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Our Lord then repeats what he had before observed concerning the striking resemblance there should be between these days of desolation and those of Noah, and concerning the evident interposition of divine providence, for the preserving of one while another was taken. As this prophecy is the most remarkable that Christ ever delivered, and is considered as affording a very strong evidence in defence of the Christiau religion, the following remarks of Michaelis, which place the passage strongly in this point of view, will not, we conceive, be unacceptable to the reader.
It were a bold assertion, that by accident alone was fulfilled a prediction thus circumstantially delivered, and thus precise in limiting the period of its accomplishVerily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away til all these things be fulfilled." Besides, the knowledge of it had been so industriously propagated by the apostles among the several communities, that the truth of this prediction seemed in a great manner to determine the truth of the religion, they would,' therefore, hardly have ventured to expose both themselves and their sect to so dangerous a trial, had no such prophecy been given by Christ. Let it be objected, that human sagacity were sufficient to foresee that the misfortunes which had long threatened must at last fall upon the Jews, since the storm had been gathering at a distance before it burst forth with violence; but precisely to determine, not only that series of events recorded by St. Matthew, but even the period of its accomplishment, is surely beyond the reach of human foresight. We may go still farther, and deny that human penetration could have foreseen, in that age, even the event itself, of which Josephus has written in his history of the Jewish war, would have followed, had not a number of unexpected and, at that time, improbable, circumstances arisen, of which no one by human means, during the life of Christ, or even the lives of St. Peter and St. Paul could have had the smallest conception. The injustice of the Roman governors, which, at length, excited a general rebellion, did not arise to such a pitch as to become intolerable till long after the death of Christ the administration of Pilate, compared with that of his successors, was virtuous; and the government also of these, when compared with that of Gessius Florus, the last procurator of Judea, whose cruelties drove the nation to despair, and who purposely forced them to an open rebellion, in order to avoid what the Jews had threatened, an accusation before the Roman emperor. This Florus was the successor of Albinus, and Albinus that of Festus, under whose administration St. Paul was sent prisoner to Rome. No political wisdom could have predicted these events so early as the crucifixion, or even during the period in which were written the apostolic epistles. The troops, likewise, which lay in garrison at Cæsarea, and afterwards fanned into an open flame the sparks of rebellion which seemed almost extinguished, had been commanded by the emperor Claudius to leave their native country, and march into Pontus, he intending to supply their place by a garrison more attached to Rome. Had this command been executed, it is probable that no Jewish war would have followed, and no destruction of Jerusalem. But they sent a suppliant embassy to Claudius, and obtained permission to remain. Josephus makes, on this occasion, the following remark: "These are the persons who occasioned the dreadful calamities which befel the Jews, and laid, during the government of Florus, the foundation of those troubles which afterwards broke out into an open war, on which account they were banished from the province by order of Vespasian. The circumstance which gave birth to these misfortunes is so trifling in itself, that, independent of its consequences, it would hardly deserve to be recorded. In the narrow entrance to a synagogue in Cæsarea, some person had made an offering of birds, merely with a view to irritate the Jews. The insult excited their indignation, and occasioned the shedding of blood. Without this
trifling accident, which no human wisdom could have foreseen, even the day before it happened, it is possible that the prophecy of Christ would never have been fulfilled. For the Jews were determined at all events to avoid an open rebellion, well knowing the greatness of their danger, and submitted to be oppressed by the Roman governor, in the hope of laying their complaints before the throne of the emperor. But Florus, regardless of the submission and entreaties of the Jews, and even of the intercession of Berenice, designedly concerted this private quarrel into public hostilities, and compelled the Jewish nation to rebel against its will. But, notwithstanding this open rebellion, a variety of circumstances occurred which seemed to render the destruction of the temple, an event highly improbable: the recal of Vespasian into Italy when Jerusalem was in danger, and the gentle character of Titus, who succeeded to the command of the Roman army in Judea, gave little ground to suspect so dreadful a calamity. It appears, therefore, from this whole detail, whose length the dignity of the subject will excuse, that no human wisdom, during the life of Christ, could have foreseen the destruction of the temple, and therefore that the wisdom which uttered the prophecy was divine.
As the miseries which men were to undergo at the destruction of Jerusalem, the reasons of that destruction, the passions which its approach would raise in their minds, together with the suddenness with which it would fall upon their heads, strikingly resemble what shall happen at the destruction of the world, it was natural for our Lord to put his disciples in mind of that awful day of retribution, when every one must give an account of every deed done in the body, whether it be good or bad. This exhortation begins Mat. xxiv. 44, where he excites the disciples to watchfulness, from the uncertainty of the hour of his coming, the blessedness which attends his humble and faithful followers, and the dreadful judgments which will fall upon the heads of those who instead of feeding the flock of God, deliver themselves over to sensuality and dissipation, and all those vices with which these are connected.
Our Lord having mentioned the rewards and punishments of a future state in order to animate his disciples to the vigorous discharge of their duty, it was easy and elegant to pass from that subject to the consideration of the general judgment, at which these rewards shall be distributed in their utmost extent. And, therefore, to rouse men in every age, he has given a striking representation of the last judgment, with its consequences, in three excellent parables.
[Mat. xxv. 1..13.] Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them. But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, behold, the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, not so, lest there be not enough for us and you; but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while the bridegroom came, they that were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
In this parable, the characters and final judgment of the subjects of the kingdom of heaven are described, that is to say, if persons who have enjoyed the outward dispensation of the gospel, and, by professing themselves to be Christians, pretended to
honour Christ. Some, with the fair light of an outward profession in their hands, have the principles of divine life in their heart, a stock of oil, to keep that light continually burning both pure and clear, by which means they persevere to the end. But others, having the blaze of a profession, and nothing to keep it alive, it must needs end in smoke and darkness, their oil failing them when they have most occasion for it. The slumbering of the virgins denotes that frame of mind, that distraction and dissipation of thought, which good men sometimes fall into by reason of their necessary worldly business. For although God must never be forgotten the state of human affairs is such, that it is hardly possible to be so intent on our spiritual journey, that no cares shall ever retard or entangle us. Hence it comes to pass, that even those who are most vigilant do sometimes slumber, or, to all outward appearance, are off their guard like the wicked but with this difference still, that though the exercise of grace, at least, so far as it consists in the sensible emotions of holy affections, may be scarcely perceived, they really subsist in their hearts ready to be called forth into action. Whereas, the wicked are wholly destitute of them, not in act only, but in principle also. The two states of mind are excellently represented by the lamps burning dimly for want of trimming, and by its going out for want of oil. The midnight cry raised at the coming of the bridegroom while the virgins were asleep, shews how suddenly and unexpectedly some are called away by death; so that little or no preparation can be made for the approaching judgment, in the confusion and perplexity of a death-bed sickness. In this parable, therefore, our Lord has taught us that unless we persevere in grace, having it always, at least, in habit, and ready to be called into exercise as occasion requires, we shall be excluded from the abodes of the blessed without remedy, though we may have expressed considerable alacrity and diligence for a while. Also, that the grace of other men and their good works shall stand us in no stead at the day of judgment. To conclude: as the parable represents the suddenness of Christ's coming to call every particular person off the stage, it shews us both the folly and danger of delaying religion to a death-bed; and powerfully inforces habitual watchfulness, both in the acquisition and exercise of grace, upon all men in every age, from the consideration of the uncertainty of life. Accord ingly the application of the parable is, [Mat. xxv. 13.] Watch, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
The second parable, which is nearly similar to one already repeated, is contained in Mat. xxv. 14.30. For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, and to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents, went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents, behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He als that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents, behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man,
reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strewed; and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth; lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strewed. Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents, For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Thus Jesus described the judgment of his own servants, his apostles, ministers, and all who are in eminent stations of life, shewing, that though they are not blessed indeed with equal advantages, yet that all the gifts, whether of nature or of grace, which they enjoy, are bestowed on them for their Master's service, to whom they properly belong; and that they should be employed in promoting his interests, the interests of truth and righteousness, which he came down to establish on earth; and that he esteems the most useful life to be the most praise-worthy, and will reward it accordingly. The behaviour of a good man in an eminent station of life is fitly enough compared to a course of merchandize; for as merchants by laying out their money in trade receive it again with profit, so the servants of God, by occupying the abilities and opportunities which he has put into their hands, improve, strengthen, and increase them; and whatever success they have in this spiritual merchandize, their Master is pleased to consider it as his own, and to think himself enriched thereby, rejoicing infinitely in the happiness of his creatures. The excuse which the slothful slave made for himself truly expresses the thoughts of wicked men. They look on Christ as a hard tyrannical master, who rigorously exacts what he has no title to, and who punishes with unreasonable severity things that are no faults at all, or but small ones and they regard his laws as so many infringements of their liberty, by which they are secluded from much innocent pleasure. But the answer which the judge is said to have returned demonstrates, that all the excuses which wicked men can make for themselves shall stand for nothing at the great day. And truly it is not to be imagined how any man will produce a sufficient reason before God, justifying his having neglected to do good. The crime and punishment of this idle servant ought to be attentively considered by all, but especially by persons addicted to pleasure, who imagine that there is no harm in giving themselves up to sensual gratifications, provided thereby they do no injury to others: for the Judge of the world here solemnly declares, that one's doing no harm will not bring him off when tried at his bar; that a life spent merely in amusements will be severely punished; that it is highly criminal to let the knowledge of divine truth lie buried in idleness; and that all God's servants must be actively good, exerting themselves to the utmost in promoting his interest, which is no other than the happiness of his creatures. By this, indeed, they acquire no merit; yet it is by this that they are qualified for the enjoyment of heaven, the gates of which Christ hath set open by his death. To conclude: if the slave who hid his talent in a napkin was reckoned unfaithful to his trust, and punished accordingly, notwithstanding he delivered it up to his lord entire, what may they expect who destroy the noble faculties bestowed on them, or use those temporal blessings as occasions of sin which God intended as means for the exercise and improvement of grace? This parable was delivered formerly in the house of Zaccheus, but with different circumstances.
The third parable (if it be indeed a parable) is as follows: [Mat. xxv. 31.
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angcls with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory. By this, perhaps, is meant some shining cloud like that, on which he ascended into heaven. [Acts i. 9.] For the angels at his ascension declared that he should come to judgment riding on a cloud. [Acts i. 11.] See Exodus xvi. 10. And before him shall be gathered all nations, and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. And he shall set his sheep on the right hand, but the goats on the left. This is agreeable to the language of the Old Testament, in which good men are compared to sheep, on account of their innocence and usefulness [Psalm xxiii. 1, c. 3.]; and wicked men to goats, for the exorbitancy of their lusts. [Ezek. xxxiv. 17.] The allusion, however, is dropt almost at the entrance of the parable, the greatest part of this representation being expressed in terms perfectly simple: so that, though the sense be profound, it is obvious. Here the judgments of all nations, Gentiles as well as Christians, is described, and the points on which their trials are to proceed are shewed. They shall be acquitted or condemned according as it shall then appear that they have performed or neglected works of charity, the duties which, in Christians necessarily spring from the great principles of faith and piety. But then we are not u understand this as if such works were meritorious in either; for all who are acquitted at that day, shall be acquitted solely on account of the righteousness of Christ as the meritorious cause. The sentence passed upon the righteous affords a noble motive to patience in well doing. Then shall the king say unto them on his right hand :In the beginning of the parable he had called himself the Son of man only; but he now changes the appellation, taking the title of king with great propriety, when he is speaking of himself as exercising the highest act of kingly power, in passing final sentence upon all men as his subjects, whereby their state shall be unalterably fixed for ever. But while, in this grand representation, Jesus asserts his proper dignity as Lord over all, he acknowledges his subordination in the kingdom to his Father; by addressing the righteous in the sentence, he passes upon them the compellation of persons blessed of his Father:-Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. The present state of good men is, at best, but a melancholy banishment from their native country. Moreover, they are oftentimes exposed to manifold temptations, to poverty, to reproach, and to innumerable other evils. But that they may bear all, with indefatigable patience, and overcome through the strength of an invincible courage, they are made to know hy this sentence that they are beloved and blessed of God as his own children, that there is no less than an eternal kingdom prepared for them even from the foundation of the world, and that they are the undoubted heirs of this eternal kingdom. Well may such bear with the violence of their opposers, knowing what an exceeding and eternal weight of glory awaits them. They may look on the most flourishing pros perity of the wicked without envy, when they descry the never-fading crown, the fragrancy of the blossoms of which, though it is so distant as heaven, gladdens and refreshes the senses of men on earth. Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. [Mat. xxv. 35.] For I was an huugered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye_clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me. In the whole of your conduct you have imitated the goodness and benevolence of my Father, and therefore I now declare you blessed and beloved of him, and appoint you to inherit this kingdom. Moreover, that you may know how acceptable acts of kindness and charity are to me, I assure you that I reckon every thing of this kind as done to myself. It was I who was an