Christ The Conserver Matthew 5:17

Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfil. - Matthew 5:17

If Christ is not to destroy the law and the prophets, what then is He to do with this old faith of the Jews? How is He to treat this partial, this imperfect, faith which is already on the ground? He may do either of two things. He may destroy or He may preserve. With the most deliberate wisdom He chooses one method and rejects the other. To the conservative, Christ comes with reassurance.

1. Nothing of the old that is valuable or strong shall be lost. Examine the new, and we shall find the old at the heart of it. Study the channel where the new current is running and we shall find the water of the old channel there. That is a very suggestive fact; it appears everywhere. Study the real forward movement of thought and we shall find it true. There will always be petty disturbances, offshoots here and there which have no reference to the real advance of thought; they may cut loose from the old truth, but they are short-lived and passing. In the main movements, down the main stream, the old is never lost.

An American missionary in Japan, Dr. S. L. Gulick, writes thus: "The Christian preacher should constantly take the ground that every good teaching in the native faith is a gift of God the Father of all men, and is a preparation for the coming of His fuller revelation in Jesus Christ. We should show our real and deep respect for the ‘heathen' religions; we should take off our hats at their shrines, as we expect them to do in our churches. We should ever insist that Christianity does not come to destroy anything that is good or true in the native faiths, but rather to stimulate, to strengthen, and fulfil it - to give it life and real energy. The trouble with the native religions is not that they possess no truth, but that the truth they have is so mixed up with folly and superstition that it is lost; it has no power - no life-giving energy."1 [Note: World Missionary Conference, 1910: Report of Commission IV., 95.]

2. Nothing is to be remitted - no rule of purity, no necessity of righteousness. How can it be, when we are brought, by entering this Kingdom, nearer to God, who must be of purer eyes than to behold iniquity? No slackening of the spiritual code is possible, is conceivable. To suppose this is to mistake all the meaning of mercy, all the purpose of pardon. Let no one make such a disastrous blunder. "Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfil."

"Think not that I will dispense with any of the rules of morality, prescribed by Moses, and explained by the prophets," is Blair's rendering of this verse. "I came not to destroy, but to fulfil" (both the law and the prophets): "To fulfil," that is, to render full obedience to those great commandments (see Matthew 5:19) which it is the pre-eminent aim of the Scriptures to inculcate and enforce. Jesus came to render this full obedience in His own person, and also to secure that it should be rendered increasingly, and ever increasingly, in the persons of His disciples, the subjects of His Kingdom. It is this latter idea that was prominently in His mind on the present occasion, as is evident from the 19th and 20th verses. He came, not to introduce licence and licentiousness into His Kingdom, but to establish holiness. Some expositors suppose that the word "fulfil" means to supplement or perfect; and they imagine that Christ is here referring to His legislative authority. But such an interpretation of the term is at variance with Matthew 5:18-19, and with its use in kindred passages, such as Rom 13:8, Gal 5:14. Theophylact, among other interpretations, says that Christ fulfilled the law as a painter fills up the sketch of his picture. But it is a different "full-filling" that is referred to. When commandments are addressed to us, they present, as it were, empty vessels of duty, which our obedience is to "fill full."2 [Note: J. Morison.]

3. The Old Testament is not as it were the scaffolding necessary for the erection of the Christian Church, needing to be taken down in order that the full symmetry and beauty of the building may be seen, and only to be had recourse to from time to time when repairs are needed. It is an integral part of the structure. Ye are "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone." How could it be otherwise? we ask with reverence. It was God who spoke "through the prophets," it is God who speaks "in a Son." Every Divine word must be of eternal import. God's truth does not vary; there is no mutability of purpose in the eternal present of the Divine mind.

The Old Testament leads us up to Christ, and Christ takes it and puts it back into our hands as a completed whole. He bids us study it as "fulfilled in him," and "put ourselves to school with every part of it." The old lesson-book is not to be thrown away or kept as an archæological curiosity; it is to be re-studied in this fresh light of further knowledge.

The πλήρωσις of the law and the prophets is their fulfilment by the re-establishment of their absolute meaning, so that now nothing more is wanting to what they ought to be in accordance with the Divine ideas which lie at the foundation of their commands. It is the perfect development of their ideal reality out of the positive form, in which the same is historically apprehended and limited.… Luther well says: "Christ is speaking of the fulfilment, and so deals with doctrines, in like manner as He calls ‘destroying' a not acting with works against the law, but a breaking off from the law with the doctrine." The fulfilling is "showing the right kernel and understanding, that they may learn what the law is and desires to have." The Apostle Paul worked quite in the sense of our passage; his writings are full of the fulfilment of the law in the sense in which Christ means it; and his doctrine of its abrogation refers only to its validity for justification to the exclusion of faith. Paul did not advance beyond this declaration, but he applied his right understanding boldly and freely, and in so doing the breaking up of the old form by the new spirit could not but necessarily begin, as Jesus Himself clearly recognized (cf. Matthew 9:16; Joh 4:21; Joh 4:23 f.) and set forth to those who believed in His own person and His completed righteousness. But even in this self-representation of Christ the new principle is not severed from the Old Testament piety, but is the highest fulfilment of the latter, its anti-typical consummation, its realized ideal. Christianity itself is in so far a law.1 [Note: H. A. W. Meyer.] 

to be continued