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commanded or exhorted to be perfect, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect, since nothing but Disappointment can be the Issue of our strongest Endeavours after this Perfection, from which we stand excluded by the unalterable Laws of Nature ? This Difficulty is too obvious to escape any one's Notice. Some therefore tell you, that the Text contains only Matter of Counsel or Advice, but not of Precept or Command, and with this Softening they think the Difficulty may be digested ; as if it were more reasonable, or more becoming an inspired Teacher, to advise than to command Impossibilities : Whereas the only Difference in the Case is, that in Matters of Command we muft either obey or suffer, in Matters of Counsel only we have a greater Latitude allowed us ; so that with respect to ourselves it is more tolerable to be advised than to be commanded to Things impracticable : But, with respect to the Lawgiver, it is one and the same Thing, and his Reason and Equity can be no more justified in advising, than in commanding Impossibilities. Others tell you, that it is not Equality, but Quality of Perfections that is enjoined in the Text; that is, we are commanded to aim at the same Perfections with God, though not in the same Degree;
that, as God is just, and righteous, and merciful, so must we endeavour to be just, and righteous, and merciful, though not to the same Degree of Extent that God is. This Exposition avoids the Difficulty complained of; for there is nothing extraordinary in commanding Men to imitate the Perfections of God in a Degree suitable to their own Nature and Ability. But then this is an Exposition, not arising from the Circumstances of the Text, which lead us to a more extenfive View.
In the 43d Verse our Saviour says, Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy Neighbour, and hate thine Enemy. In the 44th Verse he corrects the Partiality of this Law; But I say unto you, Love your Enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. In the 45th and 46th Verses, he confirms his own Precept from the Example and Authority of God : That ye may be the Children of your Father which is in Heaven; for he maketh his Sun to rise on the Evil and on the Good, and sendeth Rain on the Just and on the Unjuft. For, if ye love them which love you, what Reward have ye? Do not even the Publicans the fame? And
in the 48th Verse he concludes this Argument in the Words of the Text; Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect. From whence it is evident, that the Quality or Temper of Mercy and Compassion was not the Thing recommended to us by our blessed Lord from the Example of God, for that he told them even the Publicans had in fome Degree, for they loved those who loved them ; but it is the Extent of this Mercy and Compassion which was discernible in the Works of Providence, which he presses from this Example: Your Father in Heaven is bountiful to the Evil as well as the Good; to the Unjust, as well as the Just: Go ye therefore and do likewise, and learn from hence to love your Enemies, as well as your Friends; to do good to those who hate you, as well as to those who love you.
This certainly was recommending not only the Temper of Mercy, which is natural to the Deity, but also that extensive Exercise of it, that Perfection of Goodness, which shone forth in all his Works.
Since then we can have no Relief from Expositions of this kind, we must consider the Text in another View, and see what Affistance we can have from the Circum
ftances of the Context, or the general Reason
the Authority of the Gospel : Or, if we consider it as a general Maxim and Rule of Religion, which had a Foundation in Reason antecedent to the Promulgation of the Gospel, it will be sufficient to understand, how far the Reason of the Command goes, and how it may be applied to the several Duties of Religion and Morality
First then, Let us examine the Text as it stands limited by the Circumstances of the Context.
It is evident from what has been already observed, that the Precept of the Text stands applied to the particular Case of Charity and Mercy. Had it been otherwise, had our Saviour intended, in every Instance of our Duty, to refer us to the Perfection of God, as the proper
Rule and Measure of our Obedience, this Precept should have stood at the Close of his Sermon, which might have given it a Reference to all that had
and not been confined in the Middle of his Discourse to a particular Duty. It is farther to be observed, that the Instance of Duty to which this Precept is annexed, is illustrated by a particular Mention of God's dealing with Men in like Cases. We are bid to love our Enemies, and are told how merciful and compassionate God is to the Evil and Unjust; the natural Application of the Example lies in the Exhortation of the Text, that we should aim at that Perfection of Mercy and Goodness, which we may every Day see exercised by God towards us all. But, in other Instances of Duty mentioned in this Sermon; the Example of God is not proposed; and, considering the Connexion between the Example and the Application, there can be no Reason to carry the Application to other Cafes, in which the same Example is not proposed, Nay farther, there are some Points of Duty explained and enforced in this Sermon on the Mount, to which neither the Example nor the Exhortation can be applied, Such are the Duties arising from the Relations which are peculiar to Man, and nowhere else to be found : As in the Case of Afflictions and Persecutions, which we ought to bear patiently, not in Confideration of the