Office and Duties of the Christian Pastor by Patrick Fairbairn: 15. Exposition Of The More Important Passages On The Law In St Paul’s Epistles.

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Office and Duties of the Christian Pastor by Patrick Fairbairn: 15. Exposition Of The More Important Passages On The Law In St Paul’s Epistles.


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Exposition Of The More Important Passages On The Law In St Paul’s Epistles.

IT was St Paul more especially who, among the apostles of our Lord, was called to discuss the subject of the law, as well in its remoter as its more immediate bearings—in its relation to New as well as Old Testament times. There is hence a very considerable variety in the mode of treatment given to it in his epistles, according to the specific point of view from which it is contemplated; and, at times, an apparent contrariety, when the passages are isolated from the context and the occasion, between what is said respecting it in one place, as compared with what is said in another. It is necessary, therefore, in order to ground securely the exhibition of doctrine contained in the Lectures, to give an exegesis of the passages in question, and to do so as nearly as possible in the order of time in which they proceeded from the pen of the apostle; for we thus more readily perceive how the matter grew upon the mind of the apostle, and developed itself in the history of his apostolical career. I have, therefore, begun with the passage in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, which has all the appearance of a general outline or first draft of his views upon the economy of law, and its relation to that of the Gospel—an outline which is filled up in the Epistles to the Galatians and the Romans. According to the common chronology, the Epistle to the Galatians dates earlier than the Second to the Corinthians. But Dr Lightfoot, I think, has made the inverse relation appear more than probable; (See his Comm. on the Epistle, Introd., sec. iii.) and even were the actual succession otherwise, the passage in Corinthians must still be held to go first in the order of nature. In the other cases, the succession is sufficiently ascertained.

I deem it unnecessary to preface the exposition by an inquiry respecting the different meanings of the term νόμος (law), as used by the apostle, and whether any appreciable difference is made on the meaning, according as it has or wants the article. Much time might be, and often has been, expended to little purpose in general investigations of this sort; for the actual sense in each case must be ascertained by an analysis of the particular passages. There can be no doubt that the term is used by St Paul in a considerable variety of senses, and in the same senses sometimes with, sometimes without, the article. In respect to many of these, such as when it is used of the writings or books containing the law, or part of the Old Testament Scriptures generally,—or when employed by a sort of figure to designate any thing which works like a rule or principle of action, as in the expressions, what sort of law, law of faith, law of sin, law in one’s members, law of sin and death, law of the spirit of life, etc.,—there is only a popular form of speech, which can scarcely occasion any serious difficulty even to unlettered readers. But when, as not unfrequently happens, the question to be determined is, whether the law meant by the apostle is moral law in the abstract, or that law as embodied in the Decalogue, or the ceremonial law of the Old Covenant as contradistinguished from the moral, or, finally, these two conjointly in their economical adjustment, there is no way of reaching a safe conclusion but by a careful examination of the context. For the most part, even in these uses of the term, no great difficulty will be experienced by an intelligent and unbiassed mind in determining which sense is to be preferred.—For the sake of precision, an exact rendering has been given of all the passages, which occasionally differs from that of the authorized version.