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was the purpose of Christ's mission to explain, confirm and perfect them; the smallest precept cannot be violated or weakened without disgrace and injury to the person by whom this is done. The most rigid observance of ceremonies, while we neglect the great duties of morality, will not procure us admission into the kingdom of heaven. Let us learn, therefore, to respect precepts' upon which so much stress is laid, in what are deemed the most trivial instances; and remember that a degree of disobedience which would be excuseable in a heathen or a Jew, will be ruin to a Christian.
Matthew v. 21----50. · 21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, rather, " to them of old,” thou shalt not kill, and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of, “ shall be liable to," the judgment.
Christ, having told his disciples, in the preceding verse, that unless their righteousness exceeded the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, that is, that degree of righteousness which they, in their expositions of the law, required, they should in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven, here proceeds to mention several instances in which their instructions were grossly defective or corrupt. The first thing which he notices is their sentiments on the sixth commandment, which prohibits murder. This crime they confined entirely to the outward action of maliciously slaying a man, and supposed, that he who was not guilty in this respect could not have offended against the divine law: but Christ declares, that he who indulges himself in unreasonable anger or reviling language, which often lead to murder, transgresses this law, and, although he may escape punishment from
men, will be punished with a degree of severity by God in a future world proportigned to his guilt. This is the general meaning of this passage.
22. But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, i. e. with any person, without a cause, shall be liable to the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother Raca, without a cause; for this is to be understood with the two last clauses of the verse, as well as with the first; will be liable to the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, or, “ Moreh,” for the Syriac word ought to have been retained here as well as in the former instance, will be liable to hell fire, " the fire of Gehenna."
The judgment, mentioned in this verse, seems to mean the lowest court of justice among the Jews, consisting of twenty-three persons, and belonging to every considerable city or town in Judæa. They had a power of inflicting capital punishment upon criminals, and put them to death with the sword. The Council signifies a higher court, usually called the Sanhedrim, which consisted of seventy or seventy-two persons, the members of which were called elders. Before this court crimes of a more atrocious nature were brought; and the criminal, when convicted, was sentenced to be stoned to death. In the preceding instances Christ refers to visible and temporal punishments, such as were familiar to the Jews, whom he was addressing: it is highly probable therefore that he intends some visible temporal punishment, when he declares, that he who says, Thou apostate, or Moreh, will be liable to the fire of Gehenna: what this fire was is well ascertained.
It is well known that the Jews in ancient times, imitating the idolatrous practices of their neighbours, used to burn their children in a slow fire, by inclosing them in a heated image of the God Moloch; drums and cymbals beating all the time, to drown the cries of the expiring infant. The place consecrated to this cruel and abominable rite, was called Tophet; and the valley in which it was situated, the valley of the son of Hinnom, or Gehenna. In the same place the Jews in after-times burnt the dead carcases which were carried thither out of the city of Jerusalem; in order to pollute it, and to prevent it from being applied to the same wicked purposes as before. To be burnt with the fire of Gehenna, came hence to be used as a provcrbial expression for the most dreadful torments, and, in process of time, for the punishment of the wicked in a future state. It is in this latter sense that the phrase is commonly used by Christ and his apostles; but, upon the present occasion, he seems to have in view only temporal and visible punishment. Willing to shew the people, that there were different degrees of punishment for wicked men in another world, according to the nature of their offences, he employs a similitude for explaining the matter, borrowed from the different kinds of death which were known to the people, and which varied from each other in the degree of misery inflicted: beginning with the punishment of the court of judgment, and ending with the burning in the valley of Hinnom. • The offences here mentioned rise one above another in enormity. The first is being angry with a person without causé. Christ could not mean to condemn all kind of anger; for sometimes it is the indignation of a virtuous inind, and proceeds from a love to our brethren, or a concern for the honour of the Supreme Being: but he has in view such anger as exceeds the occasion which produced it; as is accompanied with hatred to those who have given us offence; or such as is of long continuance, and settles into malice; those who indulge themselves in anger of this kind, although they may not suffer any thing from human laws, yet will be exposed to that punishment from God in a fu
ture life, which shall correspond, in the degree of severity, to the inferior punishment inflicted by the court of judgment.
The next degree of guilt is where our anger breaks forth into actions, and produces reviling language; leading us to call men by such harsh and unworthy names as are signified by the word Raca. This is of Syriac origin, and cannot be translated by one word into our language; but it signifies a light man, sceptical in matters of religion, and inclined to become an unbeliever. He who applies this language rashly, and without reason, is guilty of a higher offence, and shall be liable to a severer punishment in a future life, corresponding to the higher degree of punishment inflicted by the Sanhedrim.
The last and highest offence is calling our brother Moreh; meaning, not a fool, as our translation has it, (for Christ himself uses that term when addressing the Scribes and Pharisees, and it is not more abusive than the preceding) but a rebellious person, or an apostate from true religion. In this sense the word was often applied to the Jews, by God or the prophets, when they fell into idolatry, or were guilty of some great wickedness. For this kind of language, when applied by a Christian to his brother without reason, the highest degree of punishment is reserved; such as corresponds to the burning in the valley of Hinnom.
Of all these kinds of offences the Scribes and Pharisees made light in their teaching and practice, as Christ and his apostles learnt by experience; for they did not scruple to call them by the most odious names which they could invent.
23. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother, any person, hathought against thee, i. e. any thing whereof he may justly complain ;
24. Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way ; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
The connection of these words with the preceding seems to be this: since wrath and reviling language are so offensive to God and so dangerous to you, let it be your first and principal care to avoid every such offence: but if, through human infirmity, you fall into this sin, your next business is to atone for it by an early repentance, which may be done if you, who have first offended, are the first to acknowledge the offence, and to adopt the means of reconciliation; and that so speedily, that there shall be no employment, however specious, not even offering a gift upon the altar, which wou are not willing to defer till a reconciliation is ac
plished. Christ here teaches us likewise that the duty of benevolence is to be preferred to ritual observances; since the one is to be neglected till the other ·be performed. The contrary doctrine was that of the Pharisees and lawyers; for they taught that gifts brought to the altar would expiate all offences which : the judges did not punish; and even without reformation.
25. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whilst thou art in the way, rather, is on the way," with him, i. e. to the magistrate, least at any time, or, « least,” the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, or executioner of the law, and thou be cast into prison;
26. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means, or, “thou mayest