Christ as the Fulfiller

Matt. 5:17.---' I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.'

Christ came not to destroy, but to fulfil. What a valuable lesson those with good speech writers could learn. A great many people still think that Jesus comes to destroy. The religious life appears to them a life of giving up things. Renunciation seems to be the Christian motto. The religious person forsakes his passions, denies his tastes, mortifies his body, and then is holy. But Jesus always answers that He comes not to destroy, but to fill full; not to preach the renunciation of capacity, but the consecration of capacity.

Here is your body, with all its vigorous life. It is a part of your religion to fill out your body. It is the temple of God, to be kept clean for His indwelling. Not the ascetic man, but the athletic man, is the physical representative of the Christian life. Here is your mind, with all the intellectual pursuits which engross you here. Many people suppose that the scholar's life is in antagonism to the interests of religion. But religion comes not to destroy the intellectual life. It wants not an empty mind but a full one. The perils of this age come not from scholars, but from smatterers; not from those who know much, but from those who think they "know it all." God deals with those, and especially the ones that say that we are the greatest. What a prideful thing. And here, once more, are your passions, tempting you to sin. Are you to destroy them, fleeing from them like the hermits from the world? No! You are not to destroy them, but to direct them to a passionate interest in better things. The soul is not saved by having the force taken out of it. It is the expulsive power of a new affection which redeems one from his old sin.

How small a thing we make of the religious life; hiding it in a corner of human nature, serving it in a fragment of the week; and here stands Jesus Christ at the center of all our activities of body and mind and will, and calls for the consecration of the whole of life, for the all-round man, for the fulfillment of capacity.

Christ came to fulfil the Old Testament. The connection between the Old Testament and the New is not merely one of type and antitype. The real connection between them is of a deeper kind, which is expounded in the Sermon on the Mount. The separate commandments in the old law might all be deduced from the one law of love: only they forbade, while love inspires; they prescribed actions, love is an inward principle; they were limited and subject to exception, love is infinite, universal, and eternal. Hence, when Christ proclaimed the absoluteness of the law or spirit of love, He was not destroying the essence of the Mosaic law. He gave free course to the eternal thought of which that law had been the local and temporary expression, so that the living water that was for the healing of the nations, but had been artificially confined for the supposed benefit of the chosen people, might well forth afresh and inexhaustibly, and be found enough for the supply of the whole world.

The first point that will occur to every one is THE STRESS CHRIST LAID ON MOTIVE AND THOUGHT, as compared with result and action. Law is a crude makeshift affair. It deals only with what is overt. Conduct, and what is written down, and words before credible witnesses---these are its sphere; but beyond that it cannot press into what a man is in the hidden places of his own heart. But all the great religious teachers follow us into these remote fastnesses, past conduct and past words and down into the secrecy of thought. If one wishes really to change and cleanse the world, one must get back to thought, the final material out of which life is woven. That is why legislation, which deals only with outward things, is, and must be, so inadequate; why politicians are at best mere fumbling amateurs; why in the last resort we must rely upon God's prophet's, who dig deeper and push matters farther back, and strive to change, not our environment alone, but our innermost selves.

Christ forbade not murder only, but anger; not adultery only, but the impure thought. These are, of course, mere illustrations. It is not possible to exaggerate the importance of this complete alteration of the sphere or righteousness from action to thought, from deeds to disposition; this discovery of a new standard by which to judge oneself. It was a revolution in morals. We may keep all the ten Commandments and a hundred more, and yet be hard, unkind, impure, jealous, mean, selfish, complacent---a Pharisee in fact, without a trace of the Christian character. Christ gave a new and far higher standard, by making the test not our action, but our real selves.

The next point, perhaps, should be given as THE LIFTING OF THE MORAL ABOVE THE CEREMONIAL. The religious Jew at the time of Christ was one who carefully observed the law and its traditional additions, as interpreted by the great Rabbis. These regulations governed conduct in curious detail. They prescribed, for example, how often, and when, and precisely how, vessels and hands were to be washed; when fingers in washing were to be held with the tips up, and when to be held down; and precisely what made persons, or foods, or places unclean, and for how long, and how they were to be purified. Now Christ saw that, however great their value might have been as discipline in the past---and that no one would deny---they had now become relatively unimportant. He saw that they were now obscuring and misleading men's thought's of God and righteousness. Woe unto them that do that. And He said so. Therefore the religious people thought Him irreligious and a blasphemer, and brought about His death. But from that religious world Christ, and His Apostles after Him, appealed to the revelation of the God of righteousness, even then latent in the heart of the whole world, Jew and Gentile, and He appealed not in vain. We do well to remember that the judgment of the outside world on religion, a rough-and ready judgment it may be, but just and final, turns on one point only---they judge it by its fruits. 'Does it make men good?' Temples and priests, dignity and wealth, learning and privilege, count for little or nothing in that final court. 'Does your religion make men good? Yes or no.' And the world said of early Christian teaching that it made men good, and of Pharisaism that it did not. It was by that test that the world judges the Church today.

And again, CHRIST SHOWED THAT THE TRUE SERVICE OF GOD DEMANDS not only our abstaining from doing wrong, in the hope of saving our own souls, but ACTIVELY IN EVERY WAY DOING RIGHT. We are answerable for the good we neglect to do, as well as for the evil that we do. In this lies a broad distinction between Christ's teaching and all that went before it. The Old Testament defines duties by 'Thou shalt not,' Christ by 'Thou shalt.' We infringe Old Testament laws when we do things we ought not to have done; we infringe the law of Christ when we leave undone the things that we ought to have done; judgment, condemnation, is prefaced in the Old Testament case by the words 'inasmuch as ye did wrong'; in the New Testament by the words 'inasmuch as ye did not do right.'

This was more than the discovery of a new field for conduct, a new test of rightness. It did for morals what Copernicus and Kepler and Newton combined did for astronomy. It altered the center, the point of view. It determined the future development or religion. It disclosed the master-principle, the ruling force that gives unity to the whole. That master-principle is that God is our loving Father, and that all we are brethren in Him; and that only by showing love like His can we be true men, true servants, and children of God, worthy of the life of our Father in us, and that life is love.

If this is a worthy and dependable interpretation of Christ, there should be a growing approximation to Him in the lives of His people. Our influence must be directed, not toward destruction, but toward fulfillment. For we are here to represent Him, and to carry on His work. That there is much to be destroyed in the lives of those among whom we serve is obvious. But it can be effected only by Christ's own method. What is most needed in those around us is not the destructive word of condemnation so much as the encouraging spirit of comradeship. The warm sympathy which He ever showed toward even the feeblest desires after God, and which encouraged and stimulated the most unlikely in their endeavors, has often guided and saved despairing hearts when manifested through His followers.

It is for this ministry on the part of us all that these days call. We can do more for those around us in their need, and for the nation in its moral want, by our own endeavor to live Christ than anything else. Here is service for all who name His name. There is no worthier aim on the part of those to whom other service is impossible. It has been expressed by the man who said: Let me live in a house by the side of the road Where the race of men go by---Men that are good, and men that are bad, As good and as bad as I. I would not sit in the scorner's seat, Nor hurl the cynic's ban; Let me live in a house by the side of the road. And be a friend to man.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha