صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

end, Mark xi.

to the end, and

Thus, take it which way we will, we cannot justly accuse the evangelist of any mis- From Matth. quotation, and much less can we charge him with any misrepresentation of a matter of XX. 10. to the fact, in his making our Blessed Lord able enough to drive all the buyers and sellers 15. to the end, out of the temple. St Jerome (a) indeed reckons this one of the greatest miracles Luke xix. 45. that ever our Saviour did, and imputes his ability to do it to a certain Divine Majesty John xii. 19. to which, at that time, appeared in his looks, and struck the company with such a reve- the end. rential awe and respect to his person, as restrained them from making any opposition: But without having recourse to any thing miraculous in this transaction, we need only remember, that our Lord was just now come up from Bethany to Jerusalem in a sort of royal and triumphant procession; that he was attended on the road, and into the city, with (b)" a very great multitude, nay, with multitudes that went before and followed after;" that these all went along with him into the temple, and proclaimed (as they had done on the road)" Hosanna to the Son of David!" and that the concourse, in short, was so great, that (c) "all the city was moved, and even the chief priests were afraid of him, and of the people too, because they took him for a prophet, and (d) were attentive to hear him.”

Now it is no hard matter to imagine, that the people, seeing our Saviour proceed to the temple in this triumphant manner, might seasonably enough call to mind the prediction of the prophet Malachi, (e)" The Lord whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, in whom ye delight, and he shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer to the Lord an offering of righteousness ;" and that from the remembrance of this prophecy, they might be encouraged to abet his reformation of the temple. (f) Nor is it to be doubted but that a consciousness of guilt in the profaners themselves might, in some measure, contribute to their submission and acquiescence, even in the same manner as his enemies were struck backwards with the sense of their own guilt, as well as the majesty of his appearance, and fell to the ground when they came to apprehend him in the garden. So that, upon the whole, we are to consider our Saviour in this action, not in the form of a despised man, but of a triumphant monarch rather, at the head of an infinite number of people, all rejoicing in the completion of an ancient prophecy, all acknowledging him for their Messiah and king, and thereupon all ready to support him in any reformation that he should think proper to attempt.

The like is to be said of the relation which the evangelists give us of the darkness which happened at our Lord's crucifixion; that it is far from being a misrepresentation of the matter of fact, since we have it confirmed (g) by the testimony of Phlegon, who, in the xivth book of his Chronicles, tells us, that in the 4th year of CCIId Olympiad, (which answers exactly to that of our Lord's death) "there was the greatest eclipse of the sun that had ever been before, insomuch, that at noon-day the stars were seen in the sky;" by the authority of Thallus, (h) a Greek historian, who, in his third book, speaks of the darkness that accompanied our Saviour's death, and which he, in like manner, called an eclipse; by the appeal which Tertullian (i) and others make to the Roman archives, (where the account that Pilate sent to Tiberius of the miracles which happened at our Lord's passion was deposited) for the truth of this prodigious darkness; and, (k) lastly, by the general consent of all Christian authors for the space of the six first centuries, who, in treating this subject, have constantly made mention of this testimony of Phlegon and Thallus, together with this appeal to the Roman records, without the least hesitation or diffidence of their truth: So that the only difficulty is, to know by what means this strange phænomenon was effected.

(a) In Matth. xxi. 12. (e) Mal. iii. 1, &c. lib. ii.

(b) Ibid. ver. 8, 9.
(c) Ibid. xxi. 10.
(f) Bishop Smallbroke's Vindication, p. 146.
(h) African. Chronogr.
(i) Apolog. c. xxi.

Phlegon Vindicated.

(d) Luke xix. 48. (g) Vid. Orig. cont. Cels (k) Whiston's Testimony of

Ann. Dom.

A. M. 4037. Phlegon and Thallus indeed, as they are cited (a) by Christian writers, seem to make &c. or 5442. this darkness a common eclipse, occasioned (as others are) by an interposition of the moon Vulg. Er. 33, between the sun and the earth, and thence some have inferred that there was nothing &c. or 31. extraordinary in it: But as it is a thing very well known, that the Passover (when our Lord suffered) was always appointed at the full of the moon, and a thing naturally impossible that an eclipse should happen when the moon is in this condition, we have reason to think that this was an hasty conclusion which these two authors made, without ever bethinking themselves of the rules of astronomy; that finding in the public records of the time of Tiberius, an account of a prodigious darkness, which, at noon-day, made the stars appear in the firmament, this they supposed could have been effected only by an eclipse of the sun, and upon such supposition, affirmed that it was so: But for one circumstance unwarily advanced, it were madness to reject their testimony, which, in other respects, exactly agrees with the account of the Sacred Writings.

Others, by the manner of their expression, seem to imply, that the sun, upon this oc. casion, with-held its rays, and, as it were, eclipsed itself, by restraining its lustre from issuing forth; never considering that light in the sun is no accidental thing, nor any quality which it can suppress or exert as it thinks proper. To shine is as necessary to it as is its being: Nor can its rays meet with any obstruction but when some opaque body or other intervenes between us and them; and therefore, when the fathers, in conformity to the style of the Scripture, say, that the sun or the stars withdrew their shining, this must be looked upon as a figurative and popular manner of expression, which seems to give these celestial bodies a kind of free action, thereby to make us more sensible of the absence or suspension of their effects.

Others, therefore, with more probability think, that as the Sacred History says no. thing of the sun, this darkness which it takes notice of was occasioned by a great number of condensed clouds, which, gathering in the air, intercepted the light of the sun, and for the space of three hours produced the same effect that once happened in the land of Egypt, a darkness that might be felt. This hypothesis makes the matter very easy, by placing the whole miracle in the quick formation of the clouds at such a point of time, and the speedy dispersion of them after such a continuance *; only we must suppose, that (b) by the whole earth, which the evangelist tells us was covered with this darkness, we are to understand the land of Judea only, in which sense the phrase does not unfrequently occur in Scripture.

And indeed, (c) as the other wonderful things which came to pass at our Saviour's passion, such as the trembling of the earth, the rending of the rocks, the opening the graves, and tearing the vail of the temple, were transacted at Jerusalem, or at most in Judea only; so have we reason to believe, that the darkness which accompanied these miracles was of no greater extent than they; because the chief design of this uncom mon appearance in the heavens was to convince the Jews, who blasphemed our Lord,

(a) Calmet's Dissert. sur les Tenebres.

[This is a very unphilosophical solution of the difficulty, if indeed there be any difficulty in the case, and such as cannot be admitted by common sense. If the rays of the sun were intercepted merely by a congeries of dense clouds, how came the feebler rays of the stars to penetrate those clouds which were im pervious to the rays of the sun? The darkness was unquestionably miraculous, of which therefore no other account is to be given than that it was produced by the immediate interposition of God, as all other miracles have been; but what is now known of the constitution of the sun, renders it unnecessary to imagine either that masses of dense clouds, which indeed

would not have answered the purpose, were interposed between the land of Judea and the sun; or that the moon was carried out of her course, and then rendered stationary for three hours in order to cause this preternatural darkness. If the sun be such a body as some philosophers seem to have lately ascertained it to be, the darkness might be produced, and produced over all the earth, merely by an aperture of the lumi nous atmosphere made much larger than those which are now known to produce the dark spots observed occasionally in the surface of the sun.] See vol. i p. 22, &c. of this Work.

παι

(b) 'ETI TATAY TH y Matth. xxvii. 45.
(c) Origen. in Matth. tract. 35.

and his disciples who believed on him, both then present at his crucifixion, that not-From Matth. withstanding all the humiliation to which he voluntarily submitted, he was in reality XX. 10. to the the Great Creator of the universe; and even while he was hanging on the cross, the 15. to the end, ruler and director of all its elements and motions.

end, Mark xi.

Luke xix. 45. to the end, and

God indeed, as he is an omniscient Being, cannot but foreknow all the actions of man-John xii. 19. to kind, and therefore, when he pleases, may foretel any of them; but then (a) if his the end. foreknowledge or predictions did so far influence the will of men, as to lay them under a necessity of doing what he foreknows, or has foretold they shall do, all freedom in human actions must be destroyed; consequently all vice and virtue must be empty names, because no one can be blamed for doing what he could not help, nor does any one deserve to be praised who does only that which he cannot avoid: And consequently, again, all future rewards and punishments must be discarded; because as it would be unjust to punish one man for that which was not in his power to avoid, so would it be unreasonable to reward another for doing such actions as he found himsslf.constrained and compelled to do.

[It is indeed very difficult for us to conceive how the future actions of free agents can be foreknown, because we have no other notion of knowledge, than that which we acquire by reflecting on what passes within our own minds, when we contemplate either abstract truth or the events which we distinctly remember. We certainly cannot discover what are to be the future actions of free agents; but God's knowledge is not as our knowledge, or at least his means of knowledge are not at all like those which we possess. If we infer that the future actions of free agents cannot be known to him, only because they are not known to us, we must deny his omniscience of what is doing at present, as well as his prescience of what shall be done hereafter. God is indeed said to be present to all his works, and so indeed he unquestionably is; but how is he present to them? Dr Clark and his followers suppose that the Deity, though immaterial, is diffused through the universe; but this hypothesis, if employed to explain the manner of God's omniscience, is fraught with innumerable inconsistencies and contradictions. Whatever is extended, is, at least mathematically, divisible into parts, so that one part or portion of it must be conceived to be in one place, and another part or portion in a different place. If every part or portion of this extended Deity be, as the hypothesis requires, intelligent and percipient of those things to which it is immediately present, and of nothing else, then it is not true that the Deity, as one individual Being, is present to and perceives all things that actually exist; but that one portion of such a Deity perceives one thing, and another a different thing; and so on through the whole extent of the universe. Surely this conclusion, which follows necessarily from the hypothesis, as the hypothesis is built on the supposition that God actually perceives, as we perceive only such things as are locally present to us, instead of being an explanation of the omniscience of the Deity, is nothing else than a farrago of impious absurdities.

The truth is, that extension cannot be predicated-cannot be either affirmed or denied without absurdity, of any intelligence, whether supreme or subordinate; and

From the astronomical tables, some that are versed in this kind of knowledge have informed us, that on the same day, when our Saviour died, about three in the afternoon, i. e. immediately after the miraculous darkness, which began at noon, and lasted three hours, there was a natural eclipse of the moon, in which half of its orbit was obscured: So that this day produced a literal accomplishment of two remarkable prophesies; that of Joel," The earth shall quake

before them, the heavens shall tremble, the sun and
the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw
their shining," chap. ii. 10. and that of Amos, “In
that day, saith the Lord, I will cause the sun to go
down at noon, and will darken the earth in the clear
day, and I will turn your feasts into mourning, and
all your songs into lamentation," chap, viii. 9, 10.
Calmet's Commentary.

(a) Whitby's Annotations on John xii. 38,

A. M. 4037, that we might, with as much propriety say of pain, that it is of some particular colour, &c. or 5442. as we can say of any intelligence that it is of small or great extent!

Ann. Dom.

Vulg. Er. 33,

The manner, therefore, in which God is present to his works, and perceives the ac&c. or 31. tions which men and angels are now performing in every region of the universe, is as utterly unknown to us, as is the manner in which he may perceive the actions of free agents to be performed a thousand years hence. Yet that he is present to all his works, and privy to all the thoughts and actions of men and angels, has never been called in question by any Theist, though all the attempts to explain how he is everywhere present (at least all such attempts as have fallen under my observation) are involved in absurdity and contradiction. To comprehend indeed how God knows at once (and at once he must know or be growing daily wiser) all that has been, now is, or ever shall be, would require an intellect infinite as his own; but the following observations may perhaps tend to satisfy the reader, that to an intellect of absolute perfection all this is possible.

Every wise and scientific artist, who is to construct a complicated machine, a clock or watch, for instance, first contemplates the nature of the object which he has in view, and the materials on which he is to work for its attainment; he then ideally forms these materials, and views them all by his mind's eye as fitted to each other and in motion, considering well to what accidents the several parts of his machine will be most liable, and taking what measures appear to him most likely to avert such accidents, and render the time-keeper fit for the purpose which he intends it to serve. An experienced artist has as distinct a view of such a machine and of all its movements, before a single wheel of it is formed, as after it is all put together and in motion; and may not the omniscience of the Supreme Being have had a view, analogous to this, of the whole universe, and of every movement in it, whether of mind or of matter, before a single part of it was called into existence?

With respect to the corporeal motions of the universe, and the conclusions of the understanding when employed in the contemplation of abstract truth, it will readily be admitted that he may, because these are all necessary events; but it is more difficult to conceive how the actions of free agents, who have the origin of their actions in their own minds, can be known before they be actually performed. Still it seems to be possible, and obviously possible, to a mind of absolute perfection. If all the free agents, that ever were, and ever shall be in the universe, have ideally performed their several parts in the Divine intellect before one of them was actually brought into being, (and this seems to have been the opinion of the ancient Platonists), even their freest actions must have been as perfectly known to God before the creation of the world, as they could be after the actions themselves were really performed. The scientific artist is not better acquainted with the movements of a complicated machine, when viewing it in actual motion, than he was when contemplating it in idea, before a single part of it was formed from the rude materials; and God was at least as well acquainted with the powers and dispositions of all the men and other free a gents, whom he was to create; with the stations in which they were to be placed; and with the temptations to which they were to be exposed, as the artist is with the several mechanical powers and forces, with the nature of the wheels and other parts of his time-keeper, with the friction, which he is aware tends to wear out these wheels, and with the accidents to which the machine is liable, and by which it may suddenly be destroyed, Such knowledge as this, if it be possible in itself, (and to me it appears very possible to a mind of infinite perfections), would not in the smallest degree interfere with the liberty of men, or influence their conduct either to good or evil *.]

[This question I discussed at considerable length in the British Critic, vol. 40. p. 288, &c. against a

most respectable writer, who had publicly denied the possibility of knowing or predicting the future actions

end, Mark xi.

When therefore we find the evangelists declaring, that (a)" the Jews could not be- From Matth. lieve, because Isaiah (b) had said, God had blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts," xx. 10. to the we must not suppose that this prophecy was either the cause or motive of their infide- 15. to the end, lity. It was simply a prediction; and, as such, laid upon them no manner of necessity Luke xix. 45. or compulsion. Such prophecies indeed always include a tacit condition, which pre- John xii. 19. to serves to man the liberty of choice; and if, in their event, they prove certain and infal- the end. lible, it is only because God certainly and infallibly foreknows the future bad dispositions of the people of whom he speaks; and has a clear prospect of that blindness and obduration which their perverseness brings upon them.

In relation to the Jews in particular, it is certain that our Blessed Saviour did not think that his Heavenly Father had, by any action or prediction of his, made it impossible for them to believe on him; (c) for, had he thought so, he would never have exhorted them (as we find he does in the verses just going before) (d) "to walk in the light, and believe in the light whilst they had it ;" and to this good purpose, that they "might become the children of light;" because every exhortation to do a thing which we know to be impossible, must not only be vain and delusory, but (if we know that impossibility to proceed from a Divine judicial act) repugnant likewise to the will of God, which, to suppose our Lord capable of, is the height of blasphemy.

Since therefore, in the eastern phrase, a person is said to do that which he only permits to be done, God's blinding the eyes, and hardening the hearts of the Jews, must mean no more, than his suffering them to blind their own eyes, and harden their own hearts; which, upon the mere subduction of his grace, without the infusion of any perverse inclinations from him, they would not fail to do. And, accordingly, we may observe, that the same evangelist, in another place, speaks of their obduration and blindness as their own act and deed; for (e) " this people's heart is waxen gross, says he, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed, lest, at any time, they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and should be converted, and I should heal them."

Whoever considers the series of the Sacred History, may soon convince himself, that the miracle which our Saviour wrought on the barren fig-tree happened about the eleventh day of the Jewish month Nisan, on Tuesday, very probably, before the passover; for the passover, we know, was kept on the fourteenth day of Nisan, which answers to the latter end of our March; and that, at this time, there were figs in Judea ripe, and fit for gathering, we have some authority to believe.

When Moses sent away the spies to search the land of Cannaan, it was, we are told, (f) "in the time of the first ripe grapes, and (g) they returned from searching after forty days," and brought from thence (h) " pomegranates and figs, as well as clusters of grapes." Now the Septuagint version says, that it was in the spring when these spies set forward; and Philo, in his life of Moses, seems to be of the same opinion. Supposing then that it was about the middle of the spring (which, in Judea, began about the middle of January) that the spies set out, and that they were gone forty days, it will follow, that they returned some days before the passover; and if the figs, which they brought, as well as the grapes, were ripe and full grown, then were they ripe in Judea in the very same time that our Saviour is here said to look for them.

Solomon, in his book of Canticles, gives us a lively description of the spring, and, among other signs of its being come, makes mention of this,-That (i) "the fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines, with their tender grape, give a good smell,

[blocks in formation]

to the end, and

« السابقةمتابعة »