The Precepts of the Word of God

by J. C. Philpot

The NATURE of the precepts

This is the most important part of our whole subject, and will therefore require the most careful handling on our side, and corresponding attention, and we may add, kind consideration, on the side of our spiritual readers. We would, therefore, say to them in all friendliness—deal fairly by us; judge of our views as a whole. Do not cavil at little points, or quarrel with isolated expressions; but compare our views and statements with the Scripture and the experience of the saints, and receive or reject them as they are or are not in harmony with both these tests of truth. If they do not agree with them both, they cannot stand; nor would we wish them to stand, as our only object is truth—truth in its purity, truth in its power.

We lay this down, then, as a broad foundation principle, that the precept, being an integral part of the gospel, must thoroughly harmonize with it. If it clashes, or rather, if our views of it clash with salvation by grace, personal election and predestination unto eternal life, particular redemption by the blood and righteousness of the Son of God, and the final perseverance of the saints—there must be something wrong somewhere.

Again, if the precept, or our views of the precept, clash with the work of grace on the heart, the teachings and witness of the Holy Spirit, and the inward kingdom of God, as set up by a divine power in the soul—there must be something wrong somewhere. We hope, indeed, clearly and fully to show that there is the sweetest harmony between the doctrines of the gospel, the experience of the gospel, and the precepts of the gospel; but for the present we wish to lay it down as a broad, fundamental principle that only those views of the precept can be right, which make it thoroughly harmonize with the gospel of the grace of God in all its fullness, in all its freeness, in all whereby it brings glory to God, in all whereby it brings salvation to man.

In considering the nature of the precept, we shall examine,
First, the LETTER of the precept.
Secondly, the SPIRIT of the precept.

I. The LETTER of the precept.

Our readers will easily understand the distinction thus drawn between the letter and the spirit, if they will view the former as the body and the latter as the soul of the precept; for it is with the precept as with ourselves; the body cannot act without the soul, nor the soul usually without the body. Without the soul the body is dead. So the letter of the precept is dead without the spirit of the precept, and the spirit of the precept usually acts by the letter of the precept. We say "usually," because there was the spirit of the precept acting, beautifully acting, as in the case of those who "were of one heart and one soul" (Acts 4:32) before any part of the New Testament was written, and, consequently, before the precept was given in its present form; and even now the Holy Spirit may move unto love and good works, and often does so without any special use of the letter of the precept. But his movements will always be in harmony with the letter of the precept, even where he does not particularly employ it for that purpose.

We shall first, then, examine the LETTER of the precept, and in so doing shall consider it under five distinct heads:

1. The people to whom the precept is addressed.

2. The connection of the precept with the doctrines of the gospel.

3. The things which the precept specially inculcates.

4. The motives by which the precept is enforced.

5. The form under which the precept is revealed.

The Lord the Spirit enable us rightly to divide the word of truth.

1. The PEOPLE to whom the precept is addressed. These are believers, and believers only. The world has nothing to do with the precepts of the gospel. They are not addressed to it or meant for it. This will be evident from a moment's consideration. Where do we chiefly find the precepts of the New Testament? In the epistles. What are the epistles? Inspired letters written to Christian Churches or Christian individuals. Take any of the epistles, examine how they begin and to whom they are written. Is it not to "the beloved of God, called to be saints?" (Romans 1:7,) or "to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus?" (1 Cor. 1:2,) or "to the saints and to the faithful in Christ Jesus?" (Eph. 1:1,) etc. It is not worth while to prove a point so plain—a point which any one can ascertain for himself by merely looking at the beginning of each epistle.

But what an important consequence flows from this simple fact, that is, that spiritual precepts are only for spiritual men; and, therefore, that to take the precepts and force them upon carnal men is to abuse them. You write a letter to your wife in all the confidence of mutual love, and you tell her you wish her to do this and that—that you are coming home on a certain day, and want her to get this and that thing ready. Is that letter for all the women of the parish to read? And do you send directions in it to all the busy-bodies of the town, who might think themselves quite as well qualified as she is to do for you what you want done? Do you even write to your servant as you write to your wife? You ask the one; you command the other. The one works for love; the other works for wages. And yet for lack of seeing this simple fact, which stares us in the face every time we open the New Testament, the precepts and directions addressed by Christ to his bride and spouse have been laid hold of by any and all of the professing women who would gladly say to him, "We will eat our own bread and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by your name, to take away our reproach." (Isa. 4:1.)

We all know that the only right key to a letter, especially if it be a long one, and dealing with many minute circumstances, is a knowledge of the person who wrote it, and of the person to whom it was written. When we receive a letter from a wife, a relation, a friend, however long or minute it may be, we understand every word of it. But if a letter be given us to read, written by a stranger to a stranger, especially if it embraces many minute circumstances—all is dark, mysterious, enigmatical. So the only true key to the Epistles of the New Testament is a knowledge of him who wrote it, and of him to whom it was written. He who wrote it is the blessed Lord, the Head and Husband of the Church; for, though indited by the pen of the Holy Spirit, it is really Jesus who sent it, and who now speaks to his people in and by it. He to whom it is written is the believer in Jesus, espoused to him by covenant ties and spiritual betrothal.

What, then, has the profane worldling, the proud Pharisee, the loose, licentious Antinomian, to do with the letters—the pure, chaste, holy love-letters of Jesus to his bride? No more than a stranger has to do with your letters to your wife, or to her whom you hope one day to make your wife! Put this key into the epistles, the preceptive part of them as well as the doctrinal, (for they are both one, both of them parts of the same love-letter, and therefore each breathe the same sweet spirit of love,) and you will easily open the lock; though we must add that so many a bungler, not to say so many a burglar, has thrust wrong keys into it, or tried to pick it, that if the wards had not been made by him "who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working," they must have been hampered long ago.

2. Our second point in examining the letter of the precept is its connection with the doctrines of the gospel. This, above all others, is the point in which the peculiar character of the precept lies, and from which it derives its chief force and efficacy. A few examples, however, of this connection, will make this point more clear than a long explanation. "Be therefore, followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour." (Eph. 5:1, 2.) We find here a precept bidding us to be "followers of God," that is, followers of the example of God, the exhortation being closely connected with the preceding verse, (Eph. 4:32,) from which, indeed, it should not have been separated; and to "walk in love" with the dear family of God. Now, see the connection of this precept with the doctrines of the gospel. There is no doctrine of the gospel more blessed than the forgiveness of sins, and no sweeter experience than a personal knowledge of it. Indeed, we may call it the grand doctrine of the gospel. But sin is forgiven only through the blood-shedding and sacrifice of Christ. See, then, the foundation of the precept, that we should walk in love with the people of God, and its connection with gospel doctrine. Observe the following points of connection—

1. That we are addressed as "dear children," that is, dear to God. This connects the precept with our election and eternal predestination unto the adoption of children. (Eph. 1:5.)

2. Mark "the love of Christ in giving himself for us." This connects the precept with the love of Christ in dying for our sins.

3. Observe next, "the sweet-smelling savor" unto God when Christ offered himself as a sacrifice. This connects the precept with the fragrance of Christ's offering and sacrifice on the cross, and the Father's acceptance of it with infinite approbation and complacency.

4. Observe, lastly, the complete forgiveness of all our sins by God, for Christ's sake, and through this sweet-smelling sacrifice.

What a cluster of gospel doctrines—election, adoption, redemption, forgiveness; and all of them animated with life and spirit, and brought down into the heart by a personal experience of their blessedness.

Now, then, what follows? If God has so chosen us, if Christ has so loved us, if he has so bled and died for us, if the Father has so freely forgiven us for Christ's sake—then let us walk in love with those who are alike chosen, alike loved, alike redeemed, alike forgiven. Is there anything legal here? Is it not all pure gospel, in the fullest harmony with every gracious doctrine, and in the fullest harmony, too, with a sweet inward experience of the love of God, of the Spirit of adoption, of the blood of Christ, of the forgiveness of sin? The fact is this, that instead of the precept being, as many think, base and legal—it is just the contrary. It is too high; has too much of the pure gospel in it to suit and please most even of those who truly fear God. It assumes what many do not enjoy—such as the liberty of the gospel, a blessed assurance of interest in the blood of Christ, a sense of the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit, and a knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins. The precept, in fact, would suit our legal, working spirit better if there were not so much gospel in it; if it would but tell us how many chapters we ought to read a day; how often and how long to pray; how much we should give away out of our income; how many times we should forgive our brother, and whether seven would not be enough? How it would suit our Pharisaical spirit to have a few such nice legal tasks set for us—that we might please ourselves with performing them, and enjoy the greater pleasure still of well flogging our brother, who was not quite so exact as we in bringing up the full weight and measure of his religious duties.

But the precept will have none of all this. It stands upon high and heavenly ground, and yet comes down to us in our lowest estate. Thus it stands upon the ground of free grace to the vilest of sinners, for such were the Ephesians, (Eph. 2:1-3,) and yet chosen in Christ; blessed in him with all spiritual blessings; (1:3, 4;) sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise; (1:13;) raised up together and sitting in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; (2:6;) made near by the blood of Christ; (2:13;) and built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit. (2:22.)

The precept knows nothing of tasks or conditions, nothing of legal duties and doings; but addresses itself in the purest and highest gospel language to the sons of God, as led by the Spirit of God. It says to them, as if with a voice from heaven—"Heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, as being thus loved, thus blessed, thus saved, thus sealed, thus forgiven—walk in love with the dear children of God, forgiving them all their unkindness, hard speeches, cold looks, cutting remarks, or even more personal and painful injuries." Is this a hard precept? Yes, very hard when we have no experience of gospel blessings. No wonder, then, that you are shy of this precept when you are nursing a revengeful, unforgiving spirit against a brother! But what does this unforgiving spirit of yours show? That you yourself know nothing experimentally of the love of God in forgiving you your sins—or at least are not now walking in the experience and enjoyment of it. But is it so hard a precept? You get the pardoning love of God into your soul, and you will find it as easy as it is sweet to perform it. No, you cannot but perform it; for if you walk in love with God, you will walk in love with your brother also.

This one example might suffice as a general key to all the other precepts, for they are all, so to speak, constructed after the same pattern; they all breathe the same pure gospel. But we will now take an example or two of what we may call family duties, or, to speak more correctly, social relationships—and see how gospel precepts are in their case also similarly based upon, similarly connected with, gospel doctrines.

Christian husbands are bidden (Eph. 5:25-32) to love their wives. The whole of the exhortation is somewhat too long to quote fully, but we will give one verse—"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it." (Eph. 5:25.)

Now look at the foundation of this exhortation. Why should a Christian husband, according to this precept, love his wife? Because it is his duty—or because conducive to his happiness—or because it is what she has a right to as his partner in life? None of these grounds are named, or even alluded to. But this is the foundation of the precept—Christ loved the Church as his mystical body, and gave himself for it; therefore as the believing husband holds to the believing wife as her natural head the same relative position which Christ holds to the Church as her spiritual head, he is bound to love her for Christ's sake and after Christ's example. Christ and his Church are one; she is his own flesh which he nourishes and cherishes. So a man and his wife are one flesh. When, then, he loves her he loves himself; and to nourish and cherish her is to nourish and cherish his own body, as Christ does the Church.

Is not this noble gospel ground—full of the most sublime and deepest truth? Is it not a spiritual, heavenly, and holy view of Christian marriage, and does it not baptize that social tie as with the very spirit and love of Christ? What a sanctity it throws round the marriage of Christians; how it elevates it above all worldliness and carnality, and brings down upon conjugal love the pure breath of heaven, more than reinstating it to what it was in Paradise in the days of man's primeval innocence.

Now take, as a counterpart, the precept to Christian wives, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church; and he is the Saviour of the body. Therefore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything." (Eph. 5:22-24.) This precept, perhaps, may be less palatable to those to whom it is addressed, for no wife minds how much her husband gives her of his love, but she has not always the same pleasure in giving him her obedience. But let her like it or not, the submission and subjection of a wife to her husband are here inculcated as one of the precepts of the gospel. But on what high, holy, and spiritual ground it is placed. Now the precept is based upon and connected with the glorious gospel doctrine of the headship of Christ and the Church's subjection and submission to him as such. When, then, a Christian wife seeks not her own will, but her husband's—when she submits to his desires and wishes, (and of course the Apostle assumes that as a Christian man these would be in harmony with the gospel,) her very submission is her glory, as well as her happiness.

Is it not so in our submission to Christ? Is it not our glory and happiness to know no will but his, and to yield to him the obedience of love? Thus you Christian wives, when you submit yourselves to your husbands in love and affection, you do so after the example of the Church. There is no loss of dignity or position in this, no giving up of your rights. When you can respect and love your husband as a Christian man as well as a Christian partner, and you can walk together not only in conjugal but spiritual love, as he will require nothing from you which you may not safely and scripturally yield to him, so will it be your pleasure as well as your privilege to walk with him as his equal in Christ, but now subordinate in present position.

One of the first things which opened our eyes to see more clearly and distinctly the spiritual nature of the precepts of the New Testament was, observing their close and intimate connection with the doctrines of the gospel. This, indeed, presupposes a spiritual and experimental knowledge of the doctrines of grace; for unless we clearly see and experimentally feel the blessedness of salvation by sovereign grace, it is impossible to enter into the path of obedience which the Holy Spirit has traced out for the heirs of salvation to walk in.

A son and a servant live by two very different rules. As, then, in an earthly family, none can live as a child who is not a child, so, in the heavenly family, none can live as a son who is not a son. It is for lack of seeing and knowing this for themselves that so many have stumbled over the precept—have canalized and legalized it—and, full of confusion themselves, have done little else but confuse others. As this point, then, is what we may call, in military language, the key of the whole position,* which if we gain, and on which if we firmly stand, the whole field lies open to our view, we shall, at the risk of being somewhat verbose, dwell a little further upon it.

* The key of a position is that particular spot on a field of battle, as some commanding height, on the possession and retaining of which chiefly depends the result of the engagement.

If our readers will refer to our last paper, they will see this connection traced out in several examples from the epistles. And we may observe that these are not forced or solitary instances—examples picked by us for a certain purpose, but that so particular and, we may almost add, so jealous is the Holy Spirit in enforcing and preserving this connection, that there is scarcely a precept given which is not linked as with a golden thread to some gospel doctrine. No, what is still more striking, this connection of gospel precept with gospel doctrine is so closely preserved that there is scarcely even a warning against vile and open sins, which is not based upon and connected with a gospel truth or a gospel blessing. As an illustration of our meaning, (for this is a very tender subject, and needs careful handling) we will give one or two instances of this connection, which will, we trust, set this point in a clear light.

There can hardly be two worse sins—that is, open sins, than lying and immorality. Would we not naturally expect that the Apostle, if he touched upon these sins at all, would come down upon them with some terrific denunciation of the wrath of God against them, cutting and hacking at them with a two-edged sword? But no! that is not his way of handling either warnings or precepts. Let us see how he warns, and whether, even in what we may almost call these extreme cases, he leaves Mount Zion for a single moment, to borrow the thunders of Mount Sinai. Not but that he does solemnly warn against such and other open sins, by declaring that those who live and die in them shall not inherit the kingdom of God. See for instance Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5, 6; Heb. 10:29-31, etc. But just observe how we are warned against these two sins by the precept in connection with the doctrines of the gospel.*

* Our readers will carefully bear in mind the distinction between warning against a sin and the actual commission of it. If the sin be committed, then comes in another rule—the rule of church discipline, as is the case of the incestuous Corinthian. The warning has been neglected; then comes the rod—the rod of God in the conscience or in chastisement, (1 Cor. 11:30-32,) and the rod of the church in discipline. (1 Cor, 4:21; 5:3-5, 11-13.)

And, first, as to LYING. How does the Holy Spirit warn us against that base, low, and infamous sin—the vice of thieves and cowards? "Therefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor—for we are members one of another." (Eph. 4:25.) Let us ask ourselves whether we would have ever thought of such an argument as this? Or, rather, ask yourself whether, if tempted to tell a lie, you were ever kept back by such a motive? If you say, as you probably will, "No," does not your very answer show how little we have of the mind of Christ, how low and legal are our views of gospel precepts? Is it not, then, well worth observing on what peculiar, what high and gospel ground, the Holy Spirit here bids us not to lie to one another, but always to speak truth with our neighbor? It is "because we are members one of another." If we had been asked to assign a reason why the children of God should not tell lies to each other, would we ever have thought of such a motive as this, that by so doing they would injure the union and communion which the members of the mystical body of Christ have with each other in him?

Just look for a few moments at this reason, and observe the connection (for that is the point which we are endeavoring to show) between the precept always to speak the truth—and the gospel doctrine of the oneness of the body of Christ. Why should I not lie to my brother? Because we are both members of the body of Christ. If, then, I lie to my brother, I do the same thing spiritually, as if I used my right hand to stab my left; or employed my eye to thrust my leg into a dirty ditch; or made use of my ear to put my foot under a carriage wheel. But when I speak truth to my brother, it is spiritually as when each member of my body truthfully performs its appointed function; as when my eye rightly guides my hand, when my hand rightly guards my eye, when my ear rightly warns my foot, and when my foot rightly takes my leg out of danger. Is not this high and holy ground? But what a close union it implies of the members of the mystical body of Christ, and what a spirit of communion and fellowship with their Head and with each other. A religion like this is almost lost out of the church. No wonder, then, that the precept is disregarded when its very foundation, if not wholly gone, is sunk out of sight!

Now look at the way in which the Holy Spirit warns us against SENSUAL SINS. The very nature of the subject compels us to treat it very cautiously. But, "unto the pure all things are pure;" (Titus 1:15;) and if we have brought the subject forward, it is with the sole object of throwing a fuller and clearer light upon our present point. Read, then, carefully 1 Cor. 6:13-20. We say this as expecting you to have your Bible in your hand when you peruse our Meditations, and to compare with it all that we advance; for, if we speak not according to the word and the testimony, there is no light in us. (Isa. 8:20.) Now just observe that there are three most blessed gospel truths here brought forward by the Holy Spirit as reasons against all unchastity.

1. That "he who is joined unto the Lord is one spirit with him." (1 Cor. 6:17.) What an unsearchable depth of truth is lodged in that one verse—union with Christ so close, so intimate, so near, go real as to be one spirit with him. To unfold this would be to open up the inmost heart, the deepest and warmest secrets of a living soul in its best and most favored moments. But, as an illustration of this oneness of spirit with Christ, take what you have doubtless in greater or less measure felt, oneness of spirit with some dear child of God. There are those among the living family with whom we see eye to eye and feel heart to heart in the precious things of God. What a oneness of spirit is there between us when we see alike, think alike, feel alike in what is all our salvation and all our desire, and when our very souls flow into each other like two drops of oil, or as those of David and Jonathan. Now he who is joined to the Lord is in a similar, but in a much higher degree one spirit with him; therefore sees with him, thinks with him, feels with him. But see the conclusion drawn from this precious gospel doctrine of oneness of spirit with Christ, and how peculiar it is—one we would never have thought of. This is the argument—Shall those who in soul are one spirit with Christ, be in body one flesh with the vilest of the vile? (1 Cor. 6:16.) What high, holy, and heavenly ground is this.

2. But now view another gospel doctrine in connection with the warning against uncleanness. It is this—The body of the saint is the temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 6:19.) Shall we, then, pollute that temple in which dwells so sacred and holy a Visitant by allowing in it any filthiness of walk and conduct? Would not this be like offering swine's blood upon God's altar, (Isa. 66:3,) or committing the sin of Zimri (Numb. 25:6-15) in the very presence of the Holy Spirit? Do you not think that if you carried about with you a deep and daily sense that the Holy Spirit dwelt in your body as his living temple, it would make you very careful how you spoke and acted, lest you would by polluting his temple grieve that holy and divine Guest?

3. And now observe the third gospel doctrine with which the precept is connected. "You are bought with a price," (1 Cor. 6:20) a price no less than the blood of the Son of God. What then follows? That "you are not your own," in either body or soul, for Jesus has bought both for his own possession and his own glory. What, then, is the consequence? That you are neither your own property or at your own disposal. And if so, what follows as the practical result? That you would glorify God in your body; therefore that it would be possessed in sanctification and honor; (1 Thess. 4:4;) and in your spirit, which are both his. Is not this high and holy ground, so high and holy that we seem scarcely able to look at it, much less to reach it? But does it not amply prove our point—the connection of gospel precepts with gospel doctrines, and that whether the Holy Spirit would warn us or exhort us, he always does so on the purest, clearest gospel ground; avoiding on the one hand, with this most holy and heavenly wisdom, the least tinge of what is legal, and yet on the other setting before us such a path of practical godliness, spiritual obedience, and Christian devotedness as to make our very hearts sink within us at the sight and sense of our inconsistencies and backslidings?

3. But we now approach our next point in examining the nature of the precept, that is, the things which the precept specially inculcates. And forgive us, dear readers, if here also we would be a little verbose. We want to bring you, as it were, face to face with the scriptures; not merely to show you the outside of the temple, the buildings and the goodly stones; (Matt. 24:1; Luke 21:5;) not merely to walk about Zion, and go round about her to count the towers thereof; (Psalm 48:12)—but to enter with you into the inner courts, no, into the very sanctuary itself; for the veil was rent asunder from the top to the bottom when the Lord of life and glory died, and we may now have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. (Heb. 10:19.) It will be a great point gained if our Meditations bring you to a nearer and closer search into the treasures of the word—and a greater gain still if any of these treasures become experimentally your own by our laying them bare to your view, and faith being given you to embrace them in hope and love.

What, then, are the things which the precept inculcates? We may briefly answer that there is not a good word or a good work, not a grace or fruit of the Spirit, not an act of love toward God or man to which the precept does not call and invite the living family!

But as on this point, as well as on others connected with the nature of the precept, some misconception prevails, we will endeavor to clear it up according to the ability given us. There is an idea, then, generally prevalent, that the precept addresses itself chiefly to outward actions, and that its chief end and object is to guide and regulate the external life and conduct. Now, though this is to a certain extent true—it is but half true. The precept addresses itself mainly to the inward life—and to the outward life only in connection with the inward life. It is thus distinguished, root and branch, from the law—the "do and live;" for its call, its sweet harmonious voice, is not, "Do and live," but "Live and do!" It is, therefore, not so much a code of rules—as a code of principles, a law put into the mind and written in the heart by the finger of God, according to one of the four special promises of the New Covenant, (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10,) and not a stern, rigid list of doings and duties.

Thus it calls us to separation from the world; (2 Cor. 6:17;) "to set our affections on things above;" (Col. 3:2;) to be "transformed by the renewing of our mind;" (Romans 12:2;) to live and walk in the Spirit; (Gal. 5:16, 25;) "to put on the whole armor of God;" (Eph. 6:11;) to "be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, to let our requests be known unto God;" (Phil. 4:6;) to "put off the old man, and to put on the new;" (Eph. 4:22-24;) to "prove all things, and hold fast that which is good;" (1 Thess. 5:21;) to read, meditate, and give ourselves wholly to the things of God; (1 Tim. 4:13-15;) to flee all covetousness and ungodliness, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness; to fight the good fight of faith, and lay hold of eternal life; (1 Tim. 6:11,12;) not to faint under our trials and afflictions, but to run with patience the race set before us, looking unto Jesus. (Heb. 12:1, 2, 5.)

See how the precept, in such and similar exhortations, addresses itself to our inmost being, to our heart of hearts—that it is not a cold, dry catalogue of duties to be performed, but a gracious call to a living, loving obedience of spirit, and devotedness of affectionate service to him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.

But though this high and exalted character is the leading feature and peculiar blessedness of the perspective—yet it graciously comes down to details, that we may have a rule of outward conduct, a code of practice as well as a code of principles. Thus, when the Apostle has given us (Romans 12) a series of influential principles, as that "love should be without deceit;" that we should "abhor that which is evil, and cleave to that which is good;" that we should be "kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love, in honor preferring one another;" that we should "be not slothful in business, but fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;" that we should "rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, continue always in prayer," &c., when he has given us these general principles of a Christian life, he proceeds (chapter 13) to a more detailed line of conduct, such as subjection unto the higher authorities; the payment of tribute to rulers, and their officers; the rendering to all of their dues, "custom to whom custom, fear or to whom fear, honor to whom honor;" that we should "owe no man anything, but love;" that we should neither judge nor despise a Christian brother; (chapter 14;) but "follow after the things which make for peace, and things with which one may edify another."

How comprehensive, yet how simple and beautiful a rule of Christian conduct is thus traced out in various minute details, which, were it but acted upon and carried out, would make gospel churches full inwardly of love and peace, and patterns outwardly of practical godliness. Thus we see that the precept has, if we may use the expression, an ascending and a descending voice. When it says, "Set your affections on things above;" "Let us cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light;" "Stand fast in the liberty with which Christ has made us free;" "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice," &c., it has an ascending voice, for it calls our hearts and affections upward to heavenly things.

But when it says, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake;" "Honor all men, love the brotherhood, fear God honor the king;" "Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear;" "Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes", it has a descending voice, for it comes down to the very minutiae of practical obedience, and issues directions for our daily walk and conversation.

O what wisdom and grace shine forth in the precept when viewed in that light whereby all things are made manifest. (Eph. 5:13.) What a spirit of holiness, and yet what tender, affectionate condescension to our infirmities breathe through it. How graciously it blends the highest freedom and the deepest obedience; how it consults the glory of God and the good of man; how gently it leads us along in the only path where true peace can be found, and yet never scolds nor reproaches, though it sometimes reproves us; how it never winks at the least sin, ever maintaining the same undeviating line of gospel purity, and yet stoops down to the poorest sinner that lies at the footstool of mercy. And surely we may add that the more this perfect law of liberty is looked into, the more its beauty and blessedness become manifest; for we can truly say that even since we began our Meditations upon it, fresh light seems to have beamed upon our mind to see and feel the impress of the holy Spirit visibly and powerfully stamped upon it, and to give us fresh proof that in it the living God speaks to the hearts and consciences of his people.

4. But now let us consider the next point which we proposed to examine, that is, the MOTIVES by which the precept is enforced.

Actions spring from motives. What the wind is to a ship at sea, what steam is to an engine on the rail, or, to speak more correctly, what love is to a youthful lover, what honor is to the military officer, what ambition is to the statesman—such is motive to action. To take away love from the lover is like taking wind from the sail, and steam from the locomotive. No more longing for the appointed hour of meeting, no more swift and speedy step to the appointed place. So the precept has attached to it motives which give both wings to the soul and wings to the feet. We shall by and by hope to show how the Holy Spirit puts life into and applies these motives, for without his gracious breath they are ineffectual—but at present we shall merely speak of the motives themselves.

If, then, you carefully examine the preceptive part of the epistles, you will find that the blessed Spirit, in giving a precept, almost always gives a motive with it. Take a few instances. Look at what we may almost call the first gospel precept—"Come out from among them, and be separate;" and see what a motive is attached to it—"And I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." (2 Cor. 6:17, 18.) It is as if the Lord said, "You shall be no losers by coming out of the world, even if you must leave father and mother for my sake. I will receive you into my kind care and tender embrace, and be a Father unto you, adopting you into my own family, and bestowing upon you every mercy and blessing which I give to my dear children." What a motive to take the step of coming out from among them, whatever sacrifices it may entail, and at once to plunge into the sea of mercy and love thus opened in the promise; instead of dallying with the world, like Lot's wife, or standing shivering on the brink, afraid to turn back, and afraid to go forward.

But take another instance of the connection between the precept and the motive attached to it—"Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth." Why? For what motive? "For you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with him in glory." (Col. 3:3, 4.) What an influential motive to set our affection on things above, that when Christ shall appear, we shall also appear with him in glory.

Take another instance—"Therefore let us not sleep as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep in the night; and those who be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet the hope of salvation." (1 Thess. 5:6-8.) Here is a call to watchfulness and sobriety, and that, let it be observed, wholly of a gospel nature, as distinguished from mere legal watchfulness and sobriety; for it is by putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. But what is the motive attached to the precept? "For God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him." (1 Thess. 5:9, 10.)

We hope we shall not weary our readers if, as a further illustration of this point, we show how relative duties are similarly urged, as backed and influenced by gospel motives. "Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service as men-pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily as to the Lord, and not unto men." (Col. 3:22, 23.) Now, see the motive to influence and animate the servant to obey his master with a single heart and single eye, in the fear of God, and with a view to his glory—"Knowing that of the Lord you shall receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ." (Col. 3:24.)

To see the full force of this, consider for a moment the case of the poor Roman slave, for to such was the precept originally addressed. He was at the entire disposal of his master, who could imprison, scourge, or crucify him at his pleasure, without interference or redress. The state of slaves has been, and ever must be, miserable and wretched in every climate, and in every age; but it has never been anywhere, or at any time, so thoroughly wretched as under the Roman empire. Now just picture to yourself this poor slave called by grace, and serving a heathen master. See how he is bidden to obey in all things his master, not for fear of the lash, but from the fear of God; and mark the motive which is to support and cheer him under his daily toil, his slave's garb, his miserable food, his hourly exposure to the prison and the scourge. There was a blessed inheritance reserved for him, which would make ample amends for all his earthly servitude; for he was serving in spirit the Lord Christ, who would one day put him into possession of "an incorruptible and undefiled inheritance, which does not fade away."

Now take the believing master. He shall have a precept too, and a motive also. "Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven." (Col. 4:1.) The master must do what is just and equitable to the servant. Why? Because he also has "a Master in heaven" to whom he is bound, by every tie of Christian obedience, to do that which is just and right.

But we need not further pursue this part of our subject. Our object is not to dictate to our readers, but to put them, so to speak, on the right track, that, like the noble Bereans, they may search the Scriptures for themselves, to see whether these things be so. (Acts 17:11.) The Scriptures are much read, but for the most part little searched into, and less understood. If, then, the Lord will kindly use us to throw some little light upon his word, and especially the preceptive part of it, and if our spiritual readers, aided by this light, will prayerfully and carefully examine for themselves this portion of divine truth, they may, with God's help and blessing, derive both instruction and profit from it. We are nothing, and have nothing; but as the Lord works by instruments he can employ even our pen for the edification of his dear family. If our views of the precept are scriptural, the more they are examined, the more their agreement with the word of God will appear. Light will break more and more on the mind of the spiritual reader, as we hope it has on that of the writer; faith will be more and more strengthened as it becomes more fed and nurtured with the pure word of his grace; hope will cast forth her anchor more firmly in the glorious truths and promises as they are opened to the heart; and love will more warmly and tenderly embrace the truth, and especially Him who is the Truth itself, in whom center all the promises and all the precepts, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.

Our readers will, perhaps, remember that, is examining the nature of the precept, we proposed to consider it under two distinct heads:

The LETTER of the precept.

The SPIRIT of the precept.

And that under the first head, that is, the LETTER of the precept, we named five distinct points as worthy of our attentive consideration. These were—

1. The persons to whom the precept is addressed.

2. The connection of trio precept with the doctrines of the gospel.

3. The things which the precept specially inculcates.

4. The motives by which the precept is enforced.

5. The form under which the precept is revealed.

Four of these points we have already examined. There remains, therefore, but one point more for our present examination, the fifth and last head under the LETTER of the precept—

5. The FORM under which the precept is revealed.

But as we wish to make every point which we attempt to handle as clear as we possibly can, let us first explain what we intend by the expression "form," as used by us in reference to the letter of the precept. We understand, then, by it that peculiar mode or strain of language which the Holy Spirit has made use of, in revealing and enforcing the precept as a part of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by which he has impressed upon it that distinctive shape which it bears as an inspired rule for the obedience of faith.

The word "form" is a scriptural expression, and is twice used by the Apostle Paul in much the same sense as we have thus affixed to it. Observe, for instance, the following passage—"But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you." (Romans 6:17.) "The form of doctrine" here spoken of as being delivered unto the Roman saints means the model or pattern of apostolic teaching, according to which their hearts were modeled. This seems evident from the marginal, and, we may add, preferable reading, "whereto you were delivered," as a coin or a die, and which, therefore, stamped upon them its peculiar impress, producing an obedience from the heart. (The word translated "form" here, literally means the stamp of a seal, or impress of a coin, (as produced by a blow,) and thence a model or pattern. Thus taking the idea of a coin, divine teaching is the die, and the heart of the believer the medal; the one being produced by, and the exact counterpart of the other.)

So again we find the Apostle speaking—"Hold fast the form of sound words, which you have heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus." (2 Tim. 1:13.) This "form of sound words" which Timothy was to hold fast was the model or pattern, according to which the Apostle had delivered to Timothy the truths which had been revealed to his own soul by the Holy Spirit, as he speaks—"Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual." (1 Cor. 2:13.) Or, as the words might be rendered, "combining spiritual things with spiritual;" that is, uniting spiritual truths to spiritual words—the things revealed by the Spirit, (1 Cor. 2:10-12,) being the truths of the gospel, and the words which the Holy Spirit taught, (verse 13,) being the form under which these truths worn delivered to the Church by the Apostle.

The Holy Spirit, then, has stamped upon the precepts of the New Testament a peculiar character or impress, which we call their "form," and the nature of which we shall now endeavor more fully to unfold.

The main, the leading form of the precept is of course that of INJUNCTION or DIRECTION; that is, it authoritatively bids us do or not do this or that thing, pursue or not pursue this or that line of action. (The definition of a precept, as given in our best dictionaries, is, "A commandment or order intended as an authoritative rule of action."—Webster) It is thus distinguished from an invitation, such as, "Come unto me all you that labor," etc. (Matt. 11:28.) "If any man thirsts, let him come unto me and drink;" (John 7:37;) and from a rebuke, such as, "And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you." (1 Cor. 5:2.) "You observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain." (Gal. 4:10, 11.)

But though its main form is necessarily one of injunction, without which, indeed, it would not be precept at all, it assumes various shades of direction, and yet every shade in the fullest harmony with the grace and spirit of the gospel. By way of introduction to the point before us, we may briefly mention that these varied forms of preceptive direction are chiefly–

1. command

2. injunction

3. entreaty or beseeching

4. admonition

(According to our translation there is another, that is, "exhorting;" but as this in the original is the same word as that rendered "beseeching," we shall not notice it as a distinct form.)

1. Thus sometimes it assumes the language of COMMAND. "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother who walks disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." (2 Thess. 3:6.) And again—"For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat." (2 Thess. 3:10.) So also—"And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband." (1 Cor. 7:10.) This is, so to speak, the highest note of the precept—its strongest, loudest, and most authoritative voice.

If we examine the passages in which the precept assumes the form of a command; we shall find it employed for the most part in the four following cases–

1. When some danger is near.

2. Or when some flagrant evil or error is denounced.

3. Or when a strong injunction is laid on a man of God to invest him with peculiar authority.

4. Or when some important precept is urged.

To each and all of those cases the voice of command, as we shall see if we examine them, is eminently suitable.

1. Take the first case—the voice of warning against some advancing danger or imminent DANGER. It seems thus used by the Apostle Peter in his second epistle—"That you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the Apostles of the Lord and Savior; knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts." (2 Pet. 3:2, 3.) The Apostles of the Lord knew that there would come in the last days ungodly scoffers, and therefore in the strong language of command they warned the people of God against these perilous times and these perilous men. Is there anything out of place in the language of command here? A low, soft voice, a gentle whisper, would not do were you to see a man about to cross the line as a railway train was coming in, or if in the dead of night it were needful to give an alarm of "fire" to your next door neighbor. The voice, then, of authoritative command is not out of harmony with the grace and love of the gospel, when the precept warns the people of God against coming dangers and advancing perils, and shouts to them, as if from the top of the mountains, to take close heed to their steps.

2. But now take the case of denouncing EVIL or ERROR in the professing Church. Is sin or error to be sprinkled with rose-water, or dealt with lovingly and tenderly, as if in a lover's whisper on a moonlight eve? Look at the almost parallel case of the ministry. Does not God bid his servants "lift up their voice like a trumpet, to show his people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins!" (Isa. 58:1.) There is an allusion here to the two silver trumpets which, at the command of the Lord, were made by Moses for the priests to blow, for the calling of the assembly and the journeying of the camps. (Num. 10:1-2.) As, then, it was still the same silver trumpet which, "in the days of their gladness and in their solemn days," was blown over their burnt offerings and their peace offerings that sounded, when needful, an alarm, so it is still the same gospel precept which sometimes speaks in the language of the tenderest entreaty, and at others denounces sin and error as with trumpet voice.

Thus the word "command" is used when the evil is denounced of not withdrawing from a brother that walks disorderly; (2 Thess. 3:6;) or of living lazily, without working, upon other people's bounty; (2 Thess. 3:10-12;) or of a woman's abandoning her husband, or the husband's divorcing his wife, as not being a believer; (1 Cor. 8:10;) or of warning against some gross sin. (1 Thess. 4:2-7.) In these instances wisely and graciously does the Holy Spirit employ the language of command, as thus impressing upon the precept a firmer and more authoritative character than mere entreaty. The evil of a wife's forsaking her husband, or of a husband's divorcing his wife, is surely to be dealt with by a firmer hand than the lack of a forgiving spirit among brethren. Command is too strong for the latter; entreaty too mild for the former. Each has its place in the precept; and each is suitable and beautiful according to its use, and according to its place.

3. The next case in which the word command is used is the AUTHORITY which a servant of Christ possesses as mouth for God. For instance—"Those things command and teach." (1 Tim. 4:11.) "Let the people know and feel," says Paul to Timothy, "that you speak with authority. Deal with them firmly when needful. God has put into your hands weapons mighty to pull down strongholds." (2 Cor. 10:4.) Speak out in the voice of command when evils arise, errors spring up, or dangers threaten. In this sense it much approaches the nature of another ministerial weapon—the language of rebuke. "Those who sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear." (1 Tim. 5:20.)

It is a great mistake to think that the servants of Christ have no authority in the Church; no power to command, as well as to teach. The Apostle expressly says to Titus, "These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise you." (Titus 2:15.) Paul well knew that there were those in the churches who would seek to exalt themselves and depress the minister; consider him their servant, or try to make him their tool. He, therefore, meets this leveling spirit by bidding Timothy command as well as teach, and by telling Titus to speak, exhort, and rebuke with all authority.

Of course this authority is wholly spiritual; but it is derived from the Lord, not from the Church. Those churches, and, we may add, those officers of churches, therefore, greatly err who treat their pastors as if they were rather their servants than the Lord's servants; and instead of obeying those who have the rule over them, and submitting themselves to their authority, (Heb. 13:1.7,) rather seek to domineer, and even tyrannise over them by carnal weapons, and by that worst and basest of all—the purse.

4. The next and last case where the precept assumes the language of command is when PECULIAR IMPORTANCE is attached to the command. Now, what is the grand precept of the New Testament; in fact, the sum and substance of all the precepts? Is it not love? Need we, then, be surprised if this best, this sweetest and greatest of all the precepts, should, above all others, be enforced with authority? How blessedly did this precept fall from the lips of our Lord with the voice of command! "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." (John 15:12.) And again—"These things I command you, that you love one other." (John 15:17.) So also—"A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another." (John 13:34.) In a similar spirit writes the beloved disciple—"And this is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another." (1 John 3:23.) "And this commandment have we from him, that he who loves God love his brother also." (1 John 4:21.)

Our readers will doubtless think with us that we have said quite enough upon this point. We shall, therefore, now proceed to consider the other forms of the precept of which we have already given a short summary.

2. Sometimes, then, it takes the form of INJUNCTION, that is, it simply and plainly bids us do or not do this or that thing. This is its leading form, and that which mainly constitutes it precept. Thus when it says, "Put off the old man, and put on the new." "Pray without ceasing—in everything give thanks." "Provide things honest in the sight of all men." "Husbands, love your wives." "Servants, obey your masters in all things," and so on. It simply bids us, as Christian men, do those things which befit the gospel, and bring forth those fruits which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God. As one of the simplest and most marked instances of this injunctive form of the precept, take what we may call that comprehensive code of directions given us Romans 12:6-21, or that line of Christian walk and conduct which is laid down 1 Thess. 5:15-22. The main feature stamped upon each of these concise yet clear lists of directions is that of injunction—in other words, the Holy Spirit simply bids or enjoins upon us to pursue a certain course of Christian conduct.

This, in fact, is the precept in its simplest form—a kind of medium between the voice of command, which is the highest, and the voice of entreaty, which is the lowest note in the scale. It therefore specially appeals to our spiritual understanding. Let us explain this point a little more clearly.

Assuming, then, that a believer possesses these four things, as parts or members of the new man of grace—a good or pure conscience; (1 Tim. 1:19; 3:9;) an enlightened understanding; (Eph. 1:18;) a new, tender, and broken heart; (Ezek. 36:26; 2 Kings 22:19; Psalm, 51:17;) and spiritual memory, or recollection of the Lord's dealings with the soul; (Deut. 8:2; John 14:26; Heb. 10:32;) the four distinctive forms of precept which we have already enumerated address themselves severally to each of them. Thus,

"command" addresses itself to the conscience,

"injunction" to the understanding,

"entreaty" to the heart, and

"admonition" to the memory.

Not that each of these forms does not take in, and address itself to, the whole of a believer's new man of grace—not that there is any real separation of his conscience from his heart, or of his understanding from his memory—for our spiritual as well as our natural faculties are so combined in thought and action that they cannot be separated; but for the sake of clearness we may view them as distinct both in themselves and in their action.

Thus the precept under the form of "injunction," which we are now considering, addresses itself chiefly to our spiritual understanding. It thus becomes "a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path." (Psalm 119:105.) In that beautiful psalm just referred to, in which the yearnings of a living soul towards, the actings of a believing heart upon the word of God are so vividly portrayed, we may very plainly see the connection between the precept and an enlightened understanding. "Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law." (Psalm 119:34.) "Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law." (18.) Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes." (33.) "Make me to understand the way of your precepts." (27.) How such and similar petitions show the existence of a gracious connection between understanding the precept and doing it. Indeed, how can we do the will of God unless we know the will of God? How can I tell how to act in this or that case agreeably to his revealed will—unless my eyes are spiritually enlightened to see what that revealed will is? This is not head knowledge, or "the knowledge that puffs up," but that gracious light in the understanding whereby it is divinely illuminated to know the truth as it is in Jesus—the fruit of that "anointing which teaches of all things, and is truth, and is no lie," (1 John 2:27,) enabling its favored possessor to say, "We know that the Spirit of God has come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true." (1 John 5:20.)

It is then to this gracious, this enlightened understanding that the precept, under its simplest form of injunction, chiefly addresses itself. We have rather lingered on this point, as having long felt that so few see the distinction between what the Apostle calls "the form of knowledge," (Romans 2:20,) or "the knowledge which puffs up," (1 Cor. 8:1,) or "that understanding of all mysteries and of all knowledge" which a man may have and "be nothing," (1 Cor. 13:2,) and that gracious understanding of the things of God which springs out of the teaching of the Holy Spirit, (1 Cor. 2:12,) and the shining of God himself into the heart to give the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:4.) When we come to the spirit of the precept, we shall see how this enlightened understanding acts in sweet harmony with the conscience, heart, and memory.

3. A. third form of the precept is ENTREATY. This is the tenderest form of the precept—its lowest, softest note, addressing itself immediately to the heart, as softened and melted with a sense of the goodness and mercy of the Lord. "I beseech you, therefore, brethren by the mercies of God;" (Romans 12:1;) "Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ." (2 Cor. 10:1.) "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the calling with which you are called." (Eph. 4:1.) What a tenderness there is in these earnest entreaties of the man of God; and to show that he used this language not of his own personal authority—but as the commissioned servant of God, he says in one place—"Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us. We implore you in Christ's stead, be reconciled to God." (2 Cor. 5:20.)

How these tender appeals to our heart prove the true character of the precept, that it is gospel—not law; mercy—not judgment; grace—not works; liberty—not bondage; life—not death; salvation—not damnation; love—not fear; which animate it and breathe through it. O how this sweet spirit of gospel grace, breathing through the precept, distinguishes it on the one hand from the hard bondage of legal service, and on the other from that looseness of lip and life which has done more than anything else to throw discredit on the glorious gospel of the grace of God. But we are anticipating another part of our subject, and shall, therefore, now proceed to the last form of the precept proposed for consideration.

4. This is that of ADMONITION. To admonish is a part of the ministry of the gospel—"And we beseech you, brethren, to know those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you." (1 Thess. 5:12.) And as it is a part of the ministry of the gospel, so it is also an appointed means of the mutual edification of believers by one another—"And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another." (Romans 15:14.) So also—"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." (Col. 3:16.)

We have already intimated that the voice of admonition addresses itself chiefly to the spiritual memory. We do not say that it does not appeal also to the understanding, to the conscience, and to the heart, for all these work and act together; but it chiefly and mainly addresses itself to our recollection. Thus when Paul says to his son Timothy, "Of these things put them in remembrance;" (2 Tim. 2:14;) "If you put the brethren in remembrance of these things;" (1 Tim. 4:6;) or when he appears to his Hebrew brethren—"But call to remembrance the former days," (Heb. 10:32,) he evidently addresses himself to their spiritual memory—the recollection of the Lord's mercies towards, and his claims upon them. So when Peter says—"Therefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though you know them, and be established in the present truth;" (2 Pet. 1:12;) and again—"Moreover, I will endeavor that you may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance," (2 Pet. 1:15,) he evidently appeals to their recollection of truths formerly laid before them, and of their own experience of their reality and blessedness in knowing that they had "not followed cunningly-devised fables."

This mode of appeal singularly distinguishes the second epistle of Peter, and seems especially suitable to an aged Apostle, and one about shortly to put off his tabernacle. (2 Pet. 1:14.) A dying man may well write as his last affectionate appeal to his beloved children—"This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance, that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the Apostles of the Lord and Savior." (2 Pet. 3:1, 2.) This is admonition of the strongest, and yet tenderest kind.

If an affectionate father on a death-bed had said to his weeping children—"Be mindful of my last wishes; remember my dying request, that you should live in peace and union with each other," would it be out of place if those children were admonished of their father's words by their mother or a friend when they seemed disposed to quarrel? Would it not stir up their minds by way of remembrance, and appeal to their hearts through their memory? And similarly do not our minds need stirring up by way of remembrance? Observe, it is our "pure minds," that is, our new man of grace—"the mind with which we serve the law of God," (Romans 7:25,) (not our carnal mind, our flesh, our body of sin and death,) which the precept stirs up by way of remembrance, when we call to memory the goodness and mercy of God, and feel warmed by a recollection of his past favors. Is there anything legal here? Anything like bondage, guilt, fear, wrath, hell, and damnation? O how the voice of the precept is misunderstood, when Sinai's thunders are heard in it, or when wretched legalists shake it over the poor distressed people of God, as though they would gladly tie them up to the post, and flog with it their bleeding backs!

No, dear friends, there is no terror in the precept as revealed by the Holy Spirit in the word, and as revealed by the same Holy Spirit to the soul. It is all pure gospel, as pure as the grace from which it flows; and if it sometimes address itself to your conscience, sometimes to your understanding, sometimes to your heart, sometimes to your memory; if it commands, or enjoins, or beseeches, or admonishes—it is still a Father's voice speaking to a son, and not a master's giving orders to a servant. It is the special privilege of the freeborn sons and daughters of Zion to have such a line of walk and conduct traced out for them by their heavenly Father that they may know his will and do it; and they have the greatest reason to praise and bless his holy name that he has so kindly condescended to teach and instruct them in the way which they should go, and thus ever guide them with his eye. (Psalm 32:8.)

Let, then, some legalize and pervert, and let others neglect and despise the precept; it still remains the possession and the privilege of the living family of God—their possession as their Father's revealed will, and their privilege as their inspired guide to the obedience of faith.

In our next section we hope, if the Lord wills, to enter upon the spirit of the precept; and may the Holy Spirit who has revealed in it the letter of the word, and who, from time to time, animates it with his vivifying breath, rest upon our spirit and our pen, and upon the spirit of our gracious readers.