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CHARACTER OP CHRISTIANS AND CHRISTIAN MINISTERS Matt. v. 13—16.
Vkb. 13. Ye are the salt of the earth, kc.—This character, I conceive, applies to the disciples, Loth as Christians and as Christian ministers. There are three things observable.
First: Their use as a preservative.—The world is corrupt, and if left to itself, would, in a little time, work its own ruin: but, as the Lord of hosts had a seed in Israel, who otherwise would have been as Sodom and Gomorrah, so he has a people scattered over the towns, cities, and nations of the earth, who to them are that which salt is to a substance tending to putrefaction. The influence which a few people, who imbibe the gospel, and act up to its principles, have upon the consciences and conduct of others, is much beyond calculation. Had the ruling powers of France been friendly to the servants of Christ, in the seventeenth century, it might have prevented the horrors of a revolution in the eighteenth: but having destroyed or banished them, nothing was left to counteract the torrent of infidelity; which, being natural to the carnal mind, and cherished by popery, had before risen to a great height, and now overwhelmed the country. Humble and serious Christians, though often accused of being inimical to civil government, are in reality its best friends; while those governments which persecute them are their own enemies.
Secondly: Their value, as consisting in their savour.—There are many things, which though useless for one purpose, yet may be very useful for another: but things which, by possessing only one distinguished property, are designed for a single specific purpose, if that property be wanted are good for nothing. It is thus with the vine, as to bearing fruit. If other trees were barren, yet their trunks might be applied to various uses: but if a vine 'be barren, it is good for nothing but to be burnt. Ezek. xv. 1—0. The same may be said of salt. Many things which have ceased to be good for food, may yet be useful for manure: but salt, if it once lose its savour, is good for nothing: it is fit for neither the land nor the dunghill. And thus if Christians lose their spirituality, or Christian ministers cease to impart the savour of the heavenly doctrine, of what use are they? of what in the family— of what in the church—of what in the world?
Thirdly: Their irrecoverable condition, on having lost their savour. It is true all things are possible with God; but where persons, after having professed the name of Christ, and in some cases preached his word, turn back, or go into another gospel, there is little hope of them, and indeed none from the ordinary course of things. Salt may recover unsavoury meat; but what'is to recover unsavoury salt?
Ver. 14—16. Ye are the light of the world, Sic.—This character implies that the world, notwithstanding its attainments in science, is in a state of darkness; and that the only true light that is to be found in it, is that which proceedeth from Christ. It may seem too much to our Saviour to give that character in his disciples, which he elsewhere claims as his own. The truth is, He, as the sun, shines with supreme lustre, and they as the moon, derive their light from Him, and reflect it on the world. As ministers, it is for them to show unto men the way of salvation; and as Christians, to set the example of walking in it. On this account they require to be conspicuous. There is indeed, a modesty in true religion, which, so far as respects ourselves, would induce us to steal through the world, if possible, unnoticed: but this cannot be; Christians being diverse from all people in their principles and pursuits, all eyes will be upon them. They are as a city set upon a hill, which cannot be hid. Their faults, as well as their excellencies, will be marked both by friends and enemies. Nor is it desirable it should be otherwise. Light is not intended to be hid. but exposed for the good of those about it. On this acount we must even be concerned to let our light shine before men; not by any ostentatious display of onrselves, but by a practical, and faithful exhibition of the nature and effects of the gospel, by which our heavenly Father is glorified. It is not merely by words, hut works, that gospel light is conveyed to the consciences and hearts of men.
There is another saying of our Lord in another place, nearly akin to this, though under a different image. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bring forth muck fruit: so shall ye be my disciples. The glory of a husbandman does not arise from his fields or vines bearing fruit, but much fruit. A few ears of corn in the one, nearly choaked with weeds, or here and there a branch, or a berry on the other, while the greater part is covered with leaves only, would rather dishonour than honour him. And thus it is in spiritual fruitfulness. A little religion often dishonours God more than none. An undecisive spirit, halting between God and the world, walking upon the confines of good and evil, now seeming to be on the side of God, and now on that of his adversaries, cause3 bis name to be evil spoken of, much more than the excesses of the irreligious. Hence we may see the force of the rebuke to Laodicea. I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. It is also intimated, that without bearing mush fruit we are unworthy to be considered as Christ's disciples. He was indeed a fruitful bough. His life was filled with the f'uits of love to God and man. It behooves us either to imitate his example, or forego the profession of his name.
The glory of God being manifested by the good works of his children, implies that they are all to be ascribed to him as their proper cause. Though we act, he actuates. A mind set on things too high for it may deny the consistency of this with the free-agency and accountablencss of creatures: but the bumble Christian will turn it to a better use. Thou wilt ordain peace for .us, for thou hast wrought all our works in vs.
Ver. 17--19. It might appear to some of our Lord's disciples, as if he intended to set aside the religion which had been taught by Moses and the prophets, and to introduce an entirely new state of things. It was true indeed that he would abolish the ceremonial law, and explode all dependence upon the works of any law for acceptance with God, as indeed Moses and the prophets had done before him; but it was no part of his design to set asid6 the law itself. Being about to correct various corruptions which had obtained among the Jews, he prefaces what he has to say, by cautioning them not to misconstrue his design, as though he were setting himself against either Moses or the prophets, neither of whose writings were at. variance with his kingdom, but preparatory to it. So far from his having any such design, he, with the most solemn asseveration, declares the law to be of perpetual obligation. Such also was his regard for it, that if any one, professing to be a minisiter in his kingdom, should break the least of its precepts, and teach others to make light of it, he should be as little in the eyes of his Lord, as the precept was in his eyes: while, on the contrary, those ministers who should practise and inculcate every part of it, should have his highest approbation.
Ver. 20. Having made these declarations by way of introduction, (and to which we may have occasion hereafter to refer,) our Lord proceeds to denounce the system of pharisaical religion, and to exhibit in contrast with it that of Moses and the prophets; which, purified from all corrupt glosses, he recommends to his followers. In general he declares,, that except their righteousness exceed that of scribes and pharisees, they could in no case enter the kingdom of heaven. This, at the time, must have been a most extraordinary and alarming declaration. The scribes and pharisees were the reputed models of strict religion. The common people seem to have thought, that men in general could not be expected to attain the heights of purity to which they had arrived. If, therefore, any had attached themselves to Jesus, in hopes of obtaining a little more latitude than was allowed them by their own teachers, they would find themselves greatly mistaken. For not only did he inculcate an equal, but even a superior degree of strictness to that which they practised. Nor did he, by righteousness, mean that which was imputed to them for justification; but that judgment, mercy, and love of God, of which the scribes and pharisees, with all their tenacity for forms and ceremonies, were wofully destitute.
In proof of the gross defectiveness of the pharisaical system ef morality, he goes on to account for it, by convicting its authors of having by their glosses, in a course of time, greatly corrupted the law: and this must have cut the deeper on account of an attachment to the law being their principal pretext for opposing him.
Ver. 21, 22. The first example alleged is the sixth commandment, Thou Shai.t Not Kill. All that the pharisees understood by this, was a prohibition of the act of murder: but our Lord insists that the commandment, taken from its true intent, prohibited not only the overt act, but every evil working of the mind which led to it; such as causeless anger, with contemptuous and provoking language. This was going to the root or principle of things. The different degrees of punishment here referred to, allude doubtless to the courts of justice among the Jews; and express not merely what sin was in itself as a breach of the divine law (for in that sense all sin exposes to hell fire J; but how many degrees • of evil there were, short of actual murder, which would endanger a man's salvation.
Ver. 23, 24. Of this doctrine our Lord proceeds to make some Dractical uses, by applying it to certain cases. First, he enforces evtedy reconciliation with an offended brother. 'Be sure there be