Great Texts of the Bible
The Lord our Righteousness
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute judgement and justice in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, The Lord is our righteousness.—Jeremiah 23:5-6.
When this prophecy was uttered, Judah was ten years from her fall. The good Josiah was in his grave—slain by the archers of Pharaoh-Necho of Egypt. Jehoahaz, his son, after three months reign as successor, had been deposed. Jehoiakim, his brother, after acting as sovereign for eleven years, was a captive in Babylon. Jehoiachin, after three months of inglorious rule, was, like his father, carried off into exile. And now Zedekiah, his fathers brother, occupied the throne. Still things in Judah went from bad to worse. Judah was on the down grade. “There was no remedy,” “no healing more.” Like a boat that has crossed the death-line on Niagara, Judah was in the rapids and hurrying to the brink of the fatal precipice. Its sun was going down in blood and darkness. Its day of grace was expiring. The thunder-clouds and lightning shafts of judgment were drawing near. No power on earth could save it.
In these circumstances Jeremiah sums up his verdict upon the kings and rulers of his day in general, under the figure of shepherds who have destroyed and scattered the sheep entrusted to them. The troubles which befell Judah, and led ultimately to its ruin, are traced by Jeremiah to the short-sightedness and studied neglect of those who were its responsible guides. “Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them; behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord. And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and multiply. And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be lacking, saith the Lord.” The unrighteous rulers will be deposed: wise and just ones, in the happier future which Jeremiah now begins to contemplate, will take their place. There follows the passage from which the text is taken: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute judgement and justice in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, The Lord is our righteousness.”
The prophet sees—
An Ideal King—a Righteous Branch, having this title, “The Lord is our righteousness.”
National deliverance, when the fruits of righteousness shall be reaped in security and peace. “In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely.”
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch.”
1. The same words are repeated further on. “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform that good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel, and concerning the house of Judah. In those days, and at that time, will I cause a Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgement and righteousness in the land.” Of course, the prophet was well acquainted with the prediction of his distinguished predecessor, Isaiah: “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” At a later period, the name by which these two prophets had described that illustrious Person who should arise in the line of Davids descendants to sit upon Davids throne became recognized as one of the appropriate titles of the Prince-Messiah. Zechariah twice speaks of Him as “the Branch.” “Behold, I will bring forth my servant, the Branch”; “Behold the man whose name is the Branch.” The attribute of righteousness is also assigned to Him by Isaiah. “With righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth.” “Righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.”
2. Not only was the Branch to arise, but He was to sit on the throne of David, endued with power from on high. Jerusalem had seen many branches of the royal tree cut off and wither; this should be exalted and clothed with power; He was to reign and prosper. His spiritual kingdom should know no end, should be subject to no reverse. The strength of Judah should not be cut off again as of late, when Josiah fell at the battle of Megiddo, a righteous prince slain by the uncircumcised; but He should prosper, He should reign, not merely for His own good, as selfish rulers are wont to do, but for the good of His people. And who should they be? Not only the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, but the people of the whole earth; for all kingdoms, and nations, and languages should bow down before Him, and serve the Lord their Redeemer. He should “execute judgement and justice in the land.” He should not give cause to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, saying, Behold the people of Israel, the chosen people; they all follow after iniquity, and their princes pervert justice. For “He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.”
3. The Branch was to have the significant designation “The Lord is our righteousness.” In what sense are we to understand this name? The name which is applied to the ideal king in chap. 23 is applied to the ideal city in chap. 33; both alike are to be called by the same significant title, “Jehovah is our righteousness.” There is something strange, to our ears, in a name thus formed; but it is in analogy with Hebrew usage. It was the custom of the ancient Israelites to form proper names compounded with one or other of the sacred names more freely than we should do. Thus they gave their children such names as “Jehovah (or God) heareth,” or “remembereth,” or “judgeth,” or “Jehovah is a help,” or “is opulence,” or again, “Jehovah is perfect,” or “exalted,” or “great.” And we find places named similarly. Thus we read of an altar called “Jehovah is my banner,” and of another called “Jehovah is peace.” Names thus formed were felt, no doubt, to be words of good omen; or they were intended to mark what either was, or was hoped to be, a reality. The prophets, by an extension of this usage, not infrequently employ the name as the mark of a character, to be given to a person or place because the idea which it expressed was really inherent in him or it. Thus Isaiah, speaking of the ideal Zion of the future, says: “Afterward thou shalt be called The city of righteousness, the faithful city”—called so, namely, because the qualities of righteousness and faithfulness, so sadly lacking in the existing city, will be conspicuous in it. And Ezekiel, speaking of the restored Zion, says, in the last verse of his Book: “And the name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there”; he imagines, that is, a symbolical title, summing up in a brief and forcible manner the characteristic state or condition of the city.
The case is similar in Jeremiah. The city bears a name indicating the character of its inhabitants: God is the source and ground of their righteousness. Jerusalem is to become the home and abode of righteousness, through the gracious operation of her God. Here a similar name is given to the ideal king, or Messiah. He is the pledge and symbol to Israel that their righteousness was to have its source in God. Just as Isaiah, when Judah was sorely tried by external foes, had given his ideal king the symbolical name of “God is with us,” as a guarantee that Divine help would be assured to them; so Jeremiah, at a time when the character of the people had largely deteriorated, gives him the symbolical name of “The Lord is our righteousness,” significant of the fact that the nations righteousness can be assured only by God. The ideal ruler whom Jeremiah foresees will govern his nation with wisdom and success; and under his gracious administration the Divinely imparted character of righteousness will be realized by the nation.
The “name” is a brief and pointed censure upon a king whose character was the opposite of that described in these verses, yet who bore a name of almost identical meaning—Zedekiah, “Jehovah is my righteousness.” The name of the last reigning Prince of the House of David had been a standing condemnation of his unworthy life, but the King of the New Israel, Jehovahs true Messiah, would realize in His administration all that such a name promised. Sovereigns delight to accumulate sonorous epithets in their official designations—Highness, High and Mighty, Majesty, Serene, Gracious. The glaring contrast between character and titles often serves only to advertise the worthlessness of those who are labelled with such epithets—the Majesty of James I., the Graciousness of Richard III. Yet these titles point to a standard of true royalty, whether the sovereign be an individual or a class or the people; they describe that Divine Sovereignty which will be realized in the Kingdom of God.1 [Note: W. H. Bennett, The Book of Jeremiah, 325.]
4. Jeremiahs prophecy is a foreshadowing of the fundamental doctrines of the gospel. It is true that we are not distinctly told how this righteousness is to enter individual and national life, but we are assured that Gods righteousness is the ground and source and guarantee of our righteousness. We are left in doubt as to whether Jeremiah so far anticipated the teaching of the New Testament as to view this righteousness as conferred through the agency of the same ideal ruler, whose name is designed as the symbol of the fact. The terms in which he speaks, however, do not suggest that he conceived him as the author of justification, in the theological sense of the term; they imply rather that he pictured him as ensuring, by his wise and just administration, the conditions under which righteousness of life might be maintained effectually among the people.
For us the question is, What are the conditions under which righteousness may become ours?
(1) A passion for righteousness is rooted in human nature.—It is God who has put the desire for righteousness in our hearts, and with all our carelessness we cannot drive it out. We cannot help reverencing all that is good when once we see it; even the fact that we are so ready to find fault with one another is the witness to the fact that we have an ideal of righteousness in our hearts. We may put it on one side as far as we can, but we shall find that it comes back, and that as youth and its pleasures pass away, and mature age and its ambitions, we shall realize more and more that righteousness is the one thing that matters. Sorrow may leave its mark upon us, or disillusionment may sour us, but there will remain one thing of which we are perfectly sure—that come what may, right is right and wrong is wrong, and nothing can turn the one into the other. We may be in just as much doubt as ever we were whether this or that is the right thing to do in this or that particular case, but we shall be quite sure that there is a right thing and a wrong thing, if only we had eyes to see.
O these words “ought” and “ought not,” “right” and “wrong”—how often men, how often we ourselves, would fain have banished them from the dictionary! Thank God they are not man-made words, and therefore cannot be man-changed. They shine aloft like stars. They are written—as David indicates in that glorious twin song of nature and human nature—they are written with the same ink that catalogues the stars: they are His sign-manual who hung these nightly seals. Rightly seeing one of them, seeing how the moral world lay behind the material:
Thou dost protect the stars from wrong,
And the most ancient heavens by Thee are fresh and strong.
My brother, when next the tempter says “Transgress,” “Do the forbidden,” “Touch the accursed,” “Handle the pitch-stained thing,” wilt thou not say, “Dost thou bid me pluck the planets from their courses, cover the spangled heavens with sackcloth? Bid me as soon pull the strong firmament down. How can I do this great, because abnormal, thing?”1 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 22.]
(2) The attainment of righteousness is beyond mans best efforts.—Of course men have often fancied they could work out a righteousness for themselves. The Pharisees and the Jews generally imagined they could do so by ceremonial observances; and men commonly suppose it can be done by what are called good works, virtues, philanthropies, religious forms, penitential inflictions and such-like performances. But all these might exist without personal holiness. And since holiness means keeping Gods law without defect, without transgression, without interruption, without a fleck or stain of moral defilement, nothing can be clearer than that no man has ever done or can do so.
A righteousness which begins and ends with me, and my efforts to make myself good, and to do so by living up to my own standard, can never really satisfy my best aspirations. The stream cannot rise above its own source; with all my trying I cannot rise above my own standard for myself, and that standard is marred by my sins, is limited by the fact that after all it is only part of me. It is just that that I want to get away from. I want to be lifted above myself. In my best moments (and they, after all, are the moments that we must try to live by) I yearn, not only to be free from the limitations of my own lower nature and the web of bad habits that I have woven about myself, but to be lifted to a higher level altogether. Yes, I easily forget; the world and the flesh and the devil are very near and very insistent, but I hunger and thirst after a righteousness which shall not be my own: I long to be righteous “even as he is righteous.”
“I have vowed above a thousand times,” said Staupitz, Luthers friend, “that I would become better, but I have never performed that which I vowed. Hereafter I will make no such vow, for I have now learned from experience that I am not able to perform it.” Even Bernard Shaw has pointed out with much penetration that “it is possible for a man to pass the moral catechism, Have you obeyed the Commandments? have you kept the law? and at the end to live a worse life than the sinner who must answer Nay! all through the questions”; while W. R. Greg, content with low ideals, can only hope “that men may attain the measure of the stature of—William and Robert Chambers.”1 [Note: T. Whitelaw, Jehovah-Jesus, 96.]
In Mr. Zangwills masterly studies of the children of the Ghetto in olden days he describes with wonderful pathos and power the feelings of a Jewish boy when it was first brought home to him that beyond the walls of the Ghetto was a glorious world he was not allowed to enter, or, if he did, he must wear a badge of shame; on no condition whatever would he ever be permitted to share in its rich and brilliant life; he was born of an accursed race. Victor Hugo does much the same in his delineation of the life of that curious criminal underworld of mediæval Paris called the kingdom of Argot. The poor wretches who belonged to that kingdom were all outlaws, mostly thieves and vagabonds. It was tolerated by the officers of justice so long as its members kept within bounds. It had its own laws, administered by the outcasts themselves; and a certain standard of honour and good conduct was enforced, too. But once included in that community, whether by birth or by evil fortune, no one could ever get out of it; no amount of well-doing therein was of any use as a pass to citizenship in the kingdom of France. And so with the soul of man. Here on earth it is bound to an order of things which has its own constantly changing distinctions between good and evil, noble and ignoble, worthy and unworthy; but sometimes a vision is vouchsafed to it of a state of perfect freedom which knows none of these, nor needs to know them, but which it cannot enter; no earthly excellence is sufficient to open a pathway there.1 [Note: R. J. Campbell.]
(3) Christ is “made unto us righteousness.”—He who has put the yearning into our hearts has not left it unsatisfied. Because nothing less than that would do, He has given us His Son. Christ is our righteousness not merely as a teacher of what is righteous, not merely as a guide to the discovery of righteousness, but as the Procurer, the Author, the Source of that righteousness which we need. By Him the price of our redemption has been fully paid, and on the ground of what He has done, God, the Judge of all, stands ready to confer pardon and legal acquittal on all who come to Him through His Son. The righteousness, therefore, in which we are to be accepted of God is not a righteousness which we have to bring to Him, but a righteousness we have to receive from Him. It is already in His hands, and from Him alone can we obtain it. The Lord is our righteousness.
Sometimes we hear the criticism passed upon the gospel that it is unethical, that it disregards human merit as a means of access to eternal blessedness. “Salvation by magic” someone has called it. There is a semblance of truth in the charge. But why should not God be able to endue us with His own righteousness, share with us His own perfection, without any other qualification on our part than that of the faith that accepts the gift? If we have to wait for that consummation until our human standards of moral worth have risen high enough to qualify us for it, we shall not gain heaven in a million years; nor, indeed, shall we gain it at all, for there is something in the righteousness Divine which bears no ratio to any earthly good.
A girl of twelve lay dying, and her mother said, “Are you afraid, my darling, to go and meet God?” “Oh no,” she replied, “I am not afraid; I look to the justice of God to take me to heaven.” The mother thought her child must be wandering, so she said, “My darling, you mean His pity, His love.” “No, mother,” she said, “I mean His justice; He must take me to heaven, because Christ is my righteousness, and I claim Him as my own; I am as He is now in Gods sight, and God would never reject His own child.”1 [Note: H. W. Webb-Peploe, The Titles of Jehovah, 168.]
Here where the loves of others close
The vision of my heart begins.
The wisdom that within us grows
Is absolution for our sins.
We took forbidden fruit and ate
Far in the garden of His mind.
The ancient prophecies of hate
We proved untrue, for He was kind.
He does not love the bended knees,
The soul made wormlike in His sight,
Within whose heaven are hierarchies
And solar kings and lords of light.
Who come before Him with the pride
The Children of the King should bear,
They will not be by Him denied,
His light will make their darkness fair.
To be afar from Him is death
Yet all things find their fount in Him:
And nearing to the sunrise breath
Shine jewelled like the seraphim.2 [Note: “A. E.,” Collected Poems, 247.]
“In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely.”
Jeremiah sought to comfort the Jews by telling them that the time of their sorrows and sufferings in captivity should pass away, and the days should come in which they should once more be safe from their enemies. Out of the royal house of David, now brought so low, so decayed, that it was but as a dry root in the ground there should spring a fresh Branch, even the Messiah. He should reign over the true Israel, His Church, and should protect, guard, and keep them from harm. He should gather His people together, and unite them once more; and so glorious and blessed would this deliverance be that, compared with it, the coming out of the bondage of Egypt would be as nothing.
1. Gods purpose for the earth was that it should be replenished and subdued and governed by a race which in that activity should themselves come to perfection. Human failure intervened, and a Divine interference was necessary by which in the midst of human history a new race was created, related to all the other races and part of the entire race, their responsibility being that of realizing the Divine intention, and the secret of their greatness being that all the people should be righteous; until, in process of time, failure having followed upon failure, we have the supreme Divine interference in the coming of the God-man, the new birth of man, and the creation of a new race, an elect race, a royal priesthood, a chosen nation, a people for Gods possession; and the great Christian apostle is seen devoting time and strength and toil and energy to every individual that every man may be presented perfect in Christ Jesus.
In national life the true prosperity of the nation depends upon the multitude of her people in order to the fulfilling and subduing of natural resources, and in order to the making of a people by such toil. There is nothing more important in national life than the multitude of the people; and in order to the peoples true strength industry is sacred. The Pauline principle may be stated by way of illustration: “If a man will not work, neither shall he eat.” This is no mere word of political significance, in the narrower sense of the word political. It is fundamental. It is fundamental to national prosperity. In order to the realization of the natural resources of the land, their subduing, their government, their proper use, their leading out to all fulfilment, the most important thing is the multitude of the people; and the toil that subdues is most important to the people. The scattering of a people is therefore a crime. Its restoration and increase mean stability and strength.
The final test of all legislation is the effect it produces upon the people that create the national strength. In proportion as a nation learns the value, as to its supreme welfare, of its sons and its daughters, its little children, in that proportion the nation is moving in the true line of progress, that of the Divine purpose and programme, which brings it into right relationship with the ultimate intention of God. In proportion as children are allowed to fade and wither and die in evil conditions, for the enrichment of a few, the blight of the curse of humanity and Deity rests upon the national life. In proportion as we realize that our wealth consists in our people we approximate to that Divine intention expressed in the words, “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish and subdue and have dominion over the earth.” In that way, and in that way alone, we approximate to national strength.1 [Note: 1 G. Campbell Morgan.]
2. The greatness and prosperity of any people rest ultimately on character. “Thy people shall be all righteous” was Isaiahs great dream. The deep secret of their victories was that of the enthronement of Jehovah; and resulting from it the people were seen as all righteous, and consequently the nation was seen as an instrument of the Divine purpose, possessing the land, bringing forth its beauties, realizing them. Thus the nation realized itself, and became in the midst of the earth, the exhibition of the Divine purpose for all the world, the Divine intention for all humanity. It was the dream of a prophet in the midst of a decadent age. Actually the people were falling, soon were to be driven away, but here we have the holy and inspired vision of Gods purpose, and out of the midst of it we hear these words: “Thy people shall be all righteous.”
So far at the outset of his Parliamentary life, the opinions of Benjamin Disraeli, if we take Sybil for their exponent, were the opinions of the author of Past and Present. Carlyle thought of him as a fantastic ape. The interval between them was so vast that the comparison provokes a smile; and yet the Hebrew conjurer, though at a humble distance, and not without an eye open to his own advancement, was nearer to him all along than Carlyle imagined. Disraeli did not believe any more than he that the greatness of a nation depended on the abundance of its possessions. He did not believe in a progress which meant the abolition of the traditionary habits of the people, the destruction of village industries, and the accumulation of the population into enormous cities, where their character and their physical qualities would be changed and would probably degenerate. The only progress which he could acknowledge was moral progress, and he considered that all legislation which proposed any other object to itself would produce, in the end, the effects which the prophets of his own race had uniformly and truly foretold.1 [Note: J. A. Froude, The Earl of Beaconsfield, 92.]
Patriotism is doubtless a great and necessary virtue; it must always regulate much that we do, but it should not therefore narrow our aspirations. A nation, as well as an individual, has much to learn, and must learn it, as the individual learns, mainly by sympathetic intercourse with like-minded nations. On this gradual education of nations, more than anything else, the hope of the worlds future depends. Nations with like ideas of righteousness go forth on their separate ways, not that they may emphasize the differences which arise from differing experience, but that they may bring the results of their experience to a common stock. It is not enough that each nation should recognize and glorify the ideas on which its vigorous life is founded as it knows them. It must learn from the experience of other nations to understand them better and apply them more thoroughly. It is mans highest wisdom humbly to seek to understand Gods will in things great and small; in the concerns of a particular hearth and home; in the questions which concern his countrys welfare; and in those greater issues on which the future of the worlds progress depends. Our personal efforts, whatever they be, only avail if they are in accordance with Gods purpose. If we have done our best to discover this purpose, and with our whole heart to work for it, we cannot ultimately fail. This purpose floats before our eyes in the form of a vision, capable of realization here and now, of a time when all peoples shall be happy in the knowledge of the Lord as their God.2 [Note: Bishop Creighton, Counsels for Churchpeople, 37.]
3. The righteous nation serving a righteous king will enjoy security and peace. “Israel shall dwell safely.” Such shall be the confidence of the spiritual Israel that they shall dwell even thoughtlessly and carelessly, as the original word implies—not careless as to their manner of life; not thoughtless as to the nature of the Divine requirements and rightful claims of humanity; but careless, as being free from care, since God careth for His own; careless as knowing in whom they have believed, and persuaded that He is able to keep that which has been entrusted to Him. Happy people that thus dwell safely! “Israel dwelleth in safety: the fountain of Jacob [the progenitors of a great people] alone, in a land of corn and wine; yea, his heavens drop down dew. Happy art thou, O Israel: Who is like unto thee, a people saved by the Lord!”
4. True, the ideal state foreshadowed by Jeremiah has not yet been realized; the law of God is not yet written so indelibly upon the hearts of men that all can be said to act upon it instinctively, or that we can yet afford, as some strange sectaries have imagined that we could afford, to dispense with teachers and instructors, and other methods of reminding us what that law is. But it is upon a profound sense of the requirements of human nature that the prophets declaration is based; and it is one of the most far-reaching and comprehensive anticipations of the ultimate destiny of human history that are to be found in the Old Testament Scriptures. It sets vividly before us what should be the aim of our endeavours, and the goal of our aspiration. And so, every time that, in our public services, the Decalogue is recited, it is followed by the petition, expressed in the very words of the prophet, that the laws of which it is the sum may be “written in our hearts.”
The remotest fibre of human action, from the policy of empires to the most insignificant trifle over which we waste an idle hour or moment, either moves in harmony with the true law of our being, or is else at discord with it. A king or a parliament enacts a law, and we imagine we are creating some new regulation, to encounter unprecedented circumstances. The law itself which applied to these circumstances was enacted from eternity. It has its existence independent of us, and will enforce itself either to reward or punish, as the attitude which we assume towards it is wise or unwise. Our human laws are but the copies, more or less imperfect, of the eternal laws so far as we can read them, and either succeed and promote our welfare, or fail and bring confusion and disaster, according as the legislators insight has detected the true principle, or has been distorted by ignorance or selfishness.
And these laws are absolute, inflexible, irreversible, the steady friends of the wise and good, the eternal enemies of the blockhead and the knave. No Pope can dispense with a statute enrolled in the Chancery of Heaven, or popular vote repeal it. The discipline is a stern one, and many a wild endeavour men have made to obtain less hard conditions, or imagine them other than they are. They have conceived the rule of the Almighty to be like the rule of one of themselves. They have fancied that they could bribe or appease Him—tempt Him by penance or pious offering to suspend or turn aside His displeasure. They are asking that His own eternal nature shall become other than it is. One thing only they can do. They for themselves, by changing their own courses, can make the law which they have broken thenceforward their friend. Their dispositions and nature will revive and become healthy again when they are no longer in opposition to the will of their Maker.1 [Note: J. A. Froude, Short Studies, ii. 11.]
The world seems to be weary of the just, righteous, holy ways of God, and of that exactness in walking according to His institutions and commands which it will be one day known that He doth require. But the way to put a stop to this declension is not by accommodating the commands of God to the corrupt courses and ways of men. The truths of God and the holiness of His precepts must be pleaded and defended, though the world dislike them here and perish hereafter. His law must not be made to lackey after the wills of men, nor be dissolved by vain interpretations, because they complain they cannot, indeed because they will not, comply with it. Our Lord Jesus Christ came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them, and to supply men with spiritual strength to fulfil them also. It is evil to break the least commandment; but there is a great aggravation of that evil in them that shall teach men so to do.2 [Note: John Owen.]
Law, so far as it can be used to form and system, and is not written upon the heart,—as it is, in a Divine loyalty, upon the hearts of the great hierarchies who serve and wait about the throne of the Eternal Lawgiver,—this lower and formally expressible law has, I say, two objects. It is either for the definition and restraint of sin, or the guidance of simplicity; it either explains, forbids, and punishes wickedness, or it guides the movements and actions both of lifeless things and of the more simple and untaught among responsible agents. And so long, therefore, as sin and foolishness are in the world, so long it will be necessary for men to submit themselves painfully to this lower law, in proportion to their need of being corrected, and to the degree of childishness or simplicity by which they approach more nearly to the condition of the unthinking and inanimate things which are governed by law altogether; yet yielding in the manner of their submission to it, a singular lesson to the pride of man,—being obedient more perfectly in proportion to their greatness. But, so far as men become good and wise, and rise above the state of children, so far they become emancipated from this written law, and invested with the perfect freedom which consists in the fulness and joyfulness of compliance with a higher and unwritten law; a law so universal, so subtle, so glorious that nothing but the heart can keep it.
Now pride opposes itself to the observance of this Divine law in two opposite ways; either by brute resistance, which is the way of the rabble and its leaders, denying or defying law altogether; or by formal compliance, which is the way of the Pharisee, exalting himself while he pretends to obedience, and making void the infinite and spiritual commandment by the finite and lettered commandment. And it is easy to know which law we are obeying: for any law which we magnify and keep through pride, is always the law of the letter; but that which we love and keep through humility, is the law of the Spirit; and the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.1 [Note: Ruskin, Stones of Venice, vol. ii. chap. ii. § 87 (Works, xi. 116).]
The Lord our Righteousness
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