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both classes of this inconsistent sort of people, and to prove, that the practice of small virtues cannot supply the want of the chief, and that the performance of the chief virtues cannot make up for the omission of the least. These points are determined by Jesus Christ in the text. On the one hand, he denounces a woe against the Scribes and Pharisees, who scrupulously extended their obedience to the Mosaical law of tithes to the utmost limits, while they violated the more indispensible precepts of morality. On the other hand, he does not intend to divert the attention of his disciples from the least duties by enforcing the greatest. These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.. As if he had said, Your principal attention, indeed, should be directed to equity of judgment, to charitable distribution of property, and to sincerity of conversation: but, beside an attention to these, you should diligently discharge the less considerable duty of tithing, and other such obligations. These are two propositions, which I will endeavor to explain and establish. They will afford matter for two discourses, the first on the chief virtues, and the last on the least, or, more strictly speaking, the less considerable. Some preliminary remarks, however, are absolutely necessary for our understanding the text.
1. The word, that should determine the sense, is equivocal in the original, and signifies sometimes to exact tithes, and at other times to pay them. It is used in the first sense in Hebrews, the sons of Levi have a commandment to take tithes of the people, and a little after he, whose descent is not counted for them, received tithes of Abraham, chap. vii. 5, 6. But, in the gospel of St. Luke, the word, which we have elsewhere rendered to receive tithes, signifies to pay them, I give tithes,
saith the pharisee, of all that I possess, chap. xviii. 12.
The ambiguity of this term hath produced various opinions concerning the meaning of our text. The most laborious, and the most learned of the ancient expositors, I mean St. Jerom, is said to have taken the term in the first sense. According to this hypothesis, Jesus Christ paints the Pharisees here in colors, which have almost always too well suited the persons, to whom governments have entrusted the business of tax-gathering. Inhumanity has almost always been their character, Ye tithe mint, anise, and cummin, and ye omit judgment, mercy, and faith. As if he had said, You tithe inconsiderable herbs, and you do not reflect, that it is incompatible with principles both of equity and mercy to tithe inconsiderable articles, froin which the proprietors derive little or no advantage. It is not right, that these things should be subject to such imposts as government charge on articles of great consequence.
We embrace the sense of our translators, and take the word to signify here pay tithes. This sense best agrees with the whole text. Ye pay tithes of mint, anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law. These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. It agrees better also with the following words, ye strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. This is a proverbial way of speaking, descriptive of that disposition of mind, which inclines men to perform inconsiderable duties with a most scrupulous exactness, and to violate without any scruple the most essential articles of religion. The hypocrisy of the Pharisees would have been less remarkable in an inhuman exaction of tithes, than in a parade of paying them with a rigid nicety. Accordingly, it
is a Pharisee, who speaks the words just now cited from St. Luke, and who reckons scrupulosity among his virtues. God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess, that is to say, I pay tithes of those things, which seem to be too inconsiderable to be tithed.
2. Our second remark regards the law of tithes. Tithes were dues payable to God, and they consisted of the tenth of the produce of whatever was titheable. The Jews pretended, that the example of Abraham, who paid to God, in the person of Mel, chisedec his minister, a tenth of the spoils, which he took from the confederate kings of the plain, ought to have the force of a law with all its descendants. To this mysterious circumstance they refer the origin of tithes. Natural religion seems to have inculcated among the pagans the necessity of paying this kind of homage to God. We meet with examples among the heathens for time immemorial. With them tithes were considered as a sacred tax. Hence Pisistratus, a tyrant of Athens, said to the Athenians, in order to obtain their con⚫ sent to submit to his authority, Inquire whether I appropriate tithes to myself, and do not religiously carry them to the temples of the gods. We will not multiply quotations. It shall suffice to say, God declared to the Israelites, that the land of Canaan was his, as well as the rest of the world, that they should enjoy the produce of the land: but should be strangers and pilgrims, and have no absolute disposal of the lands themselves. In the quality of sole proprietor he obliged them to pay him homage, and this is the true origin of tithes. All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's, Lev. xxvii.
30, that is, tithe belongs to God of right, and cannot be withheld without sacrilege.
The first kind
There were three sorts of tithes. was appointed for the support of the was wholly devoted to that purpose, which was taken out for the priests. led by the Jews the first tithe, the provision for God, because it was dedicated to the maintenance of the ministers of the temple. Bring ye all the tithes into the store-house, that there may be meat in mine house, Mal. iii. 10. Hence the Jews thought themselves free from this kind of tithe, when they had no temple.
There was a second sort of tithe, Every head of a family was obliged to carry it himself to the temple at Jerusalem, and to eat it there. If he were prevented by distance of habitation, he was allowed to redeem this tax, that is to say, he was allowed to pay an equivalent. A law to this purpose is in Deuteronomy. Thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds, and of thy flocks, that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God alrays. And if the way be too long for thee, that is to say, if the tithe would take damage in carrying, then shalt thou turn it into money, and shalt carry it into the place which the Lord thy God shall choose, chap. xiv. 23. 25.
The third sort of tithes were called the tithes for the poor. These, it was supposed, were paid to God, because his benevolence had, if I may speak agreeably to an expression of Jesus Christ, incorporated them with himself. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me, Matt. xxv. 40. This tithe was paid every three years. At the end of three years
thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shall lay it up within thy gates. And the Levite, because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat, and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand, which thou doest, Deut. xiv. 28, 29.
But what principally regards the sense of our text is, that the law had not precisely determined what things were titheable. It had only expressed the matter in general terms. This had given occasion to two opinions among the Jews, that of the scrupulous, and that of the remiss. The remiss affirmed, that only things of value were titheable. The scrupulous, among whom the Pharisees held the first place, extended the law to articles of the least importance. Their rituals ordained, that all eatables were titheable, and in this class they put the inconsiderable herbs mentioned in the text. They are all specified in the Talmud. Jesus Christ declares himself here for the opinion of the Pharisees: but what he blamed, and what he detested, was, that they dispensed with the great duties of religion, under pretence of performing these, the least; and this is the subject we are going to examine.
I. We will define the great duties of religion. II. We will unmask those hypocrites, who by observing the small duties of religion, pretend to purchase a right of violating the chief articles of it. We will endeavor to develope this kind of devotion, and to shew you the inutility and extravagance of it.
I. What are the chief duties of religion? or, to retain the language of my text, what are the weightier matters of the law?