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Leviticus 19:1-37 - Homilies By R.m. Edgar

Social morality.

cf. Matthew 22:35-40 ; Romans 12:1-21 ; James, passim. From the primary principle of unworldliness, we now have to proceed to sundry details about social morality. Although these details are given indiscriminately, it is yet possible to discern certain great principles among them. And—

I. ALL SOCIAL MORALITY IS MADE TO REST ON OUR RELATION TO GOD HIMSELF . In the Decalogue we have social morality, that is, our duty to man, based upon our duty to God; the "second table" rests upon the first. It is the same here. God brooks no rival (verse 4). He sets himself as our model of holiness (verse 2). He calls man to fellowship through the peace offering (verses 5-8). His Name must be subjected to no profanation (verse 12), and the sabbaths are to be strictly kept (verse 30). In other words, we have the four commandments of the first table strewn up and down these details, and exhibiting the fountain-head of social morality in faithfulness to God.

It is significant that all the efforts to make out an "independent morality" by the elimination or ignoring of God are proving failures. He is, after all, the sine qua non of real morality as well as of salvation. It is when his Name is feared and reverenced as it ought to be that man acts aright in his various relations.

II. COMPASSION FOR THE POOR AND AFFLICTED RESULTS , OF NECESSITY , FROM A DUE REGARD FOR GOD . For God is compassionate, and so should his people be. Hence the exhortation of verses 9, 10, about leaving in harvest-time what would be a help to the poor and the stranger. This is grounded upon the great fact, "I am the Lord your God." Hence also the warning not to curse the deaf, nor to put a stumbling-block in the way of the blind, but" thou shalt fear thy God" (verse 14). This consideration for the afflicted and for the poor is a most important element in social morality. Our asylums for the deaf, the dumb, and the blind are embodiments of this great social duty. The poor-law system, if a little more Christian sympathy were engrafted upon it, is a noble tribute to a sense of national obligation towards the poor, better organizations even than these will yet be the fruit of the religious spirit. How to apply the principle that "he that will not work shall not eat," and at the same time show the due measure of compassion, is a problem demanding most careful solution.

III. MERCANTILE MORALITY IS STRICTLY ENJOINED . All stealing, lying, and dishonest dealing is denounced (verse 11). No advantage is to be taken of a neighbour or of a servant (verse 13). All arbitration is to be without respect of persons (verse 15). Weights, measures, and balances are all to be just and true (verses 35, 36). This branch of social morality requires the strictest attention from the Lord's people. It is here that continual contact goes on between them and the world. If religion, therefore, do not produce a higher type of mercantile morality than the world, it will be discredited. Nothing injures religion so much as the mercantile immoralities of its professors. Fraudulent bankrupts, dishonest tradings, overreachings,—these are what go to lessen the influence of religion among men. It is just possible that we may, in our eagerness to be always presenting the truth of the gospel to our fellow-men, have failed to enforce sufficiently the morality which must be the great evidence of our religious life. At present, in this peculiarly mercantile age, this department of morality needs most earnest attention.

IV. PURITY IS TO BE CULTIVATED IN ALL SOCIAL RELATIONS . Not only was immorality discountenanced (verse 29), and punishment and trespass offerings directed in cases where immorality had occurred (verses 20-22), but the very cultivation of the land, the rearing of cattle, the making of garments, and, in a word, all their associations were to be pervaded by the principle of purity (verses 19, 23-25). For the use made of cattle, and of seed, and of raw material, might be prejudicial to purity in idea. Thus carefully does the Lord fence round his people with precautions.

V. SUPERSTITION IS TO BE DISCOURAGED , NO enchantment was to be used, nor were they to round the corners of their heads or beards; they were to make no cuttings in their flesh for the dead, or print marks upon themselves (verses 26-28). Nor were they to have recourse to familiar spirits or wizards, to be defiled by them (verse 31). God treats his people as intelligent, rational beings; and so he discourages all resort to unmeaning and pretended inspirations.

VI. IT IS CLEARLY SHOWS THAT LOVE IS THE ESSENCE OF ALL SOCIAL MORALITY . Vengeance is discouraged (verse 18)—it is the outcome of hatred, which is unlawful when borne towards a brother (verse 17). The form of blood-feud (verse 16), which existed and exists among the Oriental and wandering tribes, is denounced. In fact, the Law is brought to this simple issue," Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (verse 18). It is upon this that our blessed Lord seizes as the essence of the Divine Law ( Matthew 22:35-40 ). Paul also brings this out clearly and emphatically ( Romans 13:9 , Romans 13:10 ). And this suggests—

1. That there is a legitimate self-love. There is a "better self" which it is our duty to love and cherish, just as there is a "worse self" which it is our duty to detest and mortify. When we consider this "better self," we do not suffer sin upon it, we try to keep it pure and subject unto Christ. We try to be faithful with ourselves. We foster what is good and holy within us. All this is most distinct from selfishness. The selfish man is his own worst enemy; the man who cultivates proper self-love is his own best friend.

2. This self-love is to measure our love to our neighbour. Now, our Lord brought out, by the parable of the "Good Samaritan," who is our neighbour. Every one to whom our heart leads us to be neighbourly. Neighbourhood is a matter of the heart. We must cultivate it. We shall have no difficulty in discerning the objects of our love. Let us then love them as we do ourselves. The golden rule is the essence of the Divine Law, "Do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you."

It is evident from this that Judaism was not intended to be an exclusive and selfish system, so far as outsiders were concerned, Men did not work it out properly, and this was why it became so narrow and selfish.—R.M.E.

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