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which is not lawful on the sabbath day?” When the sick and diseased, naturally fearful of losing an opportunity, were brought by their friends on the sabbath to seek cures from our Lord, “the ruler of the synagogue said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath-day.'
Further, they assumed a great appearance of holiness. They “ fasted often :" they prayed constantly ; even in public, “ In the midst of the
and standing at the corners of the streets.' They showed so much reverence for the Scriptures, that sentences from them were embroidered upon their garments, or worn upon their foreheads. They are said never to have passed a day without reading through the decalogue. They were so scrupulous in outward ceremonies, as never to sit down to meat with unwashed hands. They were so strict in giving God his due, as to bring to the sacred treasury the tithes even of the meanest herbs of the garden.*
Such was their righteousness. And let us not suppose that for this righteousness they were blamed. Rather let those take warning who have not even this outward righteousness. They could not be blamed for the strict observance of the sabbath ; for this had been positively required by Moses: and God has uniformly declared his approbation of those who keep the sabbath holy. They could not be blamed for their fasting: for it is a good thing to “ bring the body into subjection.” Still less could they be blamed for their prayers; for prayer is the chain which connects man with God, and earth with heaven. Neither could they be blamed for the exactness with which they paid whatever the law required ; indeed our Lord tells them, “ This ought ye to have done. What then, we are ready to ask, what was want
6 See Ch. xxiii. v. 7 Ib. xv. 1.
4 Luke vi. 1.
5 Luke xiii. 14.
8 lb. xxiii. 23.
9 Luke xi. 42.
ing to their righteousness? That was wanting, on which the whole of religion depends. The heart: the heart converted to God; the right spirit. What they did, was directed by no love of God, no desire of pleasing Him, no zeal for his service or glory. It was done in hypocrisy, springing from self-love : done from a desire to be thought highly of among men, to procure to themselves the honour of superior sanctity. “ They disfigured their faces, that they might appear unto men to fast.” They “ sounded a trumpet before them” when they gave their alms; took care that it should be generally known. They “ for a pretence made long prayers.
Such is the reason, why the righteousness of those who are really the servants of God, must “exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.” It must be dictated by the love of God.
But a further lesson is to be derived from this instructive passage. What shall we think of those who have not even this insufficient and unsatisfactory righteousness? The Pharisees were condemned, because they observed the sabbath for form's sake alone. What will become of those who do not at all “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”? The Pharisees were condemned, because they fasted, not to subdue the flesh and mortify the deeds of the body, but to be admired of men. What will become of those who never deny themselves anything, and think it no duty to restrain their appetites ? The Pharisees were condemned, because for a show they made long prayers. What will be the end of those who never pray at all?
The heart is so deceitful, that it needs to be constantly proved and examined, even in regard to the services and exercises of religion. What carries us to them?
A desire to make a decent appearance in the sight of men ? A desire to quiet conscience by a compliance with the outward form of duty ? Or a
1 Ch. vi. 2. 16.
desire, inwardly and seriously felt, to praise God, to pray to God, to hear his word, and learn better how to serve Him? That is the only spirit which proves the heart to be really right with God. No mere form of righteousness will avail with Him who trieth the very heart and reins." No lip-service will satisfy Him who complained of his people of old, “ These people honour me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me. Search and prove yourselves : or rather
pray with David, “Examine me, O Lord, and prove me,” and “ see if there be any way of wickedness in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
THE DANGER OF INDULGING ANGER,
MATT. V. 21-26.
21. “ 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 : 22. “ But I say unto you, That whosoever 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.” The disciples had been before told, “ Your righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.” Our Lord proceeds to instance several particulars. For instance, the commandment said, Thou shalt not kill. And this commandment they enforced, Whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment. Of the heinousness of such a crime there was no doubt; it had been forbidden from the
2 Ezek. xxix. 13.
i Raca, a Hebrew word, probably a common term of reproach, representing an empty, worthless person.
first by the law of God. But it was overlooked by the expounders of that law, that the guilt consists not only in the last and worst act, but in all the steps' which lead to it, or in the state of mind which is disposed to it, even though the actual crime may never be committed. The Lord corrects their defective teaching. I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And still worse, if he breaks out into reproachful language, such as tends to inflame passion, and provoke to malice and revenge. These things bring the soul to destruction and perdition. Anger without a cause, violent and insulting words,-are often the approaches to murder, and always signs of a state of heart most reprehensible in the sight of God. We read in Genesis, that “the Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.” At that moment there was in Cain's heart the same spirit which soon afterwards burst out, when “they were in the field, and Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” Had any outward binderance checked his hand, the jealous, envious, malicious heart would have equally condemned him ; and it is vain to apply restraint to the one, without correcting the other.
There are degrees, no doubt, in the sinfulness of the angry passions ; so our Lord implies in his allusion to the Jewish courts of law, the council being more serious than the judgment : but no degree of enmity is to be cherished or allowed.
23. “ Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there remem
berest that thy brother hath aught against thee; 24. “ Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be
reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. 25. “ Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way
2 Gen. iv. 5.
with him ; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and
the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. 26. “Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.”
The only way of subduing the evil passions of envy, hatred, and malice, is to repress every hostile feeling in the first bud. Even acts of religious duty, however needful, are not so urgent as this ; and till this is done, are displeasing rather than acceptable to God. It was an act of duty to bring a gift to the altar; Moses had commanded, “ Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose ; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles : and they shall not appear before the Lord empty ; every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which He hath given thee.” This, then, was an appointed, acknowledged duty. But ill-will rankling at the heart would corrupt all: “ for if a man love not his brother, whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen ?” How can he entertain that humble, lowly spirit which befits a sinner in the presence of his judge, a creature in the worship of his Creator, while towards his brethren on earth he cherishes a malicious, unrelenting disposition ?
What then is to be done ? Must the feeling remain, and excuse the neglect of God ? as is sometimes implied in the reasons which men plead for absenting themselves from the church, or from the Lord's table ? The way of duty is very different.
different. First be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. But be reconciled without delay; common worldly prudence requires us to agree with an adversary quickly ; we know the consequences which follow obstinate and persevering hostility even in this world; it often involves men in difficulties from which they endeavour to
Deut. xvi. 16.