Thomas Coke’s Commentary On The Olivet Discourse
This Olivet Discourse Deception study features Thomas Coke’s Commentary on the Olivet Discourse as outlines in Matthew 24.
Thomas Coke (9 September 1747 – 2 May 1814) was the first Methodist Bishop and is known as the Father of Methodist Missions.
Born in Brecon, south Wales, he read Jurisprudence at Jesus College, Oxford, which has a strong Welsh tradition, graduating Bachelor of Arts, then Master of Arts in 1770, and Doctor of Civil Law in 1775. On returning to Brecon he served as Mayor in 1772.
His A Commentary on the Holy Bible, six complete volumes (1801-1803), is an indepth look at the Old and New Testament
Matthew 24 Introduction
Christ foretelleth the destruction of the temple: what and how great calamities shall precede it. The signs of his coming to judgement: because that day and hour is unknown, we ought to watch like good servants, expecting every moment our Master’s coming.
Anno Domini 33.
And Jesus—departed, &c.— Our Saviour was in the temple, speaking to a mixed audience of his disciples and the multitude, when he uttered that pathetic lamentation at the close of the preceding chapter; wherein he has left to his disciples a generous and amiable pattern of a patriot spirit; and whence we see how contrary to truth is the insinuation of a noble writer, that there is nothing in the Gospels to recommend and encourage the love of one’s country.
Such a resolution as that mentioned by our Lord, Matthew 24:38-39 appeared very strange to his disciples, and affected them much; for which reason they stopped him, as he was departing out of the temple, and desired him to observe what a magnificent structure it was; insinuating, that they were surprised to hear him talk of leaving it desolate; that so rich and glorious a fabric was not to be deserted rashly; and that they should all be very happy when he, as Messiah, took possession of it, with the other palaces which of right belonged to him. They were going to the mount of Olives, which stood eastward from the city.
It was the eastern wall, therefore, of the temple, fronting that mountain, which the disciples desired their Master to look at, and which being built from the bottom of the valley to a prodigious height with stones of an incredible bulk, firmly compacted together, made a very grand appearance at a distance. The stones employed in the foundations were in magnitude forty cubits, that is to say, sixty feet; and the superstructure was worthy of such foundations.
There were some stones of the whitest marble, forty-five cubits long, five cubits high, and six cubits broad, as a priest of the temple has described them. In Mr. Mede’s opinion, the eastern wall was the only part of Solomon’s structure which remained after the Chaldeans burned the temple. Hence the portico built on the top of it, obtained the name of Solomon’s porch or portico. See Joseph. Antiq. lib. 15: 100: 14. War, lib. 6. 100: 6.
The magnificence of the fabric, however, was not the only topic they descanted upon. They spake also of the precious utensils with which it was furnished, and of the gifts wherewith the treasury was enriched; for there the gifts of ages were deposited, the presents of kings and emperors, as well as the offerings of the Jews. Hanging up such αναθηματα, or consecrated gifts, was common in most of the ancient temples. Tacitus, Histor. lib. 5 speaks of the immense opulence of the temple at Jerusalem.
Amongst other of its treasures there was a golden table given by Pompey, and several golden vines of exquisite workmanship, as well as immense size; for Josephus tells us, that they had clusters as tall as a man, which some have thought referred to God’s representing the Jewish nation under the emblem of a vine.
Josephus likewise affects, in the place above quoted, that the marble of the temple was so white that it appeared at a distance like a mountain of snow; and the gilding of several of its external parts, which he there mentions, must, especially when the sun shone upon it, render it a most splendid and beautiful spectacle. See Luke 21:5 and Mark 13 chapters which the reader will please to keep in view while we go through the present; and we would refer him by all means to Josephus’s History of this event.
Christian writers have always, with great reason, represented his History of the Jewish War as the best commentary on this chapter; and many have justly remarked it, as a wonderful instance of the care of Providence for the Christian church, that this writer, an eye-witness, and in these things of so great credit, should be preserved, and especially in so extraordinary a manner preserved, to transmit to us a collection of important tracts, which so exactly illustrate this noble prophesy in almost every circumstance.
There shall not be left here one stone— No impostor, Bishop Chandler very justly observes, would have attempted to foretell an event at once so disagreeable, and so improbable as it seemed at present, considering the peace of the Jews with the Romans, and the strength of their citadel;which forced Titus himself to acknowledge, that it was the singular hand of God which compelled them to relinquish fortifications unconquerable by human power.
The worthy Bishop of Bristol (to whose accuracy and learning we shall be particularly obliged in the course of our annotations on this chapter, as we have already enriched a former part of this commentary from his valuable Dissertations on the Prophesies) observes, that our Saviour in his prophesies frequently alludes to phrases and expressions used by the ancient prophets; and as Haggai 2:15 expresses the building of the temple, by a stone being laid upon a stone, so Christ expresses the destruction of it by one stone not being left upon another. See Luke 19:44.
It is a proverbial expression to denote an utter destruction; and the prophesy would have been amply fulfilled, if the city and temple had been entirely ruined, though every single stone had not been overturned. But it happened in this case that the words were almost literally fulfilled, and scarcely one stone was left upon another. For when the Romans had taken Jerusalem, Titus ordered his soldiers to dig up the foundations both of all the city, and also of the temple, after it was burnt.
The temple was a building of such strength and grandeur, of such splendor and beauty, that it was likely to be preserved for a monument of the victory and glory of the Roman empire: Titus was accordingly very desirous of preserving it; and protested to the Jews who had fortified themselves within it, that he would preserve it even against their will. He had expressed the like desire of preserving the city too, and sent Josephus and other Jews, again and again, to their countrymen, to persuade them to surrender; but one greater than Titus had determined it otherwise.
The Jews themselves first set fire to the porticos of the temple, and then the Romans. One of the soldiers neither waiting for any command, nor trembling at such an attempt, but urged by a certain divine impulse, says Josephus, mounted the shoulder of his companion, thrust a burning brand in at the golden window, and thereby set fire to the building of the temple itself.
Titus ran immediately to the temple, and commanded his soldiers to extinguish the flame; but neither exhortations nor threatenings could restrain their violence; they either could not or would not hear; those behind encouraging those before to set fire to the temple. Titus was still for preserving the holy place: he commanded his soldiers even to be beaten for disobeying him. But their anger and hatred of the Jews, and a certain warlike vehement fury, overcame their reverence for their general, and their dread of his commands.
A soldier in the dark set fire to the doors; and thus, as Josephus says, the temple was burned against the will of Caesar. Afterwards, as we read in the Jewish Talmud, and in Maimonides, Terentius Rufus, who was left to command the army at Jerusalem, did with a ploughshare tear up the foundation of the temple, and thereby signally fulfilled Micah 3:12. Eusebius too affirms that it was ploughed up by the Romans, and that he saw it lying in ruins. The city also shared the same fate, and was burned and destroyed as well as the temple.
The Romans burned the extremest parts of the city, and demolished the walls. Three towers only, and some part of the wall were left standing, for the better encamping of the soldiers, and to shew to posterity what a city, and how fortified, the valour of the Romans had taken. All the rest of the city was so demolished and levelled with the ground, that they who came to see it, could not believe that it was ever inhabited. After the city was thus taken and destroyed, great riches were found among the ruins; and the Romans dug them up, in search of the treasures which had been concealed and buried in the earth.
So literally were our Saviour’s words accomplished, in the ruin both of the city and of the temple; and well might Eleazer say, “That God had delivered his most holy city to be burned and subverted by their enemies;”—and “wish that they had all died, before they saw that holy city demolished by the hands of their enemies, and the sacred temple so wickedly dug up from the foundations.” See Bishop Newton’s 18th Dissertation, and Josephus’s War, lib. 6: and 7:
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives— When the disciples heard their Master affirm, that not so much as one of those stones, which had mocked the fury of Nebuchadnezzar’s army, and survived the envy of time, was to be left upon another, but that they were all to be thrown down, they perceived that the temple was to be demolished; but at this time none of our Lord’s followers had the least apprehension that he was to take away the sacrifice, and make such a change in religion as would render the temple of no use: and therefore, hearing him speak of its demolition, they no doubt supposed, that the fabric then standing was too small for the numerous worshipers who should come, when all nations were subjected to Messiah; and that it was for that reason to be pulled down, in order to be erected on a more magnificent plan, suitable to the idea which they had conceived of the greatness of his future kingdom.
Entertaining these imaginations, they received the news with pleasure, and fancied to themselves very glorious things as they traveled along.—Accordingly, when Jesus was come to the mount of Olives, and had taken a seat on some eminence, whence the temple and part of the city were to be seen, they drew near, and expressed their joy by desiring to know when the demolition of the old structure was to happen, and what were to be the signs of his coming, and of the end of the world.
The sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world, are only different expressions to denote the same period with the destruction of Jerusalem; for they conceived, that when Jerusalem should be destroyed, then would be the coming of Christ; and when the coming of Christ, then the end of the world; or rather, as it should be rendered, the conclusion of the age, u931?υντελεια του αιωνος .
The conclusion of the age is the same period with the destruction of Jerusalem; for there being two ages, as they were called among the Jews, the one under the law, the other under the Messiah, when the city and temple were destroyed, and the Jewish polity in church and state was dissolved, the former age must of course be concluded, and the age under the Messiah commence. The phrase appears to be used in the same manner as in Hebrews 9:26.
But now once, in the end of the world—[ επι Συντελεια των αιωνων,— in the conclusion of the Jewish age or ages] hath he appeared, to put away sin. See Ephesians 2:7. 1 Corinthians 10:11. The coming of Christ is also the same period with the destruction of Jerusalem, as may appear from several places in the Gospel, but particularly from ch. Matthew 16:28 and John 21:22. The latter part of the question our Saviour answers first, treating of the signs of his coming, and of the destruction of Jerusalem, from the 4th to the 31st verse, and then passes on to the other part of the question, concerning the time of his coming.
By signs are meant the circumstances and incidents which should forerun, usher in, and attend this great event; and we may venture to affirm, that the whole compass of history cannot furnish us with a prophesy more exactly fulfilled in all points than this has been, “Our Lord (says Dr. Doddridge upon this subject) with perfect integrity and consummate wisdom, answers the question of the disciples by giving them an account of the prognosticating and concomitant signs of the destruction of Jerusalem; and then, without saying one word of any temporal kingdom to be erected, which was the strongest idea then in their minds, raises their thoughts to the final judgment, to which the figures used in the former description might many of them be literally applied; and sets before them a heavenly kingdom, and eternal life, as the great object of their pursuit.” See ch. Matthew 25:34-46.
This I take to be the key to this whole discourse. As the things which befell the Jewish nation, says Dr. Macknight,—their bondage in Egypt, their deliverance from that bondage, their passage through the Red Sea, abode in the wilderness, entrance into Canaan, &c. &c. were all typical, representing the methods by which God delivers mankind from the bondage of sin, and conducts them to heaven; so the destruction of the nations here set forth may prefigure the destruction of the world, though the prophesy certainly cannot be interpreted primarily of that destruction.
Take heed that no man deceive you— Our Saviour mentions false Christs as the first sign of his coming. He begins with this in all the evangelists, and in all uses almost the same words: only in St. Luke 21:8 he adds, the time draweth near; and indeed within a little time this part of the prophesy began to be fulfilled. Very soon after our Saviour’s decease, appeared Simon Magus, who boasted himself among the Jews as the son of God, and gave out among the Samaritans, that he was some great one, Acts 8:9-10. Of the same stamp and character was Dositheus the Samaritan, who pretended that he was the Christ foretold by Moses.
In the reign of Claudius, about twelve years after the death of our Saviour, an impostor, named Theudas, persuaded a great multitude to follow him, with their best effects, to the river Jordan; for he said that he was a prophet, and promised to divide the river for their passage; and saying these things, he deceived many, says Josephus: but Fadus sent a troop of horse against them, who, falling unexpectedly upon them, killed many, and made many prisoners; and, having taken Theudas himself alive, they cut off his head, and brought it to Jerusalem.
A few years afterwards, in the reign of Nero, these impostors rose so frequently, that many of them were apprehended and killed every day. They seduced great numbers of the people, still expecting the Messiah. Our Saviour therefore might well caution his disciples against them. See the note on Matthew 24:24. Bishop Newton, and Archbishop Tillotson’s Discourse on this subject.
And ye shall hear of wars, &c.— To relate the particulars of wars and rumours of wars, which happened at the period here referred to, would be to transcribe a great part of Josephus’s History. There were more especially rumors of wars, when Caligula the Roman emperor ordered his statue to be set up in the temple at Jerusalem, which the Jews refused to suffer, and persisted in their refusal; and, having therefore reason to apprehend a war from the Romans, were in such a consternation, that they omitted even the tilling of their lands. But this storm was soon blown over, and their fear dissipated by the timely death of that emperor.
But be ye not troubled, says our Lord, at the prospect of these calamities, for all these things must first come to pass: they must come to pass a considerable time before the destruction of the nation; but the end is not yet. The end of the age, or Jewish dispensation, and the demolition of the temple, will not be immediately on the back of these things. See on Matthew 24:8.
For nation shall rise, &c.— Here, as Grotius observes, Christ declares, that greater disturbances than those which happened under Caligula should fall out in the latter times of Claudius, and in the reign of Nero. The rising of nation against nation portended the dissensions, insurrections, and mutual slaughters of the Jews, and those of other nations, who dwelt in the same cities together; as particularly at Caesarea, where the Jews and Syrians contended about the right of the city; which contention at length proceeded so far, that above twenty thousand Jews were slain, and the city was cleared of the inhabitants.
At this blow the whole nation of the Jews was exasperated, and, dividing themselves into parties, they burned and plundered the neighboring cities and villages of the Syrians, and made an immense slaughter of the people.
The Syrians, in revenge, destroyed not a less number of Jews; and every city, as Josephus expresses it, was “divided into two armies.” At Scythopolis the inhabitants compelled the Jews who resided among them to fight against their own countrymen, and after the victory, basely setting upon them by night, murdered above thirteen thousand of them, and spoiled their goods. At Ascalon, they killed two thousand five hundred; at Ptolemais, two thousand and made not a few prisoners.
The Tyrians put many to death, and imprisoned more. The people of Gadara did likewise, and all the other cities of Syria, in proportion as they hated or feared the Jews. At Alexandria the old enmity was revived between the Jews and Heathens, and many fell on both sides, but of the Jews to the number of fifty thousand. The people of Damascus too conspired against the Jews of the same city, and, assaulting them unarmed, killed ten thousand of them.
The rising of kingdom against kingdom portended the open wars of different tetrarchies and provinces against one another; as that of the Jews who dwelt in Peraea against the people of Philadelphia concerning their bounds, while Caspius Fadus was procurator; that of the Jews and Galileans against the Samaritans, for the murder of some Galileans going up to the feast at Jerusalem, while Cumanus was procurator; and that of the whole nation of the Jews against the Romans and Agrippa, and other allies of the Roman empire, which began while Gessius Florus was procurator.
But, as Josephus says, there was not only sedition and civil war throughout Judea, but likewise in Italy, Otho and Vitellius contending for the empire. It is farther added, and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places. There were famines, as particularly that prophesied of by Agabus, and mentioned, Acts 11:28 and by Suetonius, and other prophane historians referred to by Eusebius, which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar, and was so severe at Jerusalem, that, as Josephus says, many perished for want of visuals:—andpestilences, for these are the usual attendants upon famines. Scarcity and badness of provisions almost always end in some epidemical distemper.
We see that many died by reason of the famine in the reign of Claudius; and Josephus farther informs us, that when Niger was killed by the Jewish zealots, he imprecated, besides other cruelties, famine and pestilence upon them ( λιμοντε και λοιμον, the very words used by the Evangelist,) all which, says he, God ratified and brought to pass against the ungodly:
—And earthquakes in divers places; as particularly that in Crete, in the reign of Claudius, mentioned by Philostratus in the life of Apollonius; those also mentioned by Philostratus at Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos, in all which places some Jews inhabited; those at Rome mentioned by Tacitus; that at Laodicea, in the reign of Nero, mentioned also by Tacitus; which city was overwhelmed, as were likewise Hierapolis and Colosse; that in Campania, mentioned by Seneca; that at Rome, in the reign of Galba, mentioned by Suetonius; and that in Judea, mentioned by Josephus: for by night there broke out a most dreadful tempest, and violent strong winds, with the most vehement showers, and continual lightnings, and horrid thunderings, and prodigious bellowings of the shaken earth; so that it was manifest, as he observes, that the constitution of the universe was confounded for the destruction of men; and any one might easily conjecture, that these things portended no common calamity.
All these are the beginning of sorrows— αρχη ωδινων, the beginning of throes, or pangs. Great troubles and calamities are often expressed in Scripture language metaphorically, by the pangs of travailing women: “All these are only the first pangs and throes, and are nothing to that hard labour which shall succeed.” See on Matthew 24:6.
Then shall they deliver you up, &c.— Had Jesus been an impostor, he would, like all other impostors, have fed his followers with fair hopes and promises; but on the contrary, we see that he denounces persecution to be the lot of his disciples; he pointeth out to them the difficulties they must encounter, the fiery trials they must undergo, and yet they did not stagger in their faith; did not therefore, like faint-hearted soldiers, forsake their colours, and desert his service. One hardly knows whom to admire most, him for dealing so plainly, or them for adhering so steadily to him.
Then shall many be offended, &c.— By reason of persecution and of the universal hatred which all nations bore against the Christian name, many were indeed offended, and apostatized from the faith; as particularly Phygellus and Hermogenes, and many others in Asia, 2 Timothy 1:15 and Demas,—Matthew 9:10.
But they would not only apostatize from the faith, but also betray and hate one another. To illustrate which point, we need only cite a sentence out of Tacitus, speaking of the persecution under Nero: “At first, (says he) several were seized, who confessed, and then, by their discovery, a great multitude of others were convicted and executed.”
Many false prophets shall rise— Such particularly were Simon Magus, and his very numerous followers, the Gnostics. Such also were the Judaizing teachers, mentioned 2 Corinthians 11:13. Such also were Hymeneus and Philetus, of whom the apostle, 2 Timothy 2:17 complains, that they affirmed the resurrection to be past already, and overthrew the faith of some.
Because iniquity, &c.— The genuine fruit and effect of all these evils was the lukewarmness and coolness among Christians. By reason of these trials and persecutions from without, and these apostasies and false prophets from within, the love of many to Christ and his doctrine, and also their love to each other, shall wax cold.
Some shall openly desert the faith; some shall corrupt it, as Matthew 24:11 and others again, as here, shall grow indifferent to it; and not to mention other instances, who can hear St. Paul complaining at Rome, 2 Timothy 4:16 that at his first answer all men forsook him; who can hear the divine author of the Epistle to the Hebrews exhorting them, Hebrews 10:25 not to forsake the assembling of themselves together, as the manner of some is, and not conclude the event to have sufficiently justified our Saviour’s prediction?
But he that shall endure— “He who shall not be terrified by these trials and persecutions; he who shall neither apostatize from the faith of himself, nor be seduced by others; he who shall not be ashamed to profess his faith in Christ, and his love to the brethren; the same shall be saved, both here and hereafter.” And indeed it is very remarkable, and was certainly a most signal act of Providence, that none of the Christians perished in the destruction of Jerusalem. See Luke 21:18. 2 Peter 2:9 and Bishop Newton.
This Gospel—shall be preached in all the world—and then, &c.— Then shall the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the Jewish polity, come to pass; when all nations shall be, or may be, convinced of the crying sin of the Jews in crucifying the Lord of glory, and of the justice of God’s judgments upon them. Some imagine that by all the world is meant only the whole land of Judea, the very words of the text being used by the Septuagint and by Josephus himself in this sense.
But that something more than this must be meant will appear, if we consider, that though the Acts of the Apostles contains only a small part of the history of a few of the apostles, yet even in that history we see the Gospel was disseminated, and had taken root in the most considerable parts of the Roman empire. As early as the reign of Nero the Christians were grown so numerous at Rome, as to raise the jealousy of the government; and the first general persecution commenced against them under pretense of their having set the city on fire.
The Gospel was preached by St. Paul in Arabia, and through the vast tract from Jerusalem to Iconium, in Lycaonia, and in Galatia, through all Asia Minor, in Greece, round about to Illyricum, in Crete, Italy, Spain, and Gaul.
Clement, who was his cotemporary and fellow-labourer, says of him in particular, “that he was a preacher both in the East and West; and that he taught the whole world righteousness, and travelled as far as the utmost borders of the West.” And if such were the labours of one apostle, what must have been the united labours of them all? We have still remaining the Epistles of St. Peter to the converted Jews in Pontus, Asia, Cappadocia, and Bithynia. The Ethiopian eunuch converted by Philip probably carried the Gospel into his own country.
It appears, indeed, from the writers of the history of the church, that before the destruction of Jerusalem the Gospel was not only preached in the Lesser Asia, and Greece, and Italy, the great theatres of action then in the world, but was likewise propagated as far northward as Scythia, as far southward as Ethiopia, as far eastward as Parthia and India, and as far westward as Spain and Britain. Our ancestors of this Island, though as remote from the scene of our Saviour’s actions as almost any nation, probably heard the preaching of St. Simon: there is indeed much more probability that the Gospel was preached here by St. Paul; and there is absolute certainty that Christianity was planted in this country in the days of the apostles, before the destruction of Jerusalem.
The evidence of Eusebius and Theodoret abundantly prove it to have been a fact; and St. Paul himself, Colossians 1:6; Colossians 1:23 speaks of the Gospel’s being come into all the world, and preached to every creature under heaven. See also Romans 10:18. Though the success of the apostles was so great, yet the difficulties which they had to encounter were no less than the superstition, the prejudices, and the vices of the whole world.
From a view of the Jewish and Gentile world it is evident, that every thing which most strongly influences and tyrannizes over the mind of man, religion, custom, law, policy, pride, interest, vice, and even philosophy, was united against the Gospel; enemies in their own nature very formidable and difficult to be subdued, had they even suffered themselves, to be attacked upon even ground, and come to a fair engagement; but, not relying upon their own strength only, they entrenched themselves behind that power of which they were in possession, and rendered themselves inaccessible, as they imagined, to Christianity, by planting round them, not only all kinds of civil discouragements, but even torments, chains, and death.
These were the difficulties which Christianity had to struggle with, and over which she at length so prevailed, as to change the whole scene of things, overturn the temples and altars of the gods, silence the oracles, humble the impious pride of the emperors, confound the presumptuous wisdom of the philosophers, and introduce into the greatest part of the known world a new principle of religion, holiness, and virtue. But what were the instruments of so stupendous a work! a few illiterate persons, many of whom were fishermen!
The state of the first preachers of the Gospel, and of their opposers, was this: the latter were possessed of all the wisdom, authority, and power of the world; the former were ignorant of human science, contemptible, and weak. Which of them then, according to the natural course of human affairs, ought to have prevailed? The latter, without all doubt! and yet not St. Paul only, but all history, and our own experience assure us, that the ignorant, the contemptible, and the weak, gained the victory over the wise, the mighty, and the noble. See Bishop Newton, West on the Resurrection, and Dr. Young on Idolatry, vol. 2.
When ye therefore shall see, &c.— Whatever difficulty there be in these words, it may be cleared up by the parallel place, Luke 21:20-21. Whence it appears, that the abomination of desolation is the Roman army; and the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place, is that army besieging Jerusalem.
This, says our Saviour, is the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, Daniel 9 and Daniel 12. and so let every one who reads these prophesies understand them. The Roman army is called the abomination, because its ensigns and images were so to the Jews, among whom every image of a man, and every idol, was called an abomination.
After the city was taken, the Romans brought their ensigns into the temple, and placed them over against the eastern gate, and sacrificed to them there. The Roman army therefore is fitly called the abomination, and the abomination of desolation, as it was to desolate and lay waste Jerusalem: and this army’s besieging Jerusalem, is called standing in the holy place; the city, and such a compass of ground about it, being accounted holy. “When therefore the Roman army shall approach to besiege Jerusalem, then let them who are in Judea consult their own safety, and fly into the mountains.”
This counsel was wisely remembered, and put in practice by the Christians afterwards. When Cestius Gallus came with his army against Jerusalem, many fled from the city: After his retreat, many of the noble Jews departed from it; and when Vespasian was approaching it with great forces, a vast multitude, says Josephus, fled from Jericho into the mountainous country for their security.
At this juncture all who believed in Christ left Jerusalem, and removed to Pella, and other places beyond the river Jordan; so that they all marvelously escaped; and we do not read any where that so much as any one perished in the destruction of Jerusalem: of such signal service was this caution of our Saviour to the believers! See Bishop Newton, and Bullock’s Vindication, book, 1 Chronicles 4. Dr. Heylin reads the last words, Let him that reads consider it well.
Let him which is on the house-top— The houses of the Jews, and of the present inhabitants of the East, as well as those of the ancient Greeks and Romans, were flat on the top for them to walk on, and had usually two pair of stairs, one on the inside, and the other on the out, by the latter of which they could ascend and descend, without coming into the house.
In the Eastern walled cities these flat-roofed houses usually formed continued terraces from one end of the city to the other, which terraces terminated at the gates. He, therefore, who is walking and regaling himself upon the house-top, let him not come down to take any thing out of his house; but let him instantly pursue his course along the tops of the houses, and escape out at the city-gate as fast as he possibly can. See Bishop Newton.
Neither let him which is in the field return— Our Saviour makes use of these expressions to intimate, that their flight must be as sudden and hasty as Lot’s was out of Sodom; and the Christians escaping just as they did, was the more providential, because afterwards all egress out of the city was prevented. These are as strong expressions as one can imagine, to urge the speediest retreat. It is indeed observable that this whole discourse abounds with very lively figures of oratory, and is heightened with the noblest beauties of description. See Bishop Newton, and Elsner’s Observations, vol. 1.
Woe unto them that are with child, &c.— For neither will such persons be in a condition to fly, nor will they be able to endure the distress and hardships of a siege. This woe was sufficiently fulfilled in the cruel slaughters which were made both of the women and children, and particularly in that grievous famine which so miserably afflicted Jerusalem during the siege.
For mothers, as Josephus reports, snatched the food from the very mouths of their infants; and the houses were full of women and children who perished by famine. See the note on Deuteronomy 28:53-56 and Bishop Newton.
But pray ye that your flight be not, &c.— “Pray that these evils be not further aggravated by the concurrence of other natural and moral evils, such as the inclemencies of the seasons, and your own scruples:
Pray that your flight be not in the winter; for the hardness of the season, the badness of the roads, and the shortness of the days, will all be great impediments to your flight; neither on the Sabbath-day; that you may not raise the indignation of the Jews by traveling on that day, nor be hindered from doing it by your own scruples.” This seems to be spoken a good deal in condescension to the Jewish scruples, a Sabbath-day’s journey among the Jews being but about a mile; and consequently insufficient for the security of their lives who fled.
It has been observed, (on Psalms 147:16 and Ezra 10:9.) that the winters are very cold in the Holy Land. St. Jerome speaks of the cold of that country, as frequently too severe to be borne by those who might be glad to secrete themselves for fear of their lives; and, in his letter to Algasia, he thus understands, as to the literal sense, the direction of our Lord here given to his disciples; the severity of the cold being such, as would not permit them to conceal themselves in the deserts.
Agreeable to this, and at the same time a lively comment on these words of our Lord, is the account which William of Tyre gives of the state of Saladine’s troops after their defeat in the neighbourhood of Ascalon. “They for haste threw away their armour and cloaths, [vestium genera quaelibet; that is to say, their hykes and burnooses, described by Dr. Shaw, p. 226 which they found entangled them, and retarded their flight] but so sunk under the cold, with want of food, tediousness of the ways, and greatness of the fatigue, that they were daily taken captives in the woods, mountains, and wilderness; and sometimes threw themselves in the way of their enemies, rather than perish with cold and hunger.”
See the Observations on Sacred Scripture, p. 15. As our Saviour cautioned his disciples to fly when they should see Jerusalem encompassed with armies; so was it very providentially ordered that Jerusalem should be compassed with armies, and yet that they should have such favourable opportunities of making their escape. In the 12th year of Nero, Cestius Gallus came against Jerusalem with a powerful army; and though, if he had assaulted the city, he might have taken it, and have put an end to the war; yet, without any apparent reason, and contrary to every one’s expectation, he raised the siege.
Vespasian, who succeeded him in the command, invested the city on all sides; but the news of Nero’s death, and soon after of Galba’s, caused him to suspend his operations against Jerusalem; and the city was not actually besieged in form, till Vespasian was confirmed in the empire, and Titus was sent to command the forces in Judea. These incidental delays were very opportune for the Christians, and those who had thoughts of retreating and providing for their safety. See Bishop Newton.
Then shall be great tribulation— In the preceding verses our Saviour warned his disciples to fly as soon as ever they saw Jerusalem besieged by the Romans, and now he assigns a reason for his giving them this caution. The words used in this verse seem to be a proverbial form of expression, as in Exodus 10:14. Joel 2 :1 Maccabees 9:27. Our Lord, therefore, might fitly apply the same manner of speaking upon the present occasion: but he does not make use of proverbial expressions without a proper meaning; and this may be understood even literally.
For indeed all history cannot furnish us with a parallel to the calamities and miseries of the Jews; rapine and murder, famine and pestilence within, fire and sword, and all the terrors of war without. Our Saviour wept at the foresight of these calamities; and it is almost impossible for persons of any humanity to read the relation of them without weeping too.
The Jewish historian might well say, as he does in the preface to his history: “If the misfortunes of all, from the beginning of the world, were compared with those of the Jews, they would appear much inferior upon comparison. In short, no other city ever suffered such things, as no other generation from the beginning of the world was ever more fruitful of wickedness.” See Luke 21:22; Luke 21:38 and Bishop Newton
Except those days should be shortened— “If those wars and desolations were to continue, no flesh—none of the Jews, would escape destruction.” The number of those who perished in the siege were about eleven hundred thousand, besides those who were slain in other places; and, if the Romans had gone on destroying in this manner, the whole nation of the Jews would certainly, in a little time, have been extirpated. But, for the elects’ sake, those days shall be shortened.
The elect is a well-known appellation in Scripture and antiquity for the Christians; and the Christian Jews, partly through the fury of the zealots on the one hand, and the hatred of the Romans on the other, and partly through the difficulty of subsisting in the mountains, without houses or provisions, would, in all probability, have been almost all destroyed either by the sword or by famine, if the days had not been shortened; but providentially the days were shortened. Vespasian, who was advanced in years, and therefore could not carry on the siege with that vigour which might cause the city soon to fall into his hands, transferred the command to Titus; who, having Rome, and the riches and pleasures there, before his eyes, took every measure which might render his expedition successful, and contribute to his glory, by the shortness of the time which he employed to effect it.
The besieged too helped to shorten the days by their divisions and mutual slaughters, by burning their provisions, which would have sufficed for many years, and by fatally destroying their strong-holds, where they could never have been taken by force, but by famine alone. By these means the days were shortened; and indeed otherwise Jerusalem could never have been taken in so short a time, so well fortified as it was, and so well fitted to sustain a longer siege. The enemy could hardly ever have prevailed, but for the factions and seditions within.
Titus himself could not but ascribe his success to God, as he was viewing the fortifications after the city was taken. His words to his friends are very remarkable: “We have fought with God on our side, and it is God who has pulled the Jews out of their strong-holds; for what could the hands of men or machines do against these towers!” God, therefore, in the opinion of Titus, shortened these days. After the destruction of Jerusalem too, God inclined the heart of Titus to take some pity upon the remnant of the Jews, and to refrain the nations from effecting the cruelty that they would have exercised against them.
At Antioch particularly, the senate importuned him to expel the Jews from the city; but he answered, that their country being laid waste, there was no place to receive them. They then requested him to deprive the Jews of their former privileges; but those he permitted them to enjoy as before. See Bishop Newton, and Dr. Jackson’s Credibility of the Scriptures.
Lo, here is Christ, or there— In fact, many such impostors did arise about that time, and promised deliverance from God; but as it was to little purpose for a man to take upon him the character of the Christ, or even of a prophet, without miracles to vouch his divine mission, so it was the common artifice and pretense of these impostors to shew signs and wonders. Simon Magus performed wonders, according to the account given of him, Acts 8:9-11. Dositheus likewise was reputed to do so; and Barchochebas is said to have pretended to vomit flames.
Such also were the Jews of whom St. Paul speaks, 2 Timothy 3:8; 2 Timothy 3:13. There is a strange propensity in mankind to believe things marvelous and astonishing; and no wonder that weak and wicked men, Jews and Samaritans, were deceived by such impostors, where, if it had been possible, they would have deceived the very elect,—even the Christians themselves. See Bishop Newton. This is not a mere repetition of what was said before, Matthew 24:5 but relates more particularly to those impostors who appeared during the time of the siege; concerning whom, see Josephus’s War, b. 6. 100: 5. Euseb. Eccles. Hist. b. 4: ch. 6 and Grotius on the place.
Behold, &c.— “Behold, I have given you sufficient warning.” It is remarkable, that our Saviour should not only foretel the appearance of these impostors, but also the manner and circumstances of their conduct; for some he mentions as appearing in the desert, and some in secret chambers, and the event has in all points answered to the prediction. Several of the false Christs and false prophets conducted their followers into deserts, where they promised to shew wonders and signs; and many, being persuaded, suffered the punishments of their folly; some of them being brought back by Felix, and chastised or slain by him.
The Egyptian false prophet, mentioned Acts 21:38 led out into the wilderness, four thousand men that were murderers; but being engaged by Felix, the Egyptian himself with others fled away, and most of those who had been with him were slain or taken prisoners. These things happened before the destruction of Jerusalem. And a little after, one Jonathan, a weaver, persuaded many indigent men to follow him into the desert, promising to shew them signs; but most of his followers were also slain, some made prisoners, and he himself was afterwards taken, and burned alive, by order of Vespasian.
As several of those impostors conducted their followers into the desert, so did others of them into the secret chambers, or places of security; particularly the false prophet mentioned by Josephus, who declared, that God commanded the people to go up into the temple, where they should receive the signs of deliverance. A multitude of men, women, and children went up accordingly; but, instead of deliverance, the place was set on fire by the Romans, and six thousand perished miserably in the flames, or by throwing themselves down to escape them.
We may here observe, that the Messiah was particularly expected about the time of our Saviour, and consequently that the prophets had before-hand marked out that very time for his coming. We read not of any false Messiahs before the age of our Saviour, nor of so many in any age after; and why did they rise in that age particularly, if the Messiah was not at that time particularly expected? And why did the Jews expect their Messiah at that time more than at any other, if that was not the time before appointed for his coming? See Bishop Newton.
As the lightning—shall also the coming of the Son of man be— His coming will not be in this or that particular place, but, like the lightning, sudden and universal. The appearance of the true Christ will be as distinguishable from that of the false Christ, as lightning, which shineth all round the hemisphere, is from a blaze of straw: it is very remarkable, “That the Roman army entered into Judea on the east side of it, and carried on their conquests westward; as if not only the extensiveness of the ruin, but the very route which the army should take, was intended in the comparison of the lightning coming out of the east and shining even unto the west.” See Pearce’s Dissertation on the Destruction of Jerusalem, and Bishop Newton.
Wheresoever the carcase is, &c.— By the word carcase is meant the Jewish nation, which was morally and judicially dead, and whose destruction was pronounced in the decrees of heaven. Our Saviour, after his usual manner, applies a proverbial expression with a particular meaning: for as, according to the old proverb, wheresoever, &c. so wheresoever the Jews are, there will Christ be taking vengeance upon them by the Romans, who are properly compared to eagles, as the fiercest beasts of prey, and whose ensign was an eagle, to which also probably our Saviour in this passage alluded. And as it was said, so it was done; for the victories of the Romans were not confined to this or that place, but, like a flood, over-ran the whole land. There was no part of Judea that did not partake of the calamities of the captivity.
At Antioch many were burnt in the theatre, and others were slain; the Romans slew them every where; at Jardes not fewer than three thousand were put to death. Being on the point of being taken at Masade, they first murdered their wives and children, and then themselves, to the number of nine hundred and sixty, to avoid falling into the enemies’ hands. In Cyrene, the followers of Jonathan the weaver were most of them slain; he himself was taken prisoner, and, by his accusation, three thousand of the richest Jews were put to death. See Bishop Newton.
Immediately after the tribulation, &c.— Commentators generally understand this and what follows, of the end of the world, and of Christ’s coming to judgment; but the words evidently shew that he is not speaking of any distant event, but of something consequent upon the tribulation before-mentioned,and that must be the destruction of Jerusalem. It is true, his figures are very strong; but no stronger than are used by the ancient prophets on similar occasions. See Isaiah 13.
Bishop Warburton observes upon the subject, that this prophesy of Jesus concerning the approaching destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, is conceived in such high and swelling terms, that not only the modern interpreters, but the ancient likewise, have supposed, that our Lord interweaves into it a direct prediction of his coming to judgment: but if we consider the nature of the two dispensations, and the necessity of abolishing the former before the introduction of the latter,it will then appear, that this prophesy does not respect Christ’s second coming to judgment, but his first, in the abolition of the Jewish polity, and the establishment of the Christian; that kingdom of Christ which commenced on the total ceasing of the theocracy. This was the true establishment of Christianity, not that effected by the donations or conversions of Constantine.
This therefore being one of the most important areas in the economy of grace, and the most awful revolution in all God’s religious dispensations, we see the elegance and propriety of the terms in question, to denote so great an event, together with the destruction of Jerusalem, by which it was effected: for in the old prophetic language, the change and fall of principalities and powers, whether spiritual or civil, are signified by the shaking of heaven and earth,—the darkening the sun,—and moon,—and the falling of the stars; as the rise and establishment of new ones are by processions in the clouds of heaven, by the sound of trumpets, and the assembling together of hosts and congregations. See Bishop Newton, Bishop Warburton’s Julian, b. 1 Chronicles 1 p. 21 and the next note.
And then shall appear the sign, &c.— The plain meaning of this is, that the destruction of Jerusalem will be such a remarkable instance of divine vengeance, such a signal manifestation of Christ’s power and glory, that all the Jewish tribes shall mourn, and many will be thence led to acknowledge Christ and the Christian religion.
In the ancient prophets God is frequently described as coming in the clouds, upon any remarkable interposition and manifestation of his power; and the same description is here applied to Christ. See Bishop Newton, and Gerhard’s Dissertations, p. 200, &c. and John 6:30. Dr. Clarke says, that the sign here mentioned means the figure given by the prophet Daniel, the signal of that Son of man there described. Instead of the tribes of the earth, some read the tribes of the land.
And he shall send his angels— This is all in the style and phraseology of the prophets, and, stripped of its figures, means, that after the destruction of Jerusalem, Christ, by his angels or ministers, will gather to himself a glorious church out of all the nations under heaven. No one ever so little versed in history needs to be told, that the Christian religion spread and prevailed mightily after this period, and hardly any one thing contributed more to this success of the Gospel than the destruction of Jerusalem falling out in the very manner, and in the very circumstances so particularly foretold by our blessed Saviour.
Most translations, as well as our own, have greatly obscured this text, by rendering the word αγγελους, angels; for though it generally signifies those celestial spirits who are on great occasions the messengers of God to our world, it is well known that the word refers not to their nature, but to their office, and it is often applied to men, and rendered messengers. See Mark 1:2. Luke 7:24; Luke 9:52. 2 Corinthians 8:23. Philippians 2:25 and James 2:25 in some of which places it signifies, as here, preachers of the Gospel, who were sent forth to carry on God’s great designs of uniting all his believing people in one society, under Christ under their common head. See Ephesians 1:10
Now learn a parable of the fig-tree— Our Lord, having answered the latter part of the question proposed Matthew 24:3 proceeds in these verses to answer the former part, as to the time of his coming, and the destruction of Jerusalem. And he begins by observing, that the signs which he had given would be as certain an indication of the time of his coming, as the fig-tree’s putting forth its leaves is of the approach of summer.
This generation shall not pass, &c.— Our Lord proceeds to declare, that the time of his coming was at no very great distance; and to shew that he has been speaking all the while of the destruction of Jerusalem, he affirms with his usual asseveration, Verily, I say unto you, &c. It is therefore matter of wonder how any man can refer part of the foregoing discourse to the destruction of Jerusalem, and part of it to the end of the world, or any other distant event, when it is said so positively here, all these things shall be fulfilled in this generation. See Bishop Newton, and Mark 9:1.
Heaven and earth shall pass away— It seems as if our Saviour had been aware of some such misapplication of his words, as is intimated in the preceding note, by adding yet greater force and emphasis to his affirmation; heaven and earth shall pass, &c.
It is a common figure of speech in the oriental languages, to say of two things, that the one shall be, and the other shall not be, when the meaning is only, that the one shall happen sooner or more early than the other,—as in this instance of our Saviour: the meaning therefore is, “Heaven and earth shall sooner or more easily pass away, than my words shall pass away: the frame of the universe shall sooner or more easily be dissolved, than my words shall fail of being fulfilled.” See Luke, xvi
One would be ready to think it next to impossible, that any man should duly consider these prophesies, and the exact completion of them; and if he be a believer, not be still more confirmed in the faith; or if he be an infidel, not be converted to the faith. Can any stronger proof be given of a divine revelation than the spirit of prophesy?
And can any stronger proof be given of the spirit of prophesy, than the example now before us? in which so many contingencies, and we might say improbabilities, which human wisdom or prudence could never foresee, are so particularly foretold, and so punctually accomplished! At the time when Christ pronounced these prophesies, the Roman governor resided at Jerusalem, and had a force sufficient to keep the people in obedience; and could human prudence foresee, that the city as well as the country would revolt and rebel against the Romans?
Could any human prudence foresee famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places? Could human prudence foresee the speedy propagation of the Gospel, so contrary to all human probability? Could human prudence foresee such an utter destruction of Jerusalem, with all the circumstances preceding and following it? It was never the custom of the Romans absolutely to ruin any of their provinces; it was improbable therefore that such a thing should happen at all, and still more improbable that it should happen under the humane and generous Titus, who was indeed, as he was called, the love and delight of mankind.
Yet, however improbable this was, it has happened, and it was foreseen and foretold by Christ. But how was it possible for him to do it, unless his foresight was divine, and his prediction the infallible oracle of God? See Bishop Newton, and Dr. Macknight.—Eusebius observes well upon this place, that whoever shall compare the words of our Saviour with the history of the war which Josephus has written, cannot but admire the wisdom of Christ, and acknowledge his prediction to be divine.
But of that day and hour knoweth no man— The word Ωρα, is of a larger signification than hour; and besides, it seems somewhat improper to say, of that day and hour knoweth no man; for if the day was not known, certainly the hour was not; and it was superfluous to make such an addition. The passage therefore might be rendered, “of the day and season,” &c. as the word is frequently used in the best authors, both sacred and profane.
It is true our Saviour declares, all these things shall be fulfilled in this generation; it is true, the prophet Daniel has given some intimation of the time in his famous prophesy of the seventy weeks: but though this great revolution was to happen in that generation; though it was to happen at the conclusion of seventy weeks, or four hundred and ninety years, to be computed from a certain date that is not easy to be fixed; yet the particular day, the particular season in which it was to happen, might still remain a secret to men and angels: and our Saviour had before (Matthew 24:20.) advised his disciples to pray, that their flight might not be in the winter, neither on the Sabbath-day. The DAY not being known, they might pray that their flight might not be on the Sabbath day: the season not being known, they might pray that their flight might not be in the winter. We shall enlarge on this subject, when we come to Mark 13:32. See Bishop Newton.
But as the days of Noe, &c.— The days of Noah signify the days in which he preached to the old world that righteousness which they ought to have practised, and denounced the judgments of God to fall on them, if they did not repent of their wickedness. By parity of reason, the days of the Son of Man signify the days in which Christ and his Apostles preached to the Jewish nation, whose behaviour here is said to have been the same with that of the old world, and of the Sodomites, under the preaching of Noah and Lot. See Luke 17:28. They went on secure, and wholly intent upon their worldly affairs, without being in the least moved by the repeated warnings of the divine judgments, which Jesus and his Apostles gave them; for which cause these judgments fell on them, and destroyed them.
Dr. Woodward, in his Theory of the Earth, thinks, that the phrases eating and drinking, &c. were modest expressions to signify their giving themselves up to all the extravagances of riot and lust. And Wolfius upon the place has fully proved, that γαμιζθαι, is often used in a very criminal sense: but how great reason soever there may be to believe, that the antediluvian sinners did so, the words may be intended to express no more than the security and gaiety with which they pursued the usual employments and amusements of life, when they were on the very brink of utter destruction.
Then shall two be in the field, &c.— Providence will then make a distinction between such as are not at all distinguished now. Some shall be rescued from the destruction of Jerusalem, like Lot out of the burning of Sodom; while others, no ways perhaps different in outward circumstances, shall be left to perish in it. See Bishop Newton’s Dissertations, and Luke 17:31.
Dr. Doddridge is of opinion, that the grand transition from the description of the destruction of Jerusalem to that of the day of judgment, is made precisely after these two verses. For after them there is not a word peculiar to that destruction, but many circumstances are introduced which refer to the day of judgment, and of death as transmitting to it, and which can only be thus understood. Our Lord, in the following verses of St. Matthew and St. Mark, directs their thoughts to that final solemnity in which they are so highly concerned, by repeating, almost in the same words, the cautions and advices which he had formerly given, Luke 12:35; Luke 12:59.
In which whole context there is no reference to the temporal calamities coming on the Jews, which have been the subject of almost the whole preceding discourse; and the remembrance of what had passed on the former occasion, might the more easily lead them to the distinct understanding of what was now added; though it may not be improper to recollect, that the same pious care through grace in the temper and conduct, which would be a preparative against national judgments, and obtain for them the special protection of Providence in them, would also, through the alone merit of the great Atonement, secure them from any unwelcome surprise by a call to the tribunal of God.
But know this, that, &c.— But consider that if, &c. Heylin.
Therefore, be ye also ready— 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 and unexpectedness of it, nearly resembled what shall happen at the destruction of the world and the general judgment; it was natural for our Lord, on this occasion, to put the disciples in mind of that judgment, and to exhort them to the faithful discharge of their duty, from the uncertainty of the time of his coming to call every particular person to an account at death. Concerning the form and structure of the parable in the next verses, we shall enlarge, when we come to Luke 12:42., &c.
Blessed is that servant— “You, the ministers of religion, ought to be particularly faithful in the discharge of your duty; for it is not an ordinary trust which is committed to your charge; you are stewards, whose business it is to take care of the whole family; and who, because of the influence which your example may have upon the rest, ought to be remarkably diligent, that you may provoke your fellows to be frugal, active, and sober.
Your duty is, to be well acquainted with the stores of evangelical truths, and to understand how they may be best applied. You should know likewise the characters of the various persons under your charge; that you may be able to give every one of them their portion of meat in due season: and if when I come, I find you thus employed, you are blessed; for I will highly reward you with the joys of my kingdom; even as an earthly master bestows particular marks of respect on such servants as have been remarkably faithful in any important trust.”
We may just observe, that as no peculiar rewards were conferred on any of the Apostles, or other faithful ministers, at the time of Christ’s coming to destroy Jerusalem, this clause sufficiently proves a reference to the final judgment; and will not permit us, with Dr. Hammond, to understand the Gnostics, or with Dr. Whitby, the apostate Jews, as particularly intended by the subsequent mention of the wicked servant; which seems plainly to refer to a debauched and persecuting clergy, hypocritically pretending to a distinguished zeal for Christian forms and institutions. See Hammond, Whitby, and Doddridge.
But, &c.— But if that servant, being evil, shall say, &c. Heylin. “If on the other hand you behave like wicked stewards, who, because their Lord delays his coming, beat their fellow-servants, and get drunk with sots and epicures: if you tyrannize over the consciences of your brethren, neglect the duties of your function, and give yourselves up to sensual pleasures; I will come when you little think of it, and make you dreadful examples of my indignation, by the severe punishments which I will inflict upon you.”
It is remarkable, that in this parable the crime of the unfaithful stewards is said to have been sensuality; particularly drunkenness, than which a more abominable vice can hardly be named. A drunkard,—one who employs himself in erasing the illustrious signature of reason, which God stamped upon him in creation, as the prerogative of his nature; and who makes himself incapable of his duty, while he is ready to commit every sin to which a temptation offers; what a monster is this, and how unlikely to lead others in the way of eternal life! See Macknight.
Shall cut him asunder— This was one of the heaviest kinds of punishment anciently used: see 1 Samuel 15:33. 2 Samuel 12:31. Daniel 2:5; Daniel 3:29. A. Gellius, lib. 20. 100: 1, In the passage first cited we are told that Samuel hewed Agag in pieces; wherefore, as that action proceeded from the greatness of the prophet’s indignation, or rather from a knowledge of the divine will, the same punishment inflicted on the slothful, sensual, merciless steward, fitly expresses the greatness of his Lord’s indignation.
In ancient times the stewards of great families were slaves, as well as the servants of the lower class, being raised to that trust on account of their fidelity, wisdom, sobriety, and other good qualities: If any steward, therefore, in the absence of his lord, behaved as is represented in the parable, it was a plain proof that the virtues on account of which he was raised were counterfeit, and by consequence that he was a hypocrite.
Slaves of this character, among other chastisements, were sometimes condemned to work in the mines; and as this was one of the most grievous punishments, when they first entered, nothing was heard among them but weeping and gnashing of teeth, on account of the intolerable fatigue to which they were subjected in these hideous caverns, without hope of release:—there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But, because the immediate effect of being cut asunder is death, and not a state of bitter lamentation, the Greek particle of connection may be understood in this verse disjunctively;—shall cut him asunder, or appoint him, &c.] unless we can suppose that in the latter clause our Lord speaks not according to the form, but the meaning of his parable.
The truth is, as cutting asunder gives us a lively idea of the torment of an awakened conscience, the portion of hypocrites is a proper emblem to represent the melancholy state of the damned; who are shut up for ever in the dreadful dungeon of hell, never more to see the light of God’s countenance, whereby the whole spiritual creation is enlightened, and made unspeakably happy. The Prussian editors, after several learned critics, render the word διχοτομησει, which literally signifies shall cut asunder—by shall separate him, which it signifies metaphorically; (see ch. Matthew 25:32.)
This interpretation they observe is proved from hence, that it is immediately added, and shall appoint him his portion with the hypocrites; which plainly expresses his separation from the company of faithful servants. See Stockius on the word. Dr. Doddridge paraphrases it, “Will scourge him with that severity, that he will even cut him asunder:” (Compare Luke 12:46.) As to this, and other circumstances here mentioned, it is to be observed, that as rich mines sometimes grow up even to the surface of the earth, so in the parable of our Lord, the spiritual sense sometimes breaks through the literal, which it interrupts with a sudden transition to the application.
It has been observed upon this last verse, that if ministers are the persons here primarily intended, there is a peculiar propriety in the expression, shall appoint him his portion with the hypocrites; for no hypocrisy can be greater, than to call ourselves ministers of Christ, while we are the slaves of ambition, avarice, and intemperance. Wherever such are found, under whatever mark or form, may God reform them by his grace; or disarm them of that power and influence which they continually abuse, to his dishonour, and to their own aggravated damnation!
Inferences.—The first Inference which naturally occurs to the thinking mind on reading this remarkable chapter, is the strange and surprising manner in which the prophesies recorded in it have been fulfilled, and the unanswerable arguments which may thence be drawn for the truth of our Saviour’s divine mission; as hath been urged at large in the note on Matthew 24:35.
What is usually objected to the other predictions of holy writ, cannot with any pretense be objected to these prophesies of our Saviour,—that they are figurative and obscure; for nothing can be conveyed in plainer, simpler, terms, except where he affected some obscurity for particular reasons, as has been hinted in the course of the notes.
It is allowed, indeed, that some of these prophesies are taken from Moses and Daniel; our Saviour, prophesying of the same events, has borrowed and applied some of the same images and expressions; but this is a commendation, rather than any discredit to his predictions: he has built upon the foundations of the inspired writers before him; but what a superstructure did he raise! he has acted in this case, as in every other, like one who came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them. He has manifested himself to be a true prophet, by his exact interpretation and application of other prophets. He is also much more particular and circumstantial than either Moses or Daniel: in several instances his prophesies are entirely new, and properly his own; and besides, he uses greater precision in fixing and confining the time to that very generation.
The sincerity and ingenuity of Christ, and the courage and constancy of his disciples, strike us also strongly, from a review of these prophesies. See the note on Matthew 24:9.
The sudden and amazing progress of the Gospel, which spread so far and so wide before the destruction of Jerusalem, and which our Saviour here so minutely foretold, cannot fail to strike us. The greatness of the work which was wrought, the meanness of the instruments who wrought it, and the short time in which it was wrought, must force all considering men to say, This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.
The Mahometan religion, indeed, in less than a century over-ran a great part of the world; but then it was propagated by the sword, and owed its success to arms and violence: but the Christian religion was diffused over the face of the earth in the space of forty years, and prevailed, not only without the sword, but against the sword; not only without the powers civil and military to support it, but against them all united to oppress it: and what but the Spirit of God could bid it thus go forth conquering, and to conquer? Had this counsel or this work been of men, as Gamaliel argued, it would have come to nought; but being of God nothing could overthrow it.
Observe we again, that for the completion of those prophesies, the persons seem to have been wonderfully raised up and preserved by divine Providence. Vespasian was promoted from obscurity; and though feared and hated by Nero, was yet preferred by him, and singled out as the only general among the Romans, who was equal to such a war; God, as Josephus intimates, so disposing and ordering affairs.
Titus was wonderfully preserved in some of the most critical circumstances of danger; upon which Josephus observes, remarkably enough, that hence it is obvious to understand, that the turns of war, and the dangers of princes, are under the peculiar care of God; and indeed Josephus himself was no less wonderfully preserved than Titus; the one to destroy the city, the other to record its destruction, in a history which was most particularly authenticated.
As a general in the wars, he must have had an exact knowledge of all transactions; and as a Jewish priest, he would not relate them with any favour or partiality to the Christian cause. His history was approved by Vespasian and Titus, who ordered it to be published; and by king Agrippa, and many others, both Jews and Romans, who were present in those wars. He had likewise many enemies, who would readily have convicted him of falsification, if he had been guilty of any. He designed nothing less;—and yet his history of the Jewish wars may serve as a larger comment on our Saviour’s prophesies of the destruction of Jerusalem.
As these prophesies are the clearest and the most minutely fulfilled, so were the calamities the greatest which the world ever saw; and what heinous sin was it which could bring down such heavy judgments on the Jewish church and nation? Can any other be assigned with half so much probability as what the Scripture assigns,—their crucifying the Lord of Glory? This is always objected as the capital crime of the nation: and upon reflection we shall find some correspondence between their crime and their punishment, as every reader may have remarked from what has gone before.
—They put Jesus to death, when the nation was assembled to celebrate the passover: and when the nation was assembled also to celebrate the passover, Titus shut them up within the walls of Jerusalem. The rejection of the true Messiah was their crime; and the following of false Messiahs to their destruction was their punishment. They sold and bought Jesus as a slave; and they were themselves afterwards sold and bought as slaves at the lowest prices. They preferred a robber and a murderer to Jesus, whom they crucified between two thieves; and they themselves were afterwards infested and over-run with robbers and murderers.
They put Jesus to death, lest the Romans should come and take away their place and nation; the Romans did come, and take away their place and nation. They crucified Jesus before the walls of Jerusalem; and before the walls of Jerusalem, they themselves were crucified in such numbers, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses for the bodies. One would think it hardly possible for any man to lay these things together, and not conclude the Jews’ own imprecation to be remarkably fulfilled: His blood be upon us, and upon our children!
We Christians indeed cannot be guilty of the same offence in crucifying the Lord of Glory; but it behoves us to consider, whether we may not be guilty in the same kind, and by our sins and iniquities crucify afresh the Son of God, and put him to an open shame; and therefore, whether, being like them in their crime, we may not also resemble them in their punishment.
—They rejected Christ; and we indeed have received him: but have our lives been agreeable to our holy profession? or rather, as we have had opportunities of knowing Christ more, have we not obeyed him less than other Christian professors, and trodden under foot the Son of God, counting the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and doing despite to the Spirit of grace?
The flagrant crimes of the Jews, and the principal sources of their calamities, in the opinion of Josephus, were, their trampling upon all human laws, deriding divine things, and making a jest of the oracles of the prophets, as so many dreams and fables: and how has the same spirit of licentiousness and infidelity prevailed likewise in our land! how have the laws and lawful authority been insulted with equal insolence and impunity!
—how have the holy Scriptures, those treasures of divine wisdom not only been rejected, but despised, derided, and abused to the very worst purposes! How have the principal articles of our faith been denied, the prophesies and miracles of Moses and the prophets, of Christ and the Apostles, been ridiculed, and impiety and blasphemy not only been whispered in the ear, but proclaimed from the press! how have all public worship and religion, and the administration of the sacraments, been slighted and contemned!
—Alas, how much are they still slighted, and the sabbath profaned! and that too by those who ought to have set a better example, to whom much is given, and of whom therefore much will be required! and how few comparatively serve God with a loving, willing spirit, desirous to advance in holiness, influenced by the powerful love of their Master.
—On the contrary, they seek only how little is necessary to be done, and with how small a portion of religion a man may be supposed to save his future interests; as if they were unwilling to serve God, who gives them all, more than needs must. Surely nothing can be more abominable to the great God of love! and if for their sins and provocations God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee: because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith!—Be not high-minded, but fear. God bore long with the Jews, and has he not borne long with us also?—but at length the fearful day came:—It may come to us also.
Whatever may be the case with particular states and people, this we knew assuredly, that as Jerusalem perished in sore destruction, so shall destruction, utter and terrible, one day overwhelm this world, and with it all our worldly hopes, and all our earthly pleasures! the sun shall then indeed be darkened, the moon shall then indeed with-hold her light, and all the stars shall withdraw their shining:—and then in all his glory shall the Son of man himself appear—appear to judge,—to judge and fix irrevocably the doom of all mankind!
When reflection casts her eye on that great, that important hour, how astonishing does it seem, that poor weak worms, like us, should dare to defy such omnipotence, and arm such a power, by our bold offences, in wrath against us! how amazing does it seem, that any thing in this life should captivate our hearts, and make us wretched slaves to things so soon to perish and be utterly dissolved! how amazing does it seem, that pride and arrogance, vanity and self-conceit, should ever swell our bosoms, when the remembrance of Omnipotence seated in glory to judge us and our fellow sinners, should sink us into the deepest humility, and most perfect self-renunciation.
Let us think ourselves happy, that the great Lord of love vouchsafes to us this season of mercy; and let us, if we would act as reasonable creatures, endeavour duly to use this blessed season, and to prepare for that solemn appearance, which we must all assuredly make. Let us only ask our own hearts, in what state we would wish to be found on that day when eternal rewards and eternal punishments shall be awefully dispensed. And as we find our hearts wish, so let us act by all means, nor suffer our better reason and our conscience to condemn us.
Trifle as we may, neglect it as we will, put it off as we can, truth it is, that this great day will come. We may disbelieve it, as the Jews did the destruction of their city; but as assuredly as their destruction came to them, so assuredly will Christ come in judgment upon the world. The day of death is indeed, in effect, that day to all of us: this day we know will come, and it is hastening on the wing; and this night perchance may bring it nearer to some of us, and for ever preclude our further preparations. Boast we not then of our reason and our sense, if we live in neglect of so aweful an hour. Man is created only for eternity; and he sadly inverts the great Creator’s designs, who lives only for the present time, and neglects the time eternal!
If the compassionate Jesus wept over Jerusalem, think how contrary it is to his benevolent purpose, that any of those who are baptized into his faith, should forfeit his favour, and have the things concerning their peace, hid from their eyes: and therefore, in pleasing reliance on his mercy and love, in constant expectation of the future day approaching, and with sincere desire to be accepted on that day, let us unite all our efforts, and so live to, and so serve him here below, that he may welcome us to his right hand, and say,—Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord! Amen.
1st, Having foretold the desolations of Zion, Christ took his last farewell of the temple’s devoted walls, and went out, to return no more. On his departing, we are told the conversation which passed between Jesus and his disciples. They were astonished probably at his prediction, perhaps incredulous of its fulfilment, and begged him a moment to behold the magnificent structure, and view the strength and beauty of the fabric.
Tinctured with national prejudices, they seem to have been over-pleased with the outward glory of the building, and thought with regret of its desolations; but Christ, so far from reversing the sentence, more awefully confirms it, decreeing its utter and irrecoverable ruin; so that not even one stone should be left upon another; which, by the concurring testimony of historians, was literally fulfilled, and the very ground ploughed up where the temple stood. Note; We are too apt to look upon outward grandeur with the eye of sense, and to be influenced by the pomp and glory of the world; but the eye of faith sees the vanity of every thing below the sun, and looks above it for all that is truly great, and permanently glorious.
2nd, Ascending the mount of Olives, opposite to which the temple stood full in view, the disciples, as he sat there, came privately to him, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? the destruction of the city and temple: and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
According to their rooted prejudices, they seem still to have expected him to appear as a glorious temporal Messiah; and by his coming, meant not his appearing in the day of judgment; or, by the end of the world, the final consummation of all things; but rather the end of the present age; supposing it probable that the destruction of the temple would pave the way for the erection of another far more magnificent, when in all the pomp of earthly majesty he would appear, and they should be highly advanced in that universal kingdom which they expected him to establish.
They were very solicitous therefore to be informed of the signs which should usher him to the throne; and Jesus, to caution them against delusion, to rectify their mistakes, and to confirm them in the faith when they should see the predictions accomplished, answers their questions.
- He cautions his disciples against deceivers. Having rejected the true Messiah, yet impatient for the temporal deliverance which they expected from him, the Jews were open to receive every pretender who set up in his name; and to the false Christs and false prophets who should arise, were they justly to be given up, who so obstinately and wickedly had rejected the true. The disciples must pay no regard to the pretensions of these deluders, but turn a deaf ear to their emissaries, who say, Christ is in the desert, or hid in some secret chamber, and ready to appear. Nor are they to be believed, though they may do strange feats, and pretend to work miracles, which will impose upon the credulous. So powerfully indeed would the great Seducer play off his illusions, that nothing but the grace of God, with a firm trust in his promises, could preserve them from being deceived; but Christ would defend his faithful ones, who would own him and obey him as the true Messiah: and therefore they must remember these cautions now given them in the day of temptation, which would set them on their guard, and preserve them from seduction. Note; (1.) The devil and his instruments may do strange things to support the credit of his falling cause, and lying wonders may be wrought that may stagger the incautious; but whatever would draw us from Christ must be rejected with abhorrence. (2.) Novel pretensions and opinions in matters of religion are ever to be suspected: there cannot be a new, or another Gospel.
- Wars and rumours of wars will precede the threatened destruction. By insurrections and seditions against the Roman government in Judaea, thousands miserably perished; whilst intestine commotions and slaughters among themselves prepared the way for their final destruction, when, on their last revolt, the Romans marched their armies to besiege and utterly ruin their city and nation. Yet Christ warns his disciples not to be discouraged by these things, so as to discontinue their preaching, or be terrified in their minds; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet; the Jews shall be spared a little longer, to experience other judgments. Note; The ravages of war make dreadful work; we cannot but tremble at the alarm; though where the heart is fixed on the rock of ages, we shall not be troubled. Nature will shudder, but faith can raise us above our fears.
- Another sign he gives them of the approaching desolation. Nation shall rise against nation, &c. great commotions being in the Roman empire between the contenders for sovereignty; and there shall be famines; and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places; all which came to pass before the destruction of Jerusalem; and are called the beginning of sorrows; being but the prelude to the pangs in which she should expire; as all the temporal judgments which light upon the heads of sinners, are but the beginnings of sorrows inconceivably bitter as they are endless.
- He bids them expect a fiery persecution. Far from standing high in that earthly kingdom with which they shattered themselves, nothing but bonds, imprisonment, and death in all its most terrible forms, awaited them; hated both of Jews and Gentiles for the sake of Christ, and his Gospel which they preached. And these trying seasons would have aweful effects on many who before professed the faith of Jesus, but now, when the cross lay so heavy, would be offended, and apostatize; for suffering times are the sieve for hypocrites and unfaithful Christians, whose fair profession then is quickly blasted. Such are content to be Christians only as long as it costs them neither the loss of ease, interest, nor honour; and as apostates usually turn the bitterest persecutors, by such false brethren they should be betrayed, and hated with uncommon malignity. Through the concurrence of such unfaithfulness among professors, such enmity in their persecutors, and such deluding and seducing teachers as would arise, iniquity would peculiarly abound; and, as the consequence of it, the love of many would wax cold. Though persecution would make the flame of love burn fiercer in some, many would be glad to seek a shelter from the storm by concealing their profession, or, falling into decays, would lose the vital warmth and power of godliness: but for the comfort of those who approve themselves faithful in these trying times, they shall be saved.
- Notwithstanding all their sufferings, this Gospel of the kingdom, which points the way to the kingdom of grace and of glory, shall be preached in all the world, to which their very persecutions eminently contributed, (Acts 8:1-4.) the Apostles and others carrying the glad tidings into all the kingdoms under the Roman empire, and probably beyond its limits, (Colossians 1:6; Colossians 1:23.) for a witness unto all nations, of pardon and peace to those who believed, and as a testimony against those who persisted in their infidelity. And all this was done within forty years after our Lord’s ascension, and before Jerusalem was destroyed, and is mentioned as the last sign of its approaching ruin.
- Having foretold the signs of the times, our Lord proceeds to inform them of the immediate causes of the destruction, and to direct them how to act when the desolation came up as a flood. They would see the abomination of desolation; the Roman armies compassing their city and the holy place, with standards flying, on which they bore the images of their gods, so hateful to the Jewish nation; and then whoever read the prophet Daniel would see by the event his prediction verified. When this was the case, then it was high time for them to flee, and leave the devoted city and country; betaking themselves to the mountains for concealment from the ravages of the invaders. And when the danger was so near and urgent, not a moment was to be lost: they must not go into their house, if walking on its roof, to pack up their goods; nor return from the field to carry off their cloaths; but, as they were, instantly fly for their lives to some place of safety, as we are told the Christians immediately did to Pella, on the approach of the Roman army. In this season of distress some will be found in circumstances peculiarly melancholy and grievous; even such as are with child, and give suck, whose flight will be hereby greatly retarded, and it will be more difficult for them to escape. Also they had need pray, that their flight might not be in the winter, when the inclemency of the weather and depth of the roads would increase their calamity; nor on the sabbath day, when many, who still were attached to the rigid Mosaic observance of that day, would be scrupulous of travelling, or when the Jews would prevent their journey as contrary to the law. But fly they must; for in the city of Jerusalem during the siege there would be such a scene of misery, horror, and distress, as never before was known, nor ever shall be, till the time of the consummation of all things; so that, should these calamities continue, not one of the Jewish nation would be left. But God would preserve a remnant among them, designing in some future day, by a remarkable out-pouring of his spirit, to raise up a numerous people for himself out of the descendants of those who should escape from the sword; he therefore hath shortened these calamitous days, not dealing with them in that rigour which they deserved, but sparing them from an utter extirpation. Note; (1.) In days of tribulation, when God opens a door of escape, we must thankfully embrace the opportunity. Though we may never fly from duty, we must not expose ourselves to unnecessary danger. (2.) Delays are dangerous; especially where our souls are at stake. The present moment only is allotted us to fly for refuge to the mountain of a Saviour’s grace. (3.) At the worst of times, and in the worst of places, God has had a few faithful ones; and for their sakes he is graciously pleased to shorten the days of calamity. The men of this wicked world little think how much they are indebted to those whom they often despise and abhor.
- He adds a repeated caution against deceivers, whose fallacious promises in these calamitous times would be more easily credited; and pretending to come as the Messiah to rescue the Jewish nation from the Roman yoke, would find many ready to receive them, and willing to be deluded with the least shadow of hope: and their pretended signs and wonders would have a great effect on multitudes; but they must remember this warning, and reject all those impostors.
- He assures them, that the ruin of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation should be sudden, irresistible, and aweful, as when the blast of lightning darts from the cloud. And as eagles by their quick scent discover and seize the carcase, so should the Romans, bearing the figures of eagles on their standards, surround the city as a corpse to be devoured by them, and through the land hunt out, seize, and destroy this devoted people.
Some suppose there is a reference here to the swift spreading of the Gospel through the world, as a light from heaven illuminating the earth, breaking through the clouds of darkness and superstition, seen far and wide, and attended with most amazing success; when innumerable converts eagerly flocked to Christ, as eagles to the carcase, which was indeed the case; but the former sense seems to be principally intended.
- The utter ruin of the ecclesiastical and civil state of the Jewish nation will then immediately ensue. All their glory will depart, all their temple service cease, and their intire dispersion be accomplished; metaphorically represented by a total dire eclipse of all the luminaries of heaven, and by a dissolution of the very frame of nature. Then will the Messiah, whom they have rejected, appear, to execute the threatened vengeance upon them; and all their tribes with deepest anguish and distress will feel the weight of that blood which they imprecated on their heads.
Lastly, On this final ruin of Jerusalem, the angels of the churches, Christ’s ministers, shall blow the Gospel-trumpet, and spread its aweful pleasing sound throughout the earth, which, accompanied with the demonstration of the spirit and power, will be made effectual to the conversion of multitudes through the whole earth: and this Gospel will continue to be preached till the end of time: and then shall he be revealed from heaven with majesty and great power, of which this is the type and figure.
Though to this event of the destruction of the Jewish people and nation, this prophesy primarily and most immediately is applicable; yet there are several things contained in it, which have a strong reference to the more aweful appearance of the great Judge of quick and dead in the last day; whose coming will be ushered in with infinite pomp and dread; whose Gospel will be first spread through all lands; and whose appearance will be sudden, unexpected, and terrible as the lightning.
Then with horror the guilty world, startled from their slumbers and security, will behold the terrible Judge seated on his throne, surrounded by angelic hosts, the ministers of flame, who wait his orders, and execute his sentence. Too late, with tears of anguish and despair, they will bewail their inevitable misery, who had before refused to mourn in penitence their provocations. With power irresistible, and glory inconceivable, shall the Son of Man be revealed in clouds, burning with vengeance against his foes; but bright with refreshing beams of cheering light to gladden the hearts of his saints.
Then every eye shall see him, and from his lips expect their irrevocable doom. Awakened from the dust by the last trumpet’s blast, around his throne shall his elect, his faithful ones, be gathered, conducted by ministering angels; whilst every bosom glows with hope, delight, and joy unspeakable and full of glory; and welcomed by their Lord, their glory shall commence never to end, whilst they in wonder, love, and adoration, bow before him, with thankfulness unutterable own the infinite favour, and ascribe to him alone the everlasting praise.
Thrust from his presence, speechless with guilt, covered with shame, the unbelievers, the impenitent, the hypocrite, shall then be consigned to their mansions of eternal horror, torment, and despair, and find the just but terrible reward of their deeds. Consider, sinful soul, ere that day comes, who can dwell with devouring fire? who can dwell in everlasting burnings?
3rdly, As the events predicted would speedily have their accomplishment, they must prepare for them.
- They may judge of the approach of Jerusalem’s ruin by the signs mentioned, as easily and as surely as they would conclude summer at hand, when the fig-tree begins to bud, and put forth leaves. The things that Christ had spoken would certainly and speedily have their fulfilment: heaven and earth should pass, sooner than one jot or tittle of his word could fail; and they of that generation would behold it, though the very day or hour fixed for Jerusalem’s fall, no man nor angel knew, that being a secret in the divine bosom.
- He describes the sensuality and security in which the Jewish people would be surprised, like the men of the old world, who slighted Noah’s warnings, persisted in the service of their lusts and pleasures, and, drowned in carnal gratifications, would not believe the threatened judgment, till wrath came upon them, and the flood swept them away. In such a state of false peace and worldly pursuits would the Jews be found when their destroyers came, notwithstanding all the warnings of Christ and his Apostles; and then, by wondrous turns of Providence, where two persons were found at the same employments in the field or at the mill, one shall be taken, either a captive, or slain, and the other shall be left, escaping from the hands of the enemy.
And this may represent the world of the ungodly before the great day of the Lord comes. They will be surprised in the midst of sensual and earthly gratifications; refusing to hear the voice of God’s ministers calling them to repentance, he will give them up to the spirit of slumber. Their indulgences drive them to infidelity, and their unbelief hardens them in their sins; so reciprocally do the love of pleasure and infidelity operate.
Thus they will put far away the evil day, though they only impose upon themselves; and will be more terribly astonished at its sudden arrival: and then an aweful and eternal separation shall be made between the children of men who were before of the same occupation, engaged in the same labours, dwelling perhaps under one roof, or partners of the same bed. These shall now be for ever separated; the saints shall be caught up to the Saviour’s bosom, the impenitent left to the eternal misery and ruin which they have chosen.
- He admonishes them, in the view of these things, to be always ready, faithfully discharging their trust, and, as uncertain of the time, ever wakeful and watchful, that when these judgments come, they may be found on their guard. And what is here said, was not peculiarly directed to them, but is spoken to all, who being in jeopardy every hour, and not knowing whether the very next they may not be called to meet their Lord by death, if not at the throne of judgment, have continual need to be expecting and preparing for their great change. Two things we know; that Christ will come; but when is uncertain, and therefore left uncertain that we might be always ready; unless we act more foolishly respecting our souls, than any man of common prudence does with regard to his person or substance; for if he be admonished of danger from the approach of a thief by night, he will watch to prevent the robber’s entrance; and how much more then are we called to watch, that we may not be surprised at midnight with the coming of the great Judge, and perish in a fatal security, body and soul for ever? Our Lord enforces this great duty of watchfulness by the case of a master and his two servants, the one negligent, the other diligent and watchful; recommending it to us to copy the example of the wise and faithful servant, that we may receive his reward, and escape the misery which neglect and carelessness about the concerns of our souls must necessarily be attended with.
[1.] The wise and faithful servant represents every gracious soul, and especially the ministers of Christ, who are sent by him, the great ruler of his family, the church, to serve in their several departments, according to their several capacities. Their business is to serve, not themselves, but the church of God; studying to render the souls under their care every kind office, and to give them that meat of the sound, savoury, and strengthening doctrines of truth, which they need; and this regularly in due season, and as shall best suit the state of every one of their people. Herein the faithful minister must approve,
(1.) His wisdom, in studying and consulting their wants, and how to supply them.
(2.) His faithfulness, in discharging his trust, with a constant regard to his Master’s honour, and an eye to the real good of those committed to his care; willing to approve himself to their consciences; and, when both cannot be done, more solicitous to profit them than to please them.
(3.) His diligence, always employed in the blessed work, that when his Master comes, he may be found so doing. (Note; Love of idleness and ease in a minister is doubly criminal.) Where such a faithful servant thus perseveringly labours, he shall not lose his reward. The blessing of Jesus shall rest upon him in life, in death, for ever: he will have the comfort of his work when he lives, will feel satisfaction in it when he dies, and the blessing shall follow him into the eternal world, where he shall be advanced to the highest honours, and shine forth in the kingdom of Jesus, as the sun for ever and ever. May such a prospect animate our zeal, and quicken our diligence.
[2.] The very reverse is the conduct and end of the wicked servant; under which character every minister and professor of religion is represented, whose practice and principles contradict his pretensions.
(1.) His practice is described as bad, very bad; quarrelsome, insolent, and oppressive to his fellow-servants, and abusing the power that he is entrusted with over them. Instead of studying their good, and labouring for their service, he is wholly taken up with the indulgence of his own appetites. If he can find good eating and drinking for himself, he cares nothing for his Master’s interests; and his company are those with whom he can feast to the full, in luxury, excess, and drunkenness. Note; The Lord observes the conduct of those who falsely call themselves his ministers and servants. He marks their pride and insolence; smiting with words of reproach, or, under pretence of vindicating their Master’s honour, abusing with the exercise of oppressive authority, their more faithful fellow-servants, usually because they are faithful. The Lord sees their carnal lives, their unbecoming associates, their compliances with a world lying in wickedness, and their partaking in other men’s sins, perhaps lost in excess themselves: ministers! yet, horrid to tell, drunkards, or companions with them! will he not visit for these things?
(2.) His principles are as infidel, as his practice is immoral. Far from living in a constant expectation of his Master’s coming, he puts far off the evil day, and flatters himself there is no danger yet. And thus his heart is emboldened to live after the fashion of the world, and to neglect the aweful charge committed to him. Note; There is much more infidelity in many, both ministers and people, professing godliness, than they themselves are aware of; yet such a one would be shocked and affronted to be charged as an infidel, whose practice, notwithstanding, every day evinces the infidelity of his heart, and demonstrates, that it is impossible he can believe the solemn account he must shortly make, when he so seldom or so carelessly thinks of it, and takes so little pains to prepare for it.
(3.) His doom is fearful. Surprised by his Master’s coming in death or judgment, his negligence and guilt will stare him in the face, when it is too late for repentance or amendment. He shall be cut off from all his sensual pursuits, in the midst of his iniquities; and, separated for ever from the Lord, his portion shall be appointed him with hypocrites in the deepest abyss of misery, where eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth bespeak the unutterable torments of the damned. Let every careless sinner, and, above all, every negligent, faithless, worldly-minded minister, read this aweful sentence and tremble, while yet there is hope. They shall assuredly receive greater damnation than any others, who, under the guise of a pretended commission from Christ, have deluded and destroyed the people committed to their charge, and by their errors, negligence, or ill examples, lie down with the blood of lost souls upon their heads crying for vengeance.