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Sinner to cast off a long-indulged evil habit, and lead henceforth a virtuous life. Of the difficulty of this task we can form some faint conception from the fact that it is compared in Scripture to the “plucking out of a right eye, or the cutting off of a right hand," which, we know, must be two excrutiatingly painful operations. Let not, then, the Sinner be discouraged, by this expression, from undertaking the good work of repentance and reformation. Let him not suppose that he wants the ability to accomplish it. Let him make an effort—a willing-a determined—a long-continued effort, and I am satisfied, by God's blessing, that he will gain the victory over his spiritual foe. The effort, I know, may be difficult-must be difficult; but then the very arduousness of the undertaking will make the merit of success the more great and glorious.
2. Another instance may be found in the Book of Hosea, vi. c. and 6 v., where God says to the Jews: "For I desired mercy and not sacrifice.” Here is clearly an Hyperbole. This verse would seem to assert that the Almighty disapproves of sacrifices entirely, whereas such was not the fact. Under the Mosaic dispensation the Deity was " well pleased" with sacrifices and burnt offerings, and strictly required them at the hands of the Israelites ; yet, this passage, if taken in its literal acceptation, would make Him declare that he would not have at all those very sacrifices which he repeatedly assured them were acceptable to him -- which he commanded them faithfully and statedly to offer-and for any neglect of which he invariably reproved and punished them! This declaration which is thus unreasonable and inconsistent, if taken in its widest acceptation, is perfectly true and beautiful when anderstood with those limitations which reason at once suggests and approves. The word “mercy," as here employed, does not mean, what we generally understand by it, “pity" or "compassion": it denotes active benevolence; and the Almighty here uses it to press upon the attention of the Israelitish people
who were too much disposed to make the whole of religion to consist in outward ceremonies, to the neglect of the weightier matters of the law, justice and benevolence - the important and salutary truth thathe preferred mercy to sacrifice that whilst burnt-offerings were good enough in themselves as being proofs of their worship and obedience, still that he was better pleased with the performance of a single benevolent action than with the strictest observance of mere rites and forms.
This great truth, I fear, would require to be impressed upon the minds of many in the present day as well as upon the Jews of old. Too many, alas, fancy that they have performed the whole or the greater part of their duty when they have regularly attended upon the public ordinances of Religion, whilst they are lamentably deficient in the supreme concern of love to God and benevolence to their brother man This is not as it should be. These men are but substituting the shadow for the substance. Let them bear in mind that a single cup of cold water given to a fainting brother, from a benevolent motive-that one tear of compassion shed over the woes of a fellow-creature—that a single mite cast into the coffers of poverty “for the love of God"—that a single thorn plucked, with tender hand, from the bleeding foot of life's weary pilgrim, is more pleasing unto Him who “prefers mercy to sacrifice” than the “ uplifted eye or bended knee.”
3. In our Saviour's Sermon on the Mount we have another passage of the class to which I refer. “ Take, therefore, no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself: sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Matt. vi., 34.) This advice, if literally adopted and acted on, would lead to ruinous consequences. The passage as it here stands would make our Saviour to have taught his primitive disciples, and us through them, the dangerous and most pernicious doctrine that we are not to be provident and industrious—that we are to take not the least thought for the morrow-that we are to remain, like the sluggard, with our arms folded and our minds completely free from care-that we are to be as careless about onr raiment as the lilies of the field-that we are to make as little provision for our sustenance as the wild birds of the forest! Had our Saviour really inculcated so injurious a lesson as this passage, if taken literally, would make him to have done, he would have inculcated a doctrine, not only unreasonable in itself, but wholly at variance with all the other teachings of Holy Writ; for, I know of few duties more frequently or earnestly insisted on, in the Scriptures, than Forethought and Industry. Now, in endeavouring to arrive at the true meaning of this passage, we must not hesitate to use the reason that God has given us : we must confine the advice within reasonable and proper limits, and then will all its seeming extravagance at once fade away and disappear. When Christ says “take no thought for the morrow," his meaning evidently is “ take not too much thought for the morrow"-be not overanxious about the future ; for, sufficient unto the present day are the cares and trials and troubles which each day brings along with it, without distressing ourselves with those cares and vexations which more properly belong to some future period.” A moderate anxiety about the future is not only becoming, but absolutely necessary. Life is a state of busy exertion ; and we must be thoughfal and careful if we expect to get through it in honesty and respectability. The man who neglects or refuses to look forward to the future and diligently to provide for it, will experience but few comforts. To him, life will be one uninterrupted succession of embarrassments. Unless he sows in Spring, there will be no beauty in Summer, no fruit in Autumn, and no hoarded stores in Winter. Yet, let not man, who believes in a Providence, be over-anxious about coming days. Let him not distress himself with unnecessary fears and forebodings, and imagine that he beholds "faint and far away in the distance" evils which are fast approaching, and must, ere long, arrive, and thus render his days more gloomy and his nights more dark than they would otherwise be. No ; let him rather ascend Mount Pisgah, and as he looks forward with the eye of Christian faith and hope, he will see that the land which lies before him is a “land of promise"—that, although clouds and vapours may occasionally obscure the prospect, they will eventually be dispelled by the beams of Divine benignity and love.
4. In the Gospel by Luke we have another very striking instance of the Hyperbole. Jesus says, “ If any man come to me and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple"! So, according to this literal rendering, it would seem to be necessary for us, in order to be genuine Christians, to sever ourselves from those we love and by whom we are beloved—to spurn the friends of our dearest affections—to give up all that makes life worth the possessing! Were such really the case--were it absolutely necessary for me, in order to be a Christian, to hate the father who toiled for me, the mother who fondled my infancy on her knee, and the brothers and the sisters who grew up with me, side by side, and whose countenances shed a light through the home of my childhood, then would I have no hesitation in declaring “ I shall be no follower of Jesus!” The holier and tenderer affections of my nature would for ever restrain me from attaching myself to his cause : the sacrifice would be too great for me to make, the friends would be too dear to be thus arbitrarily given up. But, blessed be Almighty God, no such sacrifice is required at our hands -no so severe a wrench are our affections doomed to endure. We may love our
kindred with an affection that only death can destroy, and yet be privileged to sit at Jesus' feet, or lean upon his bosom. All that is required of us is, that whilst we love our friends well we shall love Christ better-so that should friends ever attempt to stand between us and what we believe to be truth and duty, we must maintain our integrity at all hazards—we must follow the dictates of our own consciences, no matter whom it may please or whom it may offend.
The Evangelist Matthew thus explains these words of Christ, for, in the parallel passage he represents Jesus as saying “He that loveth father and mother more than me is not worthy of me." To hate our friends, therefore, only means—not that we are really to hate them, but that we are to love them less than Christ statement which is perfectly reasonable and fair, and which our judgment cheerfully adopts and approves.
The duty here inculcated is one which requires to be brought prominently forward and strongly insisted on, in times like the present, when diversity of opinion on religious matters is dividing and distracting families, and when many are hesitating as to whether they will follow friends or follow Christ. If we can worship God in the way which our mind approves, and, at the same time, maintain the esteem and love of our relatives, it is well; but, if they are disposed to cast us off, or look coldly upon us, unless we conform our religious convictions to the standard which they have arbitrarily set up, let us not hesitate for an instant as to the course we ought to pursue. Preserve their good opinion if you can do it with a clear conscience; but, if this may not be, then come at once to the honourable resolution, that, let others do as they may, as for me, I will follow unswervingly the onward and upward path of truth and duty.
5. Another instance of over-statement may be found in one of the exhortations which Paul gives to the Thessalonians (Thes. V.-17), where he says, “ Pray without ceasing." If this advice were to be obeyed, not in the spirit, but to the letter, it would be most unreasonable. Prayer, though highly important, is not the only nor the chief business of human life. Men have to act, as well as to pray ; whereas, were they to be always absorbed in devotion, they would not have time to discharge the other and not less necessary errands on which they are sent into this world. All that these words really mean is that men should have a prayerful habit—that they should cultivate a devout frame of mind—that they should be in earnest about the concerns of eternity—and that they should live as becometh those who dwell in tabernacles made of clay, and who know not what a day or even an hour may bring forth. Habitual seriousness is becoming, in creatures destined for immortality, and who believe that, sooner or later, they will stand before the Judge Infallible, to receive according to their deeds. When I think of Death, and Judge ment, and Eternity, I wonder how men can be otherwise than devout. The narrow house the long sleep-the resurrection mornthe trumpet's blast-the Bar—the Judge--the Book opened—and the awful sentence pronounced; these are things which should deeply impress the most obdurate and careless heart, and make us all thoughtful and solemn.
6. In Matt. v., 39-40, we have a great and salutary maxim Hy. perbolically expressed: “Resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also ; and if any inan will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also." Were men strictly to follow out this rule, in the concerns of every day life, it is to be feared that property would often change bands, and that many would forget the distinction between “ mine and thine." The meek and inoffensive man, I should think, would soon discover that his wardrobe was becoming rather scanty, whilst the rogue and the thief would be “ wearing fine clothing and faring sumptuously every day!" This maxim, however, is not to be thus literally construed. Christ never taught or intended to teach, such a glaring absurdity. The whole drift of his discourse is to caution men against being vindictive and revengeful - that men, when insulted, are to forgive an injury, and not to be looking for every opportunity to retaliate. In matters of property, he tells us (what every man who has gone into courts of justice has assuredly found out) that it would be better for us to sustain loss in small matters, than to be at the trouble and expense of going to law to settle the dispute. How reasonable and commendable is this advice when properly modified, yet how extravagant and ridiculous is it in all its length and breadth! Alas! that the world should have practically learned so little of its spirit. Alas! that men professing to be guided and controlled by the precepts of Jesus, should be so pertinacious in asserting what they are pleased to call their "rights," and thus rush into courts of law upon every slight offence. Better far would it be for tbem to suffer trifling injuries—to lose an occasional coat or cloak-than to put themselves within reach of that legal whirlpool which swallows up the great majority of those who come within its seductive influence. There is a certain anomalousness about the law which should restrain men from heedlessly entering