« AnteriorContinuar »
of all the instructions he should give them. As lamps are kindled to give light unto those who are in an house, so the understandings of the apostles were illuminated, that they might fill the world with the delightful light of truth.
In the next parable, that of the tares or darnel, which was sown in the field, we are taught, that through the craft of the devil, incorrigible sinners will intrude themselves into the visible church ; that though good men may judge it for the interest of religion that providence should extirpate such by violent methods, God does not allow it, because they are oft-times so connected with the righteous, that if they be touched, the righteous will suffer withal; and that God has reserved the full exercise of justice upon wicked men to the last day, when he will unerringly distinguish between the good and the bad. According to this view of the parable, we may consider it as a vindication of the wisdom of God, both in permitting the wickedness of men professing Christianity, and in suffering it to go unpunished during this life.
The parable of the seed which sprang up imperceptibly, is intended to teach us, that as the husbandman does not, by any efficacy of his own, cause the seed sown to grow, but leaves it to be nourished by the soil and sun ; so Jesus and his apostles, having taught men the doctrines of true religion, were not, by any miraculous force, to constrain their wills; far less were they, by the terrors of fire and sword, to interpose visibly for the furthering thereof; but would suffer it to spread, by the secret influences of the Spirit, till, at length, it should obtain its full effect. Moreover, as the husbandman cannot, by the most diligent observation, perceive the corn in his field extending its dimensions as it grows, so the ministers of Christ cannot see the operation of the gospel upon the minds of men. The effects, however, of its operation, when these are produced, they can discern just as the husbandman can discern when his corn is fully grown and fit for reaping. In the mean time, the design of the parable is not to lead the ministers of Christ to imagine that religion will flourish without due pains taken about it: it was formed to teach the Jews, in particular, that neither the Messiah nor his servants would subdue men by the force of arms, as they supposed he would have done ; and also to prevent the apostles from being dispirited when they did not see immediate success following their labours.
Under the similitude of a grain of mustard-seed, our Lord shewed his hearers, that, notwithstanding the gospel appeared, at first, contemptible, by reason of the ignominy arising from the crucifixion of its author, the difficulty of its precepts, the weakness of the persons by whom it was preached, and the small number and mean condition of those who received it; yet, having in itself the strength of truth, it would grow exceedingly, and extend itself into all countries; and, by that means, afford spiritual sustenance to persons of all nations, who should be admitted into it, not in the quality of slaves, as the Jews imagined, but as free-born subjects of the Messiah's kingdom, enjoying therein equal privileges with the Jews.
The meaning of the parable of the leaven is commonly thought to be the same with that of the preceding. Yet there seems to be this difference between the two; the parable of the grain of mustard-seed represents the smallness of the gospel in its beginnings, together with its subsequent greatness : whereas, the parable of the leaven, which, being hid in a quantity of meal, fermented the whole, expresses, in a very lively manner, both the nature and strength of the operation of truth upon the mind. For, though the doctrines of the gospel, when first proposed, seemed to be lost in that enormous mass of passions and worldly thoughts, with which men's minds were filled ; yet did they then most eminently exert their influence, converting men's thoughts, and desires, and cares, into a conformity to truth. The precise diference, therefore, between this and the preceding parable is, that the former represents the extensive propagation of the gospel from the smallest beginnings ; but this, the nature of the influence of its doctrines upon the minds of particular persons.
The multitude having now been long together, it is probable that the evening drew on. Jesus, therefore, dismissed them, and returned home with his disciples, who, when they were come into the house, begged him to explain the parable of the tares. In this parable, he shewed them, was represented how saints and sinners dwzil. together in this world, but will be awfully and eternally separated in that which is to come. Then, being freed from all the humbling circumstances which attend mortality, cleansed also from sin, and the pollutions of sin, wherewith they are now disfigured, the righteous shall shine like the sun in the firmament for brightness and beauty, and shall find no diminution of their splendour by age. But while they are thus enjoying the perfection of blessedness, the wicked shail be banished from their delightful abodes, and condemned to spend a long eternity in unutterable anguish and woe.
In the two next parables, that of the treasure hid in the field, and that of a merchant seeking goodly pearls, the transcendent excellency of the gospel is very clearly pointed out. But, in the former instance, it is discovered, as it were, by acciderit ; and, in the latter, after the most diligent research. The parable of the net cast into the sea, which inclosed many fish of every kind intimates that, by the preaching of the gospel, a visible church should be gathered on earth, consisting both of good and bad men, mingled in such a manner, that it would be difficult to make a proper distinction between them ; but that, at the end of the world, the bad shall be separated from the good, and cast into hell, which the parable represents under the image of casting them into a furnace of fire; because that was the most terrible punishment known in the Eastern countries.
Soon after this, Christ went to Nazareth ; and, during his stay in that place, preached in the synagogue, especially on the sabbath-day, and performed some miracles. But though his sermons contained great treasures of spiritual knowledge, and were delivered with the most captivating eloquence, the Nazarenes were not disposed, by them, to believe on him. They were wonderfully struck, indeed, with what they heard and saw, knowing that he was meanly descended, and had not the advantage of a liberal education. But these circumstances, which heightened their wonder, so much prevented the effect which his doctrines and miracles ought to have had upon them, fancying that, when Messiah came, no man should know from whence he was, they could not acknowledge as Messiah one of their own townsmen, whose father, and mother, and brethren, and sisters, they were so weli acquainted with. Besides, the meanness of these his relations, and of their occupations, scandalized them. Wherefore, when they talked among themselves, after hearing him preach, at the same time that they gave his knowledge, eloquence, and miracles, their due praise, they could not forbear expressing their contempt of him, on account of the meanness of his family. It is said, that he wrought but few mighty works there, on account of their unbelief. Probably, their unbelief hindered them from bringing their sick to him, not to mention that it rendered his miracles altogether improper ; because, had he performed ever so many, their prejudices would certainly have prevented any good effect they might otherwise have had.
We have already seen the abundant pains which our Lord had taken to furnish the minds of his apostles with every useful instruction. They had twice heard the sermon which was first delivered on the mount ; had received the most explicit directions respecting their conduct in carrying on their ministry; and had beside, by the parables which we have just been endeavouring to explain, been taught a variety of particulars concerning the kingdom of God. · As this knowledge was given them partly for the sake of others, they were now sent out by pairs to preach the gospel in the surrounding country They were not sent forth singly, lest they should faint under the difficulties of the way: nor in large numbers, that the word of truth might be more extensively disseminated. Thus we may discover, as in the whole conduct of Jesus, so, in par. ticular, in his transactions with the apostles, the wisdom and perfection of a God, united with all the amiable meekoess of the most lowly and humble of the sons of men.
FROM THE SENDING OUT OF THE APOSTLES BY PAIRS, TO THE TRANSFIGURATION.
Herod's opinion of Christ---death of John the Baptist---his disciples come to Christ--
Christ feeds the five thousand---walks on the sea---stills the storm---miracles in Gennezareth---Christ's discourse at Capernaum---his conversation with the Pharisecs concerning traditions---he heals the daughter of the Canaanitisk woman---cures great multitudes---four thousand fed---Christ discourses concerning the signs of the times-leaven of the Pharisees ---Peter's confession---exhortation to carry the crosso--transfiguration---subsequent discourses with his disciples,
THE twelve apostles preaching in the towns of Galilee, and confirming their doctrine by many mighty miracles, raised the attention and expectation of all men niore than ever. For the inhabitants of Galilee could not but regard Jesus now with uncommon admiration, as he was evidently superior to all prophets in this respect; that, besides working miracles himself, he could impart the power to whomsoever he pleased ; a thing never heard of in the world before. It seems, this last-mentioned circumstance aggrandized our Lord so much, that his fame reached the court of Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, and occasioned many speculations. Among other opinions which were entertained, that of Herod was the most remarkable, who supposed that he was John the Baptist, who was risen from the dead. We have already mentioned, in a former chapter, the imprisonment of that holy man, in consequence of his freedom in reproving the vices of Herod.
At first, Herod was restrained from offering violence to the Baptist, by the secret respect he had for him on account of his piety; and though, afterwards, he was so wrought upon by the repeated solicitations of Herodias, that he overcame the scruples of his conscience, he was kept from doing him harm, fearing it might have occasioned a tumult. Herodias, therefore, finding she could not prevail against the Baptist in the way of direct solicitation, watched for an opportunity to destroy him by craft. At length, one offered itself. Herod, on his birth-day, made a sumptuous entertainment for the great lords, generals, judges, and other principal persons of his kingdom. Wherefore, as it was the custom in those countries for princes to bestow favours at their feasts, sometimes of their own accord, sometimes in consequence of petitions that were then presented, Herodias thought the birth-day a fit opportunity to get the Baptist destroyed. With this view, she proposed to Salome, her daughter by Fhilip, who was now of age, and had followed her fortunes, to dance before the conpany at the birth-day'; pretending, no doubt, that it would turn out greatly to her advantage ; because the king, in the excess of his good humour, would bid lier name what she pleased to have as the reward of her complaisance. Or, if he should not, she might, consistently enough with good manners, beg him to grant her the boon she was most desirous to obtain ; only, before she named any particular favour, it would be proper to come out and consult with her mother. The thing proposed, it is true, was uncommon; yet the young lady might think it expedient in the present circumstances, or she might comply from a forwardness peculiar to youth. Whatever was her inducement, she danced, and acquitted herself to the admiration of all the guests. The king, in particular, was perfectly charmed with her fine air and graceful motion. But because, according to the manners of the East, it was disgraceful for women of rank to appear in public, (and they never did appear, unless they were sent for, or had an important request to make, see Esther v. 2, 3.) it was immediately concluded that this extraordinary condescension proceeded from Salome's being to ask some favour of the king. Besides, the honour she was doing to the day and to the company, might be interpreted as a public acknowledgment of Herod's civility to her, and, at the same time, judged a becoming expression of her gratitude. As for the king, he considered the respect shewed to his guests as terminating upon himself ; and, having greatly injured the young lady by debauching her mother, he was caught with the flattery, and grew vain.
vain. His fancy, also, being heated with wine, and music, and the applause of his guests, the sight of the young lady dancing, and the idea of her mother, whom he passionately loved, he made her the promise he imagined she was silently soliciting ; a promise which, though it had the air of royal munificence, suited but ill with the gravity of wisdom.
When the plot had thus succeeded, and the young lady had obtained the king's promise, she went out to consult with her mother, who immediately disclosed her purpose, bidding her ask the Baptist's head. A counsel of this kind, no doubt, surprised Salome ; for she could not see of what use the head should be to her. Besides, she might think the command improper, as their quarrel with the Baptist, and the cause of it, was universally known; not to mention that when she consented to dance, it is natural to imagine her fancy had been running on very different objects. Probably, therefore, at first, she scrupled to comply: but Herodias, full of the fiercest resentment against the holy man, would take no denial. She peremptorily insisted that her counsel should be followed, representing to her daughter, no doubt, that he had attempted to expel and ruin them both ; and that, considering the opinion which the king still entertained of. him, he might, some time or other, though in irons, regain Herod's favour, and accomplish his design; for which reason, the opportunity of taking his life was not to be neglected if she regarded her own safety. These, or such like arguments, wrought up the young lady to such a pitch, that she not only consented to do as she was bidden, but became hearty in the cause; for she came in straightway with haste unto the king. So, whilst all the guests sat mute, expecting what mighty thing would be asked, the daughter of Herodias entering, demanded John Baptist's head, as of greater value to her than half of a kingdom. Sudden horror seized every heart, the gaiety of the king vanished, he was confounded and vexed : but being unwilling to appear either rash, or fickle, or false, before a company of the first persons in his kingdom for rank and character, he commanded her request to be given her ; not one of the guests being so friendly as to speak the least word to divert him fromx his mad purposes, though he gave them an opportunity to do it, by signifying to thein that he performed his oath out of regard to the company. Perhaps they dreaded Herodias's resentment. Thus, out of a misplaced regard to his oath and his guests, king Herod committed a most unjust and cruel action, which will ever reflect dis