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nature of the Christian revelation became of course more generally known, the violence of persecution began to abate; and as the sacred writings were more and more studied, and their true sense better understood, the baneful spirit of intolerance lost ground every day, and the divine principle of Christian charity and benevolence has been continually gaining fresh strength; till at length, at the present moment, persecution by Christians on the score of religion only has almost entirely vanished from the face of the earth; and we may venture to indulge the hope, that wars of religion, strictly so called, will be heard of no more.
I now proceed to explain the verses immediately following that which we have been just considering.
"I am come, says our Lord, to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-inlaw, and a man's foes shall be those of his own household."
This passage is a clear proof that the calamities and miseries predicted in the preceding verse relate primarily and principally to the apostles themselves, because these words are almost a repetion of what our Lord applied to them in the 27th verse, "The brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child; and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death."*
Now as these cruelties were inflicted on the apostles, not by believers, but by unbelieving Jews and heathens, that is, by the enemies of the Gospel, it is evident, that when our Saviour says he came to set a man at variance against his father, and so on, he meant only to say, that the religion which he taught would meet with the most violent opposition from the world, and would expose his apostles and disciples to the most unjust and inhuman treatment, even sometimes from their nearest relations.
Our Lord then goes on to say, "He that loveth father and mother more than me is not worthy of me."† This † Matth. x. 37.
* Matth. x. 21.
has an evident reference to the two preceding verses in which our Lord had declared, that amidst the vari. ous miseries that would be occasioned by the wicked. ness and barbarity of those who rejected and resisted the Christian religion, dissentions would arise even among those most nearly connected with each other, and the true Christian would sometimes find his bitterest enemies even in the bosom of his own family, A father would perhaps persecute his own son, and a mo, ther her doughter, on account of her religious opinions, and would by argument and by influence endeavour to persuade, or by authority and power to compel them to abjure their faith. In cases such as these our Lord here intimates, that when the choice is between renouncing our nearest relations and renouncing our religion, we must not hesitate a moment what part we are to take; we must, to obey God rather than man, we must give up all and follow Christ. "He that loveth father and mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son and daughter more than me, is not worthy of me."* That is evidently when the nearest and dearest relations come in competition with our belief in Christ, and obedience to his commands, our affection for them and deference to their opinions must give place to love for our Redeemer and attachment to our Maker,
In the parallel place of St. Luke this precept is expressed in still stronger terms. "If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also he cannot be my disciple."+
The mind of the reader is at the first view apt to revolt at the seeming harshness of this declaration; but it is evidently nothing more than a bolder and more figurative way (according to a well-known Hebrew idiom) of conveying the very same sentiment that St. Matthew clothes in gentler language. It means nothing more than that we ought to entertain a more ardent affection for our heavenly Father than for our earthly parents;
* Acts v. 29.
† Luke xiv. 26.
and that his commands must be preferred to theirs whenever they happen to interfere. And in the same manner several other apparently severe injunctions in the Gospel are to be explained and mitigated by others of the same import, but more perspicuously and more mildly expressed.
But we are not only enjoined to love Christ and his religion more than our nearest relations, where they happen to interfere, but even more than our own life. "He that taketh not his cross and followeth after me, is not worthy of me."* This plainly alludes to the custom of persons who were going to be crucified bearing their own cross; and the literal and primary mean, ing is, that we should be ready, if called upon, to undergo even that painful and ignominious death, rather than renounce our faith. This indeed is a most severe trial; but it is a trial which it is not only our duty but our interest to undergo, if reduced to the necessity either of forfeiting our life, or renouncing our allegiance to Christ. For we are told here by our Lord himself, that he who findeth his life, shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for his sake shall find it." That is, whoever to save his life apostatizes from his faith, shall be punished with the loss of that life which alone deserves the name, life everlasting. But he who sacrifices his life to his religion in this world, shall be rewarded with eternal life in the world to come.
*Matth. x. 38.
† Ibid. 39.
THE next chapter which seems more peculiarly to deserve our attention, and to require some explanation and illustration, is the 12th chapter of St. Matthew,
It begins thus: "At that time Jesus went on the sabbath-day through the corn, and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, behold thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do on the sabbath-day. But he said unto them, have ye not read what David did when he was an hungred, and they that were with him? How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shew-bread, which it was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath-day the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, that in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless; for the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath-day. And when he was departed thence, he went into the synagogue, And there was a man which had his hand withered; and they asked him, saying, is it lawful to heal on the sabbath-day? that they might accuse him. And he said unto them, what man shall there be among you that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath-day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath-day. Then saith he to the man, stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth, and it was restored whole like the other."
Although here are two different transactions related, that of plucking the ears of corn, and healing the withered hand, yet as they are closely connected together by the evangelist, and relate to the same subject, the observation of the sabbath, I have recited the whole passage comprehending both these incidents at length, that you might have before you at one view all that our Saviour has said on this important branch of our duty, and that we might fully understand what kind of rest it is that our blessed Lord judged to be necessary on the
Jewish sabbath, and what limitations and exceptions to it he admitted; from whence we may form some judgment what our own duty is on that holy day which we justly call THE LORD'S DAY, and which must be considered as the Christian sabbath.
From this passage, as well as from many others, it appears, that the Jews had their eyes constantly fixed on Jesus and his followers, and most anxiously sought out for opportunities of fastening some guilt upon them. It appears also that they were extremely unfortunate in these attempts, and compelled (as in the present instance) to have recourse to the silliest and most trivial charges; and even these turned out to be perfectly unfounded. From whence I think we may fairly draw this inference, that the character and conduct of our Lord and his disciples were perfectly blameless; since with all the industry of so many sharp-sighted observers, so extremely well disposed to discover guilt or to make it, they could discover no real fault in him.
The pretence on this occasion was, that the disciples, by plucking a few ears of corn and eating them as they passed through a corn-field on the sabbath day, had violated the rest of that holy day, and thus transgressed the Mosaical law. But to this our Lord replied, that in cases of extreme necessity the severity of that law might be dispensed with and relaxed. As a proof of this, he appealed first to the example of David, the man after God's own heart, who (as may be seen in 1 Samuel, xxi. 6.) when he and his men were reduced to great streights for want of food, asked and obtained from Ahimelech the priest a part of the consecrated bread which had been taken from the altar, and which it was not lawful for any but the priests to The other instance he adduced, was that of the priests themselves, who in the necessary service of the temple on the sabbath-day were obliged to work with their own hands, by lighting the fires, killing the victims, offering up the sacrifices, &c. This in any other persons would have been considered as profanations