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the river. This was the inferior office of the two, although Matthew appears to have been a man of some considerable property. Now as the Jews held the Roman emperor in abhorrence, because they considered him the conqueror of their country, it was a natural consequence that they should bitterly hate those of their countrymen who would lend themselves to support his government by accepting any situation under it. Besides, these men were generally considered to be gross extortioners, and guilty of every species of oppression and licentiousness. Moreover, they held frequent and intimate intercourse with the Gentiles, which the Jews regarded as most abominable and unlawful, and as subjecting them to the guilt of violating the laws of their religion. From these causes, the word "publican," to the ear of a Jew, conveyed the sound of every thing that was bad, and they were denounced as the most worthless and injurious portion of the human race. Thus it is that we frequently find the name used in the same signification with that of "sinner," as in the passage parallel to the text: "For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners to receive as much again."* It appears, therefore, that the Saviour's meaning in these questions may be thus expressed: "The very worst of men, whom you despise with unmodified malignity, love those who love them, and are friendly towards those who are friendly to them-and, if you go no farther than this, you do no more than show that ye are men in common with others, and have none of the temper and spirit of your Heavenly
Luke vi. 32-34.
Father in your hearts." These are deeds which the brute creation, which savage tribes, which unprincipled men, will perform in their several ways, and which flow from the instinct of nature, the customs of society, and the passion of self-interest. In all these things there is no religious principle or Christian motive necessary; they are no more than what the vilest of men will readily observe and do. Let us, therefore, turn to,
II. THE EXALTED MODel of chriSTIAN CHARITY WHICH OUR LORD COMMANDS US TO IMITATE. "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
You will at once perceive, that the perfection in which we are to be like God, is a perfection of kind and not of degree. To aspire after his similitude in majesty and power, would be equally fruitless, presumptuous, and sinful. 66 He chargeth his angels with folly, and the heavens are not clean in his sight." How utterly mean and despicable are the most exalted mortals in the universe compared with him! But the moral attributes of Jehovah we are to take as our divine and perfect exemplar. Thus we are exhorted by an apostle: "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour."* Thus, as one has observed,† a candle, though its light bear no proportion at all to the light of the sun, yet it resembles it, nevertheless, in giving light; whereas darkness is directly contrary to both: so the virtues of angels and of men, though they bear no proportion at all to the adorable perfections of God, yet they resemble them, nevertheless, in being of the same nature
and kind; whereas, wickedness is, in its whole kind, a state of contrariety, opposition, and enmity. A perfect and most complete example is set before us for our imitation, that aiming always at that which is most excellent, we may grow continually, and make perpetual progress in the ways of religion; and though we can never come up to our pattern itself, yet it is sufficient that we may justly be said to become like unto God, when, as the apostle expresses it, "we are made partakers of the divine nature." Now, there are two things contained in this direction before us: the first is the clear and conclusive inference which our Lord draws from the benevolence of the Most High; and the second is the particular perfection of his character, in which we are commanded to resemble Him.
First. It is here stated that the most glorious perfection of the blessed God is beneficence and mercy. The same sentiment is expressed in various passages of the Old and New Testament. When He speaks of himself, it is "as the Lord God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger." When David speaks to Him, it is in this wise,— “For thou Lord art good, and ready to forgive; plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee."* When he addresses Him in the depths of his humiliation, this was his plea," Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions."+ To this perfection of mercy and benevolence, the gift of a Saviour to man is ascribed by our Lord: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." This attribute is described as comprising all the rest: "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him."§ All the other divine perfec
Ps. lxxxvi. 5. + Ps. li. L
John iii. 16.
I John iv. 16.
tions combine to make this perfection. He is just, holy, wise, powerful, eternal; but He is love in the abstract: this attribute includes every other. "It is this perfection," says bishop Wilkins, "which is the foundation of all worship and religion among men the reason of their prayers to Him, and their praises of Him. Without this all his other attributes would not afford any sufficient ground for our love and adoration of Him. Knowledge and power, without goodness, would be but craft and violence. He could, by his wisdom, outwit his creatures, and easily impose upon them; and, by his power, He could tyrannize over them, and play with their misery; but that He will not do thus, we are assured by his goodness. This, therefore, is so essential to God, that to imagine Him without goodness, were to imagine a God without a Deity; that is, without that which chiefly constitutes Him what He is: nay, it were to imagine, instead of a God, a worse devil; and more qualified to do mischief than any is now in the world."
Secondly. Inasmuch as this is the most glorious perfection of Jehovah, it becomes his children to make it the chief point of their conformity to Him. I say, the chief point-not the exclusive one. There are other graces to be attained, and virtues to be exercised, in order to our acquisition of this, and which are so many steps to it. Thus the Scriptures show us sundry qualities of mind in which we should strive to excel. Humility is one of these -"for he that humbleth himself shall be exalted:" and also, "whosoever shall humble himself as a little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven."* A readiness to surrender all for Christ, when required, is another: "And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or chil
• Matt. xviii. 4.
dren, or lands, for my name's sake shall receive an hun-
Now, in these respects, we are required to seek the highest degree of Christian excellence. Nevertheless, they are all but so many lovely virtues, which combine to form the Christian for the most exalted of all assimilations to God, the work of universal charity, which is always recommended to us with the greatest earnestness; pressed upon us by the most forcible arguments; and urged on our attention by "exceeding great and precious promises." Thus, St. Luke, referring to the same discourse of our Lord, instead of giving us the words of the text, says, “Be ye therefore merciful, as your father also is merciful.”++ And St. Paul, when inculcating the like duty, exhorts us, "above all these things, to put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness;"‡‡ the moral ligament by which all the