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CHAPTER VIII.


Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law.


1.—Keeping in mind that we are examining things, or at least attempting to do so, in their principles or philosophical bases, we proceed now to another subject. It is hardly necessary to say that the thought of the Christian world has always been directed with peculiar earnestness to the various events which constitute the life and death of Jesus Christ. His death, as well as the antecedent events of his personal history, has a significancy which will not be likely to be exhausted while there are souls to be saved. The life of Christ, including its closing scenes, is often spoken of and regarded as a “fulfillment of the law.” Christ himself foreseeing the probable termination of his life and its relation as a whole to all antecedent facts and events, refers to the subject, Matthew 5:17, 18 — “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled.” In a passage of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 42:21, which is generally understood to apply to Christ, it is said “he will magnify the law and make it honorable.” It is often said that we are to look for the fulfillment of the law in the death of Christ on the Cross. And yet, when brought to the test of a philosophical examination, the death of Christ considered in itself and separate from that which is the basis or foundation of it, might justly be regarded as coming short of such fulfillment. The death of Christ in its physical aspects was much like any other death; the experience of physical disorganization and suffering,— probably very great suffering,—resulting in the separation of the body and the spirit. Nevertheless, it is in the death of Christ that we find the key to his character; that which interprets the meaning of his antecedent acts; that which consolidates and perfects his life; that which makes him in a true sense, when we get at that which underlies his death, the world’s Saviour.

2.—In speaking of Christ, in the events and incidents of his life and death as the fulfillment of the law, it is necessary to understand what meaning and what limitations we shall attach to Law itself. And here we are met by the fact that there are a great multitude of laws in the universe. Go where we will, we meet with this great regulative influence. There is nothing high enough or low enough, no boundaries of time or space, which are beyond the cognizance and the authority of Law. The philosophic interpreters of their own and the world’s thought on this subject, Cicero, Grotius, Vattel, Hooker, Montesquieu, and others, agree in the great doctrine of the universality of Law. And what is also of great importance, there are different kinds of law; laws which are mental and moral as well as physical; laws which give stability to thought and guidance to virtue, as well as those more obvious laws which sustain and develop material beauty and strength.

3.—The law which Jesus fulfilled, coming under the general class of mental or spiritual, is the law fundamental to all others; the Primal law, because it stands first in time as well as first in importance; the law, without which God would cease to be God; that great law of which we have spoken in a former chapter, which binds the higher to the lower, the stronger to the weaker, and we may add, the good to the evil, in the exercise of all the possibilities of benevolence, which are involved in the fact of a higher position and a greater wealth of resources. In comparison with this law which is known in the Scriptures as the law of
Love, all other laws sink into insignificance. It is the basis Law of the universe; and Christ came not merely to announce it as a principle but to fulfill it as a fact, in order that men seeing with their own eyes that Love is ready to pour out its heart-blood for the good of others, might understand and know, as they otherwise could not do, the moral basis on which the universe stands.

4.—The law of love when carried out to its appropriate issues, constitutes as we have already had occasion to show, the central life-principle of God himself. Love is life and wherever it exists, whether in the Infinite or the finite, it can always be said, to the full extent of that existence and with a fulness and truth which the world but imperfectly understands, that God is there. And Christ therefore, in taking upon himself humanity and in fulfilling the law in this lower sphere, may be said to have brought God down to earth. In being lifted upon the Cross and nailed there in the sight of the world, and yet in his agony uttering that sublime prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” he revealed the truth and greatness of God’s life in his own dying but immortal life; and opening the way and the hope of salvation, plucked humanity from its sorrows and its ruins, and gave everlasting life to men.

5.—And here, speaking as we now do, of the great divine law, that law of Love which is the basis of all things that exist, it is necessary to keep in mind the discriminations and relations of ideas, and to separate things which are apt to be confounded. Law and Life, which latter is only another name for Love, are inseparable rather than identical. Law when rightly estimated, is the eternal announcement indicating the constitutive form and the mode of action; Love, inseparably connected but not identical, is the correspondent realization which operates within the truths and harmonies of law. Law, standing as the interpreter and the voice of the universe, is the requisition; Love is the experience and the fulfillment of that which is required. In the natural or logical order, law is the antecedent; but being an antecedence of ideas and not of life, of regulative form rather than of positive and affirmative existence, it is necessary that Love, which is the power that gives it vitality, should come and convert it into a practical principle which renovates and perfects all things.

6.—And now it seems to me to be philosophically true, in other words a doctrine of the Absolute Religion, that the Law, though eternal as God and unchangeable as God, and speaking with a divine and universal voice, cannot save us, without that Christ-life or Love-life, which the Law requires, and which is the Law’s fulfillment. To recognize the law, which is an intellectual act, is important; to feel the justness of its requisitions in the conscience is important also as a preliminary preparation; but to stop in the recognition and the conscientious conviction, without the possession of the living principle which it requires, is necessarily to die. And Christ, therefore, who embodied this living principle and who in his essential nature is and ever will be
Love, is the realization or fulfillment of the Law.

On these principles man cannot be saved, if salvation is an inward life, by a mere command, by a mere authoritative declaration. Salvation, which is the kingdom of God within us, does not come in that way. The destiny of man, a destiny which will always be fulfilled if it is not prevented by his own personal opposition, is to enter into everlasting life by becoming a partaker of that life.

7.—Undoubtedly there are many things mistaken for life which are not life. Repentance is not life. It implies a conviction for sin, but if it stops there it is not life. Forgiveness to the extent of entire pardon for all our past sins is not necessarily to be regarded as life. It implies an exemption from the suffering which was originally due to the sins which are blotted out; but it is not necessarily a principle of life. Happiness may be expected to be a result of life, an incident which is naturally attendant upon it, but it is difficult, on any analysis which may be made of it, to affirm that, in itself considered, it is the living and life-giving principle of the soul. We enter into life, and the principle of life becomes the soul’s new birth when in the language of Scripture we die upon the Cross; in other words, when by means of inward crucifixion we die to self in all cases where self-hood becomes selfishness; and when we begin to live for the good of others, not only the good of all mankind but of all existences. In other words using the terms in the sense in which God may be supposed to understand them, we live when we love. Love is life. And anything within us which is at variance with love is, to that extent, the absence and the negation of life.

8.—In Christ this life was completed. In Him the living and life-giving principle of his being, that which constituted Him the Son of God, was holy love. So that in Him the law of the universe, that law which requires us to love God and in loving Him to love all that He loves, was fulfilled.