The Precepts of the Word of God

by J. C. Philpot

The NATURE of the precepts

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

II. The SPIRIT of the precept.

We come now to a very important part of our subject—indeed, we may almost say the most important, for it is that part which gives life and spirit to the whole. This is the spirit of the precept as distinguished from the letter.

We have never seen any work on the precepts of God's word, which has given us full satisfaction; and for this simple reason. No man of truth, that we are aware of, has treated the subject fully and systematically. Owen, Bunyan, and most of the old Puritan writers have entered largely and fully into the preceptive parts of the word of God; but as they hold the Mosaic law for the believer's rule of life, their views were necessarily from that circumstance legal, confused and imperfect. Mr. Huntington and Mr. Gadsby have both of them most clearly and beautifully unfolded the spiritual character of the precept, and shown its full and thorough harmony with the grace of the gospel; and from the "Posthumous Letters," and other works of Huntington, whole pages might be selected in which the immortal Coalheaver has, in his most masterly manner, described the fruits and effects of the gospel in heart, lip, and life; in other words has drawn out the precept in all its living features as a rule of Christian obedience.

But neither of these great men has handled the subject in a full and systematic manner, so as to enter into it in its length and breadth, and thus present it as a full, compact, and consistent whole to the consideration of the Church of God. It was not, indeed, necessary for them to do this, as their object was rather to overthrow the current doctrine—that the Mosaic law was the believer's rule of life—and to establish the gospel, the perfect law of liberty, as the believer's rule—than devote their attention to a minute consideration of the precept, which was but a part of their subject. It seemed, therefore, laid upon our mind to take up the subject as we had seen it revealed in the word of truth and in the experience of the saints, and handle it in a more full, clear, and systematic form than we believe has been yet attempted by any man of truth. And this must be our excuse if our exposition of it has been somewhat too lengthy and verbose.

Dim, superficial, confused views of the solemn, weighty truths of the gospel cannot satisfy our mind. We love, if God gives us the wisdom and ability, to go to the very bottom of a subject and turn it up for examination by the people of God, that they with us may be firmly established in the truth, and not be "children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive." (Eph. 4:14.) This, however, requires not only much careful examination and meditation, but a certain fullness of detail which, from undue length, may become wearisome. It was for this reason, therefore, that we examined fully the letter of the precept, which probably seemed to many dull and dry, but yet was necessary to be thoroughly gone into, to lay a deep and broad foundation for the more spiritual and experimental part of our subject to rest upon.

But having laid this foundation, we now come to those inner chambers which wisdom has filled with all precious and pleasant riches, (Prov. 24:4,) to those experimental realities, where we and our spiritual readers feel most at home, and most enjoy that sweet union and unison of spirit in which we mutually delight. We come, then, now to the SPIRIT of the precept.

In examining, then, this part of our subject, we shall consider the spirit of the precept under three points of view–

1. The nature and character of the spirit of the precept.

2. The connection between the spirit and the letter of the precept.

3. The way in which the spirit of the precept acts in unison and harmony—not only with the letter of the precept—but with the whole tenor and current of the glorious gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

1. The NATURE and CHARACTER of the spirit of the precept.

As it is most desirable to obtain, if we do not already possess, clear ideas upon the point now before us at the very outset, (for if we start confusedly we shall proceed confusedly, and shall probably end confusedly,) we shall first attempt to define as simply and as plainly as we can, what we understand by the spirit of the precept; and then, to set the subject in a fuller, broader light, shall illustrate our definition by some experimental and practical instances.

We DEFINE the spirit of the precept to be the life and power of the precept, as animated by the quickening breath of the Holy Spirit, and thus brought into and out of the believing heart by a divine operation and influence. In this life and power put into the precept by the Holy Spirit, and thus made spirit and life to the soul, lies all the difference between the spirit and the letter.

This distinctive difference between the letter and the spirit we may see clearly exemplified in the Lord's own words to his disciples—"It is the Spirit who quickens; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." (John 6:63.) Many heard the words in the letter which the Lord spoke with pleasure and approbation; for we read that on one occasion "all the people hung on his words," and on another, that, "all who were there spoke well of him and were amazed by the gracious words that fell from his lips." But to them it was but the letter of truth; for those very same people, who were amazed at his gracious words, when the Lord began to preach the discriminating grace of God "were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust him out of the city." (Luke 4:22, 28, 29.) The Spirit did not quicken his words to their souls; they were not made, as to the disciples, spirit and life. They were, therefore, to them the mere letter of truth, and what is more, the killing letter, for by those words they were to be judged and condemned. (John 12:48.)

The spirit of the precept is, then, so to speak, the breathing of life by the Spirit into the letter of the precept, and thus a bringing of it into the heart with a divine influence of power, and out of the heart into a gracious and practical fulfillment. Let us illustrate this explanation by several examples; and, to make the point clearer, we will take two distinct classes of precept—

1. That class which addresses itself peculiarly to our personal walk with and before God.

2. That class which addresses itself to our walk and conduct with and before man.

1. Take the following precept as addressing itself to our walk before God. "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time." (1 Peter 5:6.) I am here directed and enjoined to humble myself under the mighty hand of God. But can I do so? No, I cannot! I may make the attempt. I may fall on my knees, confess my sins, put my mouth in the dust—at least do all this in words. But can I produce in my soul that solemn humbling of my whole spirit before God, that believing view of his mighty hand under which I reverentially bow, that self-loathing and self-abhorrence, that brokenness and contrition of heart, that lying at his feet with weeping and supplications, that giving up of myself into his hands, without which all my humbling of myself is but lip service? No! I can do none of these things! I am so thoroughly destitute and helpless that I cannot produce one grain of real humility in my own soul.

But let the Holy Spirit graciously work upon my heart; let him fill me with a deep sense of the mighty hand of God over me and under me; let him humble me in my inmost soul as the very chief of sinners under his mighty hand as able to save or destroy; let my heart be broken and my spirit made contrite under a sight of my sins, and a sight, too, of the life and blood, sufferings and death of my dear Redeemer—how can I not humble myself under the mighty hand of God? Is any spot too low for me to creep into and lie in? Where are my pride and self-righteousness now? Does not sweet humility fill and possess my soul?

Here is the spirit of the precept. Here is life and power put into it; here the Holy Spirit brings it, in the substance of it, into the heart, and out of the heart too. Here the precept is fulfilled in its spiritual import, in harmony with the grace of the gospel, according to the will of God, and, therefore, acceptably to him.

Take another instance of the same class of precept—"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (Phil. 4:6.) Can you perform this precept? There it stands in the letter of the word—a gracious injunction—a holy, wise direction. But can you not be "anxious," (that is, as the word literally means, 'rent and torn in your mind,') "about anything," when you know what anxious cares about almost everything daily rack your bosom? And can you produce or maintain that prayerful spirit whereby in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God?" You know that you cannot!

But suppose that, in some unexpected moment, when full of cares, you are favored with a gracious visitation of the blessed Spirit, and faith is given you to cast all your care upon the Lord, knowing that he cares for you; and suppose that with this a spirit of grace and of supplication is poured into your bosom, can you now in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving for past mercies and favors, make your requests known unto God? You say, "I can! I do! All my requests I make known to his gracious Majesty, and he hears and answers me to the joy of my heart." This is the spirit of the precept; this is fulfilling it from the heart; this is serving God in newness of the spirit, not in the oldness of the letter.

2. Now take another class of precepts; those which prescribe and regulate our walk and conduct before man, and especially with our believing brethren. There is the letter—and the spirit. We will look it both. Take the following precept from the letter of the word—"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Eph. 5:1, 2.) We are here bidden to be "imitators of God"—that is, we are enjoined to imitate the example of God, in forgiving our brethren, as he has forgiven us, as is evident from the preceding verse. (Eph. 4:32.) Now, can you thus imitate God in forgiving a brother who has done you a grievous wrong? You try to do so before God and your brother. But while you are trying and trying to raise up a forgiving spirit, something rankles within, which keeps you back from a full and free forgiveness. But let the Lord the Spirit but bring into your soul a sweet sense of pardoning love; let him set before your eyes and bring into your heart the suffering Son of God, as loving you and giving himself for you, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour—can you forgive your brother now? Can you walk in love with all the dear family of God now? How freely and fully you can forgive; how warmly and affectionately you can love! Here is the spirit of the precept—not the cold, dead, naked letter—but the very spirit of it, warmed into life and motion—brought out of the word into the heart—and brought again out of the heart, all warm and glowing—into the activity and energy of practical obedience. This is a doing of the will of God from the heart, (Eph. 6:6,) and therefore a spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 2:5.)

We need not pursue this point further. But if you wish to have your mind and judgment more fully formed and established in this point, in which really the very pith and marrow of the whole subject lies, take one precept after another and examine each by the light which we have endeavored to cast upon it. You will see that in every instance there is the letter and the spirit; and that the only way of fulfilling the precept is by having the life and power of it in your own soul.

2. The CONNECTION between the spirit and the letter of the precept.

In a former chapter we illustrated the distinction between the letter, and the spirit of the precept by comparing the former to the body, and the latter to the soul of a living man. The soul, at least in our present time-state, does not, as a general rule, act separately from the body; and though each one's individual consciousness sufficiently assures him of the distinctness of soul and body, yet are they so linked together that they for the most part act by and with each other. Can you, viewing the matter as a general, ordinary, everyday fact, see without your eyes, or hear without your ears, or feel without your fingers, or talk without your tongue? Yet what are eyes, or ears, or fingers or tongue separate from the soul which uses them as her instruments to gather in her ideas, and then, sitting apart in her noble citadel, forms from them her plans, which she bids them, as her ministering servants, execute? And faithfully do they execute the biddings of their mistress until old age or infirmity dims the eye and dulls the ear, stiffens the joints and weakens the active hand and nimble foot, until at length "the silver cord is loosed and the golden bowl is broken; and then the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it." (Eccles. 12:6, 7.)

Of course our figure is but a figure, and, therefore, must not be too closely pressed; and yet there are points of resemblance which may help to illustrate the distinction which we wish to draw between the letter and the spirit of the precept, and at the same time show their intimate connection with each other.

1. The soul is unquestionably the nobler part of man. God has given us "a body as it has pleased him,"—a body fearfully and wonderfully made, and most admirably and beautifully adapted to our present time-state. But, as formed of the dust of the ground, it is and must be, from its very origin, inferior to the soul which God himself breathed into man's nostrils with the breath of life. (Gen. 2:7.)

So the letter of the precept, is necessarily inferior to the spirit of the precept—as standing merely in so many words and letters formed from the ordinary earthly language of man, as Adam's body out of the dust, and, therefore, requiring an animating breath, the very breath of God, to put a soul into them. Except, then, as animated by the Holy Spirit, the letter of the precept is cold and dead—like a man asleep or in his coffin, a man with all the limbs and features of a human being, but lifeless and motionless for lack of the living soul to inspire him into activity and movement. As, then, the soul of man is nobler than the body of man, so the spirit or soul of the precept, is nobler than the letter or body of the precept.

An example from the Scripture will show this point in a still clearer light—"And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you." (Eph. 4:32.) How good, how wise, how gracious is this precept as it stands in the letter of truth. But surely the spirit of the precept, the spirit of kindness, of tenderness of heart, of mutual brotherly forgiveness, and all flowing from the sweet persuasion of being ourselves forgiven—is nobler than the letter of the precept; for it is that which animates it, carries it into practical execution, and makes it effectual to the obedience of faith. I may forgive as a duty. O how cold and worthless; how half-hearted, if not wholly insincere. But to forgive under a divine influence, as melted and softened by pardoning mercy—is not this spirit of forgiveness higher, nobler, fuller, more blessed than the mere fulfillment in the letter of a practical duty? For our obedience must be one or the other, must stand either in the letter or in the spirit—be an act of moral duty, or a fruit of special grace.

2. But on another ground the soul is superior to the body. The soul can act without the body; but the body cannot act without the soul. We think, we meditate, we pray; our active mind runs here and there; we pass in a moment from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven; we skim over the wide Atlantic to a friend in America, fly on over the broad Pacific to a relative in Australia or New Zealand, and leap at one bound from pole to hole. Spurning sea, air, earth, and sky—on, on flies the unwearied soul, more quickly than electric current or lightning stroke. And where is the poor body all the time? Ill, perhaps, in bed, lying languidly on the sofa, scarcely able, it may be, to walk across the room, chained fast with a broken leg or life-long lameness—while its ethereal mate, regardless of her clay partner, is soaring here and there swifter than light, and freer than air!

But is this not inconsistent with our previous assertion that the soul does not, as a general rule, act separately from the body? Not a whit; and that chiefly jar two reasons. 1. First we qualified our assertion by the words "as a general rule;" 2. Though the soul can and does act separately from the body, yet it is only by means of those ideas which it has gained through the bodily senses that it thus acts in its rapid and varied flights. Thus in one sense the soul is dependent on, in another independent of, its sluggish companion, and yet remains in close connection with it—a connection of the past, if not a connection of the present. So with the letter and spirit of the precept. The spirit of the precept can act distinctly from the letter of the precept, and yet has gained from it its knowledge of the offices which it has to execute, its understanding of the work which it has to perform. If I love my brother, if I forgive my enemy, if I pray without ceasing, if I rejoice in the Lord, if I abhor that which is evil, if I cleave to that which is good, if I walk worthy of the calling with which I am called—assuming that I do these things, and do them in the very spirit of the gospel as taught, led, and, influenced by the Holy Spirit—I only feel, walk, and act in unison with the letter of the precept. I gather previously from the word of God what his will is and how I should walk according to it; and if the Holy Spirit opens this will to my heart, and enables me to act in obedience to it, I learn first from the letter of the precept what that will is.

Our Lord could say, "Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do your will, O my God; yes, your law is within my heart." (Psalm 40:7, 8.) Thus though his delight was to do the will of God, yet that will was written in the volume of the book—either the volume of God's eternal decrees or the volume of the inspired Scriptures.

So with us. If possessing any measure of the mind, grace, and spirit of Christ, we delight to do the will of God, we first see that will written in the volume of the book. For what do we know of the revealed will of God—except from the Scriptures of truth? Thus there is a connection between the letter and the spirit of the precept, analogous to the connection of our body and soul. My intellectual knowledge, my mental ideas, have all been gathered in the first instance through my bodily senses, as sight, hearing, &c., and then my mind selects, compares, combines, and otherwise uses for its own purposes the materials of thought and reasoning which have been thus sedulously and steadily gathered. That the spirit of the precept can powerfully influence and vigorously act without the medium of the letter was evidently shown in that signal day when "the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and of one soul." (Acts 4:32.) It is true that the precept as delivered by our gracious Lord was in the mind and memory of his immediate disciples, and was at that time also in the mouth of the Apostles, as we find Peter giving it forth; (Acts 2:38; 10:47, 48;) but the love of God being shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, the spirit of the precept, "Love one another as I have loved you," was so strong and powerful that it not exactly superseded, but soared above, all written directions.

We have an instance of this point in the words of Paul to the Thessalonians—"As concerning brotherly love, you need not that I write unto you; for you yourselves are taught of God to love one another." (1 Thess. 4:9.) They were so taught of God to love one another that they needed no written directions to do so, no formal precept to bind it hard and fast in their consciences. And yet to show the nature and necessity of the precept, and its connection with spiritual obedience, the Apostle adds, "And indeed you do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia; but we beseech you, brethren, that you increase more and more." (1 Thess. 4:10.) Their brotherly love might flag, or there were larger measures of it to be attained unto. The spirit of the precept might seem to render the letter almost needless in their happy case; and yet the Apostle would not neglect the letter, but would still urge it upon their consciences, as a revelation of the special will of God.

We may take an almost parallel case from the precept—"Husbands, love your wives." (Eph. 5:25.) A Christian husband may so dearly and fondly love his wife that he may need no precept to urge him to love her. The spirit of the precept in this case may seem almost to supersede and render useless the injunction; and yet it does not do the one or the other, for he may love her too fondly, with too much of carnal love, and this may entangle him in some of those numerous snares which ever attend idolatrous or inordinate affections.

Here, then, come in the wisdom and grace of the letter of the precept to guide, to regulate, to sanctify conjugal love, to turn it into a Christian channel, to restrain its excess, and to hold up a pattern and an example that it may not be like the gross, sensual love of carnal men to carnal women—but be purified from idolatry and everything whereby the conscience may be defiled. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word." (Eph. 5:25, 26.) The purity and sanctity of Christ's love to the Church is thus offered as an example to purify and sanctify the love with which a Christian man should love his wife. Thus though the spirit of the precept can act independently of the letter of the precept, yet from the letter it gains its knowledge of the will of God, and by the letter it is guided, restrained, and regulated.

3. This, therefore, gives us another instance of the connection between the letter and the spirit of the precept and the extreme value and blessedness of this intimate connection. The letter guides and regulates the spirit, and thus preserves it from enthusiasm and fanaticism. What a deep debt of gratitude do we owe to the Holy Spirit for the 'letter' of the precept! What a preservative from pretended revelations or spiritual delusions! We live in a dreadful day, when the vilest impostures or the very depths of Satan are palmed off as "spiritual manifestations." Now, what an unspeakable mercy it is for the Church of God that there is a calm, sober, solid, weighty spiritual revelation of his mind and will in the New Testament, and especially in the preceptive part of it. This is at once a guide and a test, a restraint from all wild flights of what might be thought and called 'the spirit', from all erroneous views of what we might be told the Spirit dictates or enforces, and yet at the same time, a safe, wise, and holy regulator of all our walk and conduct with God and man!

We have not space to prove it; but it might be easily shown that most if not all of the abominations of the Romish Church, her pretended revelations, her monkish austerities, her conventual discipline, her secret confessional, and the power which she wields over the minds and consciences of her devotees may be traced up to her casting aside the Scriptures as the only rule of faith and obedience. O the unspeakable blessedness, then, of possessing, as God's gift—the wisest, safest, holiest instruction to guide our every step heavenward. O the greater blessedness still of having a divine teaching, power, and influence in our own bosom to quicken the precept as with new life—and to animate our heart to love and obey it, as held forth to our faith.

3. Having thus traced the connection between the letter and the spirit of the precept, we shall now attempt to show how the spirit of the precept acts in unison and harmony, not only with the letter of the precept, but with the whole tenor and current of the glorious gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It thus elevates the precept out of the letter; takes it completely out of the hands of legalists and pharisees, who, by their ignorance or their self-righteousness, would pervert it into a mere moral code; brings it thoroughly away from Mount Sinai, where they would gladly fasten it on the mount which burned with fire, and was shrouded in blackness, and darkness, and tempest—and puts it under the shade and shelter of Mount Zion, as a part of that new covenant of which Jesus is the Mediator, and of which the blood of sprinkling is the dedication. (Heb. 9:18-23; 12:18-24.)

If you are still in doubt upon this point, ask yourself this simple question—"Is the precept a part of the New Testament or not?" If it is a part of the New Testament, which none can deny, it is of the new covenant, for the word in the original is the same, and the meaning of the two terms but slightly differs. Now, if it is a part of the new covenant, then it must be in harmony with every other part of it, unless you suppose that the God of all wisdom and of all grace has given to the Church a broken, divided, inconsistent, contradictory covenant; a circumstance which, according even to human covenants, would vitiate the whole. It is surprising how all difficulties, and especially those which we make for ourselves or others make for us by carnal reasoning, vanish and disappear before the simplicity of truth. How Mr. Huntington was abused for nearly half a century with the vilest names, called an imposter and an Antinomian by men who stood high in an evangelical profession, for merely holding and defending a truth which is as clear as the sun at noonday, that the gospel, not the Mosaic law, is the believer's rule of life. Was this an error of the deepest magnitude? Was this "a heinous crime, yes, an iniquity to be punished by the judges," that in so doing he applied to God's last and best will and testament a principle known to every man who has a shilling's worth of property to bequeath, that a new will at once sets aside an old one, and that no judge or jury, court of law, or attorney would so much as look at a will dated last week when there lies before them a will dated today? And yet men and ministers, holding in their hands or laying on their pulpit cushion a Bible divided into the Old and New Testaments, in other words, God's Old and New Wills, heaped abuse on the head of a man who simply asserted that God's New Will virtually repealed and set aside his Old Will.

But as bats and owls hate the sun, because under his bright beams they cannot hunt and hawk for their insects and their mice; so do half-blind professors hate the sunlight of heavenly truth, as baffling their low and groveling appetites for everything which feeds the flesh; while new-born souls love its genial beams, and are ever crying, "Light, light, more light. Shine, Lord, into my heart; show me light in your own most blessed light, and fix my affections on things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God." And the Lord answers them to the joy of their soul; for he "who commands the light to shine out of darkness shines into their hearts to give them the light of the knowledge of his own glory in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Cor. 4:6.)

Readers, forgive this digression; but feeling our heart warmed with love to God's truth, our pen ran glidingly on. We have had some dry spots to travel over and toil through even in our present subject, when we were handling the letter of the precept. If, then, we can but get a little lying down in a green pasture, and a little leading beside the still waters, let us tarry awhile to eat and drink, and so pass on. The wilderness is still before us. Bless his holy name if the cloudy pillar there guide us, the manna feed us, and the well out of the rock follow us. Let us attempt to show, then, HOW the spirit of the precept acts in harmony with the whole tenor of the gospel.

1. The grand distinctive feature of the gospel is, that it is the revelation of a new covenant, the covenant of grace, made by the Father with the Son on behalf of a peculiar people. By the term "grace" we understand the pure favor of God, irrespective of all worth or worthiness in the creature, and flowing out to his people as chosen, accepted, and blessed in the Son of his love. The declaration and proclamation of this new covenant we call the gospel, that is, glad tidings—good news. And the gladness of its tidings consists in this—that it sounds forth salvation by grace. These are simple, well-known truths; but we need sometimes to be as if recalled to the simplicity of truth, especially when errors of various kinds spring up to pervert and distort it.

As a revelation, then, of pure grace, the gospel is distinguished from the law, the covenant of works. Every part, therefore, of the gospel must harmonize with this grand characteristic; and as the precept is a part of this gospel, it too must, in all its varied bearings, move in fullest accord with the grace of God, as thus revealed in his dear Son. But grace is a most comprehensive term, for it embraces the pure favor of God both in its source and in its streams, in its manifestations and in its operations, in its purposes and in its effects, in its counsels and in its consequences. The precept, of course, is not co-extensive with the grace of God, for it is but a part, and comparatively but a small part, of that wondrous plan, as being chiefly confined to this time-state; while grace not merely respects the present, but looks backward and forward—backward to the eternal purposes of God in Christ, (Eph. 1:3-11,) and forward to the accomplishment of those purposes in "making known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy which he had prepared beforehand unto glory." (Romans 9:23.)

Thus the doctrines of the gospel are doctrines of grace, the promises of the gospel are promises of grace, the invitations of the gospel are invitations of grace, and the precepts of the gospel are precepts of grace. All this seems self-evident, and immediately as the gospel is seen and acknowledged to be a revelation of pure grace, it follows as an undeniable conclusion.

But it is found, as a matter of daily observation and experience, that the perverse mind of man will evade, or distort, or deny conclusions or consequences, however plain or clear they may appear, which are opposed to natural prejudices, or which press hard upon habits of self-indulgence or self-righteousness. You may, for instance, show a man, in the clearest manner from the word of God, the sin of covetousness, and he will admit the truth and force of your arguments and conclusions. But ask him the next moment for a few shillings for the poor, and you will soon see how his covetous heart evades or denies the point to which you have just brought him. So with the precept. With one breath a man will acknowledge it as a part of the gospel of the grace of God, and with the next utter words which convince you that he pays no real regard to it, holds it in no honor or estimation, and has neither seen its beauty nor felt its power.

Now, this one thing is certain to our own mind, for it has been worked out in our own experience—if we have never seen the beauty or felt the power of a truth, we have never heartily, cordially, affectionately embraced it; indeed, it is a great question with us whether we have embraced it at all. Put this point to a practical test. Why did you embrace the doctrines of grace? Because you saw their beauty and felt their power. Why did you embrace the Lord himself with true faith and hearty affection? Because you saw his beauty and felt the power of his grace and love in your heart. Then, on similar grounds, no one can embrace the precept heartily, cordially, affectionately, who has not seen its beauty and felt its power. But its beauty consists mainly in its grace. If we see beauty in its face, it is because grace has fashioned and adorned every feature, and stamped upon them its own loveliness; if we hear melody in its voice, it is because grace attunes it to its own beautiful harmony; if it attracts and draws us to follow after it, it is like the influence of a beautiful woman upon her lovers and admirers who follow her wherever she goes, pleased to do her slightest biddings, under the irresistible charm of her smile.

Thus it is the grace of the precept, its beautiful harmony with the love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and communion of the Holy Spirit—which causes our heart to embrace it as at once holy and wise, tender and loving, savory and suitable—a faithful guide under all difficulties—a loving monitor against all evil—a gentle reprover when we go astray—and a kind friend ever at hand to give affectionate and solid counsel. Now if you have never seen anything of this beauty in the precept, and never felt anything of this power in it, one of these two is most certainly your case and state—either you have never seen the beauty or felt the power of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in your heart—or that, as yet, you have not seen the beauty or felt the power of the grace of the precept.

We will gladly hope that the latter is the case with you, if you know not the meaning of our voice, and we are unto you a barbarian. But as this part of our subject is not yet exhausted, we will make another attempt in our next section—to reach your understanding, touch your conscience, and soften your heart.

Our readers will kindly bear in mind that the part of our subject which we are now handling is the SPIRIT of the precept, and that the point immediately before us is the union and harmony which the spirit of the precept possesses, not only with the letter of the precept, but with the whole current and tenor of the glorious gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To prove this point conclusively would require a close and thorough investigation of the whole current and tenor of the gospel; but, as this would be an almost interminable field, we shall content ourselves with simply stating a few leading characteristics of the gospel; and if we can show that the spirit of the precept is in union and harmony with these, it will necessarily follow that, as the gospel is a uniform, consistent whole, it will equally harmonize with all the rest.

We know no part of Scripture where the law and the gospel are more clearly, concisely, and beautifully contrasted than in that remarkable chapter, 2 Cor. 3. The whole chapter demands and will amply repay the most careful and prayerful examination and meditation; for in it the Apostle places in striking contrast the two dispensations—the main points of contrast being the peculiar glory of each covenant, but the surpassing glory of the New Covenant. Paul does not, like some uninspired teachers, disparage the law, or push it contemptuously out of the way, but gives it due honor as a revelation from God, and as such, therefore, possessing a glory of its own. Following his invariable method of basing all his assertions on Scripture, he founds his view of the peculiar glory of the old dispensation upon a remarkable occurrence at the time of its revelation—"But if the ministration of death, written and engraved in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away." (2 Cor. 3:7.) We would be glad to enter into the various circumstances and accompaniments of the giving of the law, but our limit prevents this; and we shall, therefore, merely remark that these accompaniments when "the Lord descended upon mount Sinai in fire," (Exod. 19:18,) were but the shadowings forth of the dreadful majesty of God, of his inflexible justice, and fiery wrath against sin, which burn to the lowest hell. Now, after these fearsome manifestations of the power, presence, and glory of God on Sinai's burning top, the Lord spoke what are sometimes called "the ten words," (Exod. 34:28, margin,) or ten commandments; and to impress upon them greater weight and permanency, he afterwards gave them to Moses written with his own finger on two tables of stone, at the end of his forty days' and nights' sojourn in the Mount. We read that "the glory of the Lord abode upon Mount Sinai, and that the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount." (Exod. 24:16, 17.) In the midst of this glory Moses was, as it were, wrapped up; for he was the typical mediator of that covenant. When, then, he came down from the mount a second time with the two tables in his hands, the skin of his face shone, as if the glory of God in that covenant were reflected in it. The shining of his face Paul calls "the glory of his countenance," that being the reflection of the glory of God as seen by him face to face during the forty days' sojourn.

But on this point we need not enlarge, our only object, in dwelling thus momentarily upon the glory of the law, being to draw attention to the superior glory of the gospel, as contrasted with it, which we shall find to have some bearing on our present subject. The apostle, then, in the chapter to which we have referred, mentions five points of contrast in which the glory of the gospel excels and outshines the glory of the law—

1. The law is but the ministration of the letter; that is, it stood only in so many written words or letters, engraved on tables of stone; (2 Cor. 3:3;) but the gospel is the ministration of the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:3, 6, 8.)

2. The law is the ministration of death, for "the letter kills;" but the gospel is the ministration of life, for "the Spirit gives life." (2 Cor. 3:6.)

3. The law is the ministration of condemnation; but the gospel is the ministration of righteousness.

4. The law genders to bondage; (Gal. 4:2 4;) but the gospel is the spirit of liberty.

5. The law was for a time, and then to be done away; (2 Cor. 3:11, 13;) the gospel is permanent and enduring. (2 Cor, 3:11.)

To work out these points, contrast then with one another, and to show from them the glory of each dispensation, and yet the surpassing and superior glory of the gospel, would be a subject of deep and profitable meditation. But we shall only consider them so far as they have a bearing on our subject, and shall take but three of them, adding a fourth from another quarter. These four characteristic features of the gospel, constituting its main, its distinguishing glory, are, that it is a ministration of the Spirit, of life, of liberty and of love. With each and all of these four features will the spirit of the precept be in the fullest harmony.

1. The first leading feature of the gospel is, that it is the ministration of the SPIRIT; that is, through it and by it the Holy Spirit is promised and communicated. Thus Paul asks the Galatians, "This only would I learn of you—have you received the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" (Gal. 3:2.) The "hearing of faith" means that hearing of the gospel with the believing heart, whereby it becomes "the power of God unto salvation," (Romans 1:16,) when it comes "not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance." (1 Thess. 1:5.) In this sense the gospel is the ministration or service of the blessed Spirit, that gracious and holy Teacher using it as a means of conveying himself into the heart. When our blessed Lord rose from the dead, and ascended on high, he "received gifts for men." (Psalm 68:18.) The prime and chief of these gifts was the Holy Spirit, which, being promised him by the Father as a part of the reward of his humiliation, sufferings, and death, is therefore called "the promise of the Father;" "Behold, I send the promise of the Father upon you;" (Luke 24:49;) "the promise of the Holy Spirit;" (Acts 2:33;) and "the Holy Spirit of promise;" (Eph. 1:13;) the meaning of all these expressions being that the Holy Spirit, with all his gifts and graces, is the promised Comforter, Teacher, and inward Intercessor of all to whom the gospel comes with power.

Thus the chief glory of the gospel is, that it is the "ministration of the Spirit." If, then, the precept be an integral part of the gospel, it must also be a part of the ministration of the Spirit. Not that the precept communicates the Spirit, as do the truths, the promises, the invitations, the declarations of the gospel. These instrumentally communicate the Spirit, whereas the precept does but follow it, and acts in union and harmony with it. Let us explain this point a little more clearly. When a gospel truth, such as "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin;" or a gospel declaration, as "He who believes on me has everlasting life;" or a gospel promise, as, "I will not leave you comfortless, I will come unto you," or a gospel invitation—"If any man thirsts, let him come to me and drink," comes to the heart with a divine power, the Holy Spirit is as if communicated thereby; for he comes into the heart through that truth, declaration, promise, invitation, etc.

But he does not, at least not usually, come into the heart through the precept, for the precept follows as the fruit and effect of his coming. Yet as the fruit and effect of his coming, the spirit of the precept is in the fullest harmony and union with the whole tenor and current of the gospel. Thus there is not a single precept which is not in harmony with the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. May we use a figure to illustrate this? Here is a piece of beautiful music—the master-piece of an eminent composer, say Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. What do you see? Several sheets of musical characters, as notes, etc., which you may or may not read and understand. But while in the mere score, there is no music in them—at least, the body is there, but not the soul of music. Now, hear this score played and sung as intended. What a soul is put into it, and what harmony! Among thousands of notes you will not hear a jarring sound. So with the precepts. Dead in the letter, when a soul is breathed into them by the Holy Spirit, they all are animated as with one harmonious voice, every note being in perfect unison with the gospel of the grace of God.

2. Another distinctive mark of the gospel is that it is the ministration of LIFE. "The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (2 Cor. 3:6.) As, then, the Spirit gives life, the spirit of the precept must fully harmonious with the life given in and through the gospel. Christ is "the life;" (John 14:6;) "in him was life;" (John 1:4;) he "came that his sheep might have life and might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10.) The life, therefore, of the gospel is the life of the precept. Your heart literally, naturally, is the center of your bodily life; but your hands and feet are in union with your heart through the vital blood which flows from it into them. So with the gospel and the precepts of the gospel. Christ is the life; but this life he communicates through the gospel. Call, then, the gospel the heart, as the center of this life; and call the precept the feet and hands, whereby the life of the gospel is manifested in action; and at once we see that the life of the gospel is the life of the precept, as the life of the heart is the life of the feet and hands. How thoroughly, therefore, must the spirit of the precept harmonize with the gospel as the ministration of life.

3. A third feature of the gospel is, that it is the perfect law of LIBERTY;" for "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty;" (2 Cor. 3:17;) and, therefore, all the precepts of the gospel, as animated by the Spirit, harmonize with this perfect liberty. Under the law, all is bondage; under the gospel, all is liberty. Whatever, therefore, does not breathe liberty, call it what you will, wrap it up and disguise it how you may, is not the gospel. Here many teachers and preachers have erred in handling and enforcing the precept. They have read and heard of the liberty of the gospel, for that is too plainly revealed and insisted upon in the New Testament to be questioned or denied, but they have been afraid of extending this liberty to the precept, as if the necessary consequence was that we were at liberty to obey it or not, just as we pleased. Now this is a thorough misconception of the nature of the liberty of the gospel, and of the liberty of the precept as a part of that gospel. To this timorous though mistaken apprehension we may trace the tenacity with which so many have held that the Mosaic law is the believer's rule of life. Their poor, timorous, servile minds, drenched and drowned in legal bondage, were afraid of the gospel, as if it were a kind of tamed lion, which would be very quiet and do nobody any harm as long as it was kept in a cage, but must not be allowed to get out, lest it should work incalculable mischief.

Or, to change the figure, they treated it almost as if it were a ticket of license. Man, who, though, from his good conduct in prison, he might be set at a kind of half liberty, yet was to be carefully watched, lest he should associate himself with thieves, or commit a burglary. And thus the free, noble, glorious gospel of the grace of God, containing in its bosom and holding forth the eternal love of the Father, the blood and righteousness of the Son, and the teaching and testimony of the Holy Spirit—this pure and precious gospel, which proclaims liberty to the captive and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, has been shut up, caged, and confined within all sorts of bars, conditions, and limitations, as if it were a wild beast which "had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it;" and which, if let loose, would "arise and devour much flesh." (Dan. 7:5.) Yes, this pure and precious gospel has been suspected of all manner of evil deeds; and if, by its good and excellent behavior it has sometimes been allowed a half liberty, yet has it been most carefully watched with the jealous eyes of a whole host of clerical and lay police, lest it should plot a murder or accomplish a robbery. What so much troubles the clergyman of some quiet country parish as the appearance in it of a preacher of the gospel, and the opening of a little cottage where a few poor people meet to hear it? What an immediate outcry is raised. "O these dreadful, those dangerous doctrines! Are they come at last into my parish—my domain?" As if this poor, humble minister were come to burn down the parish rectory; or as if his few hearers, probably by his own confession the best-living people in the parish, met together to get drunk, or strengthen each other's hands in all manner of sin and wickedness.

And this terribly outcry of "dangerous doctrines" is raised by men who see no danger in the careless profanity of the rich, and the loose licentiousness of the poor; no danger in, or at least who raise no warning cry against, the stealthy advance of Popery; no danger in the rapid growth of infidelity; no danger in bishops and deans denying the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. But they are not the first, and will not be the last, who have spared the thief and arrested the honest man, justified the wicked and condemned the righteous. But these blind judges are not the only men who bark at the gospel. How the great bulk of preachers and writers, far and near, whether they call themselves churchmen or dissenters, are of one mind either wholly to cast out the precious gospel, or, by abridging it of its liberty, to stop its vital breath. And to do this wretched work more effectually, they have constructed a cage for the gospel out of the precepts of the gospel; and thus not only made it a prisoner, but have found or fashioned chains and fetters to tie it hand and foot by strips torn from its own clothes.

But how ignorant are all such men of what the liberty of the gospel is; and that it is a liberty not to sin—but from sin—a holy, heavenly freedom of spirit which engages every willing affection of the heart to yield the obedience of faith. In fact, liberty is the very essence of the gospel—its vital breath, its animating spirit; for "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." (2 Cor. 3:17.) The gospel is "the perfect law of liberty," therefore the very perfection of liberty, and thus thoroughly and entirely free from the least taint of bondage, the slightest tincture of servitude. It is this perfect freedom which distinguishes it from the law which "works wrath" (Romans 4:15) and "genders to bondage." (Gal. 4:24.) It is, therefore, a freedom from sin—(Romans 6:18;) from the guilt of sin, as having "the heart sprinkled from an evil conscience;" (Heb. 10:22;) from the filth of sin, by "the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit;" (Titus 3:5;) from the love of sin, through "the love of God, shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit;" (rout. 5:5;) from the dominion of sin, as "not being under the law but under grace;" (Romans 6:14;) and from the practice of sin, by becoming servants to God, so as to have our fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life." (Romans 6:22.)

How, then, can this pure, holy, and precious gospel be condemned as leading to licentiousness? It is because its power, its preciousness, its happy, holy, heavenly liberty have never been experimentally known by them that some, like the Galatians, do all they can to frustrate the grace of God, by turning again to the weak and beggarly elements whereunto they desire to be in bondage; (Gal. 2:21; 4:9;) while others, like those monsters of wickedness whom Jude and Peter denounce with such burning words, pervert and abuse the liberty of the gospel unto licentiousness, "They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures," and, "while they promise others liberty, are themselves the servants of corruption." (2 Pet. 2:13, 19.)

Now the liberty of the gospel, as revealed in the Scriptures, and made experimentally known to the soul, steers, so to speak, between the two extremes, and is as perfectly free from the least intermixture of legal bondage as from the least taint of Antinomian licentiousness. It is, indeed, this holy liberty, heavenly power, and gracious influence of the precious gospel, under the teaching and testimony of the Holy Spirit, which makes it so suitable to our case and state when first convinced of sin, and cast into prison under guilt and condemnation. What release but a perfect release would suit our deplorable case as prisoner—in the pit where there is no water, shut up under wrath and guilty fear through a condemning law and an accusing conscience? This pure and precious gospel, therefore, comes down to us poor miserable captives, shut up in bondage under the law, under a guilty conscience, under the tormenting accusations of Satan, and the doubts and fears of our own trembling, misgiving heart. Yes, it comes down to our pitiable state and condition as a message of pure mercy, as revealing and proclaiming pardon and peace through a Saviour's blood; and when, by grace, we can receive, embrace, and entertain it as a word from God to us, proclaiming liberty as with a jubilee trumpet through every court and ward of the soul.

And shall we take, or willingly allow any one else to take prisoner this heavenly messenger and shut her up in the condemned cell? Shall we stand tamely by and not lift up our voice with indignation when we see this beauteous visitant, fresh, as it were, from the very courts of heaven, and radiant with the glory of God, laid hold of by a villainous jailer, as if she came to rob and murder? What were we before this precious gospel reached our ears and hearts? Were we not bondslaves to sin, serving diverse lusts and pleasures, taken and led captive by Satan at his will—and while we talked about enjoying life, were, through fear of death, subject to bondage? When we saw the saints of God not daring to do what we did greedily, we thought that they were the slaves, and we the free men, not knowing that "to whom we yield ourselves servants to obey, his servants we are, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness;" (Romans 6:16;) not knowing that "whoever commits sin is the servant of sin," and that our boasted freedom was real servitude, while their apparent bondage was real freedom; for they had an interest in that precious declaration—"If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, you shall be free indeed." (John 8:36.)

As, then, the spirit of liberty is the spirit of the gospel, it must be the very spirit of the precept also as an integral part of the gospel. If, therefore, you have never known the spirit of liberty in the gospel, you have never known the spirit of the precept, which is a part of that liberty; and if you have never known the spirit of the precept, you have never once performed one of the precepts aright. All your obedience has been not in newness of the spirit, but in the oldness of the letter.

O how pious and religious some of you have been, if not now are! How you have set the precepts before your eves and tried to keep them—how harshly you have judged others who were not so strict in keeping the commandments as you believed you were—how you spied out the liberty of some of the dear family of God which they had in Christ Jesus, that you might, by your conversation, or your preaching, your letters of advice, your solemn warnings, your sharp and angry reproofs, your praying at them, and, as you thought and said, for them, bring them into bondage. (Gal. 2:4.) How dangerous you considered must be the liberty of the gospel if it should set anyone who professed godliness free from all those shackles and fetters which, the more self-imposed and the stricter they were, the more closely you hugged them to your self-righteous bosom! Thus you took the precepts of the gospel out of their connection with the liberty of the gospel, and turned them into moral duties to feed your legal, self-righteous spirit. And what was the consequence? Bondage, guilt, and fear in your own conscience, for you could never keep the precept even according to your own interpretation of it; harsh judgment of all who did not partake of your legal spirit, whatever might be their experience or consistency; close alliance with shallow professors held fast in the same bonds with yourself; and a gradual departure from the truths of the gospel, until a miracle of grace put you into the furnace, there to learn what your own arm could do for you, and that nothing but the gospel, in its blessed liberty and power, could save your soul.

We have rather wandered from our point, but we could not show the liberty of the precept as animated by the spirit of the precept, and its harmony with the whole tenor and current of the gospel, without entering a little into the nature of the liberty of the gospel; and, as this is a subject of great importance, and very dear to us, we have been tempted to stray somewhat from our due limits. But now observe the connection between the 'spirit of the precept' and the 'liberty of the gospel'. In order, then, that this liberty of the gospel should not be abused unto licentiousness, it is guided and regulated by the precept, and by the spirit of the precept as animating the letter. The liberty of the gospel is a living, animated principle—not a dead letter, but a gracious power and influence. This is one of its main blessings. The precept therefore, in guiding and regulating this liberty, must be animated, too, with spirit and life, or you would have the strange anomaly, the gross and palpable inconsistency, of a living body walking with dead feet, or served by paralyzed hands.

In accomplishing this office, the precept serves two important uses—

1. The spirit of the precept so far restrains this liberty, that it should not degenerate into licentiousness. We are such vile wretches, such depraved creatures, that we would very soon abuse our liberty unless we were restrained. We are like our own children; they are at liberty to come in and go out of our house, to sit at our table, to sleep under our roof; for it is their house and home, as it is our own. Indeed, we cannot bear their absence from our table or our roof, unless we know where they are, and that they are absent by our permission; for we know that they are only safe when they are under our eye. But with all this freedom, their birthright and inheritance, they are under a restraint—a restraint absolutely needful for their good. They may not go out when they please, nor eat and drink when and as much as they please, nor go to bed and get up when they please. Why? Because they would abuse this liberty to their own injury. And yet, it being a restraint of love and affection, and for their good, it is no hindrance to the liberty which they enjoy as our children. They are not our servants, nor treated as servants, but are dear children, and treated as dear children; and it is because they are dear children they are restrained from injuring themselves; for we would feel any injury to them much more deeply than they.

Thus the precepts are to the children of God what the injunctions, commands, and declared will of a parent are to a child. And, as the happiness and well-being of a child, and, we may add, the happiness of the whole family as living together, much depend on the order and discipline of their home, and on the wise and affectionate authority and declared will of the master of the house—so the happiness and well-being of the child of God, and the happiness of the family of God, as united in church fellowship, much depend on the obedience of one and all to the precepts of the gospel as the revealed will of the Lord of the house, for the maintenance of the order and discipline of each and all its members. Happy child, who obeys the precepts of the gospel in the spirit and liberty of the gospel! Happy church, where the precepts of the gospel form its rule, the spirit of the gospel its animating principle, and the spirit of the precept its influential guide.

2. And this leads us to another important use of the precept. The spirit of the precept not only restrains liberty from degenerating into licentiousness, but regulates its actions. A person may not abuse his liberty, yet not know how to use it. Thus there is a using it aright, and a not using it aright. Here then, come in the value and blessedness of the precept, and especially the spirit of the precept, to teach us how to use aright the liberty of the gospel, and to enable us to walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing. (Col. 1:10.) Thus the liberty of the gospel and the spirit of the precept move, work, and act together in the fullest and most blessed harmony—the result being fruitfulness in every good word and work unto the glory of God. By this is accomplished liberty without licentiousness, and obedience without servitude. The union of liberty with obedience is the happiest of alliances. Liberty without obedience is licentiousness; obedience without liberty is slavery; their union guards liberty and ennobles obedience. This is true politically as well as religiously. Liberty is the Englishman's birthright. Liberty of thought, of speech, of action, of movement; liberty of public meetings, of petitioning parliament, of electing our own representatives, of worshiping God according to the dictates of our own conscience; liberty of the press, of the pulpit, of the platform. Who can enumerate, who can sufficiently prize, those civil and religious liberties which our forefathers won for us with so much toil and suffering, and which we enjoy as our birthright and inheritance?

But mark how obedience to law regulates this liberty. Where is such liberty enjoyed as in England? But where is the law of the land so respected and obeyed? All that England is and has as the freest, most prosperous, and most favored country in the world, we owe, under God, to her union of the greatest liberty with the greatest obedience. Without law an Englishman could not live; without liberty an Englishman could not breathe. Take away our laws, which all equally obey from the queen to the pauper, violence and bloodshed would fill every street; take away our liberties, and England would be one vast dungeon.

So it is in grace. Without the precepts of the gospel and spiritual obedience rendered to them, gospel liberty would degenerate into licentiousness; without the liberty of the gospel, the precepts would be turned into the greatest bondage and the most miserable legal slavery.

Those men, therefore, are utterly wrong who twist the precepts into a rod to flog the backs of those whom the truth has made free. In God's house there is a rod—"Shall I come unto you with a rod?" (1 Cor. 4:21; ) but the precepts are not that rod. How plain, how clear the distinction. In a family the father's will, the rules which he lays down for the regulation of the whole house, are, so to speak, the precepts of the house. But is this will, are these rules the rod? No! that is hung up, or kept in a corner, and only brought out when these rules are wilfully broken by any of the children. The rules are of daily, hourly use for the comfort, convenience, order, happiness, and well-being of the house. But the rod comes forth only now and then, and more rarely the better, when the sad occasion, which often sets the whole family weeping, calls for it.

So in the family of God. The precepts are the rules of the house; the hidings of God's face are the inward rod for inwardly disobeying them; reproofs before all by the pastor, (1 Tim. 5:20,) or setting aside and putting away by the church, (1 Cor. 5:13,) are the outward rod for outward disobedience. We have said enough and more than enough on this point, but, as this feature of the precept, as a part of the liberty of the gospel, is little known and less attended to, we have ventured to handle it at some length.

We trust that we have not wearied our readers by our long and protracted Meditations on the preceptive part of the word of truth. But if such unhappily be the case, the weariness will be due not to the subject itself, which must ever be of the deepest interest to all who truly fear God, and desire to walk in obedience to his will and word—but to our mode of handling it, and especially to the long and laborious consideration which we have bestowed upon it. And yet if a certain degree of length is absolutely necessary for a due examination of every important subject, how much more must this be the case in the weighty matters of divine revelation. A deep subject, like a deep river, holds in its bosom an amount of matter in proportion to its depth. Its very copiousness makes it deep. Thus while we would avoid that prosy diffusiveness which makes length wearisome, we are bound freely to say that we could not have done justice to our subject by giving it a brief, hasty, superficial consideration. This, then, must be our excuse, if we have trespassed too much upon the patience of our readers. But if the voyage has been long, and to some tedious, land is at last in sight. We are approaching the shore; and in this or our following section, we hope to furl our sails and drop our anchor. May a favorable gale speed our ship and crown our voyage with a blessing which shall make amends for a protracted passage.

In our last section, we attempted to point out a few of those prominent features of the spirit of the precept which distinguish it from the letter, and elevate obedience to the revealed will and word of God into a spiritual service. From the letter of the precept we learn "what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." (Romans 12:2.) But though we thus learn from the precept what is the acceptable will of God, we have no power in ourselves to perform it acceptably; for a mere letter obedience to the precepts of the gospel, however strict and conformable, is no more acceptable to God, than an obedience to the ten commandments. To make our obedience acceptable two things are absolutely necessary—

1. That it be presented through Jesus Christ; for as our persons, so our offerings are only "accepted in the Beloved."

2. That it be sanctified by the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle speaks—"That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:16.) The Apostle Peter beautifully brings together these two points, and shows us in a small compass who are the acceptable worshipers, and what is the nature of their acceptable worship—"To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious. You also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." (1 Pet. 2:4, 5.) The acceptable worshipers are the "living stones" who come to Jesus, and are built up in him as "a spiritual house," constituting them "a holy priesthood;" the sacrifices which they offer are "spiritual sacrifices," as sanctified by the Holy Spirit; and these sacrifices are "acceptable to God by Jesus Christ," as offered by faith in him and ascending up to heaven perfumed by his intercession within the veil.

Thus no mere 'letter obedience' to the precept, were such a thing possible, for the precepts of the gospel being spiritual, based upon spiritual motives and addressed to spiritual people, are out of the reach of natural obedience; no such mere obedience, were it possible, could or would be acceptable to God. It would be "another gospel," as many have preached and made it, and thus brought themselves under the curse according to that fearful denunciation of Paul—"But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!" (Gal. 1:8, 9.) Perversion is perversion, whether men pervert the doctrines of the gospel, the promises of the gospel, or the precepts of the gospel—and for perverting the gospel of Christ they will not be held innocent.

We have already pointed out that the chief blessedness and glory of the New Covenant dispensation is, that it is the ministration of the Spirit; and that, therefore, the blessed Spirit must animate the precept as well as the promise with heavenly life, that we may believe the one and perform the other. You know what it is to believe a promise when it comes with power; so you must know how to perform a precept when it comes with power. The power is the same; for it is the power of the Spirit acting through the word. A promise comes. I believe it, for I feel the power of it. A precept comes. I believe it, for I feel the power of it. Where, then, is the difference? Wholly in this, that by the promise I believe that it is the will of God that I should be saved; and by the precept that it is the will of God that I should forgive my brother. A letter obedience, therefore, is of no more worth or value than a letter faith; and to forgive my brother in the letter is no more real forgiveness than to believe in Christ in the letter is real faith. The precept, therefore, needs life breathed into it, that, as a word of and from Christ, it may be spirit and life to our soul. (John 6:63.)

If, then, there were no life thus put into the precept, it would be like a dead branch in a living tree—or a paralyzed limb in our natural body; an unsightly object instead of an ornament, an incumbrance rather than a help—a withered, useless appurtenance, cut off from all life and movement, and a drag upon the gospel as a poor paralytic drags after him a leg, on which he can neither stand nor walk. Compare this poor withered limb—with a strong, healthy leg, and you may see the difference between the dragging obedience of a servant in the letter, and the gracious obedience of a son in the spirit.

Life, then, and that as breathed into it by the blessed Spirit, is one main feature of the spirit of the precept. But this life has two blessed adjuncts, Liberty and Love; for these are two special fruits of the Holy Spirit, and move together in holy concert and gracious harmony to help forward the obedience of faith.

Liberty we have already considered. Her sweet, tender, and affectionate companion we have now to present to view; and who that has seen her lovely face and heard the accents of her melodious voice, will not welcome her as she comes forth for our contemplation? Her name is "Love." And do observe how the blessed Spirit holds, as it were, Liberty with the one hand and Love with the other. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." (2 Cor. 3:17.) "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit." (Romans 5:5.) And that life is his gift, is plain from the same inspired testimony—"The Spirit gives life." (2 Cor. 3:6.) Death, bondage, and enmity, then, those evil fruits of the flesh, and the men who walk in them, have neither part nor lot in the glorious gospel of the grace of God, where life, liberty, and love animate every truth, every promise, every privilege, and every precept. As, then, we have endeavored to unfold the connection of Liberty with the spirit of the precept, so will we now attempt to show that part which is fulfilled by Love.

4. The last distinctive mark of the gospel, is that it is the ministration of LOVE. "God is love." That is his name, that is his nature; and what a proof, what a manifestation has he given of this love! "In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:9, 10.) The gift of his only-begotten Son, and that for these two special purposes, 1. that he might be the propitiation for our sins; 2. that we might live through him, is at once the proof and the measure of this love. To proclaim this love is to preach the gospel; to believe in this love is to believe the gospel; to taste, handle, and enjoy this love is to know and enjoy the power of the gospel; and to obey the precept under the constraints of this love is to obey the gospel.

Liberty and love must needs go together; for where there is bondage there is fear, and where there is fear there is torment, and where there is torment there cannot be love, at least not perfect love, for perfect love casts it out. (1 John 4:18.) Love, then, is the crowning feature of the spirit of the precept, and one of its most distinctive points of difference from the letter, for the strictest obedience to the letter of the precept without love is but legal bondage—the task-work of a servant, not the compliance of a son. You may set the precepts of the gospel before your eyes, and try your utmost to observe them. You may admire the holiness which they inculcate; see the separation from the world and the devotedness to God which they enforce, and what is more than seeing it, you may try to act upon it; you may walk in the ordinances which they hold forth, and strive by diligent attention to rules and regulations, carefully framed, to regulate your own conduct and that of your family, to attain to that inward and outward holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. All this you may do for years, and be at the end what you were in the beginning—a poor self-righteous Pharisee, shut up in bondage, lip-service, and bodily exercise, as far from the spirit and love of the gospel, as much in your sins, unwashed, unjustified, unsanctified, as a monk in his cell; or a parish priest intoning the Litany to a few old women and children in his medieval church. All this strictness, indeed, sharpens your eyes to see the defects and infirmities of others, who do not pay tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, nor tie themselves to your rules.

But what are you yourself, as weighed in the balances of the gospel? What is all your strictness without life, liberty, and love? Are you stricter in lip and life than Paul was when, "touching the righteousness which is in the law," (that is, its external righteousness,) he was "blameless?" If you turn obedience to the letter of the precept into a legal service, which you must do if destitute of life, liberty, and love—you are not a son but a servant, a child of the bondwoman; and could you read your inmost heart, you would see it full of prejudice and enmity against, and ready to persecute the children of promise, by condemning their liberty as Antinomian security, and suspecting their standing if not their state.

How different from this miserable state of bondage in which many are held, miserable in itself and miserable to all with whom it comes in contact—is that favored soul which moves in the path of obedience under the sweet constraints of love; for love is not only the fulfilling of the law but of the gospel too. Such power and influence has love in the obedience of the gospel that we may boldly say that with love every precept can be obeyed—without love not one can be rightly obeyed. How plainly does our Lord speak on this point. "If you love me, keep my commandments." "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is that loves me." "If a man loves me, he will keep my words." "He who loves me not, keeps not my words." (John 14.) Similar is the testimony of the beloved disciple—"For this is the love of God—that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous." (1 John 5:2, 3.) We thus see that the keeping of Christ's commandments, in other words, obedience to the precepts of the gospel, is not only the test and proof but the fruit of love. No more, when this obedience is the obedience of love, it opens a blessed door for the manifestations of Christ and the indwelling of God, according to those wondrous words of the Lord himself—"Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man loves me, he will keep my words—and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." (John 14:23.)

How careful, then, should we be to distinguish between obedience in the letter, which is mere lip service or legal bondage—and obedience in the spirit, which springs from love and furthers its enjoyment.

Taking a broad view of the precepts, of the gospel, and the obedience inculcated by them, we may reduce them to two leading heads—

1. What we owe unto God.

2. What we owe to the people of God.

1. What we owe unto GOD. The first will comprehend all that spiritual worship, all that devotedness of heart and life, all that submission to the will of God, all that glorifying him in our body and spirit which are his, which the precept so continually and forcibly inculcates; the second will comprehend the whole of our walk and conduct to our brethren in the Lord, whereby we manifest the power of his grace.

As instances of the first we may mention such precepts as bid us "present our bodies a living sacrifice;" "to abhor that which is evil, and cleave to that which is good;" "to rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation; to continue instant in prayer;" to "walk honestly as in the day;" to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lust thereof." These, and similar precepts with which the Epistles abound, direct us how to walk before God as dear children. They address us, therefore, not as servants, bidding us perform a stipulated task, but enjoin us as sons to yield the obedience of reverent affection to our heavenly Father. They speak to us as one with Christ by mystical union, and this as "chosen in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love."

As, therefore, dead with him, buried with him, risen with him, and blessed with all spiritual blessings, and freely justified by his grace—as reconciled to God, brought near to him, and accepted in the Beloved—the precepts of the gospel call upon us to live to his praise, and walk before him in all devotedness of heart and life, to his honor and glory. But how can this be done without love? What holy, heavenly pleasure can there be even in such common, daily acts as reading his word, and calling upon his name; in meeting with his people in the house of prayer, and in Christian conversation; in separation from the world and the spirit of it; in living a life of faith and prayer; in watching our words and actions; in seeking a growing conformity to the image of Christ, and carrying out in a practical manner our Christian profession? We say not only what real pleasure can we have in this daily walk, without attending to which we shall be but barren, worthless professors all our days—but even what habitual attention can we pay to these things if not moved to them by love? Who will read the word, at least, as it should be read, with a believing and understanding heart, but he who loves it? Who will continually resort to a throne of grace, but he who loves there to pour out his heart before God? And who will day by day seek to walk before God in the light of his countenance, but he who has known and felt something of the power of his love? If the service of God be ever burdensome to us; if ever the word be neglected, prayer restrained, the company of God's people shunned, the new man put off, and the old man put on—it is when love has grown cold. The sacrifice may be laid upon the altar; the incense put upon the censor; but if the fire of love be not under both, there is neither flame nor fragrance.

2. And so it is with the second branch of the precept, which directs and regulates our walk with and before our believing BRETHREN. In that as in the service of God, "Love supplies all defects."

Without a loving, affectionate spirit, it is impossible to perform those precepts which inculcate mutual forgiveness and forbearance, "kindness, tenderness of heart, mercy, humbleness of mind, meekness, and long-suffering." (Eph. 4:2, 32; Col. 3:12, 13.) To do all this from the heart, and not merely in lip, we must "walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given himself for us." Without this love we may have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge; we may bestow all our goods to feed the poor, and give our body to be burned—and yet be nothing and have nothing. (1 Cor. 13:2, 3.) But if blessed and favored with this love, we shall obey those precepts which direct our walk with our brethren unto God and from the heart.

Who that has seen much of Christian churches does not know the difference between the hard, cold, contentious, unforgiving spirit of some—and the tender, loving, affectionate spirit of others? Who that has a feeling heart has not been cut, wounded, and grieved by the pride, obstinacy, selfishness, hardness and unkindness of the one—and been softened, melted, and blessed by the tenderness, meekness, humility, loving and affectionate spirit of the other? Love is so the spirit of the gospel, and therefore of the precept as a part of the gospel, that we may unhesitatingly say that few more break the precept than some of the very people who most contend for what is called practice. Practice is excellent, admirable, indispensable—and the lack of it grievous, lamentable, disgraceful. But let us be clear in our views as to what practice is and what it means. If it be the mere doing of what are called good works, as alms-giving, visiting the sick, strictness of life, dress, deportment, accompanied with unblemished conduct—a 'sister of mercy' will outshine us all, and father Ignatius be a pattern of holiness.

It is plain, therefore, that something more is needful for acceptable obedience than external practice, and that this something is love—love to the Lord and to his people. Nor is it less evident that this love must be made manifest by our general spirit as well as our conduct; for love is not a mere occasional spurt, a now and then warming up, like a hot fit of the fever; or the slow, relenting gripe of a miser over a charity plate—but a living principle, ever discovering itself in words and acts of kindness, forbearance, self-denial, self-restraint, consideration of the feelings of others, meekness, gentleness, and a humble, affectionate, conciliating manner and bearing. You may be outwardly very consistent—but if you are harsh, censorious, self-willed, obstinate, unforgiving—if you would sooner see the church torn to pieces with strife than give way on some point which involves neither truth nor conscience, but merely some concession of opinion, you are breaking the precept as much by your disobedience to its spirit—as others by their disobedience to its letter. God, who searches the heart and reads our inmost thoughts, feelings, and motives, observes with unerring eye our spirit as well as our conduct; and if; indeed, we see light in his light, we shall read our own heart too, and distinguish between the proud, obstinate, self-willed, contentious spirit of the old man—and the humble, forgiving, affectionate spirit of the new man.

As, then, love must animate every precept that teaches us what we owe unto the Lord for all his goodness and mercy to us—so must love equally animate every precept that guides and regulates what we owe to our believing brethren. Look at the following precepts and see if love be not the ruling, animating spirit of them all—"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Eph. 4:1-3) What but love can enable us to walk "worthy of the calling with which we are called?" Are we not called according to God's purpose, that we may love him? (Romans 8:28.) And called also to walk in love with his people?

How plain too, are the words—"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Eph. 4:31-5:2)

In a similar spirit writes the same "Apostle of Jesus Christ" to the Colossians. "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." (Col. 3:12-14)

O that this compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness more animated our spirits and guided our words and actions. There would then be no stormy church meetings, no broken friendships, no shy looks, no harsh words, no resentful memories, no magnifying and dwelling on infirmities and defects, no raking up of buried injuries, no malicious insinuations, or slanderous reportings. Having had so much forgiven us, we should freely forgive our offending brethren—and feeling ourselves to be the chief of sinners and less than the least of all saints, we should rather wonder at their forbearance of us, and admire their kindness to us, than cherish a resentful, unforgiving spirit, even against those at whose hands we may have suffered real or imaginary wrong.

We are approaching the harbor. Land was in sight in our last section, and now all that we need is a gentle yet favorable breeze to waft us on until we drop anchor, and bless God for giving us a pleasant and, we hope, not unprofitable voyage.

Two points remain for consideration, to dwell on which at any length, even at as great a length as they deserve, would set us again out to sea, and perhaps a stormy sea too; for one of them involves a subject not only of much difficulty, but of considerable strife and debate. These two points are–
1. The place which the precept occupies in the word.
2. Its place in the heart and life.