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gering death by calumny. There are many noble-minded Christians, who feel such pure regard for the prosperity of the church, that they would rather die, even by the hands of an assassin, than have their character impeached to the scandal of the cause of religion.*
Secondly. Let us consider the light in which this crime appears with respect to future punishment.
I have already observed, that the Pharisees almost entirely confined their views of this enormous sin to the punishment which was ordered by the law, to be inflicted on the criminal in this world. They overlooked, in their expositions of the consequences which would follow the breaking of this commandment, the judgment to come. To impress the minds of his auditors, therefore, with the tremendous nature of the sentence which awaited the impenitent murderer at the bar of God, the Saviour makes. a reference to the several courts of justice which were established among the Jews.
1. The court of judgment. This was composed of twenty-three members, who, before the Romans wrested the civil power from the nation, and erected their own courts of judicature, had the power of life and death. There were many of these courts, perhaps one in every tribe, and they took cognizance of all offences against the laws of their country, whether capital or otherwise, that came within their jurisdiction. They seem to have answered the same purpose, and to have been, in their design, substantially the same as the court of assize in our own land. They were fully empowered to pass sentence in all ordinary cases, and to inflict the punishment of
It is recorded of the pious and learned Saurin, well known to the religious world by his incomparable sermons, that he fell a victim to the slanderous accusations of his enemies, and literally died of a wounded spirit.
death, either by beheading or strangling, according as circumstances required.
2. The second court was called "the council." This was the high court of Sanhedrim, and consisted of seventy judges, or elders, besides the governor, or presiding elder, who was denominated the chief over the seventy. The appointment of this greater tribunal is recorded in these words: "And the Lord said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee." The design was as merciful to Moses as it was just to the people: for it follows, " And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them: and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone." These seventy elders were selected by taking six from each tribe, save from the tribe of Levi, from which they only took four. They sat, at certain seasons, in the city of Jerusalem, and received all appeals from the courts below. The decisions to which they came, on all cases brought before them, were irrevocable, and they could execute the heaviest sentence of the law in the most sanguinary manner. In some instances they awarded the convicted transgressor to die by stoning; in others, by half strangling him first, and then pouring burning liquid into his vitals; and sometimes by burning the unhappy culprit alive. It does not appear, however, that these cruelties were often exercised, and when they were, it was in violation of the wise and gracious intention of the Divine Being, by whom the establishment of such a
• Godwyn's Moses and Aaron, lib. 5. See Dr. Macknight's note, in loco.
+ Numb. xi. 16.
tribunal was originally made. So true is the maxim, that "there is nothing, however good in itself, but the depraved heart of man has abused."
3. But our Lord mentions another degree of this crime, and another kind of punishment. "Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire,"-or the fire of Gehenna. The case was this: Hinnom, the name of the valley where this fire was kindled, appears, according to the most ancient and authentic historians, to have been a pleasant place, situated at the foot of Mount Moriah, and watered by the fountain of Siloam. "The god of this world" has always chosen scenes the most imposing to the eye, and fascinating to the senses, for the effectual attainment of his own purposes; and, therefore, this enchanting spot was selected for the detestable and cruel worship of Moloch, that horrid idol of the Ammonites, to whom many of the unnatural and deluded Israelites burnt their children in sacrifice; the origin, most probably, of all the barbarous and savage rites which fill "the dark places of the earth" to the present day. The same valley is called Tophet in the Old Testament,* which signifies a drum, and this name was assigned it on account of the constant noise which was there made, to drown the cry the dying babe! This place, in process of time, became as unsightly and appalling as it had been beautiful and attractive. And, inasmuch as it was the receptacle for every species of idolatrous abomination, and the refuse of the city, there was a constant fire appointed to be kept for these purposes. This gives us the reason why our Lord refers to it in its metaphoric sense, as a most significant and awful emblem of " the fire that is never quenched," which awaits the murderer in another state.
Such, then, are the several allusions in this remarkable
* Isaiah xxx. 33. Jer. vii. 31, 32. xix. 11-14.
passage. They are made by Christ, to illustrate the solemn fact, that every crime will be visited with proportionate punishment, and that all the punishment will be of a dreadful nature. "The judgment," among the Israelites, decreed death by beheading; "the council," by stoning; and, as the most terrible, by burning alive. There are here three degrees of suffering-beheading, the first and the easiest-stoning, the second and more severe-and burning, as the severest of all. The conclusion, therefore, is, that it is the evangelical design of this commandment to restrain men, not only from the actual shedding of blood, but also from wrathful feelings, scornful reproaches, and defamatory words; and that the unchecked indulgence of these passions will be finally visited, by the righteous Judge of all, with a punishment corresponding with their heinousness. Thus we have the crime and the consequence fully before us. Let us now proceed,
III. TO MAKE AN APPLICATION OF THIS SUBJECT FOR OUR OWN IMPROVEMENT.
The discussion of the prohibition contained in the commandment of the text, is not so frequently introduced into the pulpit as, perhaps, it ought. But the preceding portion of our Lord's sermon, however important, does not surpass this in importance. It shows us the bottom of these dreadful sins of hatred, contempt, and moral murder, which, if not renounced by the sinner, and pardoned by the Saviour, will effectually exclude him from the kingdom of God. It points out unto us the disposition of malice in the heart, as not only the source of the positive act of murder, but as virtually the crime itself. O let us seriously reflect on this fact, and bewail it before God, lest a spirit of rancour, of jealousy, of unbrotherly affection should so prevail in our hearts, as at once to obliterate every impression of
christian charity, and "blot out our name from the book of life."
And, first, we may learn from this subject, the vast importance of guarding against the beginning of all angry feelings in our heart. Do you tremble, my brethren, at the thought, that it is barely possible for you to be guilty of usurping the authority of the Most High, by the destruction of life, and of contemning his image by defacing it in his creature,—of inflicting an injury on a fellow-being which can never be repaired, and of robbing him of a good which you cannot restore to him,—of perpetrating a deed which the value of the world cannot compensate, the whole host of angels and archangels undo, and the effects of which are commensurate with eternity itself,-I ask, do you tremble at such a thought? then remember the necessity of crushing passionate resentment, not merely in the bud, but in the very germ. It is generally admitted, that no man becomes an atrocious murderer at once: and he who eventually attains this disgraceful and destructive character, at some former period of his life, would have been horror-struck with the thought of committing so foul a crime. But ungoverned and unbridled propensities—the swelling of resentment in his bosom, and the expression of rage on his tongue-the indulgence of a vindictive temper and of cruel thoughts-finally settled down into pure malignity. "Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin when it is finished bringeth forth death."*
But besides this, supposing the crime is not actually done do you not hear what the Saviour saith, that a wrathful spirit is essentially the same? And have you not read these express declarations, "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer, and ye know that no
* James i. 15.