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the trial of our blessed Lord;from the Gali leans, who had been put to death by Pilate, as mentioned by St. Luke;-from the acknowledg ment of the Jews themselves, as recorded by St. John, (chap. xviii. 31.) and from other circums stances in the Gospel history.
The Courts, therefore, which we have just noticed, took cognisance only of minor offences. They settled trifling disputes respecting property among themselves, imposed fines, pronounced ecclesiastical censures, and, in ordinary cases, it is probable, could sentence an offender to the scourge, or shut him up in prison.
We next come to the tremendous denunciation of the text;-" But whosoever shall say, Thou fool,' shall be in danger of hell-fire." Now, admitting the expression, "Thou fool," to be more vulgar, coarse, and vituperative, than either of the former; yet still it is only an abuse of speech, not aggravated with blasphemy, cursing, or swearing; and, therefore, the punishment that is here denounced against it, seems, in the estimation of human reason, disproportioned to the offence: or, if the sentence must strictly apply on the present occasion, and consequently with more force to sins
of greater magnitude, we may well exclaim, when the unavoidable infirmities of our" nature are considered, Who then can be saved m But, to proceed-Our blessed Lord, it is evident, was warning his hearers against three very common forms of transgression, all differing in their gradations of guilt, to each of which he annexed a degree of danger and of punishment, which we may be assured was commensurate and just. The two former are threatened with that exercise of temporal power, which we' all know is necessary in every civilised state to restrain violence, or to preserve peace; and, therefore, in the propriety of this part of the sentence we cordially acquiesce; but, to suppose that our heavenly Redeemer, for the mere difference of saying, "Raca," or "Thou fool," would pass from the petty jurisdiction of the Sanhedrim to the awful sentence, and interminable punishment of "hell-fire," is scarcely reconcilable to any rules of justice, that we can comprehend; and farther, it seems by no means analogous to the context: for, as the two former offences are threatened with temporal punishment and degradation, we may readily suppose that the last, which can admit only of some trifling aggravation of guilt, would be guarded
against, and restrained, by some additional danger, or some more rigorous condemnation. And I trust that, by patient attention to a critical examination of the text, this will appear very satisfactorily to have been our blessed Saviour's meaning on the present occasion.
The expression rendered in our translation "hell-fire" is literally, in the original, "the fire of Gehenna." This appellative is compounded of a Hebrew word, which means "a valley," and the proper name, “ "Hinnom;" which, by changing the interposed vowels, and adopting a Greek termination, becomes "Henna." The word Gehenna, therefore, is equivalent to "the valley of Hinnom," which was close to the city of Jerusalem.
It is of importance to observe, that this was the spot chosen by the ancient Canaanites, and other idolatrous tribes, for practising their horrible superstitions, and for offering up their children to Molech; or making them pass through fire to this "grim idol," as our heroic poet calls him. Even the Jews, we find, were prone to imitate these savage rites; and their Rabbis inform us, that the idol itself was a huge figure of brass, sitting on a throne of the same metal, and crowned with a regal diadem. Its
head resembled that of a calf, and its arms were extended to receive the miserable victims, who were to be consumed in the flames. The good and pious king, Josiah, in order to shew his detestation of these inhuman and abominable practices, did every thing in his power to desecrate the place, and to prevent the recurrence of similar abuses. Beside making it a buryingplace for the lowest poor, whose friends could not afford the usual expense of sepulture, he made it the receptacle for all the filth and offal of the city. It was filled, therefore, with bones, the carcases of animals, the refuse of the numerous victims that were offered in sacrifice, and other offensive things, which were consumed by fires, kept constantly burning there for that
The policy of such a measure will appear obvious to any one, who considers the heat of the climate, the immense population of Jerusalem, and the want of those expedients, which more modern times have discovered and adopted, for preventing contagion, and preserving health.
The loathsome and disgusting scene, which this spot always exhibited, furnished the sacred writers with a suitable emblem, or symbol, for the place of future torments. Hence originated,
also, the metaphorical expressions of " the worm that never dieth," and "the fire that is not quenched." You will observe, therefore, that when "the fire of Gehenna" represents the torments inflicted on hardened and impenitent sinners, in the future and invisible world, it is taken in a figurative sense; but, on the occasion of the words in the text, our blessed Lord and Saviour may well be understood to have used it in its literal signification. Adopting this mode of interpretation, which, when practicable, is always to be preferred, the divine threat, which forms the subject of our present meditation, will appear extremely just and appropriate.
To keep such a city as Jerusalem tolerably clean and healthy, by the means that have been already mentioned;-to remove the immense quantity of putrescent and offensive animal substances, not to notice other nuisances, to the Valley of Hinnom, must have been a work of great and constant labor. Many persons must necessarily have been employed in it, from day to day, and year to year. But every man, and, more particularly, every Jew, whose notions of personal cleanliness, of pollution, and purification, were greatly increased by an observance of the ritual law, must have regarded this as the