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such a plain convincing manner, as shews the whole story to be too well founded for any From Matth. cavils or fictions to weaken or impair.
xii. 1. Mark ii. 23. Luke vi. 1.
Mark ix. 14.
Our Saviour might have had some sanative balsam in reserve; but what would all the John v. 1. to balsam in the world have availed towards the cure of the distemper we are now consi- Matth xvii. 14. dering? Physicians and surgeons who have studied the texture of the eye, and made Luke is 37. the cure of its maladies their chief employ, may give us indeed something that will John vii. 1. strengthen the optic nerves when weakened or relaxed; or by some outward operation, may remove such obstructions as would otherwise impede the sight: " But (a) since the world began, (as the poor man here excellently argues) was it ever heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind?" and (as he might have added) by a medicine so incongruous as a plaster of clay? because the uncommonnesss of the application is so far from diminishing, that it rather raises the credit and reputation of the miracle: at least, it must be allowed to be as great and triumphant a display of a su pernatural power to work a cure by means that have no fitness to that end, as it is to do it without any means at all. In the former case, the person who undertakes the cure, has only the distemper to contend with; but here, he has a double difficulty to conquer, and must not only control the power of the disease, but change the repugnant qualities of bodies, and make them productive of quite contrary effects. (b) The fathers here say, that Christ, to illustrate his miraculous power, used that to anoint the blind man's eyes with, which was the greatest impediment to seeing, and most pernicious to the eyes. But though all must allow, that the method which he here made use of was of no significance as to the cure of the man's blindness, yet was it, nevertheless, highly pertinent, in order to convince the spectators, as well as the patient himself, of his sovereign virtue, which could produce such a wonderful effect by no other application but what was indifferent, if not obstructive to the cure.
Some of the ancient fathers were so rigid in their censures against adultery, that they would not admit any persons convicted thereof into the communion of the church, even after the longest penance; and carried their zeal and resentment to such an height, as to think it no great harm to kill them. No wonder then, if men of such severe opinions were unwilling to receive into the canon of Scripture the history of the woman taken in this crime, because, as they imagined, it gave permission to lewdness, since our Saviour sent her away without condemning her; whereas, (c) in his present circumstances, he had no commission to pass sentence upon her, though in bidding her (d) gò, and, for fear of the Divine judgment, repent and sin no more, he sufficiently declared himself against all such practices.
* Upon a different persuasion, however, it was that this passage came at first to be marked as dubious, and, in time, was quite thrown out as spurious in many ancient, especially Greek copies: But, in opposition to this, we need only observe, (e) that this part of history was found in the sixteen manuscripts which Stephanus, in all the seventeen (save one) which Beza, and in that infinite number which our learned Mills has made use of; that Tatian, who lived in the year 160, i. e. sixty years after the death of St John, and Ammianus of Alexandria, who flourished about the year 220, and made their several Harmonies of the Gospel out of the copies then in use, do both (as appears from the canons of Eusebius) relate it; that most of the copies of the East (according to Selden's report) retain it; and though "it be not found in some manu
(a) John ix. 32.
(b) Whitby's Annotations on John ix. 6.
* The words of St Austin upon this occasion are
dari mulieribus suis, illud, quod de adultere indul-
(e) Calmet's Commentary, and Whitby's Annota
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A. M. 4035. scripts. (as the Greek code, cited by Cotelerius, expresses the matter) yet it is entire in the ancient manuscripts, and all the apostles make mention of it in the Constitutions which they set forth for the edification of the church. †.”
31. &c. Vulg. Er. 29.
This is enough to vindicate the truth and sincerity of this part of St John's history from the censures of critics who suspect it; and, to rescue his doctrine from such false constructions as the adversaries of our Lord's Divinity would put upon it, we need only be mindful to distinguish between his Divine and human nature, and not to apply such words and actions of his as relate to the one to the prejudice of the other. Those who deny the Deity of Christ, do nevertheless acknowledge that he was a prophet sent from God, and invested with an high commission. Now, under this character he could only appear and act, in virtue of his human nature, and must thereupon be deemed subservient to the orders and commands of his heavenly Father: And therefore, as the very office of a prophet requires, that he should speak nothing of himself, not deliver his own mind or doctrine, nor seek his own glory, but speak all things in the name, and do all things for the glory of him that sent him; so are we not to wonder that we find our Blessed Lord, though he had in him " all the fulness of the Godhead," yet in his prophetical capacity, speaking and acting as if he had no power but what was given him from above, (even as ambassadors here on earth are obliged to pursue their master's instructions), and therefore professing so frequently that he delivered no doctrine of his own invention, nor did any thing but what he had a commission to do.
The Socinians indeed allow, that the commission wherewith our Saviour was sent into the world, to do and reveal God's will, was reason enough to entitle him to the appellation of the Son of God, and that this is all that he pretends to when he seems to clear himself to the Jews from any higher assumption. But now (a) it appears, from a due inspection of the context, that Christ did not intend to say or prove that he was the Son of God, as being only his ambassador, extraordinarily instructed, and so sent into the world; but on a far more excellent account, viz. that before he came into the world he was with God the Father, and so was his true and essential Son, as being God of God, and partaking of the same nature as a son does with his father. From the 25th to the 30th verse inclusively, it is manifest that our Lord discoursed to the Jews in such a manner, that they still thought he was asserting his Godhead, and therefore (b) "we stone thee, (say they) because thou, being a man, makest thyself God,” viz. by calling God so emphatically, and with such peculiarity his Father, as that he was so to him alone, and so that (c)" he and his Father were one." But to this our Saviour does not answer by denying, either that he was God, or that he had ever challenged to himself that dignity, which (had he been only man) had been the most proper thing he could have said to take off the objection of his blasphemy; but, instead of that, he seems rather to argue that he was so the Son of God as to have the Divine Nature in him: "For if judges and magistrates, says he, are called gods, from an imperfect resemblance and participation of the Divine authority, how much more may I
t[The Constitutions, though a work of very high antiquity, were certainly not set forth by all the apostles, nor written by Clement the fellow-labourer of St Paul. Griesbach, after a collation of manuscripts more accurate perhaps than any that was made before him, is of opinion, that the story of the woman taken in adultery made no part of the Gospel written by St John. He does not, however, absolutely reject it as spurious, but only says-probabilitur delenda est. Many others have adopted this opinion upon his authority; but the question is by no means
23. Luke vi. 1.
Mark ix. 14.
be called God, who am both by nature the Son of God, and in the most excellent man- From Matth. ner authorised by him?" For this he signifies by saying, that (a) "his Father had xii 1. Mark ii. sanctified him and sent him into the world;" wherein he still declares that God was John v. 1 to his Father, and that he was first sanctified, and then sent, which plainly implies that Matth. xvi. 14. he was the Son of God in heaven before his mission into the world; and therefore, as Luke ix. 37. an additional proof of his Divine original, he appeals to the Divine operations he performed (b)" If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not; but if I do, though 'you believe not me, believe the works; that ye may know and believe that the Father is in me and I in him."
When therefore our Blessed Saviour says of himself. that (c) "All power was given unto him both in heaven and earth;" and that unto his disciples (d) "he had appointed a kingdom, even as his Father had appointed unto him;" when St Paul styles him the (e)" Righteous Judge, who shall give a crown of righteousness to all that love his appearance;" and St Matthew, (f)" that King who shall separate the sheep from the goats," and (g)" reward every one according to his works;" it can hardly be thought, that to distribute rewards in the kingdom of glory is a prerogative peculiar to the Father alone, and such as no way belongs to the Son; because our Saviour, in his reply to Zebedee's children, tells us, (h) "that to sit on his right hand and on his left, was not his to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it was prepared of his Father:" since the whole and only design of the passage is to shew, that those rewards shall not be distributed, upon such conditions, and in such a manner as these petitioners vainly imagined. (i) To this purpose we may observe, that the words "shall be given to them," are only a supplement made by the translators, for they are not in the original, which is literally thus,-" To sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give, but, or except to them alone, for whom it is prepared of my Father;" And this means no more than that the honours and degrees of happiness in the other world are not the Son's to give, in the sense that these apostles fancied, i. e. he does not give them absolutely and arbitrarily; he is not led by partiality and fondness, and respect of persons; he is not carried by humour, or vanquished by the importunity of friends and suitors, as earthly princes are, but is limited by the considerations of equity and strict justice, from which it can never be consistent with the perfections of his nature to depart: For that the whole process of the final judgment, and consequently the dispensation of future rewards and punishments, is to be transacted by our Blessed Saviour, we have this express testimony in Scripture, (k) “ The Father judgeth no man; but hath committed all judgment to the Son, that all men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father."
Though we are not much acquainted with the condition of angels, or the ingredients of their happiness, yet thus much the Scripture has informed us concerning them, that (1)" they are ministering spirits, sent out to minister for them that shall be heirs of salvation; and therefore we may reasonably presume, that they are full of tenderness for their charge, solicitous for their particular safety, and extremely glad of any good that befals them. (m) How these heavenly hosts were affected with the salvation of mankind in general, is evident from the hymn with which they attended at the birth of Christ, to welcome him into the world; and though their nature be far distant from us mortals, and their bliss exquisite beyond what we are able to conceive; yet, in re gard that both their nature and their bliss are finite, their joy may certainly admit of
(a) John x. 36.
(e) 2 Tim. iv. 8.
(b) Ibid. ver. 37, 38. (f) Matth. xxv. 31, &c. (i) Stanhope on the Epistles and Gospels, vol. i. (m) Stanhope on the Epistles and Gospels, vol. iii.
(c) Matth. xxviii. 18.
(d) Luke xxii. 29.
John vii. 1.
A. M. 4035, an increase; and as often as a sinner is converted from the evil of his ways, there may
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spring up a fresh object, and a large and literal addition to it.
But can this properly be said of God too, whose perfection of happiness allows no Vulg. Er. 30. such accumulation? No, doubtless; and therefore with respect to him, we must inter
pret this, as reason and religion oblige us to understand many such like passages where human parts and passions are attributed to him. As therefore the Holy Ghost, mean. ing to represent his displeasure and our baseness, does it, by saying, that we provoke him to anger, kindle his fury, grieve and weary his spirit, and the like; so here, by saying, that God rejoiceth over a repenting sinner, is intended, that such repentance is highly agreeable to him, and that were his nature capable of the same unequal motions with ours, the joy of a father or a friend, for retrieving the person he loves best, and had been most in pain for, would be but a feeble and a very faint image of that satis faction which this excites in him, who loves us better than the tenderest parent, or most affectionate friend upon earth does, or can do.
But why should the degree of joy be so intense upon this occasion? Why should the reformation of one sinner raise it above the safety of many souls who never fell from their integrity? And the ninety-nine sheep which never strayed, excite less of it than one poor silly wanderer? In order to resolve this difficulty, we must observe, (a) that, in the parables of the Gospel, it is usual to represent all of the same kind, though they be sometimes the greater number, by one man. Thus, in the parable of the marriagesupper, the man who had not on his wedding-garment (according to the sense of most interpreters), represents all wicked men; and in that of the several talents, the slothful servant, who hid his in a napkin, is said to be one, whereas they who improved theirs are three; and yet it can hardly be doubted, but that there are fewer who receive the grace of God to any good purpose, than they who receive it in vain; and in like manner, though, in the preceding parables, there is mention made but of one lost piece of silver, and of one strayed sheep, yet is that one the representative of the whole tribe of sinners, which do certainly out-number the few that are righteous; and therefore, according to this acceptation, the joy in heaven may be allowed to be greater, because the objects that give occasion to it are more.
But even if this were not, as these words were spoken of God after the manner of men, so they are to be understood in a sense agreeable to human passions. Now in ourselves we perceive, that, in obtaining what we passionately desired, in regaining what we looked upon as lost, and in securing what was in great and imminent danger, our joy is strong, and our delight transporting. The surprise of an escape, which we did not expect, and the regaining of a treasure we had given over as gone, is entertained with rapture, because it is a kind of new accession to our fortunes, and like a thing we never enjoyed before. A loving father, no doubt, finds great comfort in seeing all his children in a perfect state of health; but if one of them chance to fall sick beyond expectation of recovery, to see him out of danger, administers more present joy than does the constant health of all the rest; and, in like manner, though a continued course of goodness be in itself most valuable, yet the recovery of a lost sinner, the reviving one dead in trespasses and sins, the seeing him snatched as a fire-brand out of the fire, when he was just going to fall into it, gives a more fresh and lively joy; and therefore (b) it is meet, says the father in the parable, that upon this occasion "we should make merry and be glad; for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; was lost, and is found.”
Some interpreters are of opinion, that the parable of the Lord of the vineyard, paying all his labourers alike, is to be understood of the gift of grace, or first admission to the privileges of the Gospel, and not of the fruition of glory; because the wages here mentioned are given to the envious and unthankful. But allowing this to be no
(a) Whitby's Annotations on Luke xv. 7.
(6) Luke xv. 23, 24.
23. Luke vi. 1.
more than a passage inserted for ornament and illustration only, or that it may mean a From Matth. reward so surprisingly great, as, among men, would provoke the envy of others; yet ifxii. 1. Mark ii. we state the case of the several labourers in the parable, as it includes the Jews and John v. 1. to Gentiles in general, and private Christians in particular, we shall find no injustice in Matth. xvii.14. what the Lord of the vineyard did unto them.
Mark ix. 14.
(a) To the Jews God was pleased to make the first express discoveries of his will by a written law: In process of time the like benefit was extended to the Gentiles. They readily accepted it, and, by so doing, became partakers of the same grace and precious promises with those who had long been brought up under the legal, and, from that, removed sooner under the evangelical dispensation. The apostles left all and followed Christ. The primitive Christians gave in their names to his doctrine, and continued stedfast in it, at the certain peril of their liberties, their fortunes, their lives; and yet, in any after ages of Christianity, they, who live and die (though quietly and peaceably) in the sincere profession of this religion, are promised the kingdom of heaven as a reward for their faith and obedience.
In like manner, some have the happiness of a pious education, and carry on their early virtue through the several stages of life; others, who either wanted that advantage, or have neglected to improve it, run into the same excess of riot with the unthinking part of the world; and yet if these, though late, see their follies, and effectually forsake them, the promise of God standeth sure, (b) “ that at what time soever the wicked man turneth away from the wickedness he hath committed, and doth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive." This is the whole sense of the parable, and these are the common cases to which it is applied: But we mistake the meaning of it widely, if we think that it denotes an equality of rewards in the kingdom of heaven, since we have this assurance given us, that as there (c)" is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars, so also is the resurrection of the dead." Those that are raised to everlasting life shall indeed be all glorious; but still the glory of some shall be greater than that of others. Every good Christian shall, no doubt, be admitted to a state of felicity; but when we consider these words of our Saviour, (d) "I have appointed unto you a kingdom, that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel," we cannot but infer, that there are some particular marks and instances of glory, wherewith the apostles of our Lord will be honoured above other Christians. And, in like manner, though a late penitent (if he be sincere) shall be received to mercy at last, yet he has not ordinarily any reason to expect a degree of glory equal to his who has never swerved from his duty, or has quickly returned to it. His bliss shall be perfect indeed, though it be not the most exalted; and though he be less happy than some other Christians, yet he shall be much happier than he deserves.
Though the difference between the Jews and Samaritans, in matters of religion, was great, and no small obstruction to all civil intercourse, yet it was not at all times carried to such an height as to deny to each other the common rights of hospitality. Our Saviour himself was, once upon a time, (e) when he met the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, kindly received by the people of Sychar, for the space of two days, but then he was returning out of Judea, whereas he was now going up to Jerusalem with a purpose to celebrate the feast of tabernacles. The Samaritans had likewise a feast of the same kind, though not observed at the same time, (f) of as old a date as the first separation under Jeroboam, and instituted both in imitation of, and in opposition to, the great festival that our Lord was now going to solemnize; and therefore, (g) this travelling
(a) Stanhope on the Epistles and Gospels, vol. ii. (d) Luke xxii. 29, 30. (e) John iv. on the Epistles and Gospels, vol. iv.
(b) Ezek. xviii. 26.
(c) 1 Cor. xv. 41, 42.