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precept upon precept. In our days how fully has every branch of moral duty been defined! how clearly are many points important to our happiness in relative and social, as well as in political life, which were scarcely adverted to in the remote ages, now laid down, and understood! How do we stand indebted to CHRIST, the great sun of righteousness, for introducing that moral light which has so greatly illuminated these latter ages of the world.
May we walk worthy of it. May we be as exact in our practice, as we are instructed in the details of morality, as well as in the articles of our faith. May we remember that the darkness is past; and that we are children of the light and of the day. May we not walk in darkness. May every mark of that inferior state of morals, which characterized the ancient times, be done away. And in particular, may the laws of marriage be upheld by our government, and respected by our people.
ST. MATTHEW, V. 33-37.
Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:
Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the Great King.
Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
But let your communication be, yea, yea; nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
OUR SAVIOUR here prohibits common and profane swearing. Is it then possible, that this vice can have place among those who call themselves Christians? He explains himself clearly by naming several kinds of profane
ness which were in use in His days; and He forbids both these and all similar asseverations, adding, "Let your communication be yea, yea, and nay, nay;" that is, let your conversation consist, as much as possible, in plain yes and no, in simple affirmation and denial, "for whatsoever is more than this cometh of evil."
It is melancholy to reflect how little this precept of CHRIST is regarded; and it may be useful to inquire, how it happens, that a sin so distinctly forbidden, and producing so little profit, is so common in a Christian land.
Profane swearing has prevailed in various countries and ages. The heathen abounded much in oaths; as the books now extant, which describe their familiar conversation, most clearly show; and we need not wonder, that the names of the gods and demi-gods, whom they worshipped, should have been used as expletives in ordinary discourse Divinities like these were not likely to excite the smallest degree of reverence in the mind. The Jews, who lived at the time of CHRIST, appear to have fallen into the same habit of swearing. As the heathens swore by their temples and altars, so the Jews seem to have sworn by the temple at Jerusalem, and by other things sacred in their worship. The Pharisees had tolerated, and in some degree regulated, this profane habit. They forbad some oaths, and capriciously allowed of others, as appears from the twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew. They seemed to have pleaded Scripture in favour of this permission; as if the precept which commanded men to perform unto the LORD their vows, authorized common swearing, and a general disposition to trifle with serious things.
Our SAVIOUR Corrects this error of the Pharisees; and, in correcting it, He promulgates a new law on the subject. He lays down his rule so strictly, that some sects in our country (not sufficiently attending, as we think, to the style of spiritual language, and to the spirit of this precept) have supposed that an oath taken in a judicial cause is prohibited among Christians.
The ground on which CHRIST rests his present prohibition, is the point to which I would call your attention. We are not to swear, He says, "by Heaven, because it is God's throne; nor by the earth, because it is His footstool." He thus points out to us, that reverence for God ought to prevent profane swearing,-reverence, I mean, for that Gop who made heaven and earth; and who ought not to be confounded with the gods of the heathen; and who should be had in honour by all those who profess to call upon Him.
Here then we discover the root of that profaneness which is now so common among Christians. GOD is not honoured by us. Though He is the Creator of all things; though He is the preserver of our lives; though He is the source of all our hopes both in this world, and the world to come; though He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; though He has abounded towards us in all goodness and mercy; yet we feel little reverence for Him. We trifle, we sport with His sacred name, as the heathen did with the names of their Jupiter, their Hercules, and their Apollo. He is to us what their gods and demi-gods were to them. We profess, indeed, like the Jews, to worship the true JEHOVAH; but, like the Jews, we show, by the levity with which we treat sacred things, that we are a nation of degenerate and nominal worshippers. Our profaneness, indeed, is more criminal than theirs; because we have clearer light than they had; we have also a most plain and strict injunction given us in this passage against the very sin in question.
Let us then fear to provoke GOD by the breach of this commandment. Let us reverence His name; and, for His sake, respect every thing which is holy. Let us even reprove, as far as becomes us, all profaneness in others. Let plainness and simplicity characterize our conversation. Let us avoid every kind of needless asseveration. Let us cultivate calmness of temper and seriousness of mind; thus shall we be kept from every breach of this commandment.
ST. MATTHEW, V. 38–42.
Ye have heard, that it hath been said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite
thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee; and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
OUR SAVIOUR, in this passage, proceeds to explain in what manner the righteousness of his followers was to exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees. “Ye have heard,” says He, "that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." This law of exact retaliation had been given to the Jews by GoD, in His character of their lawgiver and king. It was the law, according to which the Jewish judge was to deliver sentence against offenders; it was not a rule intended to authorize revenge among private individuals; though it probably was so construed by the Scribes and Pharisees. They seem to have interpreted that part of their civil law,-which, by saying an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, prescribed a principle of exact justice to the magistrate-as sanctioning the sentiment, that justice is all which is required of men in their individual capacity; and as justifying every one in exacting in all cases the utmost extent of his due.
CHRIST forbids this construction of the Mosaic law; and He subjoins some precepts of a contrary nature, which are extremely characteristic of His religion. "But I say unto you," says He, "that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the
other also." Certainly, expressions of this kind are not to be taken literally: but let us beware of an altogether loose interpretation. Let us not in this respect imitate the Pharisees. They interpreted the Old Testament in such a manner as to favour their own corrupt prejudices: let us not bend the New to our crooked and imperfect practice.
The meaning of all those strong expressions of our SAVIOUR, which we are now considering, may be thus explained. It is, as if He had said, "Think not because the law hath declared, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, that it will justify that spirit of private resentment and retaliation which it is made to do. Such indeed is the perverse turn given to it by your Scribes and Pharisees. But I am come to prescribe to you a far higher rule of duty. I teach that a man not only must not resent injuries, and demand reparation to the utmost, but must learn patiently to endure injuries, and to forbear from any revenge whatever. "I SAY UNTO YOU THAT YE RESIST NOT EVIL." There must be such a spirit in my followers, that however great may be the ill-treatment which they receive, they must be willing quietly to suffer it; as much so as if, when a man were to smite thee on the right cheek, thou wert to turn to him the other also. Revenge is utterly excluded out of my code. The law of My Kingdom is that of the free forgiveness of each other.
Neither must ye be tenacious in any respect of that which is your own. Ye must be of so free and liberal, of so gentle and peaceable, of so kind and disinterested a spirit as to be ready to yield your clearest right, if any good be to be done, as it often is, by renouncing it. man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat,” care not for it, be not eager to defend thyself; "let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go with him a mile," (instead of becoming resentful and illhumoured, as men thus unreasonably treated commonly do,) thou, that art my disciple, be willing freely to "go with him twain." And again, "Give to him that asketh of