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THE SPIRIT OF THE COMMANDMENTS.
WHEN we read the Holy Scriptures, we must be struck by many particulars in which it is unlike any other book, and which in themselves prove it to be of Divine origin. What other book, for instance, is there that we can read day by day, and year by year, and always discover new beauties, new instruction, fresh and fresh lessons of holy wisdom? Our Saviour speaks of the Holy Spirit as a fountain that sends forth rivers of living water; and surely this is well exemplified in the Scripture, which is the blessed work of that Spirit. The more deeply we study the Bible, the more diligently we search into it, the more rich and full are the treasures we draw from it. But we see this more clearly when in relation to the duties of common life we refer to any part of these Scriptures for instruction and guidance. The rules and commands given, are able to carry us on to perfection if we will give up our hearts to them; and as we are enabled to keep them more and more strictly, we shall perceive their meaning and seize their spirit more and more fully. I have heard people who were unwilling to lead the life
of holiness required of us in the Gospel,-I have heard such people say, "Surely it is enough, if we keep the ten commandments!" Have they ever considered seriously what is required of them in those commandments? Let us suppose a man resolved steadily to keep the ten commandments as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, and to consider these as his rule of life. This at first may seem to him an easy task. Those relating to his neighbour speak of crimes which he has in just abhorrence. Of adultery, murder, and theft, he has no reason to fear that he shall be guilty: he is ready to say with Hazael, "Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?" But if he be in earnest, in order to keep these commandments, he will study them, and seek for any explanation of them given in the Bible; and he will then find our blessed Saviour's comment upon them. subject will now open to him, and show the depth to which those commands reach. He will see that Christ considers the steps by which we are gradually led to those sins, to be forbidden in the commandment, as well as the last and highest act: "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart;" and "Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment '. Practically working upon this knowledge, he will perceive the perfect justice and mercy therein shown; he will find in his own heart many of these evil seeds, which, as seeds, may, speaking by comparison, be plucked up with ease; and he will see that if left to grow they must be expected to end in adultery and murder; for, as St. James teaches us, "When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." Thus taught, by searching the Scripture more deeply, and examining his own heart more carefully, will not this man read the ten commandments with a different spirit, and see in them a far fuller meaning, than he did before? When a man gives a command, he expects us to obey only according to a fair and honest interpretation of his words; and he is right: for as man cannot do
1 Matt. v. 28. 22.
more than place the commandment before our eyes, he must only reckon on a common understanding of it; but God places before us something far more full and effective,-laws that open more and more to our minds, as his Spirit rules and governs our hearts; and since He is willing to teach us to understand the spirit as well as the letter of his laws, He may justly call upon us to obey them in the spirit as well as in the letter. People who say, Is it not enough if we keep the ten commandments? appear to fix on them as a less strict law, a more easy way of pleasing God than is laid down in the Gospel. But if we understand these ten commandments as explained by our blessed Lord,—and to whom shall we go for an explanation, but to Him who is Himself the lawgiver and will be our judge at the last day?-we shall find that therein is contained the whole of our duty to God and to our neighbour; and that in order to keep those commandments, we must obey the precepts of the Gospel, and receive the grace given us therein.
I was led to make these reflections from reading an account of a young woman, who was guilty of the death of one of her fellow-creatures through the indulgence of a violent temper. The story struck me as a very serious lesson to us all; for it shows what the indulgence of those lesser sins, as we call them, may lead to, and that without our wishing or intending to produce any such effect; for we do not know enough of others to calculate on the influence which our conduct may have upon them. The story I refer to is this:
Jane Ball was the wife of a journeyman butcher. She was a woman of violent temper, and had not learned to subdue it on religious principles, but gave way to it on every slight occasion; and at such times used dreadful expressions and very bad language, to the horror of all who heard her. Her husband had his share of abuse if he did any thing to displease her; and he was thankful that his business kept him from her the greater part of the day. He was a quiet, steady man; and when he married Jane, little thought that he was bringing home such a termagant. He had seen her living as cook in
a family, which he served regularly with meat. always received him with a smiling face and pleasant words. He knew her to be an industrious tidy servant, and thought she would make him a good and thrifty wife. But he forgot" the one thing needful;" he did not inquire if Jane served her God as well as her mistress; and the subject of religion was seldom mentioned between them. Once, indeed, a friend of his put him upon his guard, both as to her want of religious principle and her violence of temper; but James Ball was too fond of Jane to wish to believe ill of her, and therefore inquired no farther, but satisfied his mind by supposing that his friend was either jealous or prejudiced. He forgot the good old rule, "Make all the inquiry you can before marriage, and make none after." If he had known her to be a woman of religious principle, he might have hoped that her temper, if not naturally good, was yet improving; and he might have reasonably supposed that she was struggling against it. But what reasonable ground of happiness was there for him, if she did not know of the true means of curing such an evil? There was a farther root of mischief. Though James went to church and attended to the outward forms of religion, yet he had not then made it the ruling principle of his life; and on this occasion he did not allow it to interfere. He would have been startled indeed, if any one had asked him to marry a drunkard or a thief; but he did not see the danger of marrying a woman who was only sober and honest, because it was her interest to be so, and who had no right foundation to build upon, and therefore gave way on other points, when her interest was not immediately concerned and she was more strongly tempted.
The first time that James became aware of the mischief that these seeds of evil might bring forth, he was very much shocked and surprised. He came home one evening, and hearing angry voices in his cottage, he listened at the door. He did not recognise Jane's voice in the loud and violent language he now heard; and thinking that some neighbour was abusing his wife, he entered quickly, saying, "Who dares insult my wife in this way?" His dismay was great when he found that it was his wife
who was guilty of the insult, and that a poor meek-looking woman was receiving all this abuse. She made no answer, but wisely slipped out as soon as James entered. Jane was for a moment abashed; for her husband took no notice, but walked to the fire and took his chair. He doubtless was now reminded of his friend's advice; but he resolved to wait till the storm was over, and in this he was right. His wife's countenance plainly showed the violence of her passion, and he had no wish to turn it on himself. In the course of the evening he ventured to ask what offence the poor woman who was in the house when he came in had been guilty of. He was shocked to hear that the dispute arose from some trifling mistake about a pail. Jane had borrowed a pail from this good woman the first evening she came to her new house, and she thought she had returned it the next day; but she had set it down in a hurry, and James had put it out of the way in a dark closet. The woman came, after many days, to ask for her pail. Jane was sure she had returned it. The woman begged her to look; and Jane, instead of doing this, flew into a passion and abused the woman for not believing her. James, when he heard the story, quietly went and fetched the pail, which he carried to the woman. He then tried to impress upon Jane's mind the danger as well as folly of using such violence; for the woman had told him how much she had been terrified by Jane's language. But she laughed at this; said she was glad of it; they would be more cautious how they quarrelled with her; and she added, "They need not be afraid of me, for I never use my arms and feet; I never hurt any one; I only use my tongue, and that does no harm!"
Upon another occasion, however, it was proved even to Jane that she could do bodily injury with her tongue, and that her passions were not so much under her controul as she flattered herself. She had, at the time I mention, been married some years, and had learned to quarrel with her husband as well as her neighbours. He dreaded coming home, and was glad to do any extra job for his master to shorten the evening with his wife. As soon as Jane found out this, she was very angry; and unwilling