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ROMANS, viii, 2. " For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me
free from the law of sin and death."
It is of great importance for the understanding of this verse, that you be made acquainted with the two different senses that belong to the word law. At one time it signifies an authoritative code, framed by a master for the regulation and obedience of those who are subject to him. And so we understand it when we speak of the law of God, whether by this we mean His universal moral law or any system of local and temporary enactmentssuch as those which were embodied for the special government of the Jews, and have obtained the general denomination of the Mosaic law or the ceremonial law. According to this meaning of it, it stands related to jurisprudence-established by one party who have the right or the power of command, and submitted to by another party on whom lies the duty or the necessity of obedience. The laws of the Medes and Persians—the laws of any country—and, in a word, any rule put forth by authority and enforced by sanctions, whether it has issued from the Divine Governor, or from those who have the reins of civil or political authority upon earth -All are expressed by the same term and in the same sense of the term. But there is still another and very frequent meaning of this word,
apart altogether from jurisprudence-a meaning applicable in cases where there is no obedience of living and accountable creatures at all; and a meaning in which it might be used and understood even by the Atheist, who denied the being or the power of a living Sovereign who presided over nature, and established the various successions that go on with such order and regularity around us. It is quite consistent with the use of language, to speak of the laws of nature—denoting thereby the process by which events follow each other, in a train of certain and unvarying accompaniment—Such for example as the law of falling bodies—the law of reflection from polished surfaces—the laws of the vegetable kingdom; and even in this sense may we speak of the laws of the human mind, as altogether distinct from that law of God to which it is morally and rightfully subject in the way of jurisprudence. By one of these laws its thoughts follow each other in a certain order that might almost be predicted—so that if one thought be present to it, it is sure to suggest another thought; and this is called the law of association.
And so in proportion as we make an intimate study of ourselves, shall we find certain methods of procedure, in the order of which the feelings and the faculties and the habits of man are found to go forward; and all these may be announced by metaphysicians and moralists as the laws of human nature. The law which willing and accountable creatures are bound to obey is one thing. The law, in virtue of which creatures whether animate or inanimate are found at all times to make the same exhibition in the same circumstances, is another.
At the same time it is not difficult to perceive, how one and the same term came to be applied to things so distinct in themselves. For you will observe that law, according to the first sense of it, is not applicable to a single command that may have issued from me at one time, and perhaps may never be repeated. It is true that this one commandment, like all the others, is obeyed, because of that general law by which the servant is bound to fulfil the will of his master. Yet you would not say of the special commandment itself that it was a law; nor does it attain the rank of such a denomination, unless the thing enjoined by it be a habit or a practice of invariable observation. Thus the order that the door of each apartment shall be shut in the act of leaving it—or that none of the family shall be missing after a particular hour in the evening—or that Sabbath shall be spent by all the domestics either in church or in the exercises of household piety—These may be characterised as the laws of the family—not the random and fortuitous orders of the current day, but orders of standing force and obligation for all the days of the year; and in virtue of which you may be sure to find the same uniform conduct on the part of those who are subject to the law, in the same certain circumstances that the law hath specified.
Now it is this common circumstance of uniformity, which hath so extended the application of the term law, as to present it to us in the second verse which I have endeavoured to explain. Should you drop a piece of heavy matter from your hand, nothing more certain nor more constant than the descent which it will make to the ground—just as if constrained so to do by the authority of a universal enactment on the subject, and hence the law of gravitation. Or if space be allowed for its downward movement, nothing more certain or uniform than the way in which it quickens its descent-just as if bidden to make greater speed, and hence the law of acceleration in falling bodies. Or if light be made to fall by a certain path on a smooth and polished surface, nothing more mathematically sure than the path by which it will be given back again to the eye of him who looks to the image that has thus been formed, and hence in optics the law of reflection. Or if a substance float upon the water, nothing more rigidly and invariably accurate than that the quantity of fluid displaced is equal in weight to that of the body which is supported; and all this from a law in hydrostatics. Now there is a like constancy running throughout the whole of nature, and any of her uniform processes is referred to the operation of a law-just as if she sat with the authority of a mistress over her mute and unconscious subjects, and as if they by the regularity of their movements did willing and reverential homage to the authority of her regulations. But you will perceive wherein it is that the difference lies. The one kind of law is framed by a living master for the obedience of living subjects, and may be called juridical law. The other is framed by a living master also, for amid the diversity of operations it is God who worketh all in all ; but it is not by a compliance of the will that an obedience is rendered thereuntoit is by the force of those natural principles wherewith the things in question are endowed, and in virtue of which they move and act and operate in that one way which is agreeable to their nature. This kind of law would by philosophers be called physical law. The one is a perceptive rule for the government of willing and accountable creatures. The other is an operative principle residing in every creature, be it animate or be it inanimate; and determining it by its own force to certain uniform processes.
Now the question comes to be, in which of these two senses shall we understand this term law in the text before us. We think that though it occurs twice, both of these must be understood in the same sense; and both indeed appear to be determined to the same sense by the relation in which they stand as rivals or as opposites. When the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus makes us free from the law of sin and of death, it is either by the authority of one master prevailing over the authority of another master; or by the force of one influencing principle within us prevailing over the force of another such principle. To determine which of these two it is, we shall begin with the consideration of the law of sin and death, which though it comes last in the verse, is first in the order of ascendancy over the human mind; and from the nature of the thraldom under which it brings us, may lead us to think aright of the nature of our deliverance therefrom.
It must be quite obvious then to you all, that the law of sin and death is not a law that is enacted in the way of jurisprudence; but, like every other