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the victims, offering up the sacrifices, &c. This in any other persons would have been considered as profanations of the sabbath; but in the priests who were engaged in the duties of religion it was not.
These arguments addressed to a Jew were in themselves unanswerable; because they appealed to the practice of persons whom the Jews held sacred, and whose conduct they durst not condemn. But they went still further than this; they went to establish this general principle, that there might be obligations of a force superior even to the law of Moses, and to which it ought in certain cases to give way; as in the first instance to the pressing demands of necessity, in the other to the services of the temple.
If then in these cases the law might be dispensed with, still more might it be overruled by a Power paramount to every other power, by Him who was far greater and holier than the temple itself, who was Lord even of the sabbath, wlio was indeed supreme Lord over all, and might therefore authorise his disciples, in a case of real urgency, to depart a little from the rigour of the sabbatical rest.
It should be observed here, that where St. Matthew says, “ the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath-day;" St. Mark, in the parallel place, expresses himself thus: “ The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” That is, the sabbath was given to man for his benefit, for the improvement of his soul, as well as for the rest of his body; and the latter, when necessary, must be sacrificed to the former. For man was not made for the sabbath; was not made to be a slave to it, to be so servilely bound down to the strict Pharisaical observance of it, as to lose, by that rigorous adherence to the letter, opportunities of doing essential service to himself and his fellow creatures.
To this irresistible force of reasoning, our blessed Lord adds another argument of considerable weight: “ If ye had known, says he, what this meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.” The quotation is from the prophet Hosea ; the words are supposed to be those of God himself; and the meaning is, according to a well-known Jewish idiom, I prefer mercy to sacrifice : that is, when any ceremonial in
stitution interferes with the execution of any charitable or pious design, the former must give place to the latter; as in the present instance, a strict observance of the sabbath must not be suffered to deprive my disciples of that refreshment which is necessary to support them under the fatigue of following me, and dispensing to mankind the blessings of the Gospel. We see then with what supersti-, tious rigour the Jews adhered to the letter of their law respecting the Jewish sabbath; and with what superior wisdom and dignity our Lord endeavoured to raise their minds above such trivial things to the true spirit of it, to the life and soul of i
The fault however here reproved and corrected is not one into which we of this country are likely to fall, nor is there any need to warn us against imitating the Jews in this instance. There is no danger that we should carry the observance of our sabbath too far, or that we should be too scrupulously nice in avoiding every the minutest infringement of the rest and sanctity of that holy day. The bent and tendency of the present times is too , evidently to a contrary extreme, to an excessive relaxation instead of an excessive strictness in the regard shown to the Lord's day. I am not now speaking of the religious duties appropriated to the Lord's day, for these are not now before us, but solely of the rest, the repose which it requires. This rest is plainly infringed, whenever the lower classes of people continue their ordinary occupations on the sabbath, and whenever the higher employ their servants and their cattle on this day in needless labour. This, however, we see too frequently done, more particularly by selecting Sunday as a day for travelling, for taking long journeys, which might as well be performed at any other time. This is a direct violation of the fourth commandment, which expressly gives the sabbath as a day of rest to our servants and our cattle.
This temporary suspension of labour, this refreshment and relief from incessant toil, is most graciously allowed even to the brute creation, by the great Governor of the universe, whose mercy extends over all his works. It is the boon of Heaven itself. It is a small drop of comfort thrown into their cup of misery; and to wrest from them this only privi
lege, this sweetest consolation of their wretched existence, is a degree of inhumanity for which there wants a name; and of which, few people, I am persuaded, if they could be brought to reflect seriously upon it, would ever be guilty. · These profanations of the sabbath are however sometimes defended on the ground of the very passage we have been just considering. It is alleged, that as our Lord here reproves the Jews for too rigorous an attention to the rest of the sabbath, it conveys an intimation that we ought not to be too exact and scrupulous in that respect; and that many things may in fact be allowable which timid minds may consider as unlawful. But it should be observed, that Jesus condemns nothing in the conduct of the Jews but what was plainly absurd and superstitious; and he allows of no exceptions to that rest from labour which they observed on the sabbath, 'except simply works of necessity and charity ; such for instance as those very cases which gave occasion to the conversation in this chapter between Christ and the Jews, that of the disciples plucking the ears of corn on the