Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

similitude of the lightning, by which our Lord represents the suddenness of his future coming, no allusion could be intended to the route of the Roman armies, when they invaded Palestine; and that the image of the eagles gathered round the carcass hath been expounded with more refinement than truth of the Roman standards planted round Jerusalem, when the city was besieged by Vespasian. No argument, therefore, can be drawn from these poetical allusions, that the coming of the Son of man, which is compared to the flash of lightning, was what has been called his coming figuratively to destroy Jerusalem. I now proceed to consider the remaining part of these prophecies, and to show that the coming of the Son of man, so often mentioned in them, can be understood of nothing but that future coming of our Lord which was promised to the apostles by the angels at the time of his ascension,-his coming visibly to judge the quick and dead.

Every one, I believe, admits that the coming of the Son of man, foretold in the thirtieth verse of this t:venty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew's gospel, when the sign of the Son of man is to be displayed in the heavens, when the tribes of the earth shall be seized with consternation, seeing him coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory ;-every one admits, that the coming thus foretold in the thirtieth verse, is to succeed those disorders in the sun, moon, and stars, mentioned in the twenty-ninth. Darkness in the sun and moon, and a falling of the stars, were images in frequent and familiar use among the Jewish prophets, to denote the overthrow of great empires, or the fall of mighty potentates; and there is nothing in the images themselves to connect them with one event of this kind rather than another. But if we recur to the parallel passage of St. Luke's gospel, we shall find, that before these signs in the sun, moon, and stars, our Lord had mentioned that Jerusalem is to be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled; that is, till the time shall come for that occasion of new converts from the Gentiles, which, as St. Paul intimates, is to follow the restoration of the converted Jews. “If the fall of them" (the Jews), says St. Paul, “ be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fulness!” After he had mentioned this fulfilling of the times of the Gentiles, then, according to St. Luke, our Lord introduced those signs in the sun and the heavenly bodies. These signs, therefore, are not to take place till the time come for the fulfilling of the Gentiles; not, therefore, till the restoration of the Jews, which is to be the beginning and the means of that fulfilling. They cannot, therefore, be intended to denote the beginnings of that dispersion of the Jews from which they are to be restored when these signs take place. Nor can the coming of the Son of man, which is still to succeed these signs, be bis coming figuratively to effect that dispersion by the arms of Vespasian. The dispersion, I say, of the Jewish people, which, by a considerable interval, was to precede these signs, cannot be the same thing with the coming of the Son of man, which is to follow them.

Upon these grounds, I conclude that, under the image of these celestial disorders, the overthrow of some wicked nations in the last ages is predicted; probably of some who shall pretend to oppose, by force of arms, the return of the chosen race to the holy land, and the re-establishment of their kingdom. And if this be the probable interpretation of the signs in the sun and moon, the advent which is to succeed those signs can hardly be any other than the real advent at the last day.

In my first discourse upon this subject, I had occasion to obviate an objection that might be raised, from the declaration which our Lord subjoins to his parable of the fig-tree: “This generation shall not pass away till all these things be fulfilled.” I showed that the words all these things do not denote all the particulars of the whole preceding prophecy, but all the things denoted by the same words in the application of that parable,-namely, all the first signs which answer to the budding of the fig-tree's leaves.

Great stress has been laid upon the expressions with which, as St. Matthew reports them, our Lord introduces the mention of those signs in sun and moon which are to precede his advent: “ Immediately after the tribulation of those days, shall the sun be darkened.” The word immediately may seem to direct us to look for this darkness of sun and moon in something immediately succeeding the calamities which the preceding part of the prophecy describes: and as nothing could more immediately succeed the distresses of the Jewish war than the demolition of the city and the dispersion of the nation, hence, all that goes before in St. Matthew's narrative of these discourses bath been understood of the distresses of the war, and these celestial disorders, of the final dissolution of the Jewish polity in church and state; which catastrophe, it bath been thought, our Lord might choose to clothe in “ figurative language, on purpose to perplex the unbelieving, persecuting Jews, if his discourses should ever fall into their hands, that they might not learn to avoid the impending evil.” But we learn from St. Luke, that before our Lord spoke of these signs, he mentioned the final dissolution of the Jewish polity, in the plainest terms, without any figure. He had said, “They," that is (as appears by the preceding sentence), this people, “shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles.” And to what purpose should be afterwards propound in a figure what he had already described in plain words? Or how could the figurative description, thusaccompanied with the interpretation, serve the purpose of confounding and perplexing? I apprehend, that the whole difficulty which the word immediately is supposed to create in that interpretation, which refers the signs in the sun and moon to the last ages of the world, is founded on a mistake concerning the extent of that period of affliction which is intended by the tribulation of those days. These words, I believe, have been always understood of those few years during which the Roman armies harassed Judea and besieged the holy city: whereas it is more agreeable to the general cast of the prophetic language, to understand them of the whole period of the tribulation of the Jewish nation,--that whole period during which Jerusalem is to be trodden down. This tribulation began, indeed, in those days of the Jewish war; but the period of it is at this day in its course, and will not end till the time shall come, predetermined in the counsels of God, for the restoration of that people to their ancient seats. This whole period will probably be a period of affliction, not to the Jews only, but also in some degree to the Christian church : for not before the expiration of it will the true church be secure from persecutions from without—from corruption, schism, and heresy within. But when this period shall be run out,—when the destined time shall come for the conversion and restoration of the Jewish people,-immediately shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shak not give her light; great commotions and revolutions will take place among the kingdoms of the earth. Indeed, the re-establishment of the Jewish kingdom is, in the nature of the thing, not likely to be effected without great disturbances. By this interpretation, and I think in no other

way, the parallel passages of St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, may be brought exactly to one and the same meaning.

I shall now venture to conclude, notwithstanding the great authorities which incline the other way, that the phrase of “our Lord's coming,” wherever it occurs in his prediction of the Jewish war, as well as in most other passages of the New Testament, is to be taken in its literal meaning, as denoting his coming in person, in visible pomp and glory, to the general judgment.

Nor is the belief of that coming, so explicitly foretold, an article of little moment in the Christian's creed, however some who call themselves Christians may affect to slight it. It is true, that the expectation of a future retribution is what ought, in the nature of the thing, to be a sufficient restraint upon a wise man's conduct, though we were uninformed of the manner in which the thing will be brought about, and were at liberty to suppose

that

every individual's lot would be silently determined, without any public entry of the Almighty Judge, and without the formality of a public trial. But our merciful God, who knows how feebly the allurements of the present world are resisted by our reason, unless imagination can be engaged on reason's side, to paint the prospect of future good, and display the terror of future suffering, hath been pleased to ordain that the business shall be so conducted, and the method of the business so clearly foretold, as to strike the profane with awe, and animate the humble and the timid. He hath warned us, and let them who dare to extenuate the warning ponder the dreadful curse with which the book of prophecy is sealed—“If any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take

away his part out of the book of life;”—God hath warned us that the inquiry into every man's conduct will be public ---Christ himself the Judge, the whole race of man, and the whole angelic host, spectators of the awful

Before that assembly, every man's good deeds will be declared, and his most secret sins disclosed. As no elevation of rank will then give a title to respect, no obscurity of condition shall exclude the just from public honour, or screen the guilty from public shame. Opulence will find itself no longer powerful, poverty will be no longer weak; birth will no longer be distinguished, meanness will no longer pass unnoticed. The rich and poor will indeed strangely meet together; when all the inequalities of the present life shall disappear, and the conqueror and his captive, the monarch and his subject, the lord and his vassal, the statesman and the peasant,

scene.

« ZurückWeiter »