King's Business - 1965-06

morality old and new

W e a r e t h i n k i n g o f Christ as the Revealer of God, of the One w ho was “ made flesh” so that men m igh t “ see the Father.” And when we think o f H im , w e do w ell to begin b y rem inding ourselves o f w hat H e H im self said about the object of H is mission. T oo m any romantic- ally-m inded people have interpreted the story of Christ’s life in ways quite foreign to H is ow n declared and ex­ p licit statements. In this brief Advent series w e are taking one or tw o of H is ow n explanations, and looking at them in the ligh t of current events and debate. “ I am not com e to destroy, bu t to fu lfill,” ,said Christ. He was referring to thè Law , of course. And, as is clear from the context o f this statement in M atthew 5, H e was referring to the m oral and ethical teaching of the Old Testament — taken from the T en Commandments and also from other parts o f old covenant teaching. M oral codes and ethical principles are under fire, nowadays. Under the um brella of what is — often quite m istakenly — regarded as the “ new m orality” concept, there is grow in g up an attitude w h ich firm ly rejects absolute standards, and w h ich talks eloquently of “ the w ay of love” as being the higher w ay, the way of Christ. W e ough t to be fair to the Christians w ho are pro­ pound ing these ideas. T h ey have not said, n or did they intend to say, all the things w h ich their opponents at­ tribute to them, or w hich loose-living people deduce from them. T h ey are not saying that m orality doesn’t matter; when they use the w ord “ love” they are not thinking of the slushly romantic concept w h ich is deluging our civ ­ ilization as thoroughly as the lava from Vesuvius flooded old Pompeii — and just about as ruinously. (It w ould be h elpfu l if those w h o propound these ideas w ould more often make this disclaim er in pu b lic; the w ord “ love” needs to be defined whenever it is used in pu b lic n ow ­ adays.) W h at the “ new moralists” are saying is that the w ay of love'i'its it fu lfills the law , may sometimes demand that the law be suspended, and “ technical” offences al­ low ed. And it is not difficult for them to quote the occa­ sional case where strict observance of law means that an individual — or a comm un ity — appears to suffer. It is true, of course, that even the appearance of a concession being made by a Christian leader w ill be seized on by those w ho are look ing fo r excuses to trans­ gress; but this is not necessarily the fau lt of the said leader, nor should the threat of it silence him . Paul was accused of saying that we should sin so that grace m igh t abound, but he did not let that stop h im preaching the Gospel! N o, the question of m orality, old or new , must be lifted out of the arena of superficial controversy and stock answers; it is w orthy o f more serious attention than that. If w e take the examples given b y Jesus Christ in M atthew 5, we find that H e dealt somewhat differently w ith differen t types o f Old Testament law . In the case of the tw o commandments taken from the D ecalogue,

H e in no sense weakens the original forbidding, “ Thou shalt n ot k ill,” “ T h ou shalt not comm it adultery.” In­ stead, H e shows h ow mu ch more they demand than the mere, barren, negative obedience w h ich the Pharisees prided themselves on. In the case of the other regulations -— about swearing, about revenge, about lovin g your n eighbou r and hating you r enemy — H e is more radical, especially w ith the latter two. H e turns an Old Testament regulation w h ich was designed to lim it vengeance into a N ew Testament p rin cip le w h ich calls on us to take positive action in love. In all these examples, however, it is as if He takes a skeleton, a form al ethical fram e­ work, and clothes it w ith the warm flesh of lovin g and positive action. Th e th ing to note is that though the skeleton is in ­ visible beneath the livin g flesh, it is still there, and it is the basic structure of the w hole organism . So Christ did not “ destroy” the law ; H e clothed it w ith n ew life, He brough t ou t its fu ll intention, H e gave it positive force and effect, but H e did not depart from it. Th is is surely what was in P au l’s m ind when he w rote to Corinth, that though he was ready to make h im self as “ w ithout law ” for the sake o f w inn in g others to Christ, he was certain ly not in fact w ithout law , being “ under the law to Christ.” Being a Christian freed him from legalism, but introduced h im to a new and higher law , a law characterized by the name of H im who, as the second Moses, gave the pattern to G od’s people anew. It w ould be a disaster if evangelical Christians a l­ low ed themselves to be stampeded by the threat of the so-called “ n ew m orality” into a new legalism , a latter- day Pharisaism. W e ought to be ready to confess that it is not suprising that there has been a reaction from the sterile la yin g dow n of laws and en forcing of rules w h ich has gone on am ong us. A ll too often w e have made it seem that the essence of Christianity lies in avoiding a certain list of forbidden places and things. W e have strictly observed the Sabbath in our com fortable subur­ ban churches w h ile our neighbours have rotted in the pit of neglected and unfashionable downtrodden areas in the hearts of our great cities. W h at then does the “ new m orality ” mean to us? It challenges us to exam ine our ways, lest w e have un­ w ittin gly settled for negative laws rather than positive self-giving. It challenges us to look again at the pattern of life w h ich He who “ fu lfilled the law ” has left for us as an example. It challenges us to demonstrate that obedience to the law of God does not necessarily pro­ duce a hard, u n lov in g spirit. It challenges us to propound the fu ll scriptural ethic, in w h ich the law , interpreted b y love, is seen in its G od-given glory. It challenges us to fo llow H im w h o was “ made of no reputation” in order to rescue us from sin and shame, and w h o demonstrated h ow the law had to be fu lfilled at one and the same time as love came to its clim ax, “ in His ow n bod y on the tree.” TH E KING'S BUSINESS

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