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voke no hostilities, and thus escape all that large pro portion of human misery which arises from dissensions and disputes. If differences do unexpectedly start up, by patience, mildness, and prudence, they disarm their adversaries, they soften resentment, they court reconciliation, and seldom fail of restoring harmony and peace. Having a very humble opinion of themselves, they see others succeed without uneasiness, without envy having no ambition, no spirit of competition, they feel no pain from disappointment, no mortification from defeat. By bending under the storms, that assail them, they greatly mitigate their violence, and see them pass over their heads almost without feeling their force. Content and satisfied with their lot, they pass quietly and silently through the crowds that surround them; and encounter much fewer difficulties and ca lamities in their progress through life than more active and enterprising men. This even tenor of life may indeed be called by men of the world flat, dull, and insipid. But the meek are excluded from no rational pleasure, no legitimate delight; and as they are more exempt from anxiety and pain than other men, their sum total of happiness is greater, and they may, in the best sense of the word, be fairly said to inherit the earth.
I shall now proceed to notice such other passages of this admirable discourse, as appear to me to deserve peculiar attention and consideration.
The first of these is that which begins with the 21st verse: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment; but I say unto you, that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." And again in the same manner at the 27th verse: Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, thou shalt not commit adultery; but I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to
lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."
- I put these two instances together, because they both enforce the same great leading principle, and both illustrate one great distinguishing excellence of the morality taught by our Saviour; namely, that it does not content itself with merely controlling our outward actions, but it goes much deeper, it imposes its restraints, it places its guard exactly where it ought to do, on our thoughts and on our hearts. Our Lord here singles out two cases, referring to two different species of passions, the malevolent and the sensual, and he pronounces the same sentence, the same decisive judgment on both; that the thing to be regulated is the intention the passion the propensity. Former moralists contented themselves with saying, thou shalt not kill. But I (says our Lord) go much further; I say thou shalt not indulge any resentment against thy brother, thou shalt not use any reproachful or contemptuous language towards him; for it is these things that lead and provoke to the most atrocious deeds. Former moralists have said, thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say, let not thine heart or thine eye commit adultery; for here it is that the sin begins; and here it must be crushed in its birth.
This is wisdom, this is morality in its most perfect form, in its essence, and in its first principles. Every one that is acquainted with men and manners must know that our Lord has here shewn a consummate knowledge of human nature; that he has laid his finger on the right place, and exerted his authority where it was most wanted, in checking the first movements of our criminal desires. Every one must see and feel, that bad thoughts quickly ripen into bad actions; and that if the latter only are forbidden, and the former left free, all morality will soon be at an end. Our Lord therefore, like a wise physician, goes at once to the bottom of the evil; he extirpates the first germ and root of the disease, and leaves not a single fibre of it remaining to shoot up again in the heart,
It was obvious to foresee that the disciples, and the people to whom our saviour addressed himself, would consider this as very severe discipline, and would complain, bitterly, or at least murmur secretly, at the hardships of parting with all their favorite passions, of eradicating their strongest natural propensities, of watching constantly every motion of their hearts, and guarding those issues of life and death, those fountains of virtue and of vice, with the most unremitting attention. But all this our divine master tells them is indispensably necessary. All these cautions must be used, all this vigilance must be exercised, all this self-government must be exerted, all these sacrifices must be made, It is the price we are to pay (besides that price which our Redeemer paid) and surely no unreasonable one, for escaping eternal misery, and rendering ourselves capable of eternal glory. He therefore, goes on to say, in terms highly figurative and alarming, but not too strong for the occasion, "If thy right eye offend thee, 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. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off 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." Every one must immediately see that the eye to be plucked out is the eye of concupiscence, and the hand to be cut off is the hand of vio lence and vengeance; that is, these passions are to be checked and subdued, let the conflict cost us what it may.
This naturally leads our divine teacher, in the next verse, to a subject closely connected with one of our strongest passions, and that is, the power of divorce. Among the jews and the heathens, but more particularly the latter, this power was carried to a great extent, and exercised with the most capricious and wanton cruelty. The best and most affectionate of wives were often dismissed for the slightest reasons, and sometimes
without any reason at all. It was high time for some stop to be put to these increasing barbarities, and it was a task worthy of the Son of God himself to stand up as the defender and protector of the weak, of the most helpless and most oppressed part of the human species. Accordingly he here declares, in the most positive terms, terms, the only legitimate cause of divorce is adultery. "It has been said, whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement. But I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever marrieth her that is divorced, committeth adultery*. This has, by the experience, of ages, been found to be a most wise and salutary provision, and no less conducive to the happiness than to the virtue of mankind. And we are taught by the fatal example of other nations, that wherever this law of the Gospel has been abrogated or relaxed, and a greater facility of divorce allowed, the consequence has constantly been a too visible depravation of manners, and the destruction of many of the most essential comforts of the married state.
The passage to which I shall next advert, is the folłowing: "Ye have heard it has been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on the 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."
By the Mosaic law, retaliation was permitted; an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, might legally be demanded. Among the ancient heathens, private revenge was indulged without scruple and without mercy. The savage nations in America, as well as in almost every other part of the world, set no bounds to the persevering rancour and the cool deliberate malignity with which they will pursue, for years together, not only the person himself from whom they have re* Matth. y. 31, 32. † Matth. v. 38-41. Levit. xxiv. 20, Deut. xix. 21.
ceived an injury, but sometimes every one related to or connected with him. The Arabs are equally implacable in their resentments; and the Koran itself, in the case of murder, allows private revenge. *
It was to check this furious, ungovernable passion, so universally prevalent over the earth, that our Saviour delivers the precepts now before us. "I say unto you resist not evil; but if any one smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." No one can imagine that this injunction, and those of the same kind that follow, are to be understood strictly and literally; that we are to submit, without the least opposition, to every injury and every insult that is offered to us, and are absolutely precluded from every degree of self-preservation and self-defence. This can never be intended; and the example of St. Paul, who repelled with proper spirit, the insult offered him as a Roman citizen, very clearly proves that we are not to permit ourselves to be trampled on by the foot of pride and oppression, without expressing a just sense of the injury done to us, and endeavouring to avert and repel it. It cannot therefore, be meant, that if any one, by a cruel and expensive litigation, should deprive us of a part of our property, we should not only relinquish to him that part, but request him also to accept every thing else we have in the world. Nor can it be meant, that if a man should actually strike us on one cheek, we should immediately turn to him the other, and desire the blow to be repeated. This could not possibly answer any one rational purpose, nor conduce in the least to the peace and happiness of mankind, which were certainly the objects our Saviour had in view; on the contrary, it would tend materially to obstruct both by inviting injury, and encouraging insult and oppression. Common sense therefore, as well as common utility, require that we should consider the particular instances of behaviour under the injuries here specified, as nothing more than strong oriental idioms, as proverbial and figurative expressions, intended only to convey a general * Koran, v. 2. c. 17. p. 100.