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flicted on the testimony of a competent number of credible witnesses. And the third feature in this law, was its merciful design. So far from allowing any one to gratify a malicious and vindictive feeling towards another, it was instituted for the purpose of preventing it. It restrained them from the assumption of the law into their own hand; and it still left them at liberty to abstain from insisting on the full infliction of the evil on another which they had received from him. It contemplated the entire prevention of barbarous assaults, by affording an opportunity to the aggrieved to take his complaint before the proper authorities, where he might require an exact requital of what he had suffered. There was, therefore, this difference between the Jewish law, and that of almost every other nation, in this respect. In general, when once the accused is brought before the magistrate, the plaintiff is bound over to prosecute, and the law must then take its course. The injured person may relent, and wish to forgive; but he has no power either to pardon or to punish: the amount of the penalty, on conviction, must be determined by the judge; and no one can mitigate, augment, or remit, the sentence; this must be left to the decision of his sovereign.
II. LET US CONSIDER THE ABUSE OF THIS LAW BY THE JEWISH EXPOSITORS.
And here, I remark, in few words, that, like almost every other article of their religious system, they had used it for very unworthy purposes. They applied the law which was given to regulate the punishment of offenders by the magistrate, to the conduct of individuals towards each other, an application which was never intended to be made by the original Legislator, and which was not only detrimental to the people, but reproachful to the spirit and motives of the men who could be guilty of it. It is true, they did not allow the revenge which the injured party
might privately inflict, to exceed the measure prescribed by the law; but they taught the notion, that it was highly proper and becoming to seek revenge for the smallest affront; and they superadded this clause, that the punishment might be redeemed by money. The ancient historian of the Jews expressly states it, as one of the rules by which they were governed in their civil polity, and which their rabbi professed to ground on the Mosaic institution. His words are these,-" He that maimeth any one, let him undergo the like himself, and be deprived of the same member of which he hath deprived the other, unless he that is maimed will accept of money instead of it; for the law makes the sufferer the judge of the value of what he hath suffered, and permits him to estimate, unless he will be more severe."* Now, we have no mention in the Scriptures of this permission; and it was, doubtless, one of the glosses which the Scribes taught, for some selfish object. But admitting that there were many cases in which such a compensation for any personal hurt, which one man might receive at the hand of another, and especially provided the sum to be paid had been fixed by a third party, would have been the best way of adjusting the affair; yet the evil lay in this, that they taught the doctrine of private resentment, by which means there were innumerable discords and feuds maintained to the distraction of domestic peace. The people, encouraged by their guides, thus rendered injury for injury; and, to use the homely phrase, they repaid an adversary in his own coin. This is a dictate of unregenerate nature; and, therefore, an heathen philosopher has observed that, "to be avenged of our enemies is held better in point of honour, than to be reconciled unto them."+ Saul appears to have thought the same, when he enquired, "If a man find his enemy,
See Whiston's Josephus, Book. IV. chap. VIII. sec. 35. + Aristotle.
will he let him go well away?" and he was, therefore, much surprised at the generosity of David in that respect. But, to sum up the whole, these were the palpable mistakes of the Pharisees,-they allowed the parties either to avenge themselves, or to sell off the punishment for a pecuniary consideration,—they encouraged the spirit of full retribution for the smallest injury, contrary to the meekness of piety and forgiveness,-and they did not carefully distinguish between a just defence of themselves, and a vindictive prosecution of the offender. In opposition to all this, our Lord enforces the exercise of a mild and patient temper; and urges it, as our bounden duty, to abstain from all rigorous proceedings against a fellowcreature who has done us harm; nay, even to the free and unasked remission of the fault, rather than to seek for redress with extreme penal severity. This will bring us to notice,
III. THE DIRECTIONS WHICH THE SAVIOUR GIVES US AS TO THE LAW IN QUESTION.
"But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil." Strange precept indeed! What can it possibly mean? Does our Lord require us to submit, without the least resistance, to every degree of insult and oppression? Does he bind us to abstain from the defence of our lives; the protection of our property; and the vindication of our character? Must the disciples of the Son of God permit themselves to be murdered, and their estates confiscated, by every assassin who would imbue his hands in their blood, and wrest from them their possessions? Can this be the meaning of a precept delivered by the wise, and gracious, and benevolent Founder of the Christian religion? Impossible! Such a supposition would be a libel on his goodness and mercy,
* 1 Sam. xxiv. 19.
because it is opposed to every principle of right and wrong, is at variance with common justice, and would inevitably bring distress and ruin on every individual who should carry it out into action.
What, then, do these words inculcate? Simply this-this— that we are not to repay one injury with another. Dr. Doddridge renders the precept thus,-" Do not set thyself against the injurious person;" and goes on to remark, "that if our Lord had meant to intimate that we should rather suffer ourselves to be murdered, and our families ruined, than resist the villain that attempts it, He would have laid down so strange a precept in the strongest terms; and it is very unreasonable to infer it from this passage which speaks of so trifling an injury as a slap on the face, or sueing a man for the value of his cloak. And if it be asked, whether we are universally forbidden to resist on these occasions? I answer, we are, unless we be in our consciences convinced, that, in present circumstances, to stand on our defence will be more for the public good; and, in those cases, this particular precept is superceded by the general law of universal benevolence."* Thus the command of our Lord is directly against the original law, however judicially observed, and recinds the permission given to the Jews on the subject of public revenge.
Now, before I proceed to the brief explanation of the several directions which the Saviour gives us, I take the liberty to offer a remark, on the necessity of comparing Scripture with Scripture, and any given passage, with the occasion on which it was delivered, and the particular circumstances to which it refers, in order to a right understanding of it. And this observation is never more necessary to be remembered than in our endeavours to attain the true meaning of the several injunctions contained in
* Doddridge's Family Expositor, in loco.
this sermon on the mount. Thus, if a man were to take the precept literally, "Swear not at all," as some men have taken it, and refrain from all judicial oaths, they ought, to be consistent with themselves, to take the precept in the same unlimited signification, which bids us“ give to him that asketh," and never refuse any application for relief— either as to the amount desired, or the character of the person who solicits it. But this would be impossible; and serves to show us, that we must determine the true sense of a passage, by viewing it in connection with the general tenor of divine truth. Remember this direction,
in your attention to the following particulars.
First. As it respects personal assault. “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." The spirit of this precept is thus explained and enforced by an apostle, "Recompense to no man evil for evil;"* and in another epistle, "See that none render evil for evil unto any man, but ever follow that which is good." To understand the words of the text in their letter would be perfectly absurd: for would it either be safe or expedient in case a man should strike one cheek, that you should invite him to smite the other also? Could any good end be answered by such an act? Nay, would it not rather be a provocation to induce him to give a second blow? But we have the meaning disclosed by the conduct of our Lord himself. The case here described actually occurred on his own trial before the High Priest. "And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the High Priest so?" Now what did the Saviour upon this? Did he invite the man by any attitude to repeat the blow? Did he literally turn" the other cheek also?" No; but he dispassionately expostu
Rom. xii. 17.
+ 1 Thess. v. 15.
John xviii. 22.