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powers which should be equivalent to conquest, to seat himself upon David's throne; and that the destruction of the Jewish temple would be either the last step in the acquisition of his royal power, or perhaps the first exertion of it. The veil was yet upon their understandings; and the season not being come for taking it entirely away, it would have been nothing strange if our Lord had framed his reply in terms accommodated to their prejudices, and had spoken of the ruin of Jerusalem as they conceived of it, — as an event that was to be the consequence of his coming,
to be his own immediate act, in the course of those conquests by which they might think he was to gain his kingdom; or the beginning of the vengeance which, when established in it, he might be expected to execute on his vanquished enemies. These undoubtedly were the notions of the disciples, when they put the question concerning the time of the destruction of the temple and the signs of our Lord's coming; and it would have been nothing strange if our Lord had delivered his answer in expressions studiously accommodated to these prejudices. For as the end of prophecy is not to give curious men a'knowledge of futurity, but to be in its completion an evidence of God's all-ruling providence, who, if he governed not the world, could not possibly foretell the events of distant ages ;—for this reason, the Spirit which was in the prophets hath generally used a language, artfully contrived to be obscure and ambiguous, in proportion as the events intended might be distant,--gradually to clear up as the events should approach, and acquire from the events, when brought to pass, the most entire perspicuity': that thus men might remain in that ignorance of futurity, which so suits with the whole of our present condition, that it seems essential to the welfare of the world; and yet be overwhelmed at last with evident demonstrations of the power of God. It might have been expected that our Lord, in delivering a prediction, should assume the accustomed style of prophecy, which derives much of its
useful ambiguity from this circumstance,- from an artful accommodation to popular mistakes, so far as they concern not the interest of religion: and much of this language, indeed, we find in our Lord's discourse. But, with respect to his own coming, it seems to be one great object of his discourse, to advertise the Christian world that it is quite a distinct event from the demolition of the Jewish temple. This information is indeed conveyed in oblique insinuations, of which it might not be intended that the full meaning should appear at the time when they were uttered. But when Christians had once seen Jerusalem, with its temple and all its towers, destroyed, the nation of the Jews dispersed, and our Lord, in a literal meaning, not yet come; it is strange that they did not then discern, that if there be any thing explicit and clear in the whole of this prophetical discourse, it is this particular prediction, that, during the distresses of the Jewish war, the expectation of our Lord's immediate coming would be the reigning delusion of the times. The discourse is opened with this caution. “Take heed that no man deceive you; for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Ohrist; and shall deceive many.” And the same caution is repeated in various parts of the prophecy, till he comes at last to speak (as I shall hereafter show) of his real coming, as a thing to take place after the destined period should be run out of the desolation of the holy city. “If any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there,-believe it not. If they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert, -go not forth; Behold, he is in the secret chambers,-believe it not. For, as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For,” as it is added in St. Matthew, “wheresoever the carcass is; there will the eagles be gathered together.” Give no credit, says our Lord, to any reports that may be spread that the Messiah is come,-that he is in this place, or in that: my coming will be attended with circumstances which will make it public at once to all the world; and there will be no need that one man should carry the tidings to another. This sudden and universal notoriety that there will be of our Saviour's last glorious advent, is signified by the image of the lightning, which, in the same instant, flashes upon the eyes of spectators in remote and opposite stations. And this is all that this comparison seems intended, or indeed fitted, to express. It hath been imagined that it denotes the particular route of the Roman armies, which entered Judea on the eastern side, and extended their conquests westward. But had this been intended, the image should rather have been taken from something which hath its natural and necessary course in that direction. The lightning may break out indifferently in any quarter of the sky; and east and west seem to be mentioned only as extremes and opposites. And, accordingly, in the parallel passage of St. Luke's gospel, we read neither of east nor west, but indefinitely of opposite parts of the heavens: “For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under the heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven, so shall also the Son of man be in his day.” The expression his day is remarkable. The original might be more exactly rendered his own day; intimating, as I conceive, that the day, that is, the time of the Son of man, is to be exclusively his own,-quite another from the day of those deceivers whom he had mentioned, and therefore quite another from the day of the Jewish war, in which those deceivers were to arise.
Nevertheless, if it were certain that the eagles in the next verse, denote the Roman Armies, bearing the figure of an eagle on their standards,-if the carcass, round which the eagles were to be gathered, be the Jewish nation, which was morally and judicially dead, and whose destruction was pronounced in the decrees of Heaven,-if this were certain, it might then seem necessary to understand the coming of the Son of man, in the comparison of the lightning, of his coming figuratively to destroy Jerusalem. But this interpretation of the eagles and the carcass I take to be a very uncertain, though a specious conjecture.
As the sacred historians have recorded the several occurrences of our Saviour's life without a scrupulous attention to the exact order of time in which they happened, so they seem to have registered his sayings with wonderful fidelity, but not always in the order in which they came from him. Hence it has come to pass, that the heads of a continued discourse have, perhaps, in some instances, come down to us, in the form of unconnected apophthegms. Hence, also, we sometimes find the same discourse differently represented, in some minute circumstances, by different evangelists; and maxims the same in purport somewhat differently expressed, or expressed in the same words, but sent down in a different order ;-circumstances in which the captious infidel finds occasion of perpetual cavil, and from which the believer derives a strong argument of the integrity and veracity of the writers on whose testimony his faith is founded. Now, wherever these varieties appear, the rule should be to expound each writer's narrative by a careful comparison with the rest.
To apply this to the matter in question. These proplecies of our Lord, which St. Matthew and St. Mark relate as a continued discourse, stand in St. Lukes narrative in two different parts, as if they had been delivered upon different, though somewhat similar, occasions. The first of these parts in order of time is made the latter part of the whole discourse in St. Matthew's narrative. The first occasion of its delivery was a question put by some of the Pharisees concerning the time of the coming of the kingdom of God. Our Lord, having given a very general answer to the Pharisees, addresses a more particular discourse to his disciples, in which, after briefly mentioning, in highly-figured language, the affliction of the season of the Jewish war, and after cautioning his disciples against the false rumours of his advent which should then be spread, he proceeds to describe the suddenness with which
his real advent, the day of judgment will at last surprise the thoughtless world. The particulars of this discourse we have in the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke's gospel. The other part of these prophecies St. Luke relates as delivered at another time, upon the occasion which St. Matthew and St. Mark mention. When the disciples, our Lord having mentioned the demolition of the temple, inquired of him, “When shall these things be; and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” our Lord answers their question, as far as it was proper to answer it. He gives a minute detail of those circumstances of the war, which, to that generation, were to be the signs of the last advent;—not the thing itself, but the signs of it; for the beginning of the completion of a long train of prophecy is the natural sign and pledge of the completion of the whole. He foretells the total dispersion of the Jews. He mentions briefly his own coming; of which, he says, the things previously mentioned would be no less certain signs than the first appearances of spring are signs of the season of the harvest. He affirms that the day and hour of his coming is known to none but the Father; and he closes the whole of this discourse with general exhortations to constant watchfulness, founded on the consideration of that suddenness of his coming, of which he had given such explicit warning in his former discourse. The detail of this last discourse, or rather of so much of this discourse as was not a repetition of the former, we have in the twenty-first chapter of St. Luke's gospel.
St. Matthew and St. Mark, the one in the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth, the other in the thirteenth chapter of his gospel, give these prophecies in one entire discourse, as they were delivered to the apostles upon the occasion which they mention; but they have neither distinguished the part that was new from what had been delivered before, nor have they preserved, as it should seem, so exactly as St. Luke, the original arrangement of the matter. In par