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ticular, St. Matthew has brought close together the comparison of the Son of man's coming with a flash of lightning, and the image of the eagles gathered about the car
St. Mark mentions neither the one nor the other; whereas St. Luke mentions both, but sets them at the greatest distance one from the other. Both, as appears from St. Luke, belonged to the old part of the discourse; but the comparison of the lightning was introduced, near the beginning of the discourse, the image of the eagles and the carcass at the very end of it. Indeed, this image did not belong to the prediction, but was an answer to a particular question proposed by the disciples respecting some things our Lord had said in the latter part of this prophecy. Our Saviour had compared the suddenness of the coming of the Son of man to the sudden eruption of the waters in Noah's flood, and to the sudden fall of the lightning that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah. It is evident, from St. Matthew's relation, that the coming intended in these similitudes, is that coming, of the time and hour of which none knows, said our Lord, “not even the Son, but the Father.” But since the epoch of the destruction of Jerusalem was known to the Messiah by the prophetic spirit, - for he said that it should take place before the generation with which he was living on earth should be passed away,—the coming, of which the time was not known to the Messiah by the prophetic spirit, could be no other than the last personal advent. This, therefore, is the coming of which our Lord speaks in the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke's gospel, and of which he describes the suddenness; and in the end of his discourse, he foretells some extraordinary interpositions of a discriminating Providence, which shall preserve the righteous, in situations of the greatest danger, from certain public calamities which, in the last ages of the world, will fall upon wicked nations. “Of two men in one bed, one shall be taken and the other left. Two women grinding together, the one shall be taken and the other left. Two men shall be in the field, the one shall be taken and the other left. And they said unto him, Where, Lord ? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.” It is probable that the eagle and the carcass was a proverbial image among the people of the East, expressing things inseparably connected by natural affinities and sympathies. “Her young ones suck up blood," says Job, speaking of the eagle, “and where the slain is, there is she.” The disciples ask, Where, in what countries are these calamities to happen, and these miraculous deliverances to be wrought? Our divine Instructor held it unfit to give farther light upon the subject. He frames a reply, as was his custom when pressed with unseasonable questions, which, at the same time that it evades the particular inquiry, might more edify the disciples than the most explicit resolution of the question proposed.
" Wheresoever the carcass is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.” Wheresoever sinners shall dwell, there shall my vengeance overtake them, and there will I interpose to protect my faithful servants. Nothing, therefore, in the similitude of the lightning, or the image of the eagles gathered round the carcass, limits the phrase of “our Lord's coming,” in the twenty-seventh verse of this twenty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew, to the figurative sense of his coming to destroy Jerusalem.
His coming is announced again in the thirtieth verse, and in subsequent parts of these same prophecies; where it is of great importance to rescue the phrase from the refinements of modern expositors, and to clear some considerable difficulties, which, it must be confessed, attend the literal interpretation. And to this purpose I shall devote a separate discourse.
Tell us when shall these things be ; and what shall be the signs of thy
coming, and of the end of the world ?-Matt. xxiv. 3. It was upon the Wednesday in the Passion week, that our Lord, for the last time retiring from the temple, where he had closed his public teaching with a severe invective against the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, uttered to the apostles, remarking with admiration as they passed the strength and beauty of that stately fabric, that prediction of its approaching demolition which gave occasion to the question which is related in my text. When they reached the Mount of Olives, and Jesus was seated on a part of the hill where the city and the temple lay in prospect before him, four of the apostles took advantage of that retirement to obtain, as they hoped, from our Lord's mouth, full satisfaction of the curiosity which his prediction of the temple's ruin had excited. Peter, James, John, and Andrew, came to him, and asked him privately. " Tell us when shall these things be; and what shall be the signs of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" To this inquiry our Lord was pleased to reply, in a prophetical discourse of some considerable length, which takes up two entire chapters, the twenty-fourth and the twenty-fifth of St. Matthew's gospel; and yet is brief, if the discourse be measured by the subject, if the length of speech be compared with the period of time which the prophecy embraces, commencing within a few years after our Lord's ascension, and ending only with the general judgment. This discourse consists of two principal branches. The first is the answer to the first part of the question, “When shall these things be?”—that is, When shall this demolition of the temple be, which thou hast now foretold? And the second branch of the discourse is the answer to the second part of the question, "What shall be the signs of thy coming, and of the end of the world ?" You will find, indeed, in some modern expositions, such a turn given to the expressions in which the apostles put their questions, as makes the two branches of the sentence, not two distinct questions, as they really are, but the same question, differently expressed. You are told by these expositors, that by the end of the world the apostles meant the end of that particular age during which, the Jewish church and state were destined to endure.
Such puerile refinements of verbal criticism might better become those blind leaders of the blind, against whose bad teaching our Saviour warned the Jewish people, than the preachers of the gospel. Ask these expositors by what means they were themselves led to the discovery of a meaning so little obvious in the words, you will find that they have nothing to allege but what they call the idioms of the Jewish language; which, however, are no idioms of the language of the inspired penmen, but the idioms of the rabbinical divines,--a set of despicable writers, who strive to cover their poverty of meaning by the affected obscurity of a mystic style. The apostles were no rabbins; they were plain, artless men, commissioned to instruct men like themselves in the mysteries of God's kingdom. It is not to be believed that such men, writing for such a purpose, and charged with the publication of a general revelation, should employ phrases intelligible to none but Jews, and among the Jews themselves intelligible only to the learned. The word end, by itself, indeed, may be the end of any thing, and may perhaps be used in this very part of Scripture with some ambiguity, either for the end of all things, or the end of the Jewish state, or the end of any period which may be the immediate subject of discourse: 'but it is not to be believed that the end of the world, in the language of the apostles, may signify the end of any thing else, or carry any other meaning than what the words must naturally convey, to every one who believes that the world shall have an end, and has never bewildered his understanding
in the schools of the rabbin. The apostles, therefore, in the text clearly ask two questions: When will the temple be demolished, as thou hast threatened? And by what signs shall the world be apprized of thy coming, and of its approaching end? Our Lord's prophetical discourse contains such an answer as was meet for both these questions; and as the questions were distinctly propounded, the answers are distinctly given in the two distinct branches of the entire discourse.
I observed, in , my last sermon upon this subject, that these prophecies of our Lord, which St. Matthew and St. Mark relate as a continued discourse, are related by St. Luke as if they had been delivered in two different parts, upon different, though similar, occasions. The truth is, that it was our Lord's custom, as appears from the evangelical history, not only to inculcate frequently the same maxims, and to apply the same proverbs in various senses, but to repeat discourses of a considerable length upon different occasions: as what is called his sermon on the mount was at least twice delivered, and some of his parables were uttered more than once. It is a rule, however, with the evangelists, that each relates a discourse of any considerable length but once, without noticing the various occasions-upon which it might be repeated; though different evangelists often record different deliveries of the same discourse. St. Luke, having related in its proper place our Lord's answer to the inquiry of the Pharisees about the signs of the kingdom, omits, in his relation of our Lord's answer to the like inquiry of the apostles, what seemed little more than a repetition of what had been said upon the former occasion. St. Matthew and St. Mark have given the discourse in reply to the apostles more at length, without mentioning that our Lord had at any time before touched upon the same subject.
By comparing the parrallel passages of these prophetical discourses, as they are related entire by St. Matthew, and in parts by St. Luke, I have already shown, that in the