The Precepts of the Word of God

by J. C. Philpot

The IMPORTANCE of the precepts

1. One very simple proof of the importance of the precept is what we may call its BULK. Let us examine this point by looking at several of the epistles of the New Testament. We particularly mention these, because as being addressed to Christian Churches, the precept occupies in the epistles its distinctive and peculiar place as a harmonious part of the revolution of grace and truth in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Take, then, as our first instance, the Epistle to the Ephesians—the fullest and richest, and what we may perhaps call, the highest in doctrine, of all that Paul, under divine inspiration, wrote to the Churches. Out of six chapters in this epistle three are preceptive, mingled indeed with and based upon doctrinal and experimental truth, for in this channel the precept always runs; but assuming the form of clear, positive exhortation, admonition, warning, and directive. Consider this point, you ministers, who Lord's day after Lord's day preach nothing but doctrine, doctrine, doctrine; and ask yourselves whether the same Holy Spirit who revealed the first three chapters of the Epistle to the Ephesians did not also reveal the last three? Is not the whole epistle equally inspired, a blessed part of that Scripture of which we read—"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:16, 17.) How, then, can you be complete as a minister and thoroughly equipped for every good work—if you willfully neglect any part of that Scripture which God has given to be profitable to you, and to others by you?

But let us examine this point a little more closely. "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation with which you are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph. 4:1-3.) In the preceding chapters the Apostle had set before the believing Ephesians their eternal election in Christ, their predestination unto the adoption of children, their redemption through the blood of Jesus, even the forgiveness of their sins, their sealing by the Holy Spirit of promise as a pledge of their inheritance, their being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and that for a habitation of God through the Spirit. What a cluster of heavenly blessings, and all theirs as saints and believers in Christ Jesus!

What then? "I therefore." What a "therefore!" How it throws us back upon those spiritual blessings with which God has blessed us in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (Eph. 1:3,) and brings them all to bear upon our walk and conduct! "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation with which you are called," etc. But not content with this general exhortation, the Apostle follows up the precept for three successive chapters, pressing upon their heart and conscience every godly fruit, such as humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, love and union, mutual forgiveness; and mingles his exhortations with solemn warnings against every sin, such as uncleanness, lying, anger, theft, bitterness, wrath, evil speaking, etc.

Observe, too, how special and practical he is, taking up not only our individual walk and conduct, but entering also into all our family relationships, urging on husbands, wives, children, servants, masters, every relative duty, and the whole grounded on the highest motives, and based on heavenly and spiritual principles. Thus, in this epistle we have the highest doctrine and the highest practice, the most exalted views of the sovereign, eternal grace of God the Father, (1:3-12, 19-23,) of the unspeakable love of God the Son, (3:17-19,) and of the quickening, sealing, strengthening work of God the Holy Spirit, (1:13, 17; 2:1, 18, 22; 3:16.) And following up this full and glorious exposition of the deepest doctrinal truth we find the closest precept, bringing before our eyes, as the fruit of all this sovereign grace, the most active obedience of heart, lip, and life, with every inward grace and every outward fruit. Look at this point, dear readers. Examine it for yourselves. You have your Bibles before you. You need no learning, no great education to understand this. You only need two eyes—the natural eye, the eye of the body, to read the letter, and the spiritual eye, the eye of the soul—to read the spirit of your Bible. When, then, you are a little favored in your soul; when you feel your heart softened and melted by a sense of God's goodness and mercy, get alone for a little while, enter your closet and shut your door—the outward and the inward door, (Matt. 6:6,) and prayerfully read the Epistle to the Ephesians; and as your faith embraces, with a holy joy and heavenly sweetness, the glorious truths of the first three chapters, read on, and by the same faith embrace the wise and holy precepts in the last three, which flowed from the same Holy Spirit who inspired and indited the first.

As there is but "one Spirit" and "one faith," (Eph. 4:4, 5,) depend upon it, if the blessed Spirit enlightens the eyes of your understanding to see the doctrine, and anoint your heart to feel the power of sovereign grace, the same blessed Spirit will anoint your eyes and heart to see and feel the power of effectual grace; and will shine upon the inspired precept as well as upon the inspired promise. Nor will your faith which embraces salvation be less willing to embrace the things which accompany salvation. (Heb. 6:9.) We know, indeed, that to do this requires a spiritual mind; but we write for spiritual readers—for those who know something of the power of the word upon the heart, as well as the meaning of the letter of the word in their understanding.

Take next the Epistle to the Colossians, which we may call a sister epistle of that to the Ephesians, as written about the same time, (A.D. 61, when Paul was a prisoner at Rome,) and dwelling chiefly on the same glorious truths. This epistle contains four chapters. Of these, two are preceptive, that is, half of the epistle. Is not this a significant fact? and can it be safe or consistent with becoming reverence to the word of God's grace tacitly to set aside half an epistle as of little or no significance? Next look at 1 Thessalonians. This contains five chapters, of which the last two are wholly preceptive; and if, instead of reckoning by the chapters, we count the verses, we shall find that somewhat more than half (46 out of 89 verses) are devoted to the subject of practice and the claims of Christian obedience.

But an objection may be here started, that we have picked the epistles, and have omitted two of the longest and most important, that, namely, to the Romans, and that to the Hebrews, to neither of which our test of bulk will apply. It is perfectly true that in neither of these epistles is the proportion of precept to doctrine, measured by bulk, so great as in those which we have examined. But there is a sound and valid reason for this apparent disproportion in both cases. In setting forth, for instance, the grand doctrine of justification by faith in the blood and righteousness of the Son of God, which forms the chief subject of the Epistle to the Romans, it was necessary to be full and ample, that so important a truth might be placed upon a broad and permanent basis. A short epistle, like that to the Philippians, could not have adequately set forth, in all its various bearings, that foundation doctrine which Luther calls "the article whereby the Church stands or falls." A certain degree, therefore, of drawn out, argumentative proof (for the doctrinal part of the Epistle to the Romans is a most masterly and logical piece of sustained reasoning) was necessary to place upon an unshaken foundation the Church's grand bulwark against error for all time.

Similarly the priesthood of the Lord Jesus, which forms the subject of the Epistle to the Hebrews, could not be treated in all its fullness and bearings except at considerable length; for it was necessary to trace in it the fulfillment of the Levitical dispensation, with its types and sacrifices, in the Person and work of the God-man Mediator. We see, therefore, at once, from these considerations, sufficient reasons why these two epistles form an apparent exception to our test of bulk. And yet in both of them the precept, if measured, not by actual bulk but by weight, by quality not by quantity, which surely is an admirable test, is not less strong and powerful.

Read, for instance, Romans 12, 13, 14. What a weight of precept; how condensed, and yet how comprehensive. What firm and strong gospel principles are laid down. The mercies of God; (12:1;) the property which Christ has in us; (14:7-9;) our membership with him and with one another; (12:4, 5;) the spiritual nature of the kingdom of God; (14:17, 18;) the example of Christ; (15:3-6;) the claims of brotherly love; (13:8-10;) the near approach of full and final salvation; (13:11;) and our accountability to God; (14:12;) what a foundation is thus laid. And upon this broad basis of Christian privilege what a godly superstructure of Christian precept. Read from Romans 12:1 to 15:7. What a weight of precept. How close and condensed, and yet how full is chapter 12; and with what a weighty, influential principle it begins—"I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world; but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." The body to be presented a living sacrifice unto God; non-conformity to the world; but a transformation of the renewed mind into the image of Christ, with a sensible experience and proof thereby of the perfect will of God. What a foundation for all vital, practical godliness.

But we must not forestall our subject, as these things will have to be considered at length as we proceed. Let it suffice for the present to ask ourselves this simple question, "Can it be right, can it be safe, can it be scriptural, to treat all this fullness and weight of precept with no more attention than an obsolete Act of Parliament? or, to speak less harshly, to receive it as the word of God much as we might do the last chapters of Ezekiel, which we little read and less understand, though we have no doubt of its being a part of the inspired Scriptures?"

The same observations will apply to the Epistle to the Hebrews. Measured by bulk, the amount of the preceptive part of the epistle falls short of the doctrinal; but who that reads the two last chapters can deny the weight of exhortation, admonition, warning, and direction with which these are filled, but which our limits will not allow us to do more than point out?

But it will be observed that we have merely indicated bulk as one proof of the importance of the precept. If our readers feel disposed to follow up our argument, let them examine in this point of view the Epistle to the Galatians, of which two chapters out of six (5, 6) are preceptive; the Epistle to the Philippians, in which precept is so prominent a feature, and so blended with doctrine, (1:6; 2:5-11; 3:20, 21,) and with experience (1:21-23; 3:7-14,) that it may be called a model of preceptive writing; the Epistles to Timothy and Titus, which are nearly all precept; and the Epistles of Peter and James, which are filled with precept from first to last. The amount of precept in the epistles, measured only by the simple test of quantity, would surprise a person whose attention had not been directed to that point, if he would but carefully examine it. But it is sad to say how little the Scriptures are read among us with that intelligent attention, that careful and prayerful studiousness, that earnest desire to understand, believe, and experimentally realize their divine meaning, which they demand and deserve, and which the word of God compares to seeking as for silver, and searching as for hidden treasure. (Prov. 2:4.)

2. But the importance of the precept will be evident from another consideration. Were there no precepts in the New Testament, we would be without an inspired rule of life, without an authoritative guide for our walk and conduct before the Church and the world. We rightly discard and reject the 'law of Moses' as the believer's rule of life. What, then, is our rule? Are we a set of lawless wretches who may live as we desire, according to the libelous charge of the enemies of truth? God forbid! We have a divine, authoritative rule of life, a code of directions of the amplest, fullest, minutest character, intended and sufficient to regulate and control every thought, word, and action of our lives; and all flowing from the eternal wisdom and will of the Father, sealed and ratified by the blood of the Son, and inspired and revealed by the Holy Spirit.

When, then, it is thrown in our teeth that, by discarding the 'law of Moses' as our rule of life, we prove ourselves licentious, lawless Antinomians, this is our answer, and let God and his word decide whether it be not a sufficient one. Not so. We have a rule of life as far exceeding the 'law of Moses' as the new covenant of grace and truth in the glorious Person of the Son of God exceeds and outshines the old covenant of works; and as much as the ministration of the Spirit, of life, and of righteousness excels in glory the ministration of the letter, of death, and of condemnation. (2 Cor. 3:6-11.) In a word, the precepts of the New Testament, in all their fullness, minuteness, and comprehensiveness, are our rule of life.

But mark what would be the consequence if the preceptive part of the New Testament were taken out of its pages as so much useless matter. It would be like going on board of a ship bound on a long and perilous voyage, and taking out of her, just before she sailed, all her charts, her compass, her sounding-line, her chronometer; in a word, all the instruments of navigation needful for her safely crossing the sea, or even leaving the port. But you may say, "If there were no precept, the Church would still have the Holy Spirit to guide her safely over the sea of life to her heavenly haven." It is true; and so the first Christians, as Stephen the martyr, who lived before the epistles were written, had the Holy Spirit to guide them, in the absence of the precept. But in those early days, first, the Holy Spirit was poured out in large measure, and, secondly, they had in their midst apostles and prophets, (1 Cor. 12:4-11; 14; Eph. 2:20; 4:11, 12,) directly and immediately inspired to guide and direct them, which gifts have been withdrawn since the canon of Scripture was closed. Besides which, as the Holy Spirit, who then wrought immediately by the lips of inspired men, (1 Cor. 14:21,) now works mediately by the inspired page, the argument is neither sound nor safe that we could do very well without the letter of the precept as still having the Spirit. The question is not what God might do, but what God does; not what we think, but what God says. If God has mercifully and graciously given us rules and directions whereby to walk, let us thankfully accept them, not question and cavil how far we could have done without them.

See, too, what a wide field would be laid open for wild enthusiasm to range in, were there no direct and positive lines laid down, as we now have them in the precept. How every deluded fanatic might come forward as inspired by the Holy Spirit to instruct us how to act, and what to do, and how to live, how many wives he might have, and how much money we must give to keep him and them in luxury and ease. What a mercy for us that we have God's precepts and not man's; God's holy, wise, and gracious directions how to glorify him in heart and life, how to walk in love and union with his dear people, how to keep ourselves unspotted from the world, how to know his will and do it, with his own blessed approbation in our conscience; and thus, by taking heed to our way according to God's word, (Psalm 119:9,) not become the prey of every vile Mormonite, every sleek impostor, every wily monk or crafty nun, every Papist, Puseyite, or sister of mercy who might seek to impose upon us with their pretended revelations, or bind us hard and fast with their stern, austere rules of fleshly holiness. What heavy burdens would they fasten on our shoulders, as we see in the case of the Pharisees of old, who made the word of God of none effect by their traditions, and in the self-imposed austerities of the Trappist and Carthusian orders among the Papists, and the Fathers and the Brothers Ignatius now among us, with their sandals and Benedictine dress, like "a rough garment to deceive."

Left to such blind or wilfully-deceiving guides, we would, but for the precept as the rule of our lives, as the inspired guide of our steps, have no word of the Lord to set against their delusions or their hypocrisies, and would pass our lives in continual bondage and fear, awed by their pretended revelations, or bowed down by their austere regulations. We have enough, God knows, of those would-be teachers and directors of conscience; some coming with their crafty impostures to deceive, others with their forms and ceremonies, preparations for the sacrament, manuals of religious instruction, practices of piety, aids to devotion, all drawn out to rule and pattern, to teach us how to live and how to die; and all as full of error as a blind understanding can devise, and as full of legality and lip-service as a superstitious, self-righteous, Pharisaical heart can make them. What a torrent of Popery seems fast coming in under what is now called "ritualism;" that is, a setting up of rites and ceremonies, mediaeval observances, and traditional rules, instead of the doctrines of grace and the precepts of the gospel. What a mercy, then, for the living Church of God that we have not only the Holy Spirit as our inward Teacher, to show us by his divine light these errors and delusions, but that the same blessed Spirit has given us in the word of truth the sweetest, soundest, safest directions to lead us into, and keep us in the way of eternal life; and that he from time to time sheds upon them his own benevolent unction, grace, and savour to make them spirit and life to our soul, and thus become a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. What a holy, happy liberty; what a free service; what a tender, affectionate, filial obedience do the precepts of the gospel set before us, as far removed from legal exactions and Pharisaic righteousness as from Antinomian licentiousness and loose, careless ungodliness.

O you, who see and feel these things, and have tasted the blessedness of serving God in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter, (Romans 7:6,) lift up your heart and hands with the writer of these lines, and say with him, "Bless God for the precept." May grace be given us more clearly to understand it, more carefully to heed it, more closely to obey it.

But here for the present we pause, lest we should not only engross too much space for our own pen, but, by dwelling upon one subject at too great length, rather weary than edify our readers.

In our last paper we attempted to direct the attention of our readers to the importance of the preceptive portion of the word of truth, as being well convinced that if we could but once establish that point firmly in their hearts, it would, with God's help and blessing, much prepare the way for a close and careful consideration of the whole subject, both on their part and our own. A moment's thought will make this sufficiently obvious. If any part of God's truth be viewed as of little importance by writer or reader, by minister or hearer, the almost necessary consequence is that it becomes either wholly neglected, or is loosely and carelessly slurred over by both. Why need we devote time or thought to a matter of little moment? Why carefully and prayerfully examine a subject which will scarcely repay us for the trouble of our attention? We might, from a reverence to the word of God, forbear such thoughts or such expressions, and yet the practical effect might be what we have pointed out. But, on the other hand, if, through the teaching and testimony of the blessed Spirit, any portion of the word of truth is opened with divine light to our understanding, or laid with peculiar weight and power upon our heart, its solemn importance is at once seen and felt; it engages the whole of our attention, and we wonder how we could have been so blind to what is now so clear, or treated with neglect what is now so weighty.

But as snares await us on every hand, a temptation here presents itself, from falling into which we must desire to be kept. As all true wisdom is from above, the free gift of God, who gives to all who ask him liberally, and upbraids not; (James 1:5; 3:17;) and as the very reason why the Lord grants to any "a knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" is that they "might walk worthy of him unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God," (Col. 1:10, 11,) we must watch against being betrayed into a censorious spirit, lest, in our zeal for the precept, we ourselves be the very first to break it. Thus, while we may accept with thankfulness any communication of light, any opening of the word of truth for our comfort or edification, we must carefully guard against making a rod for others out of any grace to ourselves. That were not to use, but to abuse the goodness of God, and to turn the grand precept of the gospel, the new commandment of the Lord, that we love one another as he has loved us, (John 15:12,) into a matter of strife and division. It is, in fact, the working of this censorious spirit in the minds of most who have attempted to handle the precept, which has made the whole subject distasteful to many of the real children of God, they not being able clearly to distinguish between the precept itself, and the carnal, legal way in which it has been thrust upon them.

But if preserved from this snare, if in the spirit and love of the gospel we can point out to our believing brethren from the word of truth the importance of the preceptive part of the New Testament, and the Lord shall be pleased to commend it to their conscience, we shall hope thereby to approve ourselves to them, as not seeking to have dominion over their faith, but as helpers of their joy. (2 Cor. 1:24.)

Our readers will remember that in our last paper we pointed out to their notice two considerations, which seemed to us much to establish the importance of the precept. One of these was drawn from the large amount which it occupies in the Epistles of the New Testament, or, to use our own words, its bulk and quantity. The second consideration derived its weight from the fact that, in the absence of the precept, we should have no authoritative rule of life.

3. Closely connected with the last point is another consideration, to us of no less weight in establishing the importance of the precept, to which we shall now call the observation of our readers. It is this; that, as without a special revelation of the precept in the word of truth we would not know what was the will of God as regards all spiritual and practical obedience, so, without it as our guide and rule, we would not be able to live to his glory. As this consideration must be, to all who fear God, a matter of deep importance, we shall endeavor to unfold it somewhat fully, and especially to point out its connection with the preceptive part of the word of truth.

As the glory of God is the grand end and object of all the manifestations of himself in creation, in providence, and in grace, so should it be the end and object of all our knowledge of him, of all our faith in him, of all our obedience to him. Such was the end and aim of our blessed Lord, the object for which he came, for which he lived, for which he died, for which he rose again, and for which he now lives at the right hand of the Father. He therefore could say, in his intercessory prayer before he offered himself up—"I have glorified you on the earth; I have finished the work which you gave me to do." (John 17:4.) And having thus glorified his heavenly Father on earth by doing his will, (Heb. 10:7,) not seeking his own glory, but the glory of him who sent him, (John 7:18; 8:50,) he is himself now glorified in heaven, for he has "entered into his glory," (Luke 24:26,) being glorified with the glory which he had with the Father before the world was. If, then, he has left us an example that we should follow his steps; (1 Pet. 2:21;) if we are to glorify him here that we may be glorified with him hereafter, it must be by our faith and obedience. How plain is this from the word. But let us trace out its successive steps.

First, then, we "glorify God for his mercy;" (Romans 15:9;) that is, when we receive salvation as flowing to our guilty souls from his pure mercy, we praise and bless his holy name, as sinners saved by grace. We therefore read—"Whoever offers praise glorifies me." (Psalm 50:23.) This is the first step, as salvation by grace is the grand foundation of our living to his praise. But as this mercy and grace are only manifested in his dear Son, it may be said that the first step which we take in glorifying God is when we believe in Jesus. By raising him from the dead, and setting him at his own right hand, God has glorified him; (Acts 3:13;) for he has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name. (Phil. 2:9, 10; Eph. 1:20, 21; 1 Peter 1:21.) When, then, we believe in Jesus by that faith which is of the operation of God, (Col. 2:12,) we glorify the Father. We read of Abraham—"He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God." (Romans 4:20.) As, then, we walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, (Romans 4:12,) we in our measure glorify God as he did.

But this work of faith is internal—seen of God, but not seen of men; and, therefore, though glorifying God, yet not giving him that glory outwardly before the world which he deserves and demands. Here, then, comes in the next step, which is Christian obedience, or that living to his honor and praise whereby God is glorified in the world. The world cannot see our faith, but it can see what that faith does. It cannot understand the union between Christ and his people, but it can understand good fruit when it grows on the vine. The Lord, therefore, said to his disciples, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 5:16.) And again more particularly, in his parting discourse—"Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall you be my disciples." (John 15:8.) Thus also speaks the Apostle—"Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God." (Phil. 1:11.)

But now comes the connection between the precept, and living to the praise and glory of God; and as this point is not often explained, or at least not often insisted upon, we shall endeavor to set it in its true and scriptural light. Be it, then, observed, and ever borne in mind that, as the glory of God is the end of all our obedience, it must be an obedience according to his own prescribed rule and pattern. In this point lies all the distinction between the obedience of a Christian to the glory of God—and the self-imposed obedience of a Pharisee to the glory of self. Take a survey of the wide field of what are called religious duties, religious observances, decided piety, active exertions, and the whole movements of the religious world. What are they as weighed in the balances of the sanctuary? What is there of God or of his word in them? When God gave directions to Moses about the tabernacle and all its vessels, he said unto him—"And look that you make them after their pattern, which was showed you in the mount." (Exod. 25:40.) According to this pattern were all the vessels made, and as such, and as such only, were they accepted and approved. "The Israelites had done all the work just as the Lord had commanded Moses. Moses inspected the work and saw that they had done it just as the Lord had commanded. So Moses blessed them." (Exod. 39:42, 43.) So in a spiritual sense it is now. The pattern for our guidance in doing the will of God and living to the glory of God is laid down for us, not only in the example of Christ—but in the rule of the precepts.

Thus we see that if there were no precept as our guiding rule, we could not live to the glory of God, or yield to him an acceptable obedience; and for this simple reason, that we would not know how to do so. We might wish to do so; we might attempt to do so; but we would and must fail, as Moses must have failed in building the tabernacle, for lack of a guiding pattern. As, then, without a revelation of the doctrine of salvation we would not know how a sinner could be saved, and thus could not glorify God by our faith; so without a revelation of the precept we would not know how to serve God, and thus could not glorify him by our obedience.

Look at this point, believing child of God. You long to glorify God in your body and your spirit, which are his. (1 Cor. 6:20.) You desire, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, to do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31.) There are times and seasons with you when you sigh and mourn over your barren, unprofitable heart and life, and earnestly long to think and speak, and act to his honor and glory who has done so much for you in providence and grace. At least, if you have no such desires you are no Christian, and are at the best but a poor, worldly, dead professor. When, then, and how far do you live to God's glory? Only then, and only so far as your life, and walk, and conduct harmonize with, and are guided by the precepts of the word. For see the connection. We can only glorify God outwardly by doing his will; we can only know that will, as regards our practical obedience to it, by the express revelation which he has given of it. Where is that revelation? In his word, and chiefly in the preceptive part of it. It is this which makes it "a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path." (Psalm 119:105.) David therefore cried—"Order my steps in your word;" "Make me to go in the path of your commandments;" "O that my ways were directed to keep your statutes;" as feeling that it was only by walking in the word and by the word that he could please God and live to his praise. We find thousands in this land who, as they think, are doing God service by plans and schemes of their own devising, priding themselves on their good works. But we may say of all these their duties and doings what Augustine said of the ancient Roman virtues, that they are but "splendid sins"—or, to use the language of the 23rd Article of the Church of England, entitled, "Works before Justification," "for that they are not done as God has willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin."

4. We are unwilling to weary our readers by dwelling too long on one point, and yet we cannot forbear adding another reason to show the importance of the precept. On its fulfillment turns the main test of distinction between the believer and the unbeliever, between the manifested vessel of mercy and the vessel of wrath fitted to destruction. To show this point a little more clearly, let us examine the test which our Lord in various places has given us between those who are really and truly his by vital union and regenerating grace, and those who have a name to live and are dead.

First look at the parable of the sower. Out of four kinds of hearers of the word, one only is saved and sanctified thereby. Now, what is the test given of this saved hearer? Is it not that he brings forth fruit? "But he who received seed into the good ground is he who hears the word, and understands it; which also bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty." (Matt. 13:23.) Can any one deny, in the face of these words, that the grand distinguishing test of the good-ground hearer is, that he bears fruit—and that none of the others bear it? But now comes the question, What is fruit? Is it not inward and outward—the inward fruits of the Spirit in the heart, and the outward fruits of godliness in the life? But what rule guides and regulates these fruits, so as to distinguish them from the "splendid sins" of which we have been speaking? Evidently the precept, for by that, and in harmony with that, the Spirit works. Is there, then, heart fruit, such as "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance?" (Gal. 5:22, 23.) It is wrought by the blessed Spirit, according to the precepts, "Walk in love, as Christ has also loved us;" (Eph. 5:2;) "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice;" (Phil. 4:4;) "Live in peace;" (2 Cor. 13:11;) "Be at peace among yourselves;" (1 Thess. 5:13;) "With long-suffering, bearing with one another in love," (Eph. 4:2,) etc. Is there not here a blessed harmony between the inward work of the Spirit and the outward word of the precept? Again, is there outward fruit? It is needless to show that this too is in harmony with the precept; for all will acknowledge the practical character of the precepts of the New Testament.

But now take another test of a similar character from the Lord's own lips, as brought before us in the parable of the Vine and the branches. What distinguishes the branches in Christ by living union from the branches in him by nominal profession? Fruit! "I am the true Vine, and my Father is the Husbandman. Every branch in me that bears not fruit he takes away; and he prunes every branch that bears fruit, that it may bring forth more fruit." (John 15:1, 2.) The sentence against "every branch that bears not fruit" is that the Father "takes it away"—casts it forth as a barren branch. And how deals he with the branch that bears fruit? "He prunes it." Why? "That it may bring forth more fruit." Who, with these words of the Lord before his eyes, can deny that fruit is the distinguishing test of life, of grace, of salvation? But this fruit must and will be in harmony with the precept; for in the bosom of that is lodged all inward and outward godliness, all spiritual and practical obedience.

Take one more test from the Lord's own lips. Read the solemn conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount—that grand code of Christian precept—"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." (Matthew 7:24-27.)

What is the Lord's own test of distinction between the wise man who builds on the rock, and the foolish man who builds on the sand? The rock, of course, is Christ, as the sand is self. But the test, the mark, the evidence, the proof of the two builders and the two buildings is the hearing of Christ's sayings and doing them, or the hearing of Christ's sayings and doing them not. We may twist and wriggle under such a text, and try all manner of explanations to parry off its keen, cutting edge; we may fly to arguments and deductions drawn from the doctrines of grace to shelter ourselves from its heavy stroke, and seek to prove that the Lord was there preaching the law and not the gospel, and that as we are saved by Christ's blood and righteousness, and not by our own obedience or our good works, either before or after calling, all such tests and all such texts are inapplicable to our state as believers. But after all our questions and cavilings, our nice and subtle arguments to quiet conscience and patch up a false peace, there the words of the Lord stand, and, what is more, will stand forever, backed as they are by that solemn declaration from the same lips of eternal truth—"Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 7:19-21)

To draw, then, our argument into a short compass; if gospel fruit be the test of gospel grace; if, as God's workmanship, we are as much "created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them," as we are made new creatures in Christ by spiritual regeneration, and are foreordained unto eternal life; (Eph. 2:10;) if we are as much elected unto obedience as unto the blood of sprinkling; (1 Pet. 1:2;) and if these good works and this obedience are all in the closest harmony with, and regulated by the precept, nothing can be more obvious than its great importance. And if it be thus important, it certainly has the strongest claim upon our attention and obedience.