the ten commandments,

given by the Mediator Christ, the head of the covenant,

as a rule of life to His covenant people.  Secondly, the


abstractly—namely, of works and grace.  It is at a much later part of his

treatise that he comes to discuss the old covenant, or covenant of law, and

which, as we have said, he holds to have been neither formally a covenant of

works nor a covenant of grace.  As for the assertion that the view ascribed to

Witsius is nearly universal, we can only designate it as for present times a

great exaggeration.

1 Part I. chap. ii.



covenant of works made with Adam contained in the

same ten commands, delivered with thunderings and

lightnings, the meaning of which was afterwards cleared

by Moses describing the righteousness of the law and the

sanction thereof, as the original perfect rule of righteous-

ness to be obeyed; and yet they were no more bound

thereby to seek righteousness by the law than the young

man was by our Saviour’s saying to him, If thou wilt

enter into life, keep the commandments.’  Thus, he adds,

‘there is no confounding of the two covenants of grace

and works.’1

I fear, in saying this, the good man forgot at what

period it was in the Divine dispensations that the law

was given from Sinai.  It was still the comparatively dim

twilight of revelation, when the plan of God could be

seen only in a few broken lines and provisional arrange-

ments, which tended to veil, even while they disclosed

the truth.  The men of that age could not so easily dis-

tinguish between the two aspects of law here presented,

even if they had got some hint of the diversity; but, as

matters actually stood, it could scarcely be said, that the

two were ever distinctly before them.  No one can read


1 Substantially the same representation is given by Colquhoun, ‘Law and

Grace,’ chap. I. sec. 2; Beart’s ‘Eternal Law and Everlasting Gospel;’ and, to name

no more, in the work of the late Dr R. Gordon, ‘Christ in the Old Testament,’

Vol. I. p. 385, seq.  It is there said, ‘The giving of the law was thus a new

exhibition of the covenant of works—a declaration of what was necessarily

incumbent on men, if they expected to secure for themselves the favour and

fellowship of God;’ while, shortly after, it is denied that ‘the law was pre-

scribed to Israel as the covenant of works, so as that their acceptance with God

absolutely depended on their fulfilling the condition of that covenant.’  This

ground of acceptance is referred to the previous exhibition of grace and mercy.

What we except to in such a statement is, that it is fitted to create confusion, to

embarrass and perplex people’s minds.  It was adopted by the writers in ques-

tion very much from the view they took of the passages, Rom. x. 5, Gal. iii. 12,

where the righteousness of works is described in language derived from the

writings of Moses.  But see the exposition on Rom. x. 5, in Supplement.

158            THE REVELATION OF LAW.          [LECT. V.


the history of the transaction without being convinced,

that in whatever character the law was declared to the

Israelites and established with them as a covenant,

carried with it the bond of a sacred obligation which they

were to strive to make good; and of any other meaning

or design, either on God’s part in imposing, or on their

part in accepting the obligation, the narrative is entirely


3. But a class—one can scarcely say of theologians (for

the name would be misapplied to persons who in most

things make so complete a travesty of Scripture )—a class,

however, of very dogmatic writers (the Plymouthists) have

recently pushed to its full extreme the view of the law

just stated as the covenant of works—not, like the later

Cocceians, as a kind of side view or secondary aspect

which might also be taken of it, but as its direct, formal,

and only proper character.  ‘Law,’ we are told by one of

them, ‘was a distinct and definite dispensation of God,

according to which life was promised consequent on obedi-

ence, and had its whole nature from this, a righteousness

characterized by this principle: obedience first, then life

therein, righteousness.’l  This is given as the import of

‘the reasoning of the apostles’ on the subject; and

another of the party, in his ‘Notes on Exodus,’ interprets

the narrative respecting the giving of the law so as to

make it tell in support of the same view.  When God,

in the nineteenth chapter of Exodus, delivered to Moses

on the mount the tender and touching address, in which

He related what He had done for the people, what He

now called them to be in honour and blessing, and how,

in order to maintain and enjoy this, they must be ready

to obey His voice and keep His covenant; and when

Moses, after hearing the words, went at God's bidding and


1 Darby ‘On the Law,’ p. 22.



reported them to the people, and received for answer,

‘All that the Lord hath spoken we will do’—this, we

are told, was a virtual renunciation, on the part of Israel,

of their blessed position: ‘instead of rejoicing in God’s

holy promise, they undertook the most presumptuous vow

that mortal lips could utter.  Nor was this the language

of a few vain, self-confident spirits, who presumed to

single themselves out from the whole congregation.  No,

“All the people answered together, and said, All that

the Lord hath spoken we will do.”’1  And then we are

informed, that because of this proud and presumptuous

spirit, the Lord immediately gave ‘a total alteration to

the aspect of things:’ He wrapt Himself up in the cloud

of thick darkness, assumed an appearance of terrible

majesty, and issued that fiery law, the object of which

was to shew them how incompetent they were to fulfil

what they had undertaken, to reveal what on their own

assumption they ought to be, and place them under the

curse for not being it.

If this were the correct reading of the matter, why, we

naturally ask, should God Himself have taken the initia-

tive in this so-called abandonment of the covenant of pro-

mise?  for it was He who sent Moses to the people with

the words, which manifestly sought to evoke an affirma-

tive reply.  Why, after such a reply was returned, did it

call forth no formal rebuke, if so be it displayed an in-

tolerable arrogancy and presumption?  and the reason,

the only reason, assigned for the Lord’s declared intention

to appear presently in a thick cloud, why should this

have been simply that the people might hear His voice,

and believe Moses for ever?2  Why, also, at the rehearsal

of the transactions in the book of Deuteronomy, did God

say, ‘The people had well said all they had spoken,’ and


1 ‘Notes on Exodus,’ by A. M., p. 232.            2 Ex. xix. 9.

160                     THE REVELATION OF LAW.           [LECT. V.


only further breathed the wish, ‘O that there were such

an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all

my commandments always, that it might be well with

them and with their children for ever?’1  Why, above all, if

the case were as now represented, should the formalities of

a covenant transaction have been gone through in the name

of God over the words uttered by Him and responded

to by the people—based, as it must in that case have

been, on what were known on the one side to be impos-

sible conditions, and on the other palpable delusions and

lies?  And why, after all, should Israel not the less, but

the more rather, have been pronounced most exalted in

privilege, peculiarly destined to honour and blessing?2

Nothing, surely, can be more fitted to shake our confi-

dence in the transparent simplicity and faithfulness of

God’s recorded dealings with men, than to be taught, as

by a look from behind the scenes, that what wears the

aspect of a solemn transaction, was in reality but a formal

display or an empty mockery.  And such, beyond all

reasonable doubt, would be the effect with the great

majority of minds, if the mode of representation before

us should come to be accepted as valid.

4. But it rests upon no solid ground, and has more the

character of an interpolation thrust into the sacred record

than a fair and natural interpretation of its contents.

The revelation of law from Sinai did not come forth in

independence, as if it were to lay the foundation of some-

thing altogether new in men’s experience; nor did it

proceed from God in His character as the God of nature,

exercising His right to impose commands of service on the

consciences of His creatures, which with no other helps

and endowments than those of nature, they were required

with unfailing rectitude to fulfil;—not, therefore, when


1 Deut. v. 28, 29.                      2 Ex. xxiii. 27-29; Deut. vi. xxxiii.



when made to take the form of a covenant, was it

the view of exacting what must be given as the prior

indispensable conditions of life and joy?  No, the history

of Israel knows nothing of law except in connection with

promise and blessing.1  It was as the Redeemer of Israel

that God spake the words—as in a special sense Israel’s

God (‘I am Jehovah thy God’)—a relation which, we

have our Lord’s explicit testimony for asserting, carries

in its bosom the dowry of life eternal;2 so that grace

here also took precedence of law, life of righteousness;

and the covenant of law, assuming and rooting itself in

the prior covenant of grace, only came to shut the heirs

of promise up to that course of dutiful obedience toward

God, and brotherly kindness toward each other, by which

alone they could accomplish the higher ends of their call-

ing.  In form merely was there anything new in this, not

in principle.  For what else was involved in the command

given to Abraham, at the establishment of the covenant of

promise, to have it sealed with the ordinance of circum-

cision—the symbol of a sanctified nature and a holy life?

Nay, even before that, the same thing in effect was done,

when the Lord appeared to Abraham and said, ‘I am the

Almighty God, walk before me and be thou perfect,’3—a

word which (as Cocceius justly observes)4 was comprehen-

sive of all true service and righteous behaviour.  But an

advance was made by the entrance of the law over such

preceding calls and appointments, and it was this—the

obligation to rectitude of life resting upon the heirs of

promise was now thrown into a categorical and imperative

form, embracing the entire round of moral and religious

duty; yet, not that they might by the observance of this

work themselves into a blissful relation to God, but that,


1 Harless, ‘Ethik.,’ sec. 13.                   2 Luke xx. 37, 38.

3 Gen. xvii. 1.                                        4 De Foed., c. xi. sec. 338.


162           THE REVELATION OF LAW.         [LECT. V.


as already standing in such a relation, they might walk

worthy of it, and become filled with the fruits of righteous-

ness, which alone could either prove the reality of their

interest in God, or fulfil the calling they had received

from Him.

5. It is true, the people who entered into the bond of

the covenant, as thus proposed, could not of themselves

keep the precepts of the law; and the shameful back-

sliding which took place so shortly after they had for-

mally undertaken to do all that was commanded, but too

plainly shewed how little they yet understood either the

height of their obligations, or the degree of moral strength

that would be required to meet them.  It was but gra-

dually, and through a succession of painful and trying

experiences, that the truth in this respect could work

itself into their minds.  The law undoubtedly was ex-

ceeding broad.  In its matter, that is, in the reach and

compass of its requirements, it did (as the writers formerly

referred to maintained) comprise the sum of moral excel-

lence—the full measure of goodness that man as man is

bound to yield to God and his fellow-men.  It was

impossible that God, in His formal revelation of law to

His people, could propound less as the aim of their spirit-

ual endeavours; for conformity to His mind and will, to

be made holy or good after the type of that which He

Himself is, was the ultimate design contemplated in His

covenant arrangements.  But in these arrangements He

stood also pledged to His people as the author of life and

blessing; and that mercy and loving-kindness which

prompted Him so to interpose in their behalf, and which

(as if to prevent misapprehension) He embodied even in

His revelation of law, could not possibly be wanting, if

earnestly sought for the ministration of such help as

might be needed to enable them to give, though not a



faultless, yet a hearty and steadfast obedience.  Was not

the whole tabernacle service, springing from the covenant

of Sinai as its centre, and ever circling around it, a stand-

ing and palpable proof of this?  Through the rites and

ordinances of that service, access continually lay open for

them to God, as their ever-present guardian and strength;

there the incense of prayer was perpetually ascending to

draw down supplies of help on the needy: and when

consciousness of sin clouded their interest in God, and

troubled them with apprehensions of deserved wrath, there

was the blood of atonement ready to blot out their guilt,

and quicken them, under a fresh sense of forgiveness, to

run the way of God’s commandments.  Thus viewed, every

hing is in its proper place; and the covenant of law,

instead of coming to supersede the earlier covenant of

promise, was introduced merely as an handmaid to minister

to its design, and help forward the moral aims it sought

to promote.

6. If now we turn to the writings of the Old Covenant,

we shall find the evidence they furnish in perfect accord-

ance with the view just given; only, we must take it

under two divisions—the one as connected with the

sincere members of the covenant, who made an honest, a

legitimate use of the things belonging to it; the other

with such as made an illegitimate use of them, whose

hearts were not right with God, and who only incidentally,

and as it were by contraries, became witnesses to the

truth.  We shall look successively at both, considering

each under a threefold aspect—with reference to God, to

sin and holiness, and to salvation.

7. We look, then, in the first instance, to those who

may be regarded as the more proper representatives of

the Old Covenant; and to these, primarily, in respect to

what concerns their relation to God—His being and

164           THE REVELATION OF LAW.        [LECT. V.


character.  It was certainly not, as we have had occasion

already to state, the sole design of the moral law, or

even of the first table of the law, to preserve the belief

in one personal God, as opposed to the polytheism of the

ancient world; but this was, unquestionably, a very pro-

minent and fundamental part of the design.  The tendency

in those remote times was all in the opposite direction.

Polytheism, the offspring of guilt and terror, leading to

the deification and worship of the powers of nature under

the different aspects in which they present themselves to

the natural mind, set in like a mighty flood, and swept

over the earth with an all-subduing force.  The very

name of religion came to be identified, in the different

countries of the world, with the adoration of these false

gods; and as civilization and refinement advanced, it

became associated with all that was imposing in architec-

ture, beautiful in art, joyous and attractive in public life.

There was just one region of the earth, one little terri-

tory, within which for many an age this wide-wasting

moral pestilence was withstood—not even there without

sharp contendings and struggles, maintained sometimes

against fearful odds; yet the truth held its place, the

moral barrier raised in defence of it by the Decalogue

preserved the better portion of the covenant-people from

the dangers which in this respect beset them—preserved

them in the knowledge and belief of one God, as the

sovereign Lord and moral Governor of the world.  So

deeply did this great truth, from the prominence given to

it in the Old Covenant, and the awful sanctions there

thrown around it, strike its roots into the hearts and

consciences of the people, that it was not only handed

down through successive ages in the face of every adverse

influence, but made itself practically known as a principle

of commanding power and ennobling influence.  Of this



the writings of the Old Testament are a varied and pro-

longed witness.  These writings were indited by men of

very different grades of intellect and feeling, composed in

circumstances, too, and at periods, widely remote from

each other; yet they are all pervaded by one spirit; they

exhibit a profound belief in the existence of one God, as

the moral Governor of the world, and in His right—His

sole and indefeasible right—to the homage and obedience

of mn.  It is the religious view of the world, of the events

of life and the interests of mankind,—the relation in which

these severally stand to the one living God—which is con-

tinually presented in them, and stamps them with a quite

peculiar character and a permanent value.  What has

antiquity transmitted to us that in this respect may be

compared to them?  We have, doubtless, much to learn

from the literature of Greece and Rome, as regards the

history of kingdoms, the development and portraiture of

character, the arts and refinements of the natural life;

but it is to the writings which enshrined the principles

and breathed the spirit of the Divine law, that the nations

of the world are indebted for that knowledge of God,

which is the foundation at once of true religion and of

sound morality.1

Look at the matter for a moment in its concrete form.

See the mighty difference which appears between Hebrew

monotheism and the polytheism of heathendom, even in

its better phases, on that memorable occasion, in the

closing period of the old economy, when the extremes of

both might be said to meet—the one as represented by

the polished senators of Athens, the other by Paul of

Tarsus.  There cannot well be conceived a bolder, and,

morally, a more sublime attitude, than was presented by

this man of God when, addressing the supreme council


1 See Luthardt’s ‘Fundamental Truths of Christianity,’ Lecture VIII.

166            THE REVELATION OF LAW.            [LECT. V.


of the city on Mars’ hill, he assailed the idolatry of Greece

in the very metropolis of its dominion, and in the presence

of its most wonderful creations.  On that elevated plat-

form of religion and art, he had immediately in front of

him the Acropolis, adorned with an entire series of statues

and temples:—among others, the Propylaea, one of the

most expensive and beautiful works of Athenian archi-

tecture, with its temple and bronze statue of Minerva,

under the name of Niké Apteros (wingless victory); the

Erectheium, the most revered of all the sanctuaries of

Athens, containing, as it did, the most ancient statue of

their patron goddess, which was supposed to have fallen

down from heaven, and the sacred olive tree which she

was believed to have called forth from the earth in her

contest with Neptune for the guardianship of the city;

and, towering above all, the Parthenon, the most perfect

structure of ancient heathendom, with its gold and ivory

statue of Minerva, the masterpiece of Phidias; and sculp-

tures besides of such exquisite workmanship, that the

mutilated remains of them have been the admiration of

the world, and, when made accessible in recent times to

the studious of other lands, served to give a fresh impulse

and higher style to the cultivation of modern art:—

Think of all this, and then think of Paul of Tarsus, an

unknown and solitary stranger, a barbarian, a Jew,

standing there, and telling his Athenian audience, in the

midst of these consecrated glories, that the Godhead

could not be likened to objects graven by art or man’s

device, nor dwell in temples made with hands; and that

out of the whole amphitheatre of their shrines and temples

he had been able to discover only one thing which pro-

claimed a truth, and that remarkable for the ignorance it

confessed, rather than the knowledge it revealed—an

altar to the Unknown God; adding, as from his own



higher vantage-ground, ‘Whom therefore ye ignorantly

worship, Him declare I unto you.’

8. Here, then, was a great result accomplished in the

case of those who in a becoming spirit submitted them-

selves to the bond of the Sinaitic covenant; in the most

fundamental point of religion they became the lights of

the world, the chosen witnesses of Heaven.  And such

also they were in a closely related point: their convictions

in regard to holiness and sin.  The polytheism of the

heathen world wrought with disastrous effect here; for

losing sight of the one great source and pattern of moral

excellence, and making to themselves gods after their

own likeness, men’s notions of holiness became sadly

deranged, and their convictions of sin were consequently

irregular and superficial.  Even the more thoughtful

class of minds—those who sought to work themselves

free from popular delusions, and to be guided only by

the dictates of wisdom—never attained, even in concep-

tion, to the proper measure: the want of right views of

sin cleaves as a fundamental defect to all ancient philo-

sophy.  But Israel’s knowledge of the character and law

of God, as it placed them in a different position spiritually,

so it produced different results in experience.  How was

God Himself commonly present to their apprehensions?

Pre-eminently as the Holy One of Israel, loving righte-

ousness, and hating iniquity.1  Or, how did their writers

of devotion portray the true worshipper of Jehovah, the

man who had a right to draw near and abide with Him

as a dweller in His house?  It was the man who had

entered into the spirit of  the Decalogue—the man of

clean hands and a pure heart, who had not lifted up his

soul to vanity, nor sworn deceitfully—the man who had

been wont to walk uprightly, work righteousness, speak


1 Deut. xxxiii. 8; Ps. v. 4, xlv. 7; lsa. i. 4; Heb. i. 12, 13, etc.

168                 THE REVELATION OF LAW.               [LECT. V.


the truth in his heart, exercise himself, in short, to all

suitable manifestations of love to God and man—he alone

was the person to ascend the hill of God, and worship and

serve before Him.1  But, then, who had actually done so?

In whom was the ideal properly realized?  Such ques-

tions could not but arise in thoughtful bosoms, and lead

to both profound convictions of sin and a trembling awe

on the spirit when venturing into the presence of God.

Hence the language of penitence, the cry of guilt with

which we are so familiar in Old Testament Scripture:

iniquity is felt cleaving to men as a girdle, yea, entering

as a virulent poison into their natures, breaking out con-

tinually into unhallowed tempers, marring the perfection

of things that were outwardly correct, and taking away

all hope of justification or acceptance with God, on the

ground of personal conformity to His requirements.2

Alive to the fact of an infinitely perfect God, Israel was

also, and on that very account, alive to painful misgiv-

ings and fears of guilt; the humiliating truth comes

forcibly out in its history, that by the law is the know-

ledge of sin; and, unlike all other nations of antiquity,

its one most solemn service throughout the year was that

of the day of atonement—the day for bringing to remem-

brance all its transgressions and all its sins, that they

might be blotted out.

9. Had there been nothing more than law in the Old

Covenant, there had also been nothing further in Israel’s


1 Ps. iv. 3, xv., xxiv. 3-6, xxvi., etc.  It cannot be said of these, and many

similar passages in the Psalms, that they indicate an advanced state of things,

higher views of goodness and acceptable worship, than those sanctioned at the

institution of the tabernacle service.  For it belonged to Moses, as the mediator

of the Old Covenant, to settle all that pertained to its worship; no one, during

its continuance, had any warrant to prescribe new conditions to the worshipper;

nor indeed was this done in the passages quoted, for they evidently lean on the

terms of the Decalogue.

2 Ps. xix. 12,13, xxxii. 5, li. 5, cx1iii. 2; Isa.lxiv. 6; Job xv. 16, etc.



experience, except the penalties that were the just desert

of sin.  But with the true members of the covenant

another thing invariably appears—a fleeing to God as

the Redeemer from sin, the Healer of Israel—or a fall-

ing back from the covenant of law on the covenant of

grace and promise out of which it sprung.  Take as an

example the rich and varied record of a believer’s ex-

perience contained in the 119th Psalm.  The theme of

discourse there, from beginning to end, is the law of God

—its excellence, its breadth and fulness, its suitableness

to men’s condition, the blessedness of being conformed

to its requirements, and the earnest longings of the pious

heart after all that properly belongs to it:—but things

of this sort perpetually alternate with confessions of

backslidings and sins, fervent cries for pardoning mercy

and restoring grace, and fresh resolutions formed in

dependence on Divine aid to resist the evil, and strive

after higher attainments in the righteousness it enjoins.

And so elsewhere; the consciousness of sin and moral

weakness ever drove the soul to God for deliverance and

help; and especially to the use of that gracious provi-

sion made through the rite of sacrifice for expiating the

guilt of sin and restoring peace to the troubled con-

science.  But then this present deliverance bore on it

such marks of imperfection as might well seem to call

for another and more perfect arrangement; since both

the means of reconciliation were inferior (the blood of

bulls and goats), and the measure of it also, even as

things then stood, was incomplete; for the reconciled

were still not permitted to have direct and personal

access into the presence-chamber of Jehovah—they were

permitted only to frequent the courts of His house.  The

law, therefore, awakening a sense of guilt and alienation

which could not then be perfectly removed, creating

170        THE REVELATION OF LAW.           [LECT. V


wants and desires it but partially satisfied, while it could

not fail to be productive of fear, was also well fitted to

raise expectations in the bosom of the worshipper of some

better things to come, and dispose him to listen to the

intimations concerning them which it was the part of

prophecy to utter.  And in proportion as men of humble

and earnest faith acted on the hints thus given, they

would, in answer to believing prayer and pious medita-

tion, understand that, however the existing provisions

of mercy were to be appreciated, there was a sense

also in which they might be disparaged;1 that they were

indeed ‘God’s treasure-house of mysteries,’ wonderful in

themselves, but wonderful and precious most of all for

the hidden reference they bore to realities which were

not yet disclosed, and into which the eye of faith

naturally desired to look.2


1 As in the following passages: Ps. xl. 6, l. 7-14, li. 16; Hos. vi. 6.

2 See Davison ‘On Prophecy,’ p. 143, who, after referring to the obvious

imperfections in the religion of the Old Covenant, says, ‘The action of the

moral and ceremonial law combined, I conclude to have been such as would

produce, in reasonable and serious minds, that temper which is itself eminently

Christian in its principle, viz., a sense of demerit in transgression; a willing-

ness to accept a better atonement adequate to the needs of the conscience, if

God should provide it, and a desire after inward purity which bodily lustration

might represent but could not supply; in short, that temper which David has

confessed and described when he rejects his reliance upon the legal rites: For

thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it thee, etc. (Ps. li.).’  At the same