Page images

them that are entering to go in.” Even when we stray farthest from the way of holiness, our heavenly Father looks upon us in our wanderings, with a “countenance more in sorrow than in anger.” Such must have been the feeling of Jesus, when animadverting on the wickedness of the Jewish teachers. He was “the image of the invisible God,” and must therefore have afforded a manifestation of this divine perfection. Hence, we do not consider he here addresses his foes in the language of threatening, much less, as our translation would declare were the illipsis restored, in the language of a wish, “ Woe be unto you.” On the contrary, we agree with those scholars who suppose the Greek should be rendered Alas for you! Scribes and Pharisees.” This ejaculation of sorrow is nearer akin to the habitual emotions of him, who wept over the sins and approaching chastisement of Jerusalem. By the “ kingdom of heaven” in this verse is meant, as usual, the Gospel dispensation. The Scribes and Pharisees would not themselves embrace the Gospel; on the contrary, they openly opposed it and its inspired Promulgator; thus, by their example, they deterred the people from embracing the religion of Jesus, inquiring (John vii. 48)



of the Scribes or Pharisees believed on him?” They accomplished the same purpose, by endeavouring to prove that Jesus had not a divine commission, because he violated the Sabbath (John ix. 16); and by attributing his cu of the demoniacs (or insane) to the influence of Beelzebub (Matt. xii. 24). They even, on some occasions, excommunicated those who had received the Gospel; “ for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess he was the Messias, he should he cast out of the synagogue (John ix. 22).” By these and like means did they "shut up the kingdom of heaven against men.” We, of this country and generation, have not to learn how easily the multitude are retained in false opinions, and prevented from receiving true doctrine, by the influence of those whom they are accustomed to respect for their worldly station, their posed wisdom, or their assumed sanctity.

Verse 15: “Alas, for you! Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him two-fold more

[ocr errors]

supthe child of Gehenna than yourselves.” During, and for some time preceding the public ministry of the Master, the Jews strained every nerve to make proselytes to their religion. Josephus informs us, that when Hyrcanus conquered the Idumeans, he permitted them to retain occupation of their territory, on condition of their conforming to the Jewish faith; and that they, for the sake of the consequent privileges to be conferred upon them, readily acceded to his proposal. The same historian furnishes us with a detailed account of the conversion to Judaism of Helena, Queen of Adiabene, and her son Izates. It would almost appear, that there was an especial desire to convert persons of eminent rank, great possessions, or vast influence, for the sake of the pecuniary favours they were able to confer; and to this fact Jesus may have tacitly alluded, when he so reproaches the Scribes and Pharisees for their proselytising propensities, into which the desire of individual gain and applause entered probably as leading ingredients. This anxiety of the Jews to gain accessions to their faith, was so prevalent and remarkable, that it attracted the attention even of the heathens, and seems to have passed into a proverb. Horace appears to allude to it (Lib i. Sat. 4):

“ Will force you, like the proselyting Jews,

To be like us.”_FRANCIS. These new disciples were "two-fold more the children of Gehenna,” than their masters. Most proselytes, indeed, are distinguished for their fiery and persecuting zeal. This is particularly the case, if they have assumed a new set of opinions for the promotion of their worldly interests, for the purpose of winning favour from the great, or popularity from the lowly. Knowing themselves to be insincere, and fearful lest their true motives should be detected, both by those they have forsaken, and those they have joined; they deem it needful to uproot these humiliating suspicions, by an affectation of unusual attachment to the new sentiments. As vilifying, and, if the age will permit, torturing those who differ from us, is the easiest way to convince the world of our love for our own sect, persecution is generally a characteristic of the unconscientious proselyte. Far be it from us to insinuate that such are the feelings and conduct of all who

change their religious sentiments: those who change from a love of truth and righteousness, from a regard to conscience and to God, are worthy of all estimation, and deserve to be reckoned among the upright of the earth. It is those who change, from a regard to wealth, power, or enjoyment, of whom we speak; and to show that our present acquaintance with human nature, will explain why it was that these Pagans, whom the Scribes and Pharisees had proselytised to Judaism, should exceed their masters in blind zeal for the law of Moses, and in virulent hostility to anything which sought to supplant it. The records of history testify to the fact alluded to by the Anointed. Justin Martyr, one of the early fathers, in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, declares that “the proselytes did not only disbelieve Christ's doctrine, but were abundantly more blasphemous against him than the Jews themselves, endeavouring to torment and cut off the Christians wherever they could; they being, in this, the instruments of the Pharisees.”

The Redeemer next condemns the doctrine of the Jewish teachers, respecting the lawfulness and unlawfulness of certain oaths. To swear “by the Temple,” was nothing; but they were bound, if they swore « by the gold of the Temple;" to swear " by the Altar," was nothing; but they were bound, if they swore “by the gift on the Altar!” These opinions are a mixture of absurdity the grossest with impiety the most hideous; and must ave had their origin in a desire of the Jewish clergy, to open a door for systematic perjury. Jesus states the Gospel decision regarding the validity of oaths. No equivocation, no mental reservation, no immoral distinction of the binding nature of some oaths beyond others, is then admitted. If we have sworn, no matter by whom or by what, so as to induce others to credit our testimony, and yield confidence to our promises; and if we testify falsely, or do not fulfil our engagements, we are perjured.

Verse 23: “Alas, for you! Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other nndone.' Their conscience was of the nature so frequently possessed by men, that they could not, without a feeling of horror, neglect any even of the unprofitable externals of religion; while they had no scruples in neglecting its spirit and its power. In the highly figurative and very emphatical language of the east, they, “strained out a gnat, and swallowed a camel.” In oriental countries, where insects of all species and dimensions are so annoyingly abundant, it is impossible to exclude them from any liquid which is exposed to the air even for a short time uncovered; and in consequence, it always has been and is now usual, if not indispensable, to strain all liquids previous to drinking. In addition to this general motive of cleanliness, the Jews believed that a necessary attention to ceremonial purity compelled them to strain their liquids, for the law informed them “all flying creeping things which have four feet shall be an abomination unto you: and for these ye shall be unclean; whosoever toucheth the carcase of them shall be unclean until the even.”—(Leviticus, xi. 23, 24.) This law they interpreted with their usual degree of minute and trivial refinement; thus, the Talmud declares, “ one that eats a flea or a gnat, is an apostate; and is no more to be counted one of the congregation.” The excessive eagerness which was hence manifested to exclude from drinks even the smallest insects, probably gave origin to the present proverb,-illustrative of extreme care about matters small and trifling, to the neglect of those which are great and of importance. The elephant is mentioned in the same manner, and for the same reason as the camel, in many existing proverbs of the east; as in an Arabian one mentioned by Pococke, “ He swallowed an elephant, and is strangled by a flea."

In our authorised version it is said, “ they strain at a gnat”; which is devoid of all meaning. In a black letter Bible in the author's possession, published in 1573, i. e. in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, this passage

is rendered as he has rendered it, “ which strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel.” At, in all probability, was first a misprint for out; but, as no change can be made in the authorised version without consent of Parliament, it has been perpetuated from edition to edition, for nearly three hundred years. In Phil. ii. 10. it is printed in the authorised version, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” In the old Bible referred to, it is translated correctly “in the name of Jesus;" yet the minstranslation is retained in the authorised version, because it countenances the practice of the English Established Church, of sometimes inclining the head when this word is mentioned in their creeds. In Acts xii. 4, the Greek word meaning Passover is translated Easter, where it is recorded that Herod imprisoned Peter, “intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people;” this was apparently done to countenance the observance of a holyday of men's appointment, but which was unknown to the Apostles and primitive Christians. In Acts vii. 59, we read in the authorised version, “ And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” The word God being so closely connected here with the name Jesus, has a tendency to lead the unreflecting reader to imagine, that the entire passage is declarative of the Deity of the “Son of Joseph ;" but the fact of that word being printed in Italics, shows that there is nothing equivalent to it in the Greek original; it ought, therefore, never to have found a place in the English translation. In 1 John ïïi. 16, we read in the authorised version, “ Herein perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us.” Besides the most offensive idea it suggests of God dying, this text has been absolutely quoted in the pulpit, as an argument for the Deity of Christ. It will be seen that the words “ of God," are also printed in Italics in our Bibles; thus intimating, as before, that their equivalents do not exist in the Greek. They, therefore, ought never to have been inserted in the translation; and if the introduction of any words be needful to complete the sense, it would be infinitely more becoming and reasonable, to read “ Herein perceive we the love of Christ, because he laid down his life for us.” A still more revolting phrase, “ blood of God,” is suggested by Acts xx. 28, as contained in the authorised version, “ Feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” It is now admitted by the most eminent British and Foreign critics, that the reading of the best MSS. is not Osov, but Kugrou, and that the rendering should consequently be, not “ Feed the Church of God,” but “ Feed the Church of the Lord.”

« PreviousContinue »