Page images

rality, it is very remarkable.

As a founder of a new religion, it shews that he did not try to conciliate men's prejudices by any concession to their wishes or vain imaginations; as a moralist, it shews that his morality was not “common-place,” but pure, upright, and“ very original.”

Having in the commencement of this discourse given his disciples a correct view of the true spirit of his religion, of the dispositions which ought to accompany it, and of the reward which it will bring with it, our Saviour next proceeds to give them a correct interpretation of the commandments which, through Moses, they had been enjoined to observe. It has been already mentioned, that the Jews, while they obeyed these laws in the letter, had forgotten them in the spirit; and it is thus that our Saviour proceeds to set them right, and to go to the bottom of the wound. “ Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, thou shalt not kill; and because ye do not commit actual murder, ye think that ye obey this commandment; but I say unto you, whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, whosoever cherishes in his heart the feelings of envy, hatred, and malice, indulges in those passions which, in the end, may lead to murder. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, thou shalt not commit adultery; but I say unto you, whosoever yields to lust or depravity of any sort, is not guiltless of this commandment. Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt not forswear thyself; and provided that ye do not actually take a false oath, ye think ye are safe; but I say unto you, that whosoever pronounces a light or frivolous oath of any sort is guilty before God. Ye have heard that it has been said, thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you, love your enemy, do good to them that hate you, and bless them that curse you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on

the just and on the unjust. Be ye,

therefore, perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Here again, we may say, is no “commonplace morality;" and no slight knowledge of human nature. We all know that, if the passions are permitted to have their sway, the actions can scarcely be kept under control. But our Saviour goes to the principles of things; he orders us to control our passions, to govern our tempers, to regulate our affections, and that then we may have every hope of restraining our actions. Whether the precept be considered as divine or human, its justice can never be controverted, its prudence can never be opposed.

Our Saviour, after this, proceeds to comment on the manner in which the several duties of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting should be performed. “Take heed that

ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them, otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven."

“ When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are, for they love

to pray standing in the corners of the synagogues, and in the streets, that they may be seen of men; verily, I say unto you, they have their reward.”

" When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance ; for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast; verily, I say unto you, they have their reward.” Here, again, we see our Lord going to the principles of things, looking back to their motive and original. As in the former case, he told his disciples that the attempting to abstain from vice, without subduing the passions which lead to it, was but of little avail, so does he, now, tell them that the ostentatious

performance of even good actions, if they are merely meant to obtain approbation from men, and do not spring from the only true source, the heart, are but of little profit. He does not undervalue the duties of almsgiving, of prayer, or of fasting ; but he says, if they are done publicly, for the sake of the praise of men, they have their reward in that praise (all that the doers of them seek), and consequently are entitled to no reward from heaven. But the true almsgiving he tells us is that which arises from the love of man for the sake of God. The true prayer is that which is silently poured out from the heart to the Father of all mercies. The true fasting, that which is intended, and is effectual, “ to subdue the flesh to the spirit:" these duties, when thus performed, are real virtues ; thus are they really acceptable to God and profitable to man.

It is in this place that, lest we should want words with which fitly to express our desires to our heavenly Father, he has given us that beautiful form of prayer, which we call “ the Lord's prayer,” which, whether we consider the comprehensiveness or the brevity of it, the importance of the supplications, the solemnity of the addresses, the sublimity of the expressions, and the spiritual tendency of the whole, shews evidently its divine source, and proves, in the clearest manner, that he who uttered it was “ truly the Son of God.”

In the latter part of this discourse, our Lord proceeds to tell his hearers the

« PreviousContinue »