In the New Testament we are stuck by two seemingly opposite ways of speaking about law. St. Paul says, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law." While, according to St. Matthew, we find our Lord Himself uses the words, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill."
This contradiction in appearance can only be solved by a study of the meaning of the term "law."
Complaints are often made that there is no such thing as absolute law as applied to human conduct. The laws of nature, seeing that they are independent of man's will and pleasure, are of necessity absolute. On the other hand, the rules established in a community or state for the guidance and control of the inhabitants are purely arbitrary, since they are made by man. We thus see at the outset that the term law can be studied under two heads: first, the law between God and man, which is absolute; second, the law between man and man, which is arbitrary.
The law of God clearly assumes two aspects, the natural and the revealed. In nature the divine law touches human life more particularly in the shape of laws of health, where an unchanging order is enforced by automatic and invariable penalties. A lack of proper sanitation, a want of attention to domestic hygiene, a neglect of the rules or nervous health through immorality in its various forms –all these are inevitably punished by the very factors of the case. The universality order in nature becomes more and more evident to the scientist the more he advances with his studies and investigations. The Hebrews had a vague conception of it, but it has been left almost to our own generation to verify the truth in detail.
God's ways with men are revealed not only in the works of nature, but also and chiefly in the communication of Himself to the good man. A foremost truth of the Hebrew religion was that God was specially present with the honest and devout man. The Hebrews thus gave to Abraham the name of the friend of God. The same truth gave rise to the idea so often expressed of the Supreme choosing as his dwelling-place the heart of the humble and honest man. In support also there are the words of Christ, "The pure in heart shall see God."
By the time of Christ a mechanical and literal interpretation of the law had set in and a burden too heavy to support was laid on men's shoulders by the scribes. Infringement of such a law was therefore inevitable. The reasons for the two statements made at the beginning can now be seen. Christ did not destroy the law: He summed it up in the practice of love to God and love to man.
The love of which Christ speaks as the fulfilling of the law is not, however, simply a state of mind or a passing emotion, but a living principle, which, if it truly exists, must show itself in the life and deeds of a man.
It is the teaching of Christ that we are to take the Will of God, as expressed in the law, or reason of all things, to be the principle of our own will. This does not mean that we are to be fatalists, or to blindly subject ourselves. On the contrary, it is the use of all our knowledge and all our moral powers, in accordance with law, to bring about the coming of the kingdom in the soul of every human being. Again, the Christian life consist not in the ministry to the self-indulgence of others, but in a combined effort towards securing fuller and higher life for the communion of which we are members.
In conclusion, the following passages, taken from the Scriptures, confirm what has been above stated.
The law of his God is in his heart. (Psalm xxxvii. 31)
The law is within my heart. (Psalm xl. 8)
The law of the wise is a fountain of life. (Proverbs vii. 12)
The law is holy. (Romans vii. 12)
The law is spiritual. (Romans vii. 14)
The law was our schoolmaster. (Galatians iii. 24)
The law is not made for a righteous man. (I Timothy i. 9.)
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. (James ii. 10)