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MATTHEW v. 23, 24.
THEREFORE, IF THOU BRING THY GIFT TO THE ALTAR, AND THERE REMEMBEREST THAT THY BROTHER HATH AUGHT AGAINST THEE; LEAVE THERE THY GIFT BEFORE THE ALTAR, AND GO THY WAY; FIRST BE RECONCILED TO THY BROTHER, AND THEN COME AND OFFER THY GIFT."
"GOD is a spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth." The words of my text supply an ample confirmation of this passage, which was addressed by our Lord to the woman of Samaria. They contain some positive directions with respect to the duty of making reparation to our brother, for any injury we may have done him; and of seeking reconciliation of him, for any offence we might have given him. Their connection with the subject of the preceding context, is obvious at the first glance. They are, indeed, the natural and conclusive inference which the Saviour draws from the spiritual nature of the sixth commandment. Now, there He shows the danger of indulging angry feelings towards a fellowcreature; and here He grafts a second duty on the firstnamely, that we should give no occasion to our brother to entertain any wrathful disposition towards ourselves. And this important counsel the Divine Teacher impressively
enforces, by the assurance that no acts of devotion to God will atone for injustice to a fellow-creature; and that no costly sacrifices, or pious offerings, presented on his altar, will be accepted, while we wilfully allow our brother to cherish a spirit of resentment in his bosom towards us. “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice," is the repeated declaration of inspired truth; and, in the text, it is strikingly exhibited. There is pure benevolence, and exquisite tenderness, in this doctrine. It breathes a spirit of divine love, and boundless benignity, worthy the sacred lips by which it was uttered, and the heart of compassion from which it flowed. Well pleased, as the "Creator of the ends of the earth" is, with the undissembled expression of homage and praise offered at his feet, he nevertheless commands his people to perform justice and mercy before they come to present their gifts on his altar. Admirable proof of his condescension and grace! He will rather for awhile forego his claims on our gratitude and thanksgivings, than suffer the spirit of unkindness and variance to exist among brethren! O what a lovely world will this become, when "this way is known in all the earth, and this saving health among all nations!" And what "fulness of joy,"—what "pleasures for evermore,"—what scenes of harmony and delight-must spread through the regions of Paradise, the residence of the God of love! Spirit of "grace and truth," "proceeding from the Father and the Son," whose power alone can make us new creatures, so apply the subject of our present meditations to our heart, as that we may finally participate of that eternal and celestial bliss with all the redeemed of the Lord!
Indulge me, my brethren, with your favourable and candid attention, while I proceed,
I. TO OFFER A FEW REMARKS EXPLANATORY OF MY TEXT; AND,
II. TO SUGGEST A FEW REFLECTIONS FOUNDed UPON THEM.
I. I PROPOSE TO OFFER A FEW REMARKS EXPLANATORY OF THE TEXT.
"Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way: first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." Now, here, observe four things: First-The offering which man is supposed to present to God. Secondly-The offence he may have given. Thirdly -The reconciliation he is commanded to seek. lastly-the duty he is then encouraged to perform.
First. The offering which man is supposed to present to God. "Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar.” The "gifts" and "offerings" which the Jews were accustomed to bring to their worship were of two kinds-those which the law required, and those which were voluntary. The first were presented on the altar of sacrifice, three times a year, at the return of their annual festivals, and on other occasions, whenever there was any particular mercy or deliverance to be acknowledged by the individual. This system of worship, originally prescribed by Jehovah, was still in full force at the time of our Lord's incarnation, and continued so until he "blotted out the hand-writing of ordinances," by his great sacrificial death on the cross. The offering thus imposed was brought by the worshipper, whenever it was to be presented, and delivered into the hand of the priest at the door of the tabernacle. The gift was of divine appointment and is distinctly specified in the book of Leviticus. In allusion to this precept, we are to understand the fact recorded in the
* See the fourteenth chapter in particular.
beginning of the eighth chapter of this same evangelist, and which occurred at the conclusion of the sermon on the mount. "When he 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." This injunction was given for these two obvious reasons-because the priest was entitled to such a gift, and it was his duty to present it to God in behalf of the recovered individual; and because our Lord would give no reasonable occasion to the Jewish priests to be enraged against him.
But I take the expression in the text to refer to the free-will gifts which were frequently introduced into the public worship of the Almighty by his people. There is reference to these in the following passage: "And the Lord called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the Lord, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock. If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will, at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord. And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering: and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him."* Now, taking the passage to refer to gifts of this description, which, however proper, were, nevertheless, at the discretion of
Lev. i. 1--4.
the worshipper, the sentiment possesses additional force. It, in effect, says, that not only their usual and appointed sacrifices would be unacceptable to God while their brother had any just ground of complaint against them; but that their uncommanded and gratuitous oblations would be utterly disregarded until they had first attempted the necessary work of reconciliation.
Secondly. The offence which he might have committed. "And there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee." Comparing this phrase "aught against thee," with one of similar import in the book of Revelation, where the Angel of the Covenant accuses the members of the Ephesian church with the loss of affection to his * we understand it to mean some serious charge of misconduct, either of unkindness or injustice. Now, as the "best of men are but men at the best," it would be expecting too much, to look for uninterrupted concord in the present imperfect state of being. There are so many clashing interests, such a vast diversity of temper, and, withal, such deceitful hearts, ever ready to lead us aside, that, but for a superintending providence over all men, it would be scarcely possible to exist. The quaint and homely comparison of an ancient expositor† is yet perfectly just; "Two flints may as soon smite together and not fire come out, as people converse together and not offences fall out." The present is a state of discipline: here our graces are to be exercised, and our virtues brought to the test; but if there were no provocations given us, where would be our patience and meekness? And if all were perfection in ourselves, where would be the occasion of self-denial; the exercise of a submissive and forgiving spirit; and, in a word, the discharge of the duty before us? I offer no apology for the evil; but I remark, that it seems a part of