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thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother has aught against thee, any just cause of complaint against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar; do not lay aside thoughts of worshipping God because thou art not in a proper state, but prepare thyself for his worship without delay; go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. This exhortation Jesus enforced, from the consideration of what is reckoned prudent in ordinary law-suits. In such cases, wise men always advise the party that has done the wrong, to make up matters with his adversary whilst it is in his power, lest the sentence of a judge, being interposed, fall heavy on him. For the same reason, we, who have offended our brother, ought to make it up with him whilst an opportunity of repentance is allowed us; and that, though our quarrel should have proceeded to the greatest lengths, lest the sentence of the supreme judge overtake us, and put reconciliation out of our power for ever. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whilst thou art in the way with him, lest at any time he deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
[Mat. v. 27.] Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery. To explain the opinion of the Jewish doctors in this matter, Lightfoot cites, Trip. Targ. in marg. ad Exod. xx. by which it appears, that they ( were very loose moralists. In opposition to them, therefore, our Lord declared, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. Whosoever cherishes unchaste desires and intentions, or, as it is expressed in the tenth precept, whosoever covets his neighbour's wife is really guilty of adultery, though he never should find an opportunity of committing the act with her. For which cause, all such use of our senses as inflames the mind with lust, must be carefully avoided. If thy right eye offend thee, i. e. cause thee to offend, pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. There is here an allusion to the practice of surgeons, who, when any member of the body happens to be mortified, cut it off to prevent the sound part from being tainted. The meaning of the passage, stript of the metaphor, is this, Deny thyself, not by amputation of the members, but by the force of a strong resolution of the use of thy senses, though ever so delightful, in all cases, where the use of them ensnares thy soul.
It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement. The doctors of the school of Sammai affirmed, that, in the law, concerning divorce, [Deut. xxiv. 1.] the words, some uncleanness, were to be understood of adultery only; whereas, they of the school of Hillel interpreted them of any matter of dislike whatever. Hence the Pharisees asked Jesus, [Mat. xix. 3.] if it was lawful to put away his wife for every cause? From his answer to that question appears, that the interpretation of the law of divorce given by the school of Hillel, and adopted by the Jews, as we learn from their practice and their writings, represented, in some measure, the meaning of the law. Nevertheless, by multiplying the causes of divorce far beyond the intention of their law-giver, they took occasion, from the law, to give unbounded scope to their lusts. This abuse Jesus thought fit to reform by correcting the law itself. Accordingly, having his eye upon the original institution of marriage in paradise, and upon the laws of that relation then established, he assured his disciples that he who divorces his wife for any of the causes allowed by the doctors, whoredom excepted, layeth her under a strong temptation to commit adultery, unjust divorce being no divorce in the sight of God; and that, since such marriages still
subsisted, he who marrieth the woman unjustly divorced committeth adultery also. But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause. of fornication, (fornication here, as elsewhere, is often used for adultery; in general it denotes the exercise of all the different species of unlawful lusts ;) causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shall perform unto the Lord thine oaths. As to oaths, the doctors allirmed that they were obligatory, according to the nature of the thing by which a man swears. [Mat. xxiii. 16.] Hence they allowed the use of such oaths in common conversation, as they said were not obligatory, pretending that there was no harm in them, because the law which forbids them to forswear themselves, and enjoined them to perform their vows, meant such solemn oaths only as were of a binding nature. It is this detestable morality which Jesus condemned in the following: words, But I say unto you, swear not at all; never swear by an oath, on the supposition that it does not bind you. For all oaths whatever, those by the lowest of the creatures not excepted, are obligatory, in regard, that if these oaths have any meaning at all, they are an appeal to the great Creator, consequently are oaths by him, implying a solemn invocation of his wrath on such of the creatures sworn by, as are capable of God's wrath; and, for the others, the oath implies a solemn imprecation, in case of your swearing falsely, that you may for ever be deprived of all the comfort or advantage you have in, or hope from, these creatures. Swear, therefore, neither by heaven; for it is God's throne; nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. By comparing Mat. xxiii. 16, it appears, that our Lord is here giving a catalogue of eaths, which, in the opinion of the doctors, were not obligatory. His meaning, therefore, is, swear not at all in common conversation, nor on other occasions, unless you have a mind to perform; because every oath being really obligatory, he who, from an opinion that some are not, swears voluntarily, by heaven, by earth, or by Jerusalem, or by his own head, is, without all doubt, guilty of perjury. Much more is he guilty, who, when called thereto by lawful authority, swears with an intention to falsify. But, by no means, does Jesus condemn swearing truly before a magistrate, or upon grave and solemn occasions: because that would have been to prohibit both the method of ending controversies, [Heb. vi. 16.] and an high act of religious worship; Deut. vi. 13. Isa. lxv. 16.] an oath being not only a solemn appeal to the divine omniscience, from which nothing can be hid, but a direct acknowledgment of God as the great patron and protector of right, and the avenger of falsehood. But let your communication be, yea, yea, nay, nay: maintain such sincerity and truth in all your words as will merit the belief of your acquaintance; so that, in common. Conversation, to gain yourselves credit, you need do no more than barely assert or deny any matter, without invoking the name of God at all; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil, or, as it may be translated, cometh of the evil one. In common discourse, whatever is more than affirmation or negation ariseth from the temptation of the devil, who prompts men to curse and to swear, that he may lessen in them, and in all who hear them, that awful reverence of the divine Majesty, which is the grand support of society, and the soul of every virtue; and, by this means, lead them, at length, to perjury, even in the most solemn instances, considerations which shew the evil nature of sin in the strongest light.
With respect to men's resisting and revenging such injuries as are done them,
Jesus assured his disciples, that although, for the preservation of society, Moses had ordained the judges to give eye for eye, and tooth for tooth, if the injured party demanded it; yet the doctors were greatly in the wrong, not only when they enjoined men to insist on retaliation as their duty, but declared lawful, in many cases, for the injured party, at his own hand, to avenge himself, provided, in his revenge, he did not exceed the measure prescribed in the law. Christ's doctrine was, that a good man is so far from revenging private injuries, that oftentimes he does not even resist them, and always forgives them when they happen to be done to him; a generosity which he warmly recommended to his disciples. Ye have heard that it hath been said by the antient doctors, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, ought to be demanded : But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. To understand this passage aright we must take notice, that the Jews, under the sanction of the law of retaliation mentioned above, carried their resentments to the utmost length; and, by so doing, maintained infinite quarrels, to the great detriment of social life. This abuse of the law Jesus here condemned, by ordering men, under the gospel dispensation, to proportion their resistance of injuries to their nature and importance. And, to direct them in this manner, he here puts five cases wherein Christian meekness must especially shew itself. 1. 1. When any one assaults our person, in resentment of some affront he imagines we have put upon him. 2. When any one sues us at the law, in order to take our goods from us. 3. When he attacks our natural liberty. 4. When one, who is poor, asks charity. 5. When a neighbour begs the loan of something from us. In all these cases our Lord. forbids us to resist. Yet, from the examples which he mentions, it is plain that this forbearance and compliance is required only when we are slightly attacked, but by no means, when the assault is of a capital kind. For it would be unbecoming the wisdom which Jesus shewed in other points, to suppose that he forbids us to defend ourselves against murderers robbers, and oppressors, who would unjustly take away our life, our estate, or our liberty. Neither can it be thought that he commands us to give every idle fellow all he may think fit to ask, whether in charity or in loan. We are only to give what we can spare, and to such persons as, out of real necessity, seek relief from us. Nay, our Lord's own behaviour towards the man who, in presence of the council, smote him on the cheek, gives reason to think he did not mean that, in all cases, his disciples should be passive under the very injuries which he here speaks of. In some circumstances, smiting on the cheek, taking away one's coat, and the compelling of him to go a mile, may be great injuries, and therefore are to be resisted. The first instance was judged so by Jesus himself, in the case mentioned: for, had he forborne to reprove the man who did it, his silence might have been interpreted as proceeding from a conviction of his having done evil, in giving the high-priest the answer for which he was smitten. Wherefore, it appears plain, that the expressions of smiting on the check, taking away the coat, &c. are of the same kind with those verse 19, viz. the cutting off the right hand, and plucking out the right eye. They are all figurative, and denote something less than they literally import.
Admitting this explication as just, our Lord's rule has for its objects small injuries, which he represents by the strong metaphorical expressions of smiting on the check, &c. because to men of keen passions, though they be in themselves small injuries, they are difficult to be borne. Under such slight injuries, therefore, our Lord orders his disciples to be passive, rather than resist them to the utmost. Viewed in this light this
precept, is liable to no objection, it being well known, that he who bears a slight affront consults his honour and interest much better than he who resists or resents it; because he shews a greatness of mind worthy of a man, and uses the best means for avoiding quarrels, which oftentimes are attended with the most fatal consequences. In like manner, he who yields a little of his right rather than he will go to law, is much wiser than the man who has recourse to public justice in every instance; because, in the progress of a law-suit, such animosities may arise as are inconsistent with charity.
To conclude, benevolence, which is the glory of the divine, and the perfection of the human nature, rejoices in doing good. Hence, the man that is possessed of this godlike quality cheerfully embraces every occasion in his power of relieving the poor and distressed, whether by gift or loan. Some are of opinion that the precept concerning alms-giving and gratuitous lending, is subjoined to the instances of injuries which our Lord commands us to bear, to teach us, that if the persons who have injured us fall into want, we are not to with-hold any act of charity from them on account of the evil they have formerly done us. Taken in this light the precept is generous and divine. Moreover, as liberality is a virtue nearly allied to the forgiveness of injuries, our Lord joined the two together to shew that they should always go hand in hand. The reason is, revenge will blast the greatest liberality, and a covetous heart will shew the most perfect patience to be a sordid meanness of spirit, proceeding from selfishness.
He proceeded, in the next place, to consider the doctrine of the Jewish teachers Concerning benevolence. Ye have heard that it hath heen said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. The passage in the law referred to is Lev. xix. 18, "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people ; but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; I am the Lord." The clause, and hate thine enemy, is not in the law; but the doctors pretended that it was deducible from the first part of the precept, which seems to limit forgiveness to Israelites. Besides, they supported their own opinion by the tradition of the elders, and the precepts concerning the idolatrous nations. In opposition to this narrow spirit, our Lord commanded his hearers to shew benevolence, according to their power, unto every individual of the human species, without respect to country or religion; benevolence even to their bitterest enemies. But I say unto you, love your enemies; that is, charitably and sincerely wish unto your enemies all manner of good, both temporal and spiritual bless them that curse you; give them kind and friendly language who rail at or speak evil of you and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you: besides doing all in your own power to advance their happiness, study, by your prayers, to engage God also to befriend and bless them. The particulars mentioned are, certainly, the highest expressions of enmity; for what can be worse than cursing, and calumny, and insults, and persecutions? yet we are commanded to love, and to bless, and do good to, and pray for, our enemies, even while they persist in their enmity against us. This may be thought contrary to the precept, [Luke xvii. 3.] where forgiveness seems to be enjoined only on condition the injurious party repents; If thy brother tresspass against thee rebuke him, and if he repent forgive him. But the difficulty will disappear when it is remembered, that, in the two passages, different persons and different duties are spoken of. In the sermon, the duty we owe to mankind in general, who injure us, is described; but in Luke we are told how we are to behave towards an offending brother, one with whom we are particularly connected, whether by the ties or blood of friendship. The forgiveness we owe to mankind is, in the sermon, said to consist in the inward affection of benevolence, civil language, good
offices, such as we would have done to them had they never injured us, and hearty prayers; all which men may receive, even while they persist in their enmity. Whereas, the forgiveness due to a brother implies that he be restored to our friendship and affection, which he held before he offended. But, in order to this, his repentance is justly required; because, without a sense of his offence, and due evidence of his reformation, he is both unworthy and incapable of being restored.
This doctrine of loving our enemies so far as to do them good, Jesus enforced from the noblest of all considerations, that it renders men like God, who is good to the evil and unthankful. That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven ; for he maketh the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Being thus benevolent towards all, the bad as well as the good, ye shall be like God, and so prove yourselves his genuine offspring; for he maketh his sun common to them who worship, and them who,contemn him; and lets his rain be useful both to the just and to the unjust, alluring the bad to repentance, and stirring up the good to thankfulness, by this universal and indiscriminate benignity of his providence. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye ? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do you more than others? do not even the publicans so? These are common things practised by people of the worst of characters, which, therefore, do not prove you to be of a virtuous disposition, but only endowed with the essential principles of human nature; so that ve merit no reward at all for doing them. Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. The perfection of the divine goodness is proposed to our imitation, as it is promiscuous, extending to the evil as well as the good, and not as it is absolutely universal and infinite; for, in this respect, the imitation of it is impossible.
Thus the doctrine and precepts of the disciples, the righteousness which they preached, was to excel the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. Our Lord spake next of the righteousness which the Jewish teachers practised, shewing that his disciples, especially such of them as were instructors of others, ought to exce! them in that respect also. The particulars which he mentioned, though few, are of great importance, viz. alnis-giving, prayer, fasting, heavenly-mindedness, candid judging, and self-reformation. He began with alms-giving, because, in the branch of his discourse preceding, he had exhorted them to beneficence toward their enemies, from the example of the divine goodness. [Mat. vi. 1.] Take heed that ye do not your alms (your works of mercy,) before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. He does not forbid us to do works of charity publicly, for, on some occasions, that cannot be avoided: but to do them publicly, with a view to be seen of men, and to be applauded for them. Therefore, when thou dost thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues, and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. The praises of men, which they are so fond of, is all the reward such hypocrites shall ever obtain. But when thou dost alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth: let not thy most intimate friend know what thou dost; perform these offices as privately as thou canst, and nevef speak of them afterwards, unless there be good reasons for making them known. That thine alms may he in secret, and thy Father, which seeth in secret, himself, shall reward thee openly: Perform works of charity from no other principle but a love of goodness, and a regard to the will of God, who looks on in secret, and will reward all thy good deeds openly, at the judgment. Thus, if thou be content to forego, at present, the applause of the few to whom thou art known, and who are not competent judges of true worth,