Imágenes de páginas

any thing else, which has gained the ascendancy over our souls, on which our desires, our wishes, our hopes, our fears, are chiefly fixed, God is then dispossessed of his rightful dominion over us; we serve another master, and we shall think but little of our Maker, or any thing belonging to him.

His empire over our hearts must, in short, at all events be maintained. When this point is once secured, every inferior gratification, that is consistent with his sovereignty, his glory, and his commands, is perfectly allowable; every thing that is hostile to them must at once be renounced.

This is a plain rule, and a very important one. It is the principle which our blessed Lord meant here to establish, and it must be the governing principle of our lives.

Next to this in importance is another command, which you will find in the twelfth verse of the seventh chapter: "all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets." As the former precepts, which we have been considering, relate to God, this relates to man; it is the grand rule, by which we must in all cases regulate our conduct towards our neighbour; and it is a rule, plain, simple, concise, intelligible, comprehensive, and every way worthy of its divine Author. Whenever we are deliberating how we ought to act towards our neighbour in any particular instance, we must for a moment change situations with him in our own minds, we must place him in our circumstances, and ourselves in his, and then, whatever we should wish him to do to us, that we are to do to him. This is a process, in which, if we act fairly and impartially, we can never be mistaken. Our own feelings will determine our conduct at once better than all the casuists in the world.

But, before we entirely quit the consideration of this precept, we must take some notice of the observation subjoined to it, which will require a little explanation. "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets."

The concluding clause, "this is the law and the prophets," has by some been interpreted to mean, this is the sum and substance of all religion; as if religion consisted solely in behaving justly and kindly to our fellow-crea

tures, and beyond this no other duty was required at our hands. But this conclusion is as groundless as it is dangerous and unscriptural.

There are duties surely of another order, equally necessary at least, and equally important with those we owe to our neighbour.

There are duties, in the first place, owing to our Creator, whom we are bound to honour, to venerate, to worship, to obey, and to love with all our hearts and souls, and mind, and strength. There are duties owing to our Redeemer, of affection, attachment, gratitude, faith in his divine mission, and reliance on the atonement he made for us on the cross. There are, lastly, acts of discipline and self-government to be exercised over our corrupt propensities and irregular desires. Accordingly, in the very chapter we have just been considering, we are commanded to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. We are in another place informed, that the love of God is the first and great commandment, and the love of our neighbour only the second; and we are taught by St. James, that one main branch of religion is to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. It is impossible, therefore, that our blessed Lord could here mean to say, that our duty towards our neighbour was the whole of his religion; he says nothing, in fact, of his religion; he speaks only of the Jewish religion, the law and the prophets; and of these he only says, that one of the great objects they have in view is to inculcate that same equitable conduct towards our brethren, which he here recommended t.

Let no one, then, indulge the vain imagination, that a just, and generous, and compassionate conduct towards his fellow-creatures, constitutes the whole of his duty, and will compensate for the want of every other Christian virtue.

This is a most fatal delusion; and yet in the present times a very common one. Benevolence is the favourite, the fashionable virtue of the age; it is universally cried up by infidels and libertines as the first and only duty of man; and even many, who pretend to the name of Christians, are too apt to rest upon it as the most essen

* James i, 27.

† See chap. xxii, 40; Rom. xiii, 8; Gal. v, 14; and Grotius on this verse.

tial part of their religion, and the chief basis of their title to the rewards of the Gospel. But that Gospel, as we have just seen, prescribes to us several other duties, which require from us the same attention as those we owe to our neighbour; and, if we fail in any of them, we can have no hope of sharing in the benefits procured for us by the sacrifice of our Redeemer. What, then, God and nature, as well as Christ and his apostles, have joined together, let no man dare to put asunder. Let no one flatter himself with obtaining the rewards, or even escaping the punishments of the Gospel, by performing only one branch of his duty; nor let him ever suppose, that under the shelter of benevolence he can either, on the one hand, evade the first and great command, the love of his Maker; or, on the other hand, that he can securely indulge his favourite passions, can compound, as it were, with God for his sensuality by acts of generosity, and purchase by his wealth a general license to sin. This may be very good pagan morality, may be very good modern philosophy, but it is not Christian godliness.


As it is my purpose to touch only on the most important and most generally useful parts of our Saviour's discourse, I shall pass over what remains of it, and hasten to the conclusion, which is expressed by the sacred historian in these words: "And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine; for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes*.' Both his matter and his manner were infinitely beyond any thing they had ever heard before. He did not, like the heathen philosophers, entertain his hearers with dry metaphysical discourses on the nature of the supreme good, and the several divisions and subdivisions of virtue; nor did he, like the Jewish rabbies, content himself with dealing out ceremonies and traditions, with discoursing on mint and cummin, and estimating the breadth of a phylactery; but he drew off their attention, from these trivial and contemptible things, to the greatest and the noblest objects; the existence of one supreme Almighty Being, the creator, preserver, and governor of the universe; the first formation of man; his fall from original innocence; the consequent corruption and depravity of his nature; the remedy provided for him by the good

* Matt. vii, 28, 29.

ness of our Maker and the death of our Redeemer; the nature of that divine religion, which he himself came to reveal to mankind; the purity of heart and sanctity of life which he required; the communications of God's Holy Spirit to assist our own feeble endeavours here, and a crown of immortal glory to recompense us hereafter.

The morality he taught was the purest, the soundest, the sublimest, the most perfect, that had ever before entered into the imagination or proceeded from the lips of man. And this he delivered in a manner the most striking and impressive; in short, sententious, solemn, important, ponderous rules and maxims, or in familiar, natural, affecting similitudes and parables. He showed, also, a most consummate knowledge of the human heart, and dragged to light all its artifices, subtleties, and evasions. He discovered every thought as it arose in the mind; he detected every irregular desire before it ripened into action. He manifested at the same time the most perfect impartiality. He had no respect of persons. He reproved vice in every station, wherever he found it, with the same freedom and boldness; and he added to the whole the weight, the irresistible weight, of his own example. He, and he only, of all the sons of men, acted up in every the minutest instance to what he taught; and his life exhibited a perfect portrait of his religion. But what completed the whole was, that he taught, as the evangelist expresses it, "with authority," with the authority of a divine teacher. The ancient philosophers could do nothing more than give good advice to their followers; they had no means of enforcing that advice: but our great Lawgiver's precepts are all DIVINE COMMANDS. He spoke in the name of God: he called himself the Son of God. He spoke in a tone of superiority and authority, which no one before had the courage or the right to assume and, finally, he enforced every thing he taught by the most solemn and awful sanctions, by a promise of eternal felicity to those who obeyed him, and a denunciation of the most tremendous punishment to those who rejected him.

[ocr errors]

These were the circumstances, which gave our blessed Lord the authority with which he spake. No wonder, then, that the people were astonished at his doctrines, and that they all declared he spake as never man spake*."

• John vii, 46.



THE eighth chapter of St. Matthew, a part of which will be the subject of this Lecture, begins with the miraculous cure of the leper, which is related in the following


"When our Lord was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him; and, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean : and immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them."

The leprosy is a disorder of the most malignant and disgusting nature. It was once common in Europe. Those infected with it were called lazars, who were separated from all human society (the disease being highly contagious), and were confined in hospitals called lazarettos, of which, it is said, there were no less than nine thousand at one time in Europe. For the last two hundred years this distemper has almost entirely vanished from this and other countries of Europe, and an instance of it now is but seldom to be met with. In the East it still exists to a certain degree; and there in former ages it had its source and origin, and raged for a great length of time with extraordinary violence.

In the law of Moses there are very particular directions given concerning the treatment of lepers, and a ceremonial appointed for the examination of them by the priest when they were supposed to be cured. But no natural remedy is prescribed by Moses for the cure of K

« AnteriorContinuar »