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Give To SermonIndex : Christian Books : LECTURE X. 1 TIMOTHY i. 9.

The Christian Life by Thomas Arnold


1 TIMOTHY i.9.

The law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane.

These words explain the meaning of a great many passages in St. Paul's Epistles, in which also he speaks of the law, and of not being under the law, and other such expressions. And it is clear also, that he is not speaking solely, or chiefly, or, in any considerable degree, of the ceremonial law; but much more of the law of moral good, the law which told men how they ought to live, and how they ought not. This law, he says, is not made for good men, but for evil: a thing so plain, that we may well wonder how any could ever have misunderstood it. It is so manifest, that strict rules are required, just exactly in proportion to our inability or want of will to rule ourselves; it is so very plain, that, with regard to those crimes which we are under no temptation to commit, we feel exactly as if there were no law. Which of us ever thinks, as a matter of personal concern, of the law which sentences to death murderers, or housebreakers, or those who maliciously set fire to their neighbours' property? Do we not feel that, as far as our own conduct is concerned, it would be exactly the same thing if no such law were in existence? We should no more murder, or rob, or set fire to houses and barns, if the law were wholly done away, than we do now that it is in force.

There are, then, some points in which we feel practically that we are not under the law, but dead to it; that the law is not made for us: but do we think, therefore, that we may murder, and rob, and burn? or do we not rather feel that such a notion would be little short of madness? We are not under the law, because we do not need it; not because there is in reality no law to punish us if we do need it. And just of this kind is that general freedom from the law, of which St. Paul speaks, as the high privilege of true Christians.

But yet St. Paul would not at all mean that any Christian is altogether without the law: that is, that there are no points at all in which his inclination is not to evil, and in which, therefore, he needs the fear of God to restrain him from it. When he says of himself, that he kept under his body lest that by any means he should become a castaway; just so far as this fear of being a castaway possessed him, that is, just so far as there were any evil tendencies in him, which required him to keep them under by an effort, just so far was he under the law. And this is so, as we full well know, with us all; for as there is none of us in whom sin is utterly dead, so neither can there be any of us who is altogether dead to the law.

Yet, although this be so, there is no doubt that the gospel wishes to consider us as generally dead to the law, in order that we really may become so continually more and more. It supposes that the Spirit of God, presenting to our minds the sight of God's love in Christ, sets us free from the law of sin and death; that is, that a sense of thankfulness to God, and love of God and of Christ, will be so strong a motive, that we shall, generally speaking, need no other; that it will so work upon us, as to make us feel good, easy, and delightful, and thus to become dead to the law. And there is no doubt also, that that same freedom from the law, which we ourselves experience daily, in respect of some particular great crimes, (for, as I said, we do not feel that it is the fear of the law which keeps us from murder or from robbing,) that very same freedom is felt by good men in many other points, where it may be that we ourselves do not feel it. A common instance may be given with respect to prayer, and the outward worship of God. There are a great many who feel this as a duty; but there are many also to whom it is not so much a duty, as a privilege and a pleasure; and these are dead to the law which commands us to be instant in prayer, just as we, in general, are dead to the law which commands us to do no murder.

This being understood, it will be perfectly plain, why St. Paul, along with all his language as to the law being passed away, and our being become dead to it, yet uses, very frequently, language of another kind, which shows that the law is not dead in itself, but lives, and ever will live. He says, |We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive according to what he has done in the body.| And he adds, |Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.| But the judgment, and the terror of the Lord, mean precisely what are meant by the law. And this language of St. Paul shows more clearly, that, unless we are first dead to the law, the law is not, and never will be dead to us.

I should not have thought it useless, to have offered merely this explanation of a language, which is very common in the New Testament, which, forms one of its characteristic points, (for St. John's expression of |Perfect love casteth out fear,| is exactly equivalent to St. Paul's, |That we are dead to the law,|) and which has been often misunderstood, or misrepresented. But yet I am well aware, that mere explanations of Scripture cannot be expected to interest those to whom Scripture is not familiar. The answer to a riddle would be very soon forgotten, unless the riddle had first at once amused and puzzled us. Just so, explanations of Scripture, to be at all valued, must suppose a previous knowledge of, and desire to understand, the difficulty; and this we cannot expect to find in very young persons. Thus far, then, what I have said has been necessarily addressed, I do not say, or mean, to the oldest part of my hearers only, but yet to the older, and more considering part of them. But the subject is capable, I think, of being brought much more closely home to us; for what St. Paul says of the law, with reference to all mankind, is precisely that state of mind which one would wish to see here; and the mistakes of his meaning are just such as are often prevalent, and are likely to do great mischief, with regard to the motives to be appealed to in education.

Now, what is the case in the Scripture? Men had been subject to a strict law of rewards and punishments, appealing directly to their hopes, and to their fears. The gospel offered itself to them, as a declaration of God's love to them; so wonderful, that it seemed as though it could not but excite them to love him in return. It also raised their whole nature; their understandings, no less than their affections; and thus led them to do God's will, from another and higher feeling than they had felt heretofore; to do it, not because they must, but because they loved it. And to such as answered to this heavenly call, God laid aside, if I may venture so to speak, all his terrors; he showed himself to them only as a loving father, between whom and his children there was nothing but mutual affection; who would be loved by them, and love them forever. But to those who answered not to it, and far more, who dared to abuse it; who thought that God's love was weakness; that the liberty to which they were called, was the liberty of devils, the liberty of doing evil as they would; to all such, God was still a consuming fire, and their most merciful Saviour himself was a judge to try their very hearts and reins; in short, the gospel was to them, not salvation, but condemnation; it awakened not the better, but the baser parts of their nature; it did not do away, but doubled their guilt, and therefore brought upon them, and will bring through all eternity, a double measure of punishment.

Now all this applies exactly to that earlier and, as it were, preparatory life, which ends not in death, but in manhood. The state of boyhood begins under a law. It is a great mistake to address always the reason of a child, when you ought rather to require his obedience. Do this, do not do that; if you do this, I shall love you; if you do not, I shall punish you; -- such is the state, most clearly a state of law, under which we are, and must be, placed at the beginning of education. But we should desire and endeavour to see this state of law succeeded by something better; we should desire so to unfold the love of Christ as to draw the affections towards him; we should desire so to raise the understanding as that it may fasten itself, by its own native tendrils, round the pillar of truth, without requiring to be bound to it by external bands. We should avoid all unnecessary harshness; we should speak and act with all possible kindness; because love, rather than fear, love both of God and man, is the motive which we particularly wish to awaken. Thus, keeping punishment in the background and, as it were, out of sight, and putting forward encouragement and kindness, we should attract, as it were, the good and noble feelings of those with, whom we are dealing, and invite them to open, and to answer to, a system of confidence and kindness, rather than risk the chilling and hardening them by a system of mistrust and severity.

And for those who do answer to this call, how really true is it that they do soon become dead, in great measure, to the law of the place where they are living! How little do they generally feel its restraints, or its tasks, burdensome! How very little have they to do with its punishments! Led on by degrees continually higher and higher, their relations with us become more and more relations of entire confidence and kindness; and when at last their trial is over, and they pass from this first life, as I have ventured to call it, into their second life of manhood, how beautifully are they ripened for that state! how naturally do all the restraints of this first life fall away, like the mortal body of the perfected Christian; and they enter upon the full liberty of manhood, fitted at once to enjoy and to improve it!

But observe, that St. Paul does not suppose even the best Christian to be without the law altogether: there will ever be some points in which he will need to remember it. And so it is unkindness, rather than kindness, and a very mischievous mistake, to forget that here, in this our preparatory life, the law cannot cease altogether with any one; that it is not possible to find a perfect sense and feeling of right existing in every action; nay, that it is even unreasonable to seem to expect it. Little faults, little irregularities, there always will be, with which the law is best fitted to deal; which should be met, I mean, by a system of rules and of punishments, not severe, certainly, nor one at all inconsistent with general respect, kindness, and confidence; but which check the particular faults alluded to better, I think, than could be done by seeming to expect of the individual that he should, in all such cases, be a law to himself. There is a possibility of our over-straining the highest principles, by continually appealing to them on very trifling occasions. It is far better, here, to apply the system of the law; to require obedience to rules, as a matter of discipline; to visit the breach of them by moderate punishment, not given in anger, not at all inconsistent with general confidence and regard, but gently reminding us of that truth which we may never dare wholly to forget, -- that punishment will exist eternally so long as there is evil, and that the only way of remaining for ever entirely strangers to it, is by adhering for ever and entirely to good.

This applies to every one amongst us; and is the reason why rules, discipline, and punishments, however much they may be, and are, kept in the background for such, as have become almost wholly dead to them, must yet continue in existence, because none are, or can be, dead to them altogether. But now, suppose that we have a nature to deal with, which, cannot answer to a system of kindness, but abuses it; which, when punishment is kept at a distance, rejoices, as thinking that it may follow evil safely; a nature not to be touched by the love of God or man, not to be guided by any perception of its own as to what is right and true. Is the law dead really to such as these? or should it be so? Is punishment a degradation to a nature which, is so self-degraded as to be incapable of being moved by anything better? For this is the real degradation which we should avoid; not the fear of punishment, which is not at all degrading, but the being insensible to the love of Christ and of goodness; and so being capable of receiving no other motive than the fear of punishment alone. With such natures, to withhold punishment, would be indeed to make Christ the minister of sin; to make mercy, that is, lead to evil, and not to good. For them, the law never is dead, and never will be. Here, of course, in this first life, as I have called it, punishment indeed goes but a little way: it is very easy for a hardened nature to defy all that could be laid upon it here in the way of actual compulsion. Our only course is to cut short the time of trial, when we find a nature in whom that trial cannot end in good. Still there may be those in whom this life here, like their greater life which shall last for ever, will have far more to do with punishment than with kindness; they will be living all their time under the law. Continue this to our second life, and the law then will be no less alive, and they will never be dead to it, nor will it be ever dead to them. And however a hardened nature may well despise the punishments of its first life, -- punishments, whose whole object is correction, and not retribution, -- yet, where is the nature so hard as to endure, in its relations with God, to feel more of his punishment than of his mercy; to know him for ever as a God of judgment, and not as a Father of love?

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