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And if thy right eye offend thee, (or cause thee to offend,) pluck it out and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members hould perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, (or cause thee to offend) cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.'-Matt. v. 29, 30.
It is evident that Christ spake these words by way of parable; for, literally speaking, the loss of an eye or an hand would make no difference with a man in a moral or a religious sense.
Some have understood that by a right eye, or a right hand, was meant those particular sins to which men were most prone, or violently attached. Others suppose that particular friends and connexions in life, who, being unfriendly to the religion of Christ, might lead us astray, or cause us to offend against the glorious cause of the Redeemer, were to be understood by the right eye or the right hand; and as there is nothing in either explanation which can immediately tend to any gross corruption, I need not be very particular on this part of the subject; though perhaps the latter explanation would better comport with the like passage in St. Mark, where the person is represented as maimed in consequence of parting with a hand. As parting with our friends causes the sense of maimedness more than the parting with our sins, perhaps we should do well to decide in favor of the latter explanation.
We pass to take notice of the hell mentioned in the text. The word hell is, undoubtedly, variously used in Scripture, but always means misery and trouble when used in a moral sense; in which sense it is evidently used in the above passage. David, in Psalm xviii, 5, says, The sorrows of hell compassed me about. Psalm lxxxvi, 13: Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.' If we consider David here speaking of himself, it brings to mind that awful iniquity of which he was guilty, and the crime for which he condemned himself before Nathan the prophet. And who can describe the anguish of a soul lying under the guilt of a crime of as crimson a die as any recorded in Scripture? No wonder David spake so highly of the goodness of the Lord in granting him a gracious remission of his sins, and a release from the bondage of iniquity and hell of guilt.
But before we dismiss this Parable, we will take particular notice of its corresponding passage in St. Mark; more particularly of that fire of which it is said, it shall never go out. This fire is the same, no doubt as described in Notes on former Parables: perhaps the same fire is alluded to in Deuteronomy xxxii, 22: 'For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell,' &c. Here observe, this fire was to burn unto the lowest hell, which teaches us that sub lime truth of the agency of the Divine Spirit in reproving the world of sin, and cleansing it from all iniquity by the blood of the cross. And that we are right respecting this fire, the conclusion will fully evince. Observe Mark ix, 49: For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.' Remember that we are exhorted to offer our bodies a living sacrifice to God, which is our reasonable service; but
this cannot be done until we are salted with fire. Again, in verse 50, Christ says, 'Salt is good; but if the salt have lost its saltness, wherewith will ye season it?' that is, the sacrifice. But we are not to suppose that this divine fire can change in itself, but that it may be quenched in us; and, therefore, we are exhorted not to quench the Spirit. And Christ closes, by exhorting his disciples to have salt in themselves, (which salt is that fire which can never be quenched,) and to have peace one with another. Here, undoubtedly, we see the end of the holy fire on the altar of sacrifice used in the priesthood of the law.
Because it is said in Mark ix, that the fire, into which the subject should be cast,' never shall be quenched,' the passage has generally been applied to the support of the doctrine of future, eternal unmerciful punishment. And indeed, all similar passages must be applied to that use, or that doctrine must lose the credit which has, for a long time, perhaps too implicitly, been given to it.
To show that such doctrine has no natural connexion with the text and context, we may notice the following particulars :
1. Those to whom the words of the Parable were spoken.
2. The character of the speaker, as he stood in relation to those to whom he spake; and
3. The nature and manifest design of the fire which is never to be quenched.
1. According to the connexion of the text, where it is found in Matthew v, Jesus spake these words to those
whom he calls in the 13th verse' the salt of the earth,' and in the 14th the light of the world.' According to the connexion in Mark ix, these words were spoken by Christ to his disciples, as may be seen by reading from the 31st verse to the end of the chapter.
2. The character in which Jesus stood, in relation to his disciples may be learned by the following scriptures: St. John xv, 12, &c. This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth ; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.' See also chap. xiii, 34: A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.' From these scriptures we learn that Jesus acknowledged himself to be a friend to his disciples, who loved them, and was ready to lay down his life for them. The strength of his love to his disciples is also expressed in John xv, 9: As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you.'
3. The nature and manifest design of the fire which is never to be quenched, we learn, as has been observed in the Notes, by observing that Jesus says, in Mark ix, 49, For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.' This salt, which is the fire which never shall be quenched, is the same, no doubt, represented, as has been noticed, by the salt of the covenant under the law, according to the directions given in Lev. ii, 13. The manifest design of this fire is to save, by its purifying qualities,
the subject on which it operates. Now if can find any natural connexion between the three particulars, here brought to view, and the future, eternal, unmerciful punishment of those disciples and acknowledged friends of Jesus Christ, then the common opinion of this scripture stands on the evidence of the text. But the erroneousness of such an opinion is so palpable, that it requires no argument to make it more so.
The objector, possessing an unaccountable attachment to the opinion generally entertained of the text, will say, Although these words were spoken to the disciples of Christ, they ought to be applied to men in general. To this I agree, but not to the exclusion of the disciples. There surely would be no propriety in saying, that, though Christ spake the words of our Parable to his disciples, he did not mean that they should take either the direction or the warning to themselves. In the connexion of the text in Matthew v, Christ says to his disciples, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.' It surely would not be correct to say that Christ did not mean that his disciples should not enter into the kingdon of heaven except their righteousness should exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. The
Truth is plain enough. The disciples of Christ, as well as every body else, must have a better righteousness than that of the scribes and Pharisees, in order to enter into the kingdom of heaven; and the disciples, as well as every body else, were exposed to be cast into that refining fire, which never shall quenched. Therefore, if any of the human race ever were exposed to endles, unmerciful punishment, as proved, or intended by our Parable, the disciples most surely