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Of the moral Discourses of our Saviour, and
of the Allusions contained in them to the Opinions and Habits of the Jews.
MY DEAR NIECES,
Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount contains the purest sentiments of religion and virtue which ever enlightened the world; and, considered in connexion with the opinions and habits of the Jewish nation, its excellence appears with peculiar lustre. It was admirably adapted to rectify their mistaken ideas respecting the Messiah's character; to reprove their vices, to purify their hearts, and to prepare them to acknowledge him, whom to know aright is life eternal.
Previously to our Saviour's delivery of this excellent discourse, he ascended a mountain, as probably no building could contain the multitudes who flocked around him. John the Baptist had already pointed him out as
the Messiah ; and his stupendous miracles had persuaded many, that he was the mighty King, whom the prophets had foretold should reign in righteousness. Many of those who were assembled at this time, probably expected that this wonderful personage, whom they had seen perform astonishing miracles, would soon proclaim himself the Messiah, and establish a tenporal kingdom.
Our Lord introduces his discourse with several short sentences, in which be pronounces a blessing upon those who possessed certain virtues and pious dispositions. “Blessed (says he) are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” That is, those who are of an humble, teachable disposition. To be poor in spirit, may also mean to be free from an inordinate love and desire of riches; and patiently to bear a state of indigence, if it is allotted to us by Providence. It implies, too, that if we are rich, we should cheerfully resign our possessions, should Heaven require them of us. None destitute of this disposition could become the disciples of our Lord, and " leave all to follow
him.” Therefore it is repeatedly required and recommended by our divine Instructer.
This temper of mind is the very reverse of that which actuated those of the Jewish nation, who, expecting that their Messiah would be a powerful temporal prince, entertained hopes of being elevated to posts of honour and opulence during his government, These notions were so deeply riveted, that the sons of Zebedee, even after they were the chosen disciples of our Lord, requested, " that one might sit on his right hand, aod the other on his left, in his kingdom.” But our Saviour reproved them for their ambitious views, by his own example, and strongly recommended the virtue of humility to the imitation of his followers.
With the possession of universal dominion, affluence, and honour, under their Messiah, the Jews expected that a scene of festivity and rejoicing would prevail, during his triumphant reign. But our Lord, knowing their extreme depravity as a nation, and foreseeing the miseries they were about to suffer, taught them a different lesson, “ Blessed (says he)
are they that mourn, for they shall be conforted.” That is, in the midst of their afflictions, they shall find peculiar consolation in the enjoyment of the Messiah's spiritual reign; while those who have no higher objects in view, than the possession of power, riches, honour, and earthly pleasure, under a temporal prince, shall find their expectations blasted, and be involved in the ruin of their country. God, he assures them, will comfort those who mourn, for the sufferings they endure in his cause, and hereafter they will rejoice forever in the mansions of eternal felicity.
The Jews considered a military spirit as essential to their subduing the Romans, and acquiring a universal empire under the Messiah. But our Lord enjoins a spirit entirely opposite to this, both in its principles and effects. He pronounces a blessing upon “the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Here our Saviour alludes to the words of David in the Psalms. 66 Yet a little while and the wicked shall not be, but the meek shall inherit the earth.” These words relate to a quiet possession of the land of Canaan. And it is to be observed, that, after our Lord's death and resurrection, those Jews who rejected the Gospel, by their seditious and wicked behaviour, ruined themselves and their country ; while those who had embraced the Christian religion, and were of a meek and peaceable disposition, retired from Jerusalem, as Christ had warned them to do, before the siege; and after the city was destroyed, returned, and dwelt there in tranquillity.
Our Saviour does not promise to the meek the possession of wealth, power, and worldly honours ; nor indeed are these things their ordinary portion. But his meaning seems to be, that they shall enjoy mental composure ; and that, by the providence of God, the necessaries of life, without contention, disquiet, or remorse, will usually be the blessing bestowed upon them. They will possess that calmness and resignation, under all the afflictions they are called to suffer, and that cheerful and grateful temper of mind in prosperous circumstances, which constitute the greatest blessings on earth.