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but rather to triumph; for so they treated the teachers of the truth and the embassadors of God in past ages, with whom it is an honour to be ranked; and in proportion to your sufferings here, will be the greatness of your reward in heaven.
A prophet generally signifies a person who, by divine assistance, foretels future events; but sometimes it means, both in the Old and New Testaments, any person who delivers moral and religious instruction, although not possessed of a power of revealing any thing future. Thus Abraham is called a prophet; for God tells Abimelech, “ He is a prophet, and shall pray for thee.” In this sense the word seems to be used on the present occasion; for Jesus is now addressing himself to the whole body of his disciples, who were not all endowed with miraculous gifts, but were all teachers.
1. Christ, after the example of David in the first psalm, or of that person who collected the psalms into one book, begins his instructions with pronouncing those happy who observe them; hereby teaching us the great end of religion, and the best method of inculcating its precepts upon others. The design of the gospel of Christ is to make' men happy: all its precepts are calculated to remove, from individuals or societies of men, the causes and sources of trouble, and to communicate to them ease and joy, either in this world or in the next. They derive their value and excellence from their tendency to produce these effects; nor can the friends of Christianity more effectually recommend it to mankind, than by shewing the favourable influence which it will have upon their happiness; for this is a motive which has the greatest weight with he human race, and is equally adapted to the feelings of the wise and ignorant; for all desire to be happy, and value things in proportion as they are supposed to lead to that end. Christ has, therefore, shewn himself a wise instructor, by claiming a regard to his precepts upon this foundation; nor can any one do religion a greater injury, than by representing it as an enemy to our happiness. This happiness, however,
2. Is of a very different nature from what the men of the world call by that name: they esteem the rich, the great, the gay, the victorious, happy; those who live at ease and who are able to gratify all their passions without restraint; but those whom Christ calls so are the meek and the contented, the merciful and the penitent, the peaceful and the persecuted. Whose sentiments then shall we follow? The opinion of the world or the opinion of Christ? Is it not better to renounce the hope of wealth and greatness, of reputation and sensual indulgences, in order that we may receive mercy from God, be esteemed his children, inherit his kingdom, and behold his glory?
9. Christ esteems those happy who hunger and thirst to know the way of righteousness, since their ardent desires shall be satisfied.
Here is encouragement then for those who diligently study the scriptures; who are anxious to understand their meaning; and who spare no pains that may be necessary for this purpose. They discover a temper which Christ approves, and are pursuing a course which, he has declared, will have a happy issue. They shall obtain a satisfactory knowledge of that way of righteousness and salvation about which they are inquiring: but those who are indifferent to the truth, who take up the religion of their fathers, or the religion of their neighbours, without enquiry or examination, are not included in this beatitude. God does not usually bless those with the knowledge of the truth, who take no pains to search it out.
4. The Christian religion enjoins upon those who embrace it, the most amiable and useful virtue; a merciful, meek and peaceable temper. Yet the professors of this peaceable religion, which is so admirably calculated to prevent or to heal troubles, and to keep the world quiet, were opposed and persecuted, as Christ foretold, as the disturbers of the peace of society, and those who turned the world upside down by their doctrines. Those who hold principles equally mild and equitable, and whose behaviour is alike peaceable, in the present day, ought not to be surprised or offended if they are treated in the same manner: so persecuted they the teachers and prophets that went before them.
Lastly, I shall conclude these reflections in the words of Dr. Blair, in his sermon upon the first verse of this chapter; in which it is said that Christ, seeing or observing the multitudes, went up into a mountain; whence he concludes that he adapted his discourse to what he observed to be the temper of his hearers:
“ I shall observe but one thing more,” says he, “from our Saviour's looking on the multitudes: namely, that, if this sermon was made upon his observing the present state and circumstances of the people, this ought to be a good example both to pastors and people. To pastors, that, in the choice of their subjects, and the manner of handling them, they have the circumstances of their hearers chiefly in their eye, and adapt their discourses to their necessities and edification: and then to the people, that they take no offence when necessary, free and useful truths are delivered to them; though ever so contrary to their worldly interests and expectations; but that they learn to suffer the word of exhortation, and not only to suffer it, but to apply it to their own edification and salvation.”
Matthew v. 1S----20.
13. Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted ? rather, “ seasoned ?" It is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.
Salt, in the hot climate of Judæa, was so necessary a thing, that no meat undressed could be preserved sweet, though but for a short time, without it: frequent allusions are made to salt in the New Testament, in this view*. Christians are here compared to this useful substance; for as salt preserves animal food from putrefaction and corruption, rendering it wholesome and pleasant to the taste, so Christians, having received the knowledge of true religion, were intended by God to be the means of preserving purity of morals among mankind, by their example and doctrine: and as salt which has lost this preserving quality is regarded as useless, and thrown away, so Christians, if, instead of being qualified to correct and reform others, they need reformation themselves, will not answer the purpose of Providence, and will be rejected as insipid salt, or the vilest substances. By this comparison it is plainly intimated, that Christians ought not to take their rule of life from other men, but endeavour to lead the way by their own example; that it was their duty to study to reform mankind, and not to expect to be amended by them.
14. Ye are the light of the world : a city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
15. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
It is a common thing for rock salt, when exposed to the air in hot countries, to lose its acid. Benson's Life of Christ, p. 391. from Maundrell.
16. Let your light so shine, rather, " in like manner let your light shine” before men, referring to what was said before, and not to what follows, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven:
When Christ calls his disciples the light of the world, he means, that as God made use of the sun to give light to the natural world, so he employed Christians to enlighten the world of mankind; by communicating to the ignorant a just knowledge of God and their duty; by convincing those who were mistaken, of their errors; and by raising men who were immersed in vice, to the practice of Christian virtue. There are two considerations which Christ makes use of, in order to prevail upon them to comply with this purpose
of divine Providence: the former is, that they need not exert themselves to draw upon them the eyes of mankind; for their profession as Christians would render them sufficiently conspicuous, like a city set upon a hill; so that they might enlighten the world without any trouble: the other is, that the light which they possess was bestowed upon them with this express design, that it might be communicated to others; for as those who light a candle do not endeavour to cover it up, but place it in a situation where it may best afford light; so God had bestowed upon them the light of revelation, not merely for their own personal benefit, but likewise for the use of all those by whom it might be wanted. In the same manner then as men employ material light, let Christians use that which is spiritual; making it to shine upon all around them; the happy consequence of which will be that others, observing the doctrines of the gospel, and the good effects which they produced upon their conduct, will be led to embrace them, and profess themselves Christians likewise.
To glorify God, commonly signifies to praise him; but it seems to mean here, believing in the gospel of Christ, by doing which much glory is brought to