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world, in like manner the disciples are employed to dispel the moral darkness of mankind by communicating to them the knowledge of God, and exhorting them to the practice of the Christian virtues.
The Subject continued.
MY DEAR NIECES,
At the time when our Lord delivered his admirable discourse on the mount, various opinions prevailed in the world, respecting the changes that would take place during the government of the Messiah. Some were inclined to believe that he would set aside the ancient religion, and introduce a new one in its place. It appears that the Jewish teachers made an important distinction between the greater and lesser precepts of their law. But our Saviour assures them, that he was not
come to destroy the law and the prophets, but so fulfil them ;" and that, “ till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”
To an audience which had been accustomed to admire the piety of their pharisaical teachers, our Lord declares, “ that except
your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” That is, except ye, my hearers, interpret and observe the moral law in a more perfect manner than the scribes and pharisees, ye shall have no share in the kingdom of the Messiah. Our Saviour's declaration must have greatly surprised his hearers, if the proverb, which has since prevailed, was of so ancient a date ; for it has been commonly said by the Jews, “ that if but two men were to enter into the kingdom of God, one of them would be a scribe and the other a Pharisee."
Our Lord proceeds to mention several instances of the low standard of the rule of righteousness, which the scribes and pharisees taught and practised ; and shews, that their interpretation of various particulars in the moral law was grossly defective and corrupt. The first thing which he notices is, their sentiments on the sixth commandment, which probibits murder. This crime the Jewish teachers confined entirely to the outward action of maliciously slaying a person, by a
man's own hand; and supposed, that he who was not guilty in this respect could not have offended against the divine law. But Christ cxhibited the true spirit and intent of the commandment, and declared, that he who indulges himself in unreasonable anger, and reviling language, transgresses this law. The different degrees of punishment made use of by the Jewish nation, are supposed to be referred to by our Saviour in the twenty-second verse of the chapter.
The Judgment appears to stand for the lowest court of justice among the Jews, consisting of twenty-three persons, and belonging to every considerable city or town in Judea. They had the power of inflicting punishment upon criminals, who were to be either strangled or beheaded.
The Council refers to a higher court, usually called the Sanhedrim, which consisted of 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.
The last and highest degree of punishment named, is hell fire. This last punishment corresponds to the burning in the Valley of Hinnon, a spot formerly polluted by parents who sacrificed their children to the idol Moloch. The place, consecrated to this cruel and abominable rite, was called Tophet ; and the spot in which it was situated, the valley of the son of Hinnon, or Gehenna. In the same spot, the Jews, in after times, kept continual fires, to burn the dead carcasses which were carried thither out of the city of Jerusalemn, in order to pullute it, and to prevent it from being applied to the same wicked purpose as before.
(To be burnt with the fire of Gehenna, came hence to be used as a proverbial expression, for the most dreadful terments, and, in process of time, for the punishment of the wicked in another life.
Our Lord proceeds, and enjoins on bis audience, " that should they bring their gift to the altar, and there remember, that a brother has aught against them, to leave their gift before the altar, and first be reconciled to their brethren.” That is, when we have injured any person, speedily to repent of our sin ; and suffer no employment, not even the offering of a vol