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desired, that we should be most distinctly and seriously reminded of a circumstance, which more than any other medium whatever, shows us our need of a Saviour, and lays a foundation for the beautiful fabric of Christian mercy.
'Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time." Our blessed Lord, in this appeal to the knowledge of his auditors, addresses them as Jews; and He assumes, that they were well taught in matters which pertained to their own laws. He does not, indeed, say, "ye have read," but ye have heard what has been said on this subject; the former would not probably have been true, for the number of the common people who could read the law, was very small. The high priests and the Scribes found it necessary, for the better advancement of their own mercenary purposes, to keep them in ignorance of letters. The Lord complains of this by the mouth his prophet Hosea, "my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge."* Not that their destruction and ruin, as a nation, is to be ascribed to their want of instruction on this particular point, but it formed a part of a system which was pursued by their priests, till the people knew nothing, except on the authority of their guides; and were, therefore, the slaves of every dishonourable passion, and the victims of every political foe. Ye have heard that it was said to them." Such is to be considered the true -reading of the passage. The allusion is rather to the giving of the law by the Almighty to Moses, than to its publication by the ancient and earliest expositors of their church. Some individuals of considerable authority have, however, supposed that our Lord, by special design, adopts the language in which the Pharisees were accustomed to announce their traditions. In these cases they did not say, “ye have heard it was said by Moses, as the servant
* Hosea iv, 6.
of God," but "ye have heard that it was said by them of old time," namely, the elders in their traditions. The sense, however, in either case, is much the same.
"Thou shalt not kill." This prohibition against taking away human life, you remember, was written by the finger of God himself on the "two tables of stone," in the Mount; and is one of the ten precepts which were proclaimed to the people, by express command, as the moral code designed for the guide of every one to the end of time. The commandment on murder was renewed with an additional clause, describing the heavy penalty with which its deliberate commission should be visited. "Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die. Moreover, ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death."* Now the Jews always put the original prohibition and the punishment annexed to its transgression together, and therefore they added the clause stated in my text: "whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment." Their mistake lay here, not in the nature of the doom which was awarded to the convicted murderer, but in the opinion, that this law "prohibited nothing but actual murder committed with a man's own hand; and, therefore, if he hired another to kill him, or to turn a wild beast upon him that slew him, it was not murder punishable by law, though they acknowledged, it might deserve the judgment of God."+ Under this idea, the crime itself was considered in a civil, rather than a moral light; and as expressly condemned by the law of their land, rather than the law of God. The effect of this was bad, as it led the multitude to imagine, that the whole of the penalty was
* Numb. xxxv. 30, 31.
+ Dr. Macknight.
confined to what the magistrate should inflict; and that its future consequence in another world was neither alarming or formidable. To correct this erroneous conclusion, is the design of Christ on the present occasion. He is about to give his disciples and friends a more correct notion of the sin itself, and of the fearful consequences of its commission in another world. Let us observe, therefore,
II. THE LAW, AS IT IS EXPLAINED BY OUR LORD, IN THE PASSAGE BEFORE US.
"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." Let us divide this passage into two parts. First-the nature of murder as it is here defined; and Secondly--the light in which it must be viewed as it respects future punishment.
First. We begin with the nature of murder as it is here defined. The state of heart has much to do with the degree of enormity, attached to every violation of the laws, both human and divine. Our Divine Preceptor does not deny shedding of blood to be murder, but he mentions three other things in addition, as so many species of the same crime.
First. Causeless anger. "Whosoever is angry with his brother without cause." The term, brother, must not be taken in the limited sense in which the Jews used it, for they applied it only to Israelites by birth; but we must understand it in the enlarged and unlimited signification, in which it is explained in the New Testament. Distinctions of blood, and of nation, are done away under the gospel; and all men are brethren. They have the same
origin-the same nature-the same immortality-and the same destiny, "the house appointed for all living." Now, the expression, angry without cause," denotes a degree of malice in the heart, which, if not restrained, would do the object of its resentment some personal harm. There is, however, a certain kind of anger allowed us, and which is rather commendable than otherwise. The legitimate object against which it can be properly directed, is sin. Thus, Moses was angry in the matter of the golden calf, at Horeb. And thus it is said of our Lord, that "he looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts."* Do you ask, therefore, when it may be considered sinful? Doubtless it would be a difficult task to answer the question fully. The text, however, says, when it is without cause; that is, when it is without occasion on the one hand, and when it is carried beyond just bounds on the other. But suffer a word of fraternal caution, my brethren, on this particular. "The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." Anger is such a difficult plant to bend to any useful purpose, that it is much more likely to be injurious than beneficial; and will be noxious, unless it be trained by the utmost care and attention. Be careful, then, how ye yield your mind to its influence. Its effects are commonly so dreadful, and so ruinous of all the modest and retiring virtues of the Christian character, that we cannot watch too narrowly against its admission into our heart, even in the most inconsiderable degree.
Secondly. Contemptuous speech. "Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca." This word, according to learned authors, signifies an empty and conceited person; and when it was uttered with a certain gesticulation of the body, it denoted the utmost degree of ridicule and de
* Mark iii. 5.
+ James i. 20.
rision. No one would speak thus reproachfully to another, unless he had first "given place to wrath." Whosoever, therefore, evinces the secret hatred of his heart by the use of such an opprobrious epithet, violates the spirit of the sixth commandment, and subjects himself to the displeasure of the Lord.
Thirdly. The defamation of character, constitutes, likewise, constructive murder. "Whosoever shall say, Thou fool." The word means, "wicked wretch;" and, in the sense in which it is here to be understood, is an attack on a man's reputation. As the former term of reproach is descriptive of a man without understanding or reason, and which, if applied to some individuals, would do them material injury; so this amounts to a serious charge of immorality against the person to whom it is given. The one expression denotes a worthless, the other a wicked, man: for if wisdom be religion and virtue, folly must be vice and wickedness. The epithet, in the sacred writings, frequently signifies a rebel against God, an apostate from religion, and a graceless wretch" given over to a reprobate mind." And whoever uses it to his brother gives as strong an external indication of the bitter feeling of his heart towards him as it is possible to display-short of actual murder. In many cases it would be little less than murder, in its dreadful consequences to the persons to whom it is applied. It would inflict in their breast the bitterest wound, deprive them of the means of subsistence, disgrace them in the opinion of their friends, and blight all their plans of usefulness in the world. Better plunge a dagger into the heart at once, than put a man to a lin
There is no violation of this law by the use of the word in several places in the New Testament. Whenever our Lord or his disciples had occasion to employ it, it was in their inspired character, and not in ordinary conversation-the case which is here condemned.