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Sermons for the Christian Seasons.



Sr. Mart. v. 20. Except your righteousness shall ex

ceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

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To those who heard our Lord's sermon on the mount it must have seemed to present a strange and startling beginning for a new line of teaching. Its very first words manifested its total opposition to the ordinary opinion of the world and the passions of men ; its opposition, too, to the practice and the feelings of those who at that time were the teachers and expounders of God's law amongst His hitherto chosen people: for thus it began : “ Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And every word that followed only displayed more unmistakeably how unlike this new teaching was to any thing that had yet reached the ears of the Jews; how, while based upon the old moral law, and putting

away nothing therein contained, it yet drew therefrom very different lessons and conclusions to those which were taught by the masters in Israel, and expanded its meaning, and filled up what was lacking in ways which seemed at first quite beyond and above it.

And therefore, when the very first beginning of this teaching of our Lord had shewn its opposition to that bare interpretation of the law which satisfied the Scribes and Pharisees, the stern and emphatic condemnation of their imperfect and self-deceiving system contained in the words of my text, followed as a natural consequence. “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” But yet this must have sounded as a very hard and strange saying in the ears of the disciples and the assembled multitudes. What? could it be that heaven's gates were closed against those who were sitting in Moses' seat, and were the recognised expounders and guardians of the law which he delivered ? or that those strict and severe Pharisees, who professed to have a more perfect knowledge of that law, and to obey it more thoroughly, who looked carefully to the very smallest matters contained therein, and, while

setting an example of rigid conformity, were not sparing in their censures and condemnation of those who erred, could it be that these, too, were only “ deceiving and being deceived ;” and that all who would serve God and enter into His rest, must go through a yet narrower gate and by a still straiter way? And yet this was most certainly the case, if only that very opening sentence of our Lord's discourse, the first of the eight beatitudes, were true; for if the possession of the heavenly kingdom were the blessing reserved for the

poor in spirit, then could there be no entrance therein for the proud and self-sufficient Scribes and Pharisees, who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others. But while this warning came from our Lord's lips as a consequence of that which He had already said, it served also as an introduction to what was about to follow, even to that widening and carrying out in manifold ways of the commandments of the second table, and correcting of the maxims uttered" by them of old time,” part of which has been read for the gospel for this day.

And in this portion which has now been put before us, is given one clear instance of that higher law which was to rule the disciples of Christ, and by obedience to which their righteousness should indeed exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees. The Mosaic law had pronounced, “ Thou shalt not kill ;” and, therefore, in refraining from attempting to take the life of any one, the Pharisees supposed that they fully obeyed the commandment. Provided that the strict letter of the law was not violated, they cared not for any thing further; cared not, although its spirit might be altogether lost by their unchecked indulgence in hatred, malice, and envy towards their fellows. But now it was declared that no such bare and literal obedience could be accepted as the fulfilment of the commandment. Now He who taught, not as the Seribes, but as one having authority, laying down in His own name and by His own will, rules for the guidance of men, brings out that developement of the old precept which was re-echoed by St. John when he said, “He that hateth his brother is a murderer.” For acts of violence are but the outward tokens of the evil passion that has its abode within the heart; and while these alone can come before the eyes and attract the condemnation of men, God looks deeper, and judges the cause as well as the result. And have we not reason to fear that while He weighs our thoughts and our desires, there are many who are judged to be verily guilty concerning their brother, who yet from regard to the laws of society, from worldly circumstances and considerations, and from the fear of consequences in all their shapes, have refrained from every outward act of violence or injury? For how can those appear clean and guiltless in the eyes of Him to whom all hearts are open and all desires known, who cherish bitter passions of anger or revenge? God is love; love which is over all, and cares for all, and is not soon wearied by rejection or neglect; how then can those hope at last to dwell for ever with the Lord who for their own part live only in hatred and in strife ? God is mercy; mercy which wipes out manifold transgressions, and is ready, while even an offender but begins to call for pardon, to say, “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” Can those then hope to be embraced in the arms of that mercy who never shew that forgiveness to others which they most surely need for themselves ? To heaven we look onward as to the place where all striving is lost, all contention and bitterness unknown; the place where only love and joy and peace have their everlasting perfection. What entrance then can be found for those who have never while on earth longed and striven after that blissful state, who have not shunned quarrels, and

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