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They might also, from an injudicious veneration for their Law, determine, not only that they were permitted to retaliate, but that it was their Duty so to do; as was observed of persons in magisterial capacities.
Allied to which is the observation, that they might let such a notion influence those duties which are called Duties of imperfect obligation: their beneficence, charity, forgiveness: Duties which are indefinite, or inde terminate, because the circumstances attending them are too numerous and complicated to be regulated by written Laws.
16. Our conception of the errors hitherto mentioned arises from the Nature of the case: we were also to see what Jewish errors were implied in the precepts given by our Lord in order to correct them. And if we read the whole passage before us with any degree of attention, we must perceive, that the precepts of our Saviour do not either condemn or defend the penal Laws of Moses; do not relate to any public punishment, inflicted by any civil authority; but relate wholly to private virtue of individuals, and only to virtue of the indefinite, or indeterminate sort; to duties, which are called duties of imperfect obligation. The errors therefore, which he was aiming to correct, could not be any in the Law of Moses, nor the errors of any other Law; but some errors in interpretation, or in conduct. Possibly these errors might be, in some particulars, errors of those in authority, but they seem chiefly to have been the errors of private men. Magistrates might extend too far the punishments of retaliation, or make them too general; they might use them too constantly, or remit them too seldom; but our Lord had probably more immediately in his view, the unreasonable and cruel adherence of private men to laws in themselves partial, and the ordinary hardness of heart, which was but too prevalent amongst the Jewish people, and which might be one powerful cause of their perverting the Mosaic Law.
17. Our Saviour's directions then, which have some appearance of opposing the Law of Moses, being intended to make his disciples practise the indefinite
Duties of patience, and forbearance, it may be proper to observe, of indefinite duties in general, that at the time when they are performed. they are of a discretionary nature; that each man nuust judge, from his own circumstances, of the degree and manner in which he ought to perform them, though afterwards, he is accountable for the use which he makes of his discretion, and is as liable to be called into judgment for the right performance of these duties as of any others. But in the idea of discretion it is implied, that a thing is sometimes to be done, and sometimes not to be done; and and therefore discretionary virtues, by their very nature, are to be practised occasionally: on some occasions to be exercised, on others not, according to the best judgment which the agent can form, and as he will answer for his conduct at an heavenly tribunal: were the case otherwise, the duties would not be indefinite. Still there is a very strong obligation on every man, whilst he is deliberating about the practice of any indefinite duty, to convince himself, that he has an honest and serious desire to do his duty in the sight of God: and to perform what appears to him to be such, as faithfully and exactly, as if his part were marked out with all possible precision, and the neglect of it were attended with immediate punishment. He must determine, that nothing shall hinder him from performing the act under con sideration but an honest persuasion that it would, on that occasion, do harm; and that his abstaining from it would be productive of the greatest good.
18. We seem now prepared to consider the particular directions which our Saviour gives, in opposition to the prevailing abuses of the Laws enjoining re
The disciple of Christ, when he is attacked, is to yield to evil: (e) instead of indulging his impetuosity to resist, he is to give way: so much in general: if he receives a blow on one cheek, he is to offer the other; if he is sued at law for one part of his raiment, he is to offer another: if he is pressed to guide or assist one who is upon a journey, for a certain distance, he is to offer to enlarge that distance. In our Lord's manner of
proposing these concessions we hazard little in saying, that there is intended to be much force and asperity; something of eloquent and indignant reproof, to lower pride, rouse the insensibility of the self-sufficient; to make an impression upon hardness of heart: if we take for granted that the same language would have been used to the humble, the gentle, merciful, teachable, or to the weakly indulgent, we shall be extremely rash. It should be moreover considered, whether what is enjoined in each concession is not to be regarded as a condition of peace; so that a man might say, on being insulted: this blow is hard to bear; but the peace and mutual kindness of men is above every thing: rather ⚫ than be the author of discord, or rather than not check its devouring flames, I will submit to suffer much evil: if I myself am burnt or hurt in endeavouring to extinguish them, I will bear the misfortune; nay I will rejoice in it, when I behold my brethren in peace • and safety'.
But, in strictness, it does not appear to me, that the greatness of the personal evil born by the insulted, is precisely the thing in view, nor therefore that, as many suppose, our Lord selects examples of injuries particularly small. Personal injuries, as such, had been treated before; the matter now in sight seems to have been the moral dangers arising from sudden provocation; and examples are selected with a view to that. A blow is always allowed an intolerable insult; nothing provokes rage more infallibly: resentment of a blow has occasioned many sanguinary contests, and destroyed many
Law-suits also produce very great rancour; and no one can tell the impression which the first appearance of a law-suit makes upon the mind but he who has felt it. Oppression too makes men exceedingly indignant; whether it come from powerful individuals, or from civil authority: there is no violence, which it does not suggest, no revenge which it does not present to the imagination. On the whole we may ask, at what do the irascible more readily take fire than at these three
kinds of provocation? If we compared the effect of a considerable loss, free from affront or insult, with the effect of these, we might adopt the words of the Poet, "Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, "nothing"; and we should perceive, that though a mere loss may stun, amaze, mortify, dispirit, yet it does not exasperate like a contumelious aggression.
19. The excellence of our Saviour's moral doctrine can scarcely stand in need of proof from argument, to any one who enters attentively into the case supposed. A man has an insult offered him, of a provoking nature; he is strongly tempted to return insult for insult; that is, in fact, under the idea of doing himself justice, to injure his injurer: if he indulges his passion, mischief breaks out, it glows, it rages, it destroys; destruction spreads far and wide: to prevent all this, he is directed to abstain from injury, to forbear even justice, or the dangers of seizing it for himself; and an opportunity is offered him of doing an act of generosity; an act which may save many from hurt or ruin; an act, which in the very nature of it, shews greatness of mind, patient fortitude, and enlarged views of the means of promoting human happiness. Struck with the transcendent worth of the advice, elevated with lofty views of its beneficial consequences, he obeys it with firmness; the injurer is stopped in his career; for to persist he must want every worthy feeling of the human heart. The cheek turned voluntarily to receive the second blow has all the power of a shield, to resist the fiery attacks of the insulter: it disarms his wrath; it shews a magnanimity, which must end in superiority and conquest; it shews a benevolence, which makes all rancour and insolence melt away it attracts rather the embraces of friendship than the outrages of enmity; it excites admiration and es
20. Should this account of the excellence of our Lord's directions want any confirmation, we might take notice, that though the insults here specified may come from bad motives, yet there is a possibility of something of the same sort coming from good ones, or from apparent virtue. A blow may proceed from honest indigna
tion, a suit at law from perswasion of right; compelling assistance in a journey, from a great earnestness to dispatch some business, to perform some duty, to do some service, without delay, which appears to be of the utmost importance: Now if a good man obeys our Lord's injunctions in such cases, all that follows is good: and a man seldom knows, in any cases, that the motives of the aggressor are not innocent, or laudable; or, at least, agreeable to his own notions of duty. To cut off long trains of evil, and that, radically and completely, must surely be desirable to every man of worth.
21. And what is the difficulty? if you allege the danger of encouraging insults, you bring forward an objection already answered, and one which has not more weight here than it had before. Part v. 27. Punishment is lawful when it appears to be necessary; as has been abundantly proved; but if you think it absolutely necessary to punish, you do it to very great advantage after having tried the experiment of yielding; I mean, supposing your wishes really are to do as much good as possible: your own temper is better regulated after yielding, than in the moment of provocation; your judgment is clearer, you are more likely to reform the offender, and you have more reason to expect the favouable suffrages of impartial spectators.
Besides what has been said in favour of punishing when it seems clearly to be the greatest good, we may propose for consideration the following question; When Christ says that his disciples must yield to a blow, or to oppression, is it to be understood that they are to do it repeatedly, or only at the time when the first insult is offered? We are to forgive an indefinite number of times; Matt. xviii. 22. or there is no stated number of times beyond which forgiveness is wholly wrong, or needless: but it may be doubted whether forgiveness properly belongs to the passage now before us. are now concerned with right conduct at the time of an attack; forgiveness has a retrospective view. It is possible to forgive an offender when you look back upon his injuries, and yet to repel force by force on any particular occasion. Perhaps each man must judge for him