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Our Saviour observes, Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill. This is one of the commandments of the moral law; to which the tradition of the elders seems to have added the sanction that follows, And whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. Such persons shall be called to account before an earthly tribunal; which is more dreaded by many than the tribunal of God; though it will be found hereafter that the tribunal of God is more to be feared than any earthly court of judicature; as our Saviour taught, when He said to His disciples, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do: but I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear Him, which after He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear Him.92 How much more then is the judgment of the tribunal of God to be dreaded, than that of any earthly power.
But our Saviour, in order to afford the right interpretation of the Divine commandment which He had repeated, added, But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment. He assured them that causeless anger is incipient murder ; and that it exposes to condemnation at the tribunal of God, as much as murder ren
92 Luke xii. 4, 5.
ders a man liable to the judgment of a human court of judicature. And He declared further, that whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the Council. As the Council was the supreme court of judicature among the Jews, it was esteemed a more fearful thing to be brought before its bar, than to be cited before the ordinary tribunals. This may intimate that using opprobrious epithets in anger, and thus giving way to the evil passions of the mind, exposes to greater punishment than their first motions in the bosom; or, that the greater sin will meet with greater punishment. It is therefore our bounden duty to check the first risings of evil in the mind, before its overt-acts appear, and so proceed from bad to worse. Our Saviour added, Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. The epithet here used is one that is expressive of the bitterest contempt. It means much more than is commonly understood by the word fool. The admonition therefore intimates, that the man who is so transported with passion and rage beyond all bounds, as to apply such a term to his brother, proves himself to be a fit companion for the prince of darkness; and in his conduct acts in anticipation of the employment of that dire abode, where gnashing of teeth93 is spoken of as the hopeless indication of inward torment. There is nothing that makes a man look so like a fiend, as rage. Let us guard against its first motions, that we may not be transported by it into a state of wrathful excitement which may prove ungovernable, and destructive to both body and soul. But the last expression has been considered to refer especially to rage against true religion, and to a charge of folly against the people of God, who evince a preference for the concerns of eternity above those of time, or of this present evil world. Scoffers who manifest such enmity to God, as to be enraged against His servants, and to vilify them, clearly prove themselves to be in the utmost danger of everlasting perdition.
93 Matthew xiii. 42.
The conduct which our Lord Jesus Christ here condemns seems, however, to be that of persons who join in the same profession of religion, as He uses the term brother in reference to the person who is evil spoken of; and He makes this inference from what He had before said, Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee ; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. This is the course which will be
pursued where that humility exists which is the characteristic of all the children of God; and without which a profession of religion is vain.
In many things we all offend 94 and if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.95 When therefore we are sensible that we have injured a brother, it becomes us to make the best amends in our power. to seek his forgiveness to whom we have given offence, and to desire an entire reconciliation with him. And unless it be our disposition to do this, in vain is it for us to think that we can be acceptable worshippers of God. He accepts not the proffered services of those who nourish in their hearts a spirit of enmity against their brethren. We must be “in charity with all men,” if we would be acceptable worshippers at the mercy-seat.
Our Saviour subjoins, Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him ; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the Judge, and the Judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Here a reason is assigned for speedy reconciliation with those to whom offence has been given by the indulgence of an angry spirit. If the child of God be grieved by the ill-usage with which he is treated, or the opprobrious names with which he is assailed; he may make his complaint to the Judge of all the earth, who is the Avenger of His servants, and will ultimately plead His and their cause, 96 to the confusion of the enemies of His church. And when the Judge shall take the matter into His own hands, He will execute the awful sentence of His righteous law on all who transgress it. His enemies will be cast into the prison of hell, from which there will be no deliverance. Verily, I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing. The penalty of sin can never be paid, and therefore those who shall suffer it will be without hope of deliverance from their prison house. This is an awful subject. May the consideration of it influence us earnestly to flee from the wrath to come ;97 and to avoid every thing which leads to so dreadful a result as that which has been described.
94 James iii. 2.
93 1 John i. S.
Let us now direct our attention more particularly to the first verse of the Gospel for this day, which has been selected for the text. Jesus said unto His disciples, Except your righteousness shall exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. Here we learn not only that positive transgression excludes men from heaven; but also that a righteousness is required, in order to our admission there, of a more excellent kind than that of which the scribes and Pharisees of our Lord's day boasted their possession. Let us inquire
96 Proverbs xxii. 23.
97 Matthew iii. 7.