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MATTH. Chap. V.
Our blessed Lord having by his miracles tftablished his divine authority, and acquired of course a right to the attention of his hearers, and a powersul influence over their minds, proceeds in the next place to explain to them in some degree the nature of his religion, the duties it enjoins, and the dispositions it requires. This he does in what is commonly called his sermon on the mount; which is a discourse of considerable length, be. ing extended through this and the two following chapters; and we may venture to say it contains a greater variety of new, important, and excellent moral recepts, than is any where to be found in the same compass. At the same time it does not pretend to give a regular, complete, and persect system of ethics, or to lay down rules for the regulation of our conduct in every possible instance that can arise. This would have been an endless taste, and would have multiplied precepts to a degree that would in a great measure have deseated their utility and destroyed their efsect.* Our Lord took the wiser and more impressive method of tracing out to us only the great outlines of our duty, of giving us general principles and comprehensive rules, which we may ourselves apply to particular cases, and the various situations in which we may be placed.
He begins with discribing thofe dispositions and virtues which mark the Christian character, in which the Gofpel peculiarly delights, but which the world despises and rejects.
"Blessed, says he, are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom1 of God.
* Vid John, ni,
Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted,
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be silled.
Blessed are the mercisul, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God.
- "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you salsely for roy sake: rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven."*
It is evident that our Lord here ment at the very outset of his public instructions, to mark at once in the strongest and most decided terms the peculiar temper, spirit, and character of his religion; and to shew to his disciples bow completely opposite they were to all thofe splendid and popular qualities which were the great objects of admiration and applause to the heathen world; and are still too much so even to the Christian world. "There are (as a very able advocate for Christianity well observes-)-) two oppofite characters under which mankind may generally be classed. The one possesses vigour, sirmness, resolution, is daring and active, quick in its sensibilities, jealous of its same, eager in its attachments, inflexible in its purposes, violent in its resentments.
The other, meek, yielding, complying, forgiving} not prompt to act, but willing to suffer; silent and gentle under rudeness and insult; suing for reconciliation where Others would demand satissaction; giving way to the pushes of impudence; cqnceding and indulgent to the preju* Matth. v. 3—ia. f Dr. Paley, V. ii, p. 30.
dices, the wrongheadedness, the intractability of thofe with whom he has to deal."
The former of these characters is and ever has been the favourite of the world; and though it is too stern to conciliate affection, yet it has an appearance of dignity in it which too commonly commands respect.
The latter is, as our Lord describes it, Jjumble, meek, lowly, devout, mercisul, pure, peaceable, patient, and .unresisting. The world calls it mean-spirited, tame, and. abject; yet, notwithstanding all this, with the divine Author of our religion this is the savourite character; this is the constant topic of his commendation; this is the subject that runs through all the beatitudes. To this he as. signs, under all its various forms, peculiar blessings. To those who possess it, he promises that they shall inherit the earth ; that they shall obtain mercy; that theirs shall be the kingdom of heaven; that they shall see God, and shall be called the children of God.
The recommendation of this character recurs frequently in different shapes throughout the whole of the sermon on the mount, and a great part of that discourse is nothing more than a comment on the text of the beatitudes.— On these and a sew other passages which have any thing particularly novel and important in them, I shall offer fome observations.
But before I quit this noble and consolatory exordium of our Lord's discourse, I shall request your attention to one particular part of it, which seems to require a little explanation.
The part I allude to is this: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
The blessing here promised to the meek, seems at sirst sight somewhat singular, and not very appropriate to the virtue recommended.
That the meek of all others should be destined to inherit the earth, is what one should not naturally have expected. If we may judge from what passes in the world, it is those of a quite opposite character, the bold, the forward, the
active, the enterprising, the rapacious, the ambitious, that are best calculated to secure to themselves that inherits amce. And undoubtedly, if by inheriting the earth is mear.t acquiring the wealth, the grandeur, the power, the property of the earth, these are the persons who generally seize on a large proportion of those good things, and leave the meek, and the gentle far behind them in this unequal contest for such advantages. But it was far other things than these our Lord had in view. By inheriting the earth, he meant inheriting thofe things which are, without question, the greatest blejjtngt lipon earth, calmness and compofure of spirit, tranquilify, cheersulness, peace and comfort of mind. Now these, I apprehend, are the peculiar portion and recompence of th e meek. Unassuming, gende, and humble in their deportment, they give no offence, they create no enemies, they provoke no hostilities, and thus escape all that large propordon of human misery which arises from disserfsions and disputes. If differences do unexpectedly start up, by patience, mildness, and prudence, they disarm their adversaries, they soften resentment, they court reconciliation, and seldom sail of restoring harmony and peace. Having a very humble opinion of themselves, they see others succeed without uneasiness, without envy: . having no ambition, no spirit of competition, they seel no pain from disappointment, no mortisication from deseat. By bending under the storms, that assail them, they gready mitigate their violence, and see them pass over their heads almost without seeling their force. Content and satisfied with their lot, they pass quietly and silently through the crowds that surround them; and encounter much sewer dissiculties and calamities in their progress through lise than more active and enterprising men. This even tenor -pf lise mayjndeed be called by men of the world flat, dull, and insipid. But the meek are excluded from no rational pleasure, no legitimate delight; and as they are more exempt from anxiety and pain than other men, their sum total of happiness is greater, and they may, in the best sense of the word, be sairly said to inherit the earths