Precept, Line and Sermon on the Mount

Growing up in church I would hear the phrase “precept upon precept; line upon line” quite often. Even today it used a lot when talking about religious subjects.

Until recently I honestly thought precept had the definition of something like this: principle, concept, idea. I can honestly say I thought that because the way people used the word at church. I still hear people using it this way now. In fact the reason I don’t believe that anymore was because I watching a video that was using it that way, which at that time did not seem right so I looked up the definition in the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary.

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:
PRE’CEPT, noun [Latin proeceptum, from proecipio, to command; proe, before, and capio, to take.]
1. In a general sense, any commandment or order intended as an authoritative rule of action; but applied particularly to commands respecting moral conduct. The ten commandments are so many precepts for the regulation of our moral conduct.
No arts are without their precepts.
2. In law, a command or mandate in writing.

That definition was not what I was expecting at all. Precept is a commandment. To highlight that point, definition 1 states that the ten commandments are precepts.

That made me want to look up what line means. Since line has many definitions I will only the one that relates to this thought process, but the link is provided for you to see them all if you so desire.

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:
LINE, noun [Latin linea, linum; Gr. flax.]
23. In Scripture, line signifies a cord for measuring; also, instruction, doctrine. Psalms 19:4. Isaiah 28:10.
A right line a straight or direct line; the shortest line that can be drawn between two points.
Horizontal line a line drawn parallel to the horizon.
Equinoctial line in geography, a great circle on the earth’s surface, at 90 degrees distance from each pole, and bisecting the earth at that part. In astronomy, the circle which the sun seems to describe, in March and September, when the days and nights are of equal length.
Meridian line an imaginary circle drawn through the two poles of the earth, and any part of its surface.
A ship of the line a ship of war large enough to have a place in the line of battle. All ships carrying seventy four or more large guns, are ships of the line Smaller ships may sometimes be so called.

A small side track, but cord along with instruction and doctrine reminds me of flaxen cord from 2 Nephi 26:22.

When I see measuring in definition 23, a verse from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:5, is recalled to my memory.

Matthew 7:5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

One thing that Matthew 7:5 is teaching us is that before you will know how to help your neighbor with keeping the commandments of God, you first need to be heeding them yourself.

Reading that some will say we are not to judge others. I disagree, scriptures teach us to judge righteously. Here are a few verses that show that. In addition here is a good article if you want to dive deeper into the subject: The cult of “Do not Judge”.

JST Matthew 7:2 Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment.

JST John 7:24 Judge not according to your traditions, but judge righteous judgment.

Alma telling his wayward son Corianton to judge righteously.
Alma 41:14 Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, JUDGE RIGHTEOUSLY, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.

Going back to Matthew 7:5, how can we see clearly in a situation? How can we know if something is has fallen short? One way is to compare it the standard, a measuring stick or line . And this case that would be Jesus Christ and the word of God.

The phrase “precept upon precept; line upon line” from Isaiah 28:10 could be rewritten as “commandment upon commandment, measurement upon measurement”.

Moses 5:5-8 is an example of this. Adam was given a commandment to give an offering of the firstlings of their flocks. Adam obeyed, and an angel taught them about Jesus Christ the standard we are to strive to be like.

Moses 5
5 And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.
6 And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.
7 And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.
8 Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.

One thought on “Precept, Line and Sermon on the Mount

  1. Excellent, Steven. I was also surprised by that 1828 definition of ‘precept’. With reference to the word ‘line’, my mind was taken to the verse about the plumbline in Amos 7.

    Pulpit commentary from
    Verse 8. – Amos, what seest thou? A question asked to give occasion for the explanation of the symbol, as in Jeremiah 1:11, 13; Jeremiah 24:3. I will set a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel. As it was built by rule and measure, so it should be destroyed. The line was used not only for building, but also for pulling down (see 2 Kings 21:13; Isaiah 34:11; Lamentations 2:8). And this should be done “in the midst” of the people, that all might be tried individually, and that all might acknowledge the justice of the sentence, which now denounced complete ruin. Pass by; so as to spare, or forgive (Amos 8:2; Proverbs 19:11; Micah 7:18). The judgment is irremediable, and the prophet intercedes no more. The final conquest by Shalmaneser is here typified.

    Isiah 28:17 also comes to mind.
    Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet (or to the level). And the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.

    Great post, Steven. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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