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St. MATTHEW ix. 9.
And as Jesus passed forth from thence He saw a man,
named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom : and He saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed Him.
THERE is hardly any kind of writing more interesting or more instructive than biography. It is in some degree by canvassing the lives of others that we learn to regulate our own; to avoid errors, or cultivate virtues, the effeets of which we cannot fail of observing in the examples which biographical writing supplies. The great and good of every age and nation, in addition to their other motives for exertion, have not thought it beneath their care to court the applause of their fellowcreatures and the approbation of posterity ; and even those who have risen into eminence by less honourable arts, or have exerted the powers that belong to high stations to less useful purposes, would strive to conceal their guilt from the knowledge of mankind. In the lives of the first founders of our Religion, the Apostles and Evangelists, there is nothing to conceal; for the humility of their origin, which, had human greatness been their object, would have assorted but ill with its habits and pretensions, is in the present instance an argument of their divine mission; and that upon which we insist most, when we consider the mighty effects which have sprung from causes apparently so feeble; the great work which has been effected by agents, humanly speaking, so mean. Survey the world as it at present exists, practising, however imperfectly, a system of morals in itself most pure, and adoring one omnipotent, eternal, beneficent Being; and then cast your eyes back to those ages when our forefathers were worshipping in caves and woods, and offering their children or their captive enemies to hideous idols. And having done this, ask yourselves whether a change so stupendous in the religious ceremonies and
moral condition of the world could have been produced by a few fishermen on an obscure lake, if God himself had not been with them to excite them to the undertaking, and prosper them in the work. And if it be said, that these men have obtained what is the end, the vain and unsatisfactory end of all human ambition; fame, greatness, celebrity; that they have established, as it were, and become the founders of a kingdom upon earth; yet it is evident, before they could have looked to such a result, before the contemplation of it could have existed in their minds as a motive to immediate action, that they must have been confident of the efficiency of the means which they employed : that is, they must have been well assured of supernatural aid, as well as of the truth of those doctrines which they undertook to promulgate, and to which they required all mankind to become converts: for how could they expect the whole human race, to the end of the world, to be proselyted to error by falsehood ? The records which they have left us are in our hands: they have been studied, impugned, defended : they still pre
vail; and in cases where the finest productions of human talents fail of useful application, they afford the best aid to conflicting virtue, the last hope to repentant guilt.
The first of these records is the Gospel or history of the life and doctrines of our Saviour by St. Matthew ; of which evangelist and apostle I shall now give you some account. He was an Hebrew by birth, but advanced by the Romans to a situation in the collection of taxes. It may easily be conceived that the native of a tributary state engaged in levying imposts on his countrymen, to be transferred into a foreign treasury, would be a person subjected to much odium ; and, without referring to more dubious authority, we have indeed the express
words of our Saviour himself indicating that he coincided in the general opinion as to the characters of persons thus employed. “ And if thy brother,” he says,
neglect to hear the Church, let him “ be unto thee as an heathen man and a
publican "." A A more minute criticism
would seem to place St. Matthew in the lowest class of publicans, or to sink him into one of their agents"; but, as we find him, under the name of Levi, giving a great feast to our Saviour in his own house, to which many publicans were invited, it was more than probable that he was a person engaged in a lucrative occupation; though such an employment could neither inspire the hope nor supply the means of subverting the established ordinances of the world. From this class of society, then, was St. Matthew chosen, and the following is the manner of his call, as recorded by himself. “ As Jesus passed forth from thence” (his own city, where he had healed the paralytic man) “He saw a man, named Matthew, sit
ting at the receipt of custom: and He saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and “ followed him
From this period to the death of our Saviour we find St. Matthew his constant companion, the eye-witness of his actions, and
b Suiceri Thesaurus Eccl. tom. ii. p.
1267. c St. Luke v. 29. d St. Matt. ix. 9.