Matthew 5:17

Here we see the attitude of our Lord towards the Old Testament. He did not come to destroy the ancient teaching, but to fulfil it. Christ's words show two positions - a negative and a positive.

I. THE OLD TESTAMENT HAS A PLACE IN THE CHRISTIAN ECONOMY. The grounds on which this is established are worthy of consideration.

1. Its origin. The Old Testament was inspired by God. It records his words spoken to Moses and the prophets. Words of God are not to be lightly set aside, however ancient they may be.

2. Its truth. Although it is only a preliminary revelation, not the less a real revelation. The truth it contains is partial, and represents an early stage in the development of Divine ideas among men; yet all truth has an eternal element in it which we may discover when we strip off the husk of its temporary form.

3. Its moral character. The Old Testament is a grand testimony to righteousness. We can never dispense with the Ten Commandments. The stern protests of the prophets against national sin stand good to-day as the utterances of an undying conscience.

4. Its spiritual life. It is difficult for a Christian to get beyond the devotional spirit of the Psalms. Private piety is revealed in the Old Testament so as to be the example and stimulus for all ages.

II. THE OLD TESTAMENT IS NOT A SUFFICIENT REVELATION. It was defective by omission. It could not contain all truth, because when it was written the Jews were not capable of receiving all truth. Its limitations are those of an early stage of revelation. These are not reasons for condemning and repudiating the book. The child is not to be blamed because he is not a man. The adult man cannot afford to neglect the child even on his own account, for the child is a prophet from whom much may be learnt. Still, it cannot be denied that he lacks the man's larger wisdom and more enduring strength. The law of righteousness is not sufficient for us. It cannot create goodness. Its directions are formal and external. The deeper, more spiritual righteousness can only be realized when the Law is written on the heart, and this is done, as Jeremiah predicted, only under the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:33).

III. CHRIST FILLS UP THE DEFICIENCIES OF THE OLD TESTAMENT REVELATION. In this sense he fulfils it. He does not only fulfil prophecy by doing what is therein predicted, but he makes the whole revelation of God perfect by filling up the lacunae that appear in the Old Testament.

1. By leading from the letter to the spirit. The Law is not perfected till its inner meaning is discovered and its living spirit brought forth.

2. By exhibiting in life what the Old Testament reveals in word. The Law had never been perfectly kept till Christ came. Then he was absolutely faithful to it, and thus he satisfied its claims.

3. By giving men power to keep the Law. Not in the letter, which is superfluous, but in the spirit, which is essential.

4. By including the inferior older revelation in his new and most perfect revelation. The acorn disappears that the oak may be seen; but it is not destroyed, it is only developed, and its glorification is accomplished by the larger growth which abolishes its own peculiar form and structure. - W.F.A.

But to fulfil.
I. NEGATIVELY — that Christ did not come to destroy the law or the prophets. This may be illustrated as follows.

1. If the cause be immutably good, the operation and effects must be the same; especially if the cause be infinitely wise; all this is evident from the Word of God. If any persons declare that the moral law is altered, to be consistent, they must also suppose that the Divine nature is altered.

2. The law of God is perfect, the ceremonial law was imperfect. The moral law being perfect, the impress of the Divine image, it cannot be done away.

II. THE GREAT END THAT OUR LORD HAD IN VIEW WITH RESPECT TO THE MORAL LAW — "to fulfil." He undertakes this important work with the greatest cheerfulness, lie was obedient to the moral law in His childhood. Sufferings were necessary as well as active obedience. Our Lord set forth the spirituality of the moral law, and could not after that set about to destroy it.

(W. Kemp.)

I. lie fulfilled the law by spiritualizing it.

II. He fulfilled the law by developing it.

III. He fulfilled the law by generalising it and making it universal.

1. Breaking down class distinctions.

2. He abolished national distinctions in morality.

3. He abolished sex distinctions in morality.

(J. C. Jones.)




1. It had been broken in the practice of man, and He. came to atone for it.

2. It had been broken in the estimation of man, and He came to show him its glory.


1. By the presentation of a sufficient motive.

2. By the impartation of Divine power.

(T. Baron.)

I. The greatness of the assumption here made by Christ. Christ accepts the prophecies of the Old Testament as Divine, and points to Himself as their fulfilment.

II. These words of Jesus reveal the historical continuity of Christianity.

III. These words teach us the permanent authority of the moral principles of the Jewish law. Nothing that is moral can be destroyed. We do not need the light of stars when the sun has risen; but the stars are shining still.

(G. S. Barrett.)

I. Mark the POSITION our Saviour occupied, as forming a key to the whole of the Sermon on the Mount.

II. The MEANING of these words.

1. Christ fulfilled the law in His teaching. He completed it.

2. Christ fulfilled the law by His own personal, unbroken obedience.

3. Christ fulfilled the law by. His sufferings and death.

(W. G. Barrett.)

I. In a critical age, that has so many errors to be destroyed, reason acquires a destructive habit; against this habit one must guard, lest, instead of being a light to guide us, reason becomes only mildew to blight a world once beautiful.

II. The soul grows great, useful, and happy, not by what it denies, but by what it cordially affirms and loves.

III. Should you not all seek union with some positive, active, trusting Church? Let the Church you seek be broad, but not broad in its destructiveness, but in its soul, hopes, and charity; not broad by the absence of God, but by His infinite presence; not broad like the Sahara, in its treeless, birdless, dewless sands; not broad like the Arctic Sea, in perpetual silence and ice, but broad like an infinite paradise, full of all verdure, fruits, music, industry, happiness, and worship; wide enough for all to come.

(D. Swing.)

Christ certainly did come to destroy the law and the prophets — the outside of them. He knew perfectly well, if He had foresight, that they would be, as they have largely been, swept away; but He said, "That which these externalities include — the kernel, the heart — I came to fulfil. It was not the morality and spirituality for the sake of which Moses and the prophets had written that were to be destroyed. Even a crab knows enough once a year to get rid of its shell in order to have a bigger one: it is the sectary that does not know it! Men think, if you disturb beliefs, creeds, institutions, customs, methods, manners, that of course you disturb all they contain; but Christ said, "No; the very way to fulfil these things is to give them a chance to open a larger way." h bud must be destroyed if you are going to have a flower. The flower must be destroyed if you are going to have a seed. The seed must die if you are going to have the same thing a hundred-fold increased.


So all institutions that carry in themselves, not merely external procedure, but methods of truth, justice, and righteousness, must of necessity, if they follow the ages, dig their own graves. A law that can last a thousand years is a law that is inefficacious. A law that is active, influential, fruitful, destroys itself. It is not large enough. It produces a state of things among men which requires that the law itself should have a larger expression and a different application.

(Beecher.)As a painter laying fresh colours upon an old picture.


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