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LUKE x. 36, 37.
Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell amongst the thieves ?...and he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
N the foregoing verses of this chapter, the evan
and tempted JESUS, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life ?....To which inquiry, our SAVIOUR, as his manner was when any ensnaring question was put to him, which he saw proceeded more from a design to entangle him, than an honest view of getting information....instead of giving a direct answer, which might afford a handle to malice, or at best serve only to gratify an impertinent humor....he immediately retorts the quesfion upon the man who asked it, and unavoidably puts him upon the necessity of answering himself ....And as, in the present case, the particular profession of the inquirer, and his supposed general knowledge of all other branches of learning, left no room to suspect he could be ignorant of the true answer to his question, and especially of what every one knew was delivered upon that head by their great Legislator,....our SAVIOUR therefore refers him to his own memory of what he had found there in the course of his studies..... What is written in the law? how readest thou? Upon which the inquirer, reciting the general heads of our duty to GoD and man, as delivered In the 18th of Leviticus, and the 6th of Deuteronomy,....namely....That we should worship the Lord our God with all our hearts, and love our neigbor as
ourselves; our-blessed SAVIOUR tells him, he had answered right, and if he followed that lesson, he could not fail of the blessing he seemed desirous to inherit..... This do and thou shalt live.
But he, as the context tells us, willing to justify himself....willing possibly to gain more credit in the conference, or hoping, perhaps, to hear such a partial and narrow definition of the word neighbor, as would suit his own principles, and justify some particular oppressions of his own, or those of which his whole order lay under an accusation....says unto JESUS, in the 29th verse....... And who is my neighbor? Tho' the demand, at first sight, may seem utterly trifling, yet was it far from being so in fact. For according as you understood the term in a more or a less restrained sense....it produced many necessary variations in the duties you owed from that relation. Our blessed SAVIOUR, to rectify any partial and pernicious mistake in this matter, and place, at once, this duty of the love of our neighbor upon its true bottom of philanthropy and universal kindness, makes answer to the proposed question, not by any farfetched refinements from the schools of the Rabbies, which might have sooner silenced than convinced the man....but by a direct appeal to human nature, in an instance he relates of a man falling among thieves, left in the greatest distress imaginable, till by chance a Samaritan, an utter stranger, coming where he was, by an act of great goodness and compassion, not only relieved him at present, but took him under his protection, and generously provided for his future safety.
On the close of which engaging account, our SAVIOUR appeals to the man's own heart in the first verse of the text....Which now of these three thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell amongst the thieves and instead of drawing the inference himself, leaves him to decide in favor of so noble
a principle, so evidently founded in mercy....The lawyer, struck with the truth and justice of the doctrine, and frankly acknowledging the force of it, our blessed SAVIOUR concludes the debate with a short admonition, that he would practise what he had approved....and go and imitate that fair example of universal benevolence which it had set before him.
In the remaining part of the discourse, I shall follow the same plan; and therefore, shall beg leave to enlarge, First, upon the story itself, with such reflections as will rise from it; and conclude, as our SAVIOUR has done, with the same exhortation to kindness and humanity which so naturally falls from it.
A certain man, says our SAVIOUR, went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his raiment, and departed, leaving him half dead.....There is something in our nature which engages us to take part in every accident to which man is subject, from what cause soever it may have happened; but in such calamities as a man has fallen into thro' mere misfortune, to be charged upon no fault or indiscretion of himself, there is something then so truly interesting, that at first sight we generally make them own, not altogether from a reflection that they might have been, or may be so, but oftener from a certain generosity and tenderness of nature which disposes us for compassion, abstracted from all considerations of self: So that, without any observable act of the will, we suffer with the unfortunate, and feel a weight upon our spirits, we know not why, on seeing the most common instances of their distress.....But, where the spectacle is uncommonly tragical, and complicated with many circumstances of misery, the mind is then taken captive at once, and, were it inclined to it, has no power to make resistance, but surren
ders itself to all the tender emotions of pity and deep concern......So that when one considers the friendly part of our nature, without looking farther, one would think it impossible for a man to look upon misery, without finding himself, in some measure, attached to the interest of him who suffers it.....I say, one would think it impossible....for there are some tempers....how shall I describe them ?....formed either of such impenetrable matter, or wrought up, by habitual selfishness, to such an utter insensibility of what becomes of the fortunes of their fellow-creatures, as if they were not partakers of the same nature, or had no hot or connection at all with the species.
Of this character our SAVIOUR produces 'two disgraceful instances, in the behavior of a priest and a Levite, whom in this account he represents as coming to the place where the unhappy man was.....both passing by, without either stretching forth a hand to assist, or uttering a word to com fort him in his distress.
And, by chance, there came down a certain priest- Merciful GOD! that a teacher of thy religion should ever want humanity-or that a man, whose head might be thought full of the one, should have a heart void of the other!.... This, however, was the case before us.... And tho' in theory, ene would scarce suspect that the least pretence to religion, and an open disregard to so main a part of it, could ever meet together in one person.....yet, in fact, it is no fictitious character.
Look into the world-how often do you behold a sordid wretch, whose strait heart is open to no man's affliction, taking shelter behind an appearance of piety, and putting on the garb of religion, which none but the merciful and compassionate have a title to wear? Take notice with what sanctity he goes, to the end of his days, in the same selfish track in which he at first set qut....turning
neither to the right hand nor to the left.....but plods on....pores all his life long upon the ground, as if afraid to look up, lest peradventure he should see aught which might turn him one moment out of that strait line where interest is carrying him; ...or if, by chance, he stumbles upon a hapless object of distress, which threatens such disaster to him............like the man here represented, devoutly passing by on the other side, as if unwilling to trust himself to the impressions of nature, or hazard the inconveniencies which pity might lead him into upon the occasion.
There is but one stroke wanting in this picture of an unmerciful man, to render the character utterly odious, and that our SAVIOUR gives it in the following instance he relates upon it.....And likewise, says he, a Levite when he was at the place, came, and looked at him. It was not a transient oversight, the hasty or ill-advised neglect of an unconconsidering humor, with which the best disposed are sometimes overtaken, and led on beyond the point where otherwise they would have wished to stop...No on the contrary, it had all the aggravation of a deliberate act of insensibility, proceeding from an hard heart. When he was at the place, he came, and looked at him.....considered his misfortunes....gave time for reason and nature to have awoke.....saw the imminent danger he was in....and the pressing necessity of immediate help, which so violent a case called aloud for ;....and, after all...turned aside, and unmercifully left him to all the distresses of his condition.
In all unmerciful actions, the worst of men pay this compliment, at least, to humanity, as to endeavor to wear as much of the appearance of it, as the case will well let them ;...so that in the hardest acts a man shall be guilty of, he has some motives, true or false, always ready to offer, either to satisfy himself or the world, and Gon