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In fact, our Lord's discourses all tend to show, that God, who is a spirit, must be worshipped in spirit, and in truth, and that we must not draw nigh and honour him with our lips, while our hearts are far from him. But it was the special design of the longest of his recorded sermons to free the moral law from the glosses and traditions with which it had been encumbered by those blind guides, who, instead of being the guardians of the commandment once delivered unto them, had become its corruptors. Considering it merely in this light, without any reference to its value as a manual of practical piety, it is of peculiar importance as a model for a Christian preacher in its specification of the holy dispositions and graces which, cultivated together, and cherished by a daily and progressive growth, make the man of God perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works. This is the moral superstructure which it is the peculiar province of the Gospel to establish on that foundation which was laid in Christ.
Indeed, were it necessary to single out any one particular excellence, as the characteristic feature of the sermon ,on the mount, it would seem to be spirituality, as distinguished from the lifeless and formal teaching of the scribes and expounders of the law. There is nothing in it but what is grave, edifying, important, befitting alike the character of the speaker, and the condition of the hearers. It comes stamped with all the official weight of a divine interpretation of divine precepts. It remains as the authorized exposition of the manner in which God intends his own word to be understood; and from the mode of instruction here adopted on those subjects into which our Lord enters, it is safe to reason analogically respecting the points on which revelation is silent.
Yet this discourse has met with a singular, reception. Either its value in a general point of view, as a pattern of spiritual comment on the divine will, has been depreciated owing to a misunderstanding of the circumstances under which it was delivered, -or it has beerr unduly magnified by an exclusive preference and veneration to the detriment of other parts of Holy
Scripture. While some, overlooking the fact that the apostles were not yet chosen from among the disciples, have supposed its precepts to be addressed solely to the apostles, and to be binding on them alone, others, on the contrary, have denied that any doctrine or command which is not contained in it, can be obligatory on Christians at large, or essential to be, received
: This is not the place to inquire into the consequences arising from either of these errors; but it may not be superfluous to remark, that one of the greatest obligations which the world owes to Christ, considered merely in his office as a teacher, is the new criterion which he has afforded in this discourse for forming a moral judgment on men and things, the new touchstone which he has appointed for the trial of the human conduct, by spiritualizing the dispositions of the heart, and directing attention to propensities and motives, as well as to overt actions. Hence it has arisen that there are certain moral precepts, as well as the sublimer doctrines of the Gospel, which are due to revelation, and can be learnt through that medium alone.
The law of retaliation has been held allowable by all nations, and even the Mosaic code established the legitimacy of the principle by enjoining the sacrifice of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But what is the language of the teacher sent from God?' I
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 cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain 3.'
Again; the Jewish doctors sanctioned the indulgence of batred, provided only it were cherished against an enemy- but the exceeding broad commandment of God, as it is well termed by the Psalmist, inculcates not the love of friends only, a feeling which might be prompted by the innate affections of human nature even in its fallen state, but the forgiveness and love even of our very foes and persecutors. “I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you .'
3 Matt. v. 38-41.
So too that old commandment which the Jews had from the beginning, was so enlarged in respect of extent, by the better promises through which it was renewed, and the example given for its fulfilment, that our Lord does not hesitate to call it a new commandment, though not actually so, either in letter or effect 5.
To the same source, and to that alone, must be ascribed that preference of humility and lowliness to honour and distinction which the Gospel inculcates throughout; as well as that injunction to repress an overweening affection for earthly objects, which is so contrary to the line
4 Matt. v. 43-48.
John, xiii. 34, compared with 1 John, ii. 7, 8.