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subjection and servitude, but to the Jews it was something more galling still, because it wounded their religious as well as their political pride. It was a thought of pure, unmitigated bitterness, that the people of God should thus pass periodically under the hated yoke of idolaters, and, as they would call them in their haughty exclusiveness, barbarians.
The office itself being thus detestable, it may be conceived how those persons must have been looked upon who held and exercised it.
There were two orders, however, among the publicans, - the receivers general, who had deputies under them, and these deputies themselves. The former were usually selected from the best classes of society; but the latter were reckoned ignoble and contemptible, even by the Gentiles, and were, as a body, vulgar, rapacious, and unmerciful. Some one asked Theocritus which was the most cruel of all beasts, and he answered, “ Among the beasts of the wilderness, the bear and the lion; among the beasts of the city, the publican and the parasite.” Of the higher order of publicans at Jerusalem one is probably mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, by the name of Zacchæus, who is there said to be the chief among the publicans," and a rich man. Of the lower order were those who are so frequently classed in the Scriptures with sinners; and of
this order was Matthew. They were all, high and low, for the reasons just given, regarded with abhorrence by the Jews, and treated as a profane and outcast set of people. “Let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican” is a phrase which expresses strongly the universal ban which was suspended over them. We are told that, though a publican might be a Jew, he was hardly recognized as such by his countrymen; that he was not allowed to enter the temple, nor give testimony in courts of justice; that the gifts, even, which his devotion might prompt him to offer, were rejected from the altar of Jehovah, as unclean and abominable.
Bearing these things in mind, we can now estimate the self-denial of the apostle, who, with a firm pen, could write himself down, “ Matthew, the Publican."
In the second chapter of Mark, he is said to be the son of Alpheus; but whether this Alpheus is the same with the father of James the Less, or another individual, is uncertain. His place of residence was in Capernaum, or somewhere near it, on the sea of Tiberias. Though he constantly calls himself Matthew, he is called Levi by the other evangelists; and it is for this reason that Levi and Matthew have been supposed by some celebrated scholars to be two different persons. But the circumstances of Matthew's call to be a disciple, as related in his own Gospel, are so precisely similar to those which attend the call of Levi, as related in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, that the predominant opinion has always been, that Matthew and Levi were only two names for one and the same person.
Though a publican, of an inferior rank, belonging to a class of men who were considered vile, and who generally deserved their reputation, Matthew was an upright and religious man; and there was one of his countrymen, if there were no more, who could separate the man from the profession, and fearlessly engage him for his companion and friend. It was he who saw him sitting in his place of business, or at the receipt of custom, as it is called, and said unto him, 6 Follow me.” * These were words, which, from those lips, could not be uttered in vain ; and the humble publican, who probably had before heard the discourses of Jesus, and heard them with admiration, and seen also some of the wonders which he had done, immediately arose and followed him.
* It appears from the relation of Mark, in the second chapter of his Gospel, that Matthew's official station was at the seaside, where he was sitting when Jesus called him. Commentators say that the particular duty of Matthew as a publican was to gather the customs of commodities which came by the sea of Galilee, and the tribute which passengers were to pay who went by water According to this statement, he was a toll-gatherer.
Our Saviour, after having called Matthew, went to his house; and there his new disciple prepared a supper for him; and many publicans and sinners, the former associates of Matthew, came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. When some Pharisees, who were present, saw this, they said to the disciples, “Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They who are whole need not a physician, but they who are sick. But go ye, and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice ; for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
In both of these incidents, the spirit of Christianity and the character of its founder are conspicuous. The call of a publican to be a follower of Christ and a herald of his religion was a sign of the sublime superiority of the new faith, in its impartiality and mercy, over the bigotries of the old ; and evinces the discernment and the independence of Jesus in selecting a worthy disciple from an order of men among whom common opinion had pronounced that there was no worth to be found. And in sitting down to eat — - that greatest token of familiarity - in the house of this publican, and with a mixed company of reputed sinners, Jesus again manifests the universal benevolence of his temper and his doctrine. To the hypocritical Pharisees, it was indeed a strange and scandalous thing, that one who set up as the Messiah of Israel, and the purifier of its ordinances, should take a publican to be a pupil, and break bread with other publicans and notorious sinners; but how well are their narrow prejudices and their supercilious and uncharitable selfrighteousness rebuked by the steadfast reply of the Saviour!“ The religion which I would inculcate," as the reply may be paraphrased, “embraces in its pure mercy the whole family of man; it draws no impassable line between the privileged and the profane; it leaves none to despair of Heaven's favor and acceptance. If ye are perfect, if ye are whole, my errand is not to you; go; go to your temple and perform your rites; but when there, study the meaning of that scripture, I will have mercy and not sacrifice. As for these, they are sick; they need a physician, and I must heal them; ye yourselves say that they are sinners, and why shall I not call them to repentance, and save them ?”
With what has been now told from the Gospels concerning Matthew, we must rest contented; but even from these slight memorials we shall gain a highly favorable impression of his charac
In his depressed condition as a publican, he seems to have learned the valuable lesson of humility; and thus to have become “almost a