Sermon 15. The Principle of Continuity between the Jewish and Christian Churches

"If ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not, taste not, handle not, which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?" Col. ii. 20-22.

{199} THE whole passage of which these words form part is often brought to show that any regard to outward religion is unchristian, and a mere remnant of Judaism. St. Paul just before seems to condemn, or at least to set aside, observance of meats and drinks, of holy days, of sabbaths, as being but a shadow of the good things which are given us in the Gospel, and perishable, or rather perished and dead ordinances, and of one family with those more dangerous and destructive superstitions which substituted Angels as the objects of our worship instead of the one Lord and Saviour. This, I say, is what is argued from this passage,—that the Gospel is quite contrary to the Law in this respect, that it has no ritual, no regimen, no ordinances; and that to submit to any such, is to do injury to the simplicity of the Christian religion. {200}

Now, so far from this being true, I think even the contrary may be laid down; that the existence of a polity, a ceremonial, and a code of laws, under the Gospel, is the very point in which Christianity agrees with Judaism, and in consequence of which the Christian Church may be considered the continuation of the Jewish. And I think this very passage of St. Paul, which many consider to warrant them in the rejection of external religion, if it does not prove its obligation, as I consider it does, at least is quite consistent with it.

1. First, then, I observe, that certainly not all ordinances are done away under the Gospel, considering our Lord Himself instituted two Sacraments, and set up the Church as a city on a hill, and bade us hear her, and is frequent in laying down rules and directions as to what is to be done in indifferent matters. And further, St. Paul expressly says to the Corinthians, "I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you;" [1 Cor. xi. 2.] and again, to the Thessalonians, "Brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle." [2 Thess. ii. 15.] And we read in the Acts of the Apostles, that St. Paul and his brethren, "as they went through the cities, delivered them the decrees," or (as the same word is translated in the text) the ordinances, "for to keep, that were ordained of the Apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem." [Acts xvi. 4.]

It is quite certain, then, that St. Paul did not mean {201} to speak against all ritual ordinances and rules of discipline whatever, in the passage in which the text is found, because he himself enjoined and enforced certain such, at least on other occasions.

2. And in truth, a very little consideration will show, that the text does not at all speak against ordinances generally, but against those particular ordinances which did not come from Christ. Let it be observed, that the Apostle expressly adds, "after the commandments and doctrines of men." He does not forbid all ordinances, but mere human, unsanctioned, and therefore unchristian, ordinances. He does not say simply, "Why are ye subject to ordinances?" but "Why keep ye ordinances after the commandments of men?" Nor can this be treated as an accidental addition, because he uses the same language elsewhere. For instance, in the beginning of the chapter, "Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." The fault of the tradition was, that it came, not from Christ, but from man. And so, writing to the Galatians, "I certify you, brethren, that the Gospel which was preached of me is not after man; for I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." [Gal. i. 11, 12.] And accordingly, when he enjoins Christian ordinances, he is very particular, as indeed in the passage just quoted, to say that they, on the other hand, come from Christ; "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ: now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all {202} things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you." Again, "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you." [1 Cor. xi. 1, 2, 23.] And those ordinances which he published in the course of his apostolic journey, from whom did they come? Hear the Apostles' own account of them: "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us." [Acts xv. 28. Vide also 1 Thess. iv. 8.] Not to man merely, but to God; and therefore the ordinances put forth were not traditions of men, but traditions of God.

Our Saviour had made the same distinction in His own ministry. He had found fault with the Pharisees for their traditions; but why? because they were traditions of men, and such as obscured and resisted the tradition of God. "Why do ye," He says, "transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?" [Matt. xv. 3, 9.] and again, "In vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." Again; "laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men;" [Mark vii. 8, 9, 13.] and again, "Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition;" and again, "making the word of God of none effect, through your tradition which ye have delivered." And then He adds, "Every plant which My Heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up." [Matt. xv. 13.]

3. Now let us turn back to the text, and the passage connected with it. Here, as elsewhere, the Apostle lays down the great principle, that every thing, to be done acceptably, must be done in Christ. "Other foundation {203} can no man lay." [1 Cor. iii. 11.] Every plant, but the Cross, shall be rooted up; no fruit is good but what its branches bear. No person, no work of any kind will endure the judgment, but what comes of Christ, and is quickened by His Spirit. Every thing out of Him is dead. And as no virtue is real virtue, nor service true service, nor work good work, if He is not the life of it; so in like manner, no rite or ordinance is good, unless as grafted into Him and sanctified by Him. St. Paul does not speak against ordinances in themselves, but ordinances which are done beside or against Christ's grace and will. Such were those of the Pharisees which our Lord Himself denounced; such were those of the Galatians which St. Paul protested against; such were the ordinances of those Jews or Gnostics, or whoever they were, whom, in the passage connected with the text, he has in view. These teachers of error refused to take Christ as their Head,—"not holding the Head," he says; they would not believe that Christ was all-gracious, all-powerful; so the Apostle reminded them, "In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." Again," Ye are complete in Him which is the Head of all principality and power." Instead of remembering this, these false teachers made Angels their hope and their worship; "in a voluntary humility and worshipping of Angels."

And, in consequence, nothing they did, or said, or taught, or practised, was right. Their services, their rites, their ordinances were all reprobate. How does this show that there are no ordinances in Christ? why must ordinances in Christ be unacceptable, because they {204} are unacceptable out of Christ? St. Paul says, "Let no man judge you in meat or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days." Why? Because these were not of the body. You see, then, there is a body; yes, but it is not the body of any angelic lord or teacher; it is not the body of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, though they are members of it; it is not the body of Moses, for Moses "was faithful in all his house," but "as a servant." It is Christ, who is Lord over His own house; it is Christ's, whose, and whose only, is the body. In Him only are we sanctified; in Him only are our works, our services, our ordinances sanctified; but in Him we are sanctified; in Him our works, our rites, our forms, our observances, are sanctified. We are wrong, not when we have works, rites, and observances, but when they are not in Him. All these make up the body of Christ:—first of all in the body are our persons; next our order and polity; then our rites and ceremonies; lastly, our professions and works. All are parts, each in its own way, of Christ's Body, in which is life; or in the words of the Apostle, from Him, as the Head, "all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God."

4. Nay, something more is yet to be said on this point. Not only do forms and ordinances remain under the Gospel equally as before; but, as is plain from the very chapter on which I am commenting, what was in use before is not so much superseded by the Gospel ordinances, as changed into them. What took place under the Law is a pattern, what was commanded is a {205} rule, under the Gospel. The substance remains, the use, the meaning, the circumstances, the benefit is changed; grace is added, life is infused; "the body is of Christ;" but it is in great measure that same body which was in being before He came. The Gospel has not put aside, it has incorporated into itself, the revelations which went before it. It avails itself of the Old Testament, as a great gift to Christian as well as to Jew. It does not dispense with it, but it dispenses it. Persons sometimes urge that there is no code of duty in the New Testament, no ceremonial, no rules for Church polity. Certainly not; they are unnecessary; they are already given in the Old. Why should the Old Testament be retained in the Christian Church, but to be used? There are we to look for our forms, our rites, our polity; only illustrated, tempered, spiritualized, by the Gospel. The precepts remain; the observance of them is changed.

This, I say, is what many persons are slow to understand. They think the Old Testament must be supposed to be our rule directly and literally, or not at all; and since we cannot put ourselves under it absolutely and without explanation, they conclude that in no sense it is binding on us; but surely there is such a thing as the application of Scripture; this is no very difficult or strange idea. Surely we cannot make any practical use even of St. Paul's Epistles, without application. They are written to Ephesians or Colossians; we apply them to the case of Englishmen. They speak of customs, and circumstances, and fortunes, which do not belong to us; we cannot take them literally; we must adapt them to {206} our own case; we must apply them to us. We are not in persecution, or in prison; we do not live in the south, nor under the Romans; nor have we been converted from heathenism; nor have we miraculous gifts; nor live we in a country of slaves; yet still we do not find it impossible to guide ourselves by inspired directions, addressed to those who were thus circumstanced. And in somewhat a like manner, the directions of the Old Testament, whether as to conduct, or ritual, or Church polity, may be our guides, though we are obliged to apply them. Scripture itself does this for us in some instances, and in some others we ourselves are accustomed to do so for ourselves; and we may do so in a number of others also in which we are slow to do it. For instance, the Law says, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." [Lev. xix. 18.] Does the Gospel abrogate this command? of course not. What does it do with it? it explains and enlarges it. It answers the question, "Who is my neighbour?" [Luke x. 29.] The substance of the command is the same under Law and under Gospel; but the Gospel opens and elevates it. And so again the Ten Commandments belong to the Law, yet we read them still in the Communion Service, as binding upon ourselves; yet not in the mere letter; the Gospel has turned the letter into spirit. It has unfolded and diversified those sacred precepts which were given from the beginning.

To this, however, it may be answered, that what is true of the Moral Law is not true of the Ritual. That the Moral Law remains, that the rites and ceremonies {207} are abrogated. They are abrogated, yet only in the letter; and not in such sense abrogated, but they are in their substance continued still. Let us recollect why they are abrogated, and we shall understand in what sense. They are abolished, because they were types, and because Christ, their Antitype, is come. True, so far then as they are types they are abolished; but not as they are religious services, and principles and elements of religious worship. That is, we must distinguish between the precept itself, and the particular fulfilment of it under the Jewish Law, that is, the Jewish rite. As the duty to love our neighbour continues still; but by our neighbours are no longer meant merely inhabitants of Palestine, nor our own countrymen, but all men; so also the duty remains of coming to God's house for His favours, of obeying His priests, of offering Him our sacrifices, though the particular forms in which these duties were fulfilled under the Law, being types of Christ, were abolished when Christ came. The Jewish temple, the Jewish priesthood, and the Jewish sacrifices, then, were abolished because they were but shadows, and "the body was of Christ;" but the precepts remain though the types disappear.

5. This, as I have already observed, is taught us in the chapter from which the text is taken, as is very plain. For instance, it tells us that the Sabbath is a shadow, and its observance not binding, since Christ is come, of whom is "the body." The Sabbath, according to St. Paul, is of the rudiments of this world, a carnal ordinance, and brings us into bondage. It had been a witness of the creation of heaven and earth, which was {208} no longer needed. It was a memorial of past mercies to the Jews, which are surpassed in the Gospel. It was a type of the Gospel rest, which is now come. The type is fulfilled; the whole period of the Christian Church, from the day of Pentecost to the end of all things, is one holy and spiritual Sabbath. Again, the whole life of each individual Christian, from his baptism to his death, is also an antitype of the Jewish Sabbath. The heaven on earth, which abides in the Christian Church and in the regenerate soul, this is that true spiritual rest which God promised of old time; in the words of Zacharias, "that we, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life." Yet, though this be so, shall we therefore say, that the Fourth Commandment is abrogated? surely not. The Sabbath indeed is abolished, but the commandment which enjoins it remains; it is fulfilled in another manner. The Sabbath, with other shadows of the Law, has flitted away; but "the word of God endureth for ever," and has a real and imperishable substance, issuing forth in ever fresh manifestations, fresh duties, fresh promises, as its older forms successively do their work and dissolve. The old fulfilment of this commandment, with its observance of the seventh day, its memorial of the creation, and of the deliverance from Egypt, its ceremonial inactivity, its preciseness and formality, is at an end; but the duty of keeping it, with new objects, and new acts of service, remains. It is observed still in substance, though not in the letter. And what is true of the institution of the Sabbath, is {209} true also of other ritual precepts in the Old Testament; that they are typical, and, as such, fulfilled, is quite consistent with their ecclesiastical obligation, and their perpetual abidance.

The Sabbath then is one instance in point; though the Apostle implies that it has come to nought, yet it endures, though in a new manifestation. Another instance, suggested by the passage before us, is the rite of circumcision. This is altogether done away with in the Gospel; yet not so done away with, but it leaves behind it a representative. It is abolished as a type fulfilled, a type of Christian renewal; yet still there is such a rite as Christian circumcision, and it is called Baptism. This is what St. Paul expressly says in the chapter before us. "Ye are complete in Christ," he says, "which is the Head of all principality and power. In whom all ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with Him in baptism." Here he says, first, that the Colossians had received a circumcision, though not the Jewish; and then names what it is, "buried with Him in Baptism." Thus, though circumcision is abolished, Scripture has not left us without its substitute, lest the great and fundamental rule which circumcision implied, of entering God's service by a formal act of dedication, should be slighted. And on account of this correspondence between the two rites, we infer the duty of baptizing infants, because infants were circumcised, though there is no command to that effect in Scripture. Nor need there be, if, as I am here showing, the Law {210} contains in it the ecclesiastical and ritual rules of the Gospel, only under a veil.

6. These two instances, of the Sabbath and of circumcision, are suggested by the very chapter of which I am speaking; but what is true of these, is true of many other parts of the Law, as in some particulars all will allow; and if in them, why not in others? No one will deny that the principle or spirit of the commandment concerning the Paschal feast is still fulfilled in our feast of Holy Communion. It is true, that the Paschal feast was a type of our Lord's atoning death, and therefore has come to an end, as being a type fulfilled; but it has not come to an end without leaving behind it a rite in its place, without reviving, as it were, in a new form; why? because the Jewish Church and the Christian Church are one; and the rules given to the Jewish are in some sort the ritual and the canons of the Christian, though not as Jewish rules; the form, the manner, the virtue being different, the substance the same.

I say, without looking for directions in the New Testament, we shall be able to see at once the reason of other institutions and usages, which have ever existed in the Christian Church, by merely referring to the Old. For instance, the three orders of the Jewish ministry, high-priest, priests, and Levites, are done away in Christ in their Jewish form; yet, let us suppose that the commandment on which they rested remains in force now, and needs not to be repeated in the New Testament, and we see it fulfilled in our three orders of bishops, priests, and deacons.

Again: we learn from the histories of Nadab and {211} Abihu, of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and of Uzziah, that no one could intrude upon the priestly office, or rebel against the priest, without the most fearful responsibility. What was the rule of the Law is the rule of the Gospel, as St. Jude expressly teaches us; for he speaks of the opposers of Church authority in his day as "perishing in the gainsaying of Core;" nay, and St. Paul, who lays down the general principle, "No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron."

Again: under the Jewish law, the ministerial office was continued by a succession; it was not committed to men here and there, as it might be, but passed from father to son. The carnal form of this ordinance is now at an end, but the succession remains; spiritual sons succeed spiritual fathers. As under the Law, each preceding generation of priests begat the following, so each generation ordains the next, under the Gospel.

Again: the Jewish temple is abolished, because the True and Spiritual Temple, the Communion of Saints, has been established by Christ. Yet, though the type is at an end, the precept remains. Temples are to be built to God's honour under the Gospel, and to be consecrated, and to be treated as His dwelling-places; and in other respects, as far as suitable, to be conformed to the model of that ancient building once commanded.

Once more: under the Law there were altars and sacrifices; these very altars, these very sacrifices, have come to nought, for they were a shadow of good things to come: but still Altars and Sacrifices endure, though {212} with a different virtue, and a different purpose; they are part of that body which is of Christ. He has taken possession of them, and made them spiritual.

I will add, in corroboration, that as other Prophets, so especially Malachi, the last of them, in whom, as being the last, we might expect some clearer intimations of the destruction of ordinances on Christ's coming, if they were to be destroyed, when prophesying of Gospel times and speaking of the preparation necessary thereunto, builds up, instead of pulling down, the ritual system. For instance, "Even from the days of your fathers," he says, "ye are gone away from Mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto Me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts." Again, as to the ordinance of tithes: "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine House, and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." And as to the priesthood, far from its abolition, Christ was but to purify and refine it. "He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver." Nor was He to abolish sacrifice, for the Prophet proceeds, "He shall purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness." And what this offering was to be, the Prophet tells us, speaking of it as a rite of the Church in its universal or Catholic form. "From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, My Name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in {213} every place incense shall be offered unto My Name, and a pure offering;" [Mal. iii. 7, 10, 3; i. 11.] that is, the offering of fine flour or bread. What is thus instanced from Malachi might be drawn out from other Prophets also.

7. It seems, then, that making what allowance we will for the changes which were introduced by the Gospel, which in point of knowledge, grace, and influence upon the world, were incalculably great, and cannot be overrated, yet as regards the substantial form of religion, ecclesiastical order, ritual, polity, observance, the change was not considerable. Indeed, religion viewed as an institution, and that of a social nature, does not admit of any great variety. As all civil governments are one in their great characteristics, as all sciences proceed on common principles, else they would not be called by that one name, so in one sense religion, wherever found, is one thing, and one thing only. A true religion is a religion based on truth, and a false religion is a religion based on falsehood; but they would not be called by the same name, unless there were a substantial agreement between them. And if true and false religions are like each other, as to their bodily substance, much more are Judaism and Christianity alike, which are both from God; and, consequently, Catholic Christians must not be surprised, if on their submitting to Christianity as a religion, and not as a mere philosophy, or an opinion, or a sentiment, they are charged by those who do so treat it, with being Jews or even Pagans.

8. And what has just been said leads to another {214} reflection. The Jews might quite as justly be charged with Paganism for their rites, as we with Judaism for ours; for ours are not so like the Jewish, as the Jewish were like those of the Pagans. This ought to be insisted on. It has been shown by learned men, that considerable portions of the Mosaic system were either taken from the heathen religions which surrounded it, or at least, from their likeness, must have had a common origin with them. In truth, Judaism was, in God's mercy, the correction, the restoration, of those degenerate and corrupt religions, just as Christianity is the development and spiritual perfection of the Jewish. Now, if it is a good argument against our priesthood, Christian sacrifices, Christian Sabbaths, and Christian sacraments, that they are like ordinances of the Jewish Law, which came from God, much more would it be an argument against that Law in Samuel's time or David's, as infidels have made it since, that in some chief portions of it, it is like the paganism of Egypt or Syria. And if it is a good argument against our Church system, that St. Paul denounces Judaism, surely it is not a worse argument against the Jewish system, that Moses denounces Paganism. If St. Paul says of Judaism, "Let no man judge you in meat or in drink;" or, "Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years," I suppose Moses says still more sternly of Paganism, "Ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire." [Deut. xii. 3.] And if Moses adds the reason, as regards Paganism, viz. because they were dedicated to false {215} gods; so does St. Paul give the reason, as regards Judaism, "which are a shadow of things to come." And as the ordinances of the Jewish Church were not paid to false gods, though they were ordinances like the Pagan; so those of the Christian are not a shadow, though they are ordinances like the Jewish. And since, supposing in the time of Samuel or of David, a reformer had arisen to set things to rights out of his own mind, he might have forcibly urged against all that he found established—rite, and ordinance, and government—that it was like heathenism, and that Moses, speaking from Almighty God, had denounced heathenism, and that, therefore, the existing system could not come from heaven,—and yet this in truth would have been a very bad argument, therefore, let us not be moved from our steadfastness by the arguments of innovators and heretics, who pretend that the Church system is a corruption, because it is like the Jewish, which St. Paul repudiates. For it is not Jewish in spirit, though it is Jewish in certain externals; nor was the Jewish system Pagan in spirit, though it was Pagan in externals. At one time, God dwelt in the Jewish ritual, though it was like the Pagan; and now He dwells in the Christian ritual, though it be like the Jewish. Forms are nothing without God's presence; but with His presence they are all things.

Thus then I answer the question, What is that substantial unity and identity of the Jewish and Christian Churches, since they so differ in their members, circumstances, and objects? Thus, too, I would answer that {216} other question, How can the Jews be said to have rejected their Law, in rejecting the Gospel? The Gospel is but a development of the Law; and creeds and systems may at first sight be very far removed from certain known originals, and yet, after all, be but developments of them.

I conclude with one observation, viz. that a view of the Old Testament, such as I have been taking, makes it a book much more level to the comprehensions of the unlearned than the theories concerning it which have of late years prevailed. It is difficult to make an unlearned person understand, who comes to Scripture with reverence, that the commands of the Law are not binding on us now. To tell him that the Sabbath is a mere type, and that it does not concern him, and that it now means merely a life of religion, is too subtle an idea for him; but to tell him that the Fourth Commandment does bind him (though it bind not in the sense in which it bound the Jews), approves itself to him as natural and true. It is a refinement, again, in his judgment, to tell him that the Jewish temple was a mere type of the communion of saints, and is not a model for our cathedrals and churches. In like manner, he will easily understand, if he is so taught, that the other precepts of the Old Testament apply to us Christians; that what is said about holy rites, and holy days, and holy persons, has a literal sense now, though not the particular sense it had before Christ came. Thus we see how inconsistent is the false philosophy of modern religion. It professes to give the Bible to the poor that they may judge {217} for themselves; yet it will not let them read it in a plain way, lest they read it like the saints of former ages—lest they become too catholic and primitive; but it interposes with its own officious note and comment, to fix upon it a strained figurative meaning.

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