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THE EVIDENCES OF THE TRUTH OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION.
But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.—2 Cor. iv. 3, 4.
THE fourth evidence, which those who lived in our Saviour’s time had of his Divine authority, was, the spirit of prophecy, proved to be in him, and made good by the accomplishment of his predictions.
I have given five instances of our Saviour’s predictions, and am now treating of them, viz. his foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem, with the circumstances of it.
In explaining the particulars of this prophecy, I proposed three things to be considered:
1. Our Saviour’s general prediction of the siege, and total destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
2. His predictions of the signs that should fore run it.
3. His predictions of the concomitant and subsequent circumstances of it.
I am upon the second of these, viz. our Saviour’s prediction of the signs that should forerun the destruction of Jerusalem; three of which I have despatched, and now proceed to those which remain.
Fourthly, Another sign which our Saviour foretold, 500as a forerunner of the destruction of Jerusalem, was, persecution of the Christians. “They shall deliver you to be afflicted, and shall kill you.” St. Mark expresseth it more particularly; (Mark xiii. 9.) “But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils, and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten, and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them.” And these did partly happen before the forementioned calamities, and partly upon them: but our Saviour first reckons by themselves the common calamities of the nation; and then he comes to those which did concern his disciples and followers; and this follows very fitly upon the former more general calamities. For we find the fathers in their apologies every where complaining, that the Jews and heathens laid the blame of all the judgments and calamities which befel them, as famine, pestilence, and earthquakes, upon the Christians, as the causes of them; and from this pretence they many times took occasion to persecute them.
“They shall deliver you to be afflicted.” This was fulfilled in delivering some of the apostles to be whipped and imprisoned by the chief priests and rulers, as Peter and John; or giving them up to the Roman power, as they did James and Peter to Herod; Paul to Gallic, Felix, and Festus, and last of all to Nero.
“And shall kill you.” St. Luke saith, “some of you;” for of others he saith, “that not a hair of their head should fall to the ground.” Thus Stephen was killed by a popular tumult; and the two Jameses were put to death under colour of a judicial process; the one stoned by the council of the Jews, and the other put to death by Herod.501
“And ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.” Which began under Nero, who, charging the Christians with the burning of the city, as Tacitus tells us, when himself had set it on fire, tortured many of them as guilty of the fact, “For my name’s sake.” This was exactly fulfilled, in that the Christians were so miserably persecuted for no other cause, but for being called Christians. They did not punish them for opposing their idolatry, for that the Jews did as well as the Christians, who yet escaped their malice; nor could they lay any other crime to their charge. Hence was that common saying among the heathens, Vir bonus Caius Sejus; tantummodo quod Christianus.
Fifthly, And upon this persecution, the apostacy of many from Christianity; (verse 10.) “Then shall many be offended;” that is, fall off from Christianity because of these persecutions; as we read several did, Demas, Hermogenes, Phygellus, and probably several others.
“And they shall betray one another, and hate one another.” Which was remarkably fulfilled in the sect of the gnostics, who did not only decline persecution themselves, but joined with those that persecuted the Christians, as ecclesiastical history tells us.
Sixthly, That likewise upon this occasion of persecution “many false prophets should arise and deceive many,” (ver. 11.) which seems to refer to Simon Magus, who gave himself out to be the power of God, and to the other heads of the gnostic sect. (Ver. 12.) “And the love of many shall grow cold, because iniquity shall abound.” Which seems to refer likewise to the gnostics, of whom St. John, in his First Epistle, doth so frequently make mention 502of their name; as “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments,” &c. of whom he doth so much complain for want of love to their brethren.
(Verse 13.) “But he that shall endure to the end shall be saved;” that is, he that shall continue constant in the profession of the faith, notwithstanding these persecutions and apostacies, and false teachers that shall arise, shall be saved.
Seventhly, That there should be an universal publication of the gospel, before this great desolation should happen: (ver. 14.) “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations.” And this was accomplished before the destruction of Jerusalem: for the gospel was published all over the Roman empire, before that time: and that is it which is here meant by “the world,” in the same sense that Augustus is said by St. Luke, “to have taxed all the world.” And this is the very phrase which the Romans constantly used, calling the Roman empire, imperium orbis terrarum. And that the gospel was thus published, we may easily believe, if we consider how many were sent forth for this purpose, and what indefatigable pains they took in this work; especially St. Paul, who preached from Jerusalem to Illyricum, which, according to the account which he gives of the journey, is computed to be no less than two thousand miles, and yet he made considerable stays in many places.
“For a witness unto all nations;” that is, that all nations might be convinced of the unreasonable obstinacy of the Jews, before God brought those dreadful calamities upon that nation.
“And then shall the end come;” that is, the final 503destruction of the Jews, the total desolation of the Jewish church and commonwealth, according to the prophecy of Jacob, (Gen. xlix. 10.) which put these two signs together, that “the sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”
Eighthly, The last and most immediate sign and forerunner which he gave of their destruction, is, “the standing of the abomination of desolation in the holy place:” (ver. 15.) “When ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place; then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains.” There is a great difference among expositors, what is here meant by “the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place.” Some refer it to the statue of Adrian the emperor, placed where the temple was at Jerusalem. But that cannot be, because that was a long time after the destruction of Jerusalem, and therefore could not be given by our Saviour for a sign and forerunner of it. Others (as Capellus) refer it to the faction of the zealots, which, before Titus came to besiege Jerusalem, seized upon the temple, and profaned it by bloodshed and slaughter, and made so horrible a devastation in the city. And this would not be improbable, if St. Luke had not given us so clear an interpretation of it; (Luke xxi. 20, 21.) who, instead of “the abomination of desolation,” mentioned by St. Matthew and St. Mark, puts the Roman armies: “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them that are in Judea flee to the mountains.” So that, according to St. Luke, “the abomination of desolation 504standing in the holy place,” is the Roman armies compassing Jerusalem; which, therefore, is called “the abomination of desolation,” because it would cause so great a desolation among them. “When ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh:” and it is said to stand in the holy place,” because Jerusalem was the holy city, and so many furlongs about it were accounted holy. Now when the Roman army should approach within the limits of the holy ground, then the “abomination of desolation” might be said to “stand in the holy place:” but the word abomination seems particularly to refer to the Roman ensigns, upon which were the images of their emperors, which the Romans worshipped, as Suetonius expressly tells us; and Tacitus calls them their bellorum dii, their gods of war. Now it was an abomination to the Jews to see these idols set up within the limits of the holy city. To which I may add, what Josephus tells us afterward, that the Romans, after they had conquered the city, set up those ensigns in the ruins of the temple, and sacrificed to them,
(Verse 15.) “Then let them that be in Judea flee to the mountains; and let him which is on the house top not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field, return back to take his clothes;” which are several expressions to signify what haste the Christians would make, when they saw the Romans making so near approaches to Jerusalem.
“Let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Some refer this to the last siege by Titus; but I see no probability for that; for the Jews did not permit any to go out of the city. Others refer 505it to Vespasian’s drawing his forces toward Jerusalem sometime before the siege, but hearing of the death of Nero, the emperor, he forbore to besiege it till he had received orders from the new emperor; and that this was a warning to the Christians, and they took their opportunity then to flee into the mountains. But this could not be neither, because, for a good while before, the faction of the zealots under John and Simon’s faction, who lay without the city, did slay all who endeavoured to escape out of the city. If we limit these words to Jerusalem (which the text does not) the most probable time was when Jerusalem was first compassed by the Roman army under Cestius Gall us, who after ward withdrew his siege; and then, indeed, those that would, had liberty to flee away. And at this time Josephus doth say that many did flee, foreseeing the approaching danger. But there is no reason to confine it to Jerusalem; for our Saviour’s words are more large, “Then let them that are in Judea flee to the mountains.” And if so, there is an express passage in Josephus to this purpose: that when Titus was drawing up his forces towards Jerusalem, a great number of those who were at Jericho went from thence, εἰς τὰ ὀρεινῆ, into the mountainous places, and thereby consulted their own safety.
(Verse 15.) “Let him that is on the house-top not come down to take any thing from thence.” Our Saviour alludes to the fashion of the Jewish houses, which had plain roofs, upon which they used to walk; and he bids them make such haste, that when they saw this sign they should not think of saving any thing in their houses, but to betake themselves presently to the mountains for safety.506
(Verse 16.) “Neither let him that is in the field return back to take his clothes.” Another expression to signify what haste they should make from the approaching danger.
(Verse 17.) “But woe unto them that are with child, and to those that give suck in those days,” because of the impediment that this would be to their flight. Or, possibly, it may refer to the dreadful story, not paralleled in any place or age, which Josephus tells of one Mary, who, in the time of the siege, out of very famine, boiled her sucking child and eat it. And therefore St. Luke (xxi. 23.) does mention this of the women’s being with child, not as an impediment to flight, but as an instance of the great calamity that should befal them: (Luke xxi. 23.) “But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days: for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people.”
(Verse 18.) “But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, nor on the sabbath-day/ “Not in winter,” because of the hardness of the season, and the difficulty of travelling and living upon the mountains: “nor on the sabbath-day.” This concerned the Christian Jews as well as others, most of which observed the Jewish law and rites after our Saviour’s death, till the desolation of the Jewish state and temple, as appears out of the history of the Acts. For though St. Paul stood for the liberty of the gentiles, yet it appears from Acts xxi. 21. that he vindicated himself from the calumny or aspersion which was cast upon him, as if he taught the Jews which were among the gentiles to forsake Moses, and that they ought not to circumcise their children, nor to walk after their customs. So that 507the Christian Jews, retaining the observance of the Jewish sabbath, upon which it was not lawful to go any farther than a sabbath-day’s journey, which was scarce two miles; if the danger should happen at that time (as the Romans usually took advantages to make all their onsets on that day, knowing the superstition of the Jews in that point) they must Heeds have been in great perplexity.
Having thus particularly treated of the signs which our Saviour foretold, as the forerunners of the destruction of Jerusalem, I proceed,
3. To consider the concomitant and subsequent circumstances of it. As,
1. The unparalleled greatness of their calamity.
2. The arising of false Christs.
3. Their being led into captivity, and dispersed up and down in the world.
4. Their continuance in this captivity and dispersed state out of their country, till the gospel had had its course among the gentiles.
1. The unparalleled greatness of their calamity and destruction; (ver. 19.) “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not from the beginning of the world to this time, neither ever shall be.” This is a very material circumstance in this prophecy, that the calamity of the Jews should be so strange and unparalleled as never was in the world before: for though it might easily have been foretold from the temper of the people, which was prone to sedition, that they were very like. to provoke the Romans against them; yet there was no probability that all things should have come to that extremity; for it was not the design of the Roman government to destroy any of those provinces which were under them, but only to keep them in subjection, and reduce them by 508reasonable severity in case of revolt. But that such a calamity should have happened to them under Titus, who was the mildest and farthest from severity of all mankind, nothing was more unlikely; and that any people should conspire together to their own ruin, and so blindly and obstinately run themselves into such calamities, as made them the pity of their enemies, was the most incredible thing; so that no thing less than a prophetical spirit could have foretold so contingent and improbable a thing as this was.
St. Luke expresseth the dismal calamity that should happen to them in other words, but much to the same sense: (Luke xxi. 22, 23.) “For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days: for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people.” And to this Josephus fully gives testimony, as will appear, both by what he says in general concerning their calamity, and by the particular account of their miseries and sufferings.
(1.) In general he tells us, “that never was any age so fruitful of misery as this was;” and almost in our Saviour’s words, in his preface to his books of the siege of Jerusalem, he says, that “all the calamities that had fallen upon any nation from the beginning of the world, were but small in comparison of what happened to the nation of the Jews in that age.” And in his sixth book he says, that “as there was never any nation so wicked, so never any nation suffered such calamitous accidents.” But this will best appear,
(2 ) By a brief and particular enumeration of 509their calamities. Not to mention the burning and destroying of several of their chief cities, as Zabulon, Gadara, Japha, Jotapatah, Joppa, and several others, I shall insist chiefly upon the sufferings of the people themselves, by their tumults and seditions against the Romans. Before the coming of Vespasian, there were slain at Jerusalem and in Syria two thousand, at Askalon two thousand five hundred, at Ptolemais two thousand, at Alexandria fifty thousand, at Joppa eight thousand four hundred, at Mount Asamon two thousand, at Damascus ten thousand, and afterward at Askalon by Antonius a Roman commander eighteen thousand; in all, almost one hundred thousand.
By Vespasian in Galilee and other parts, very great numbers; at Japha fifteen thousand, at Mount Gerizim eleven thousand six hundred, at Jotapatah (the city of which Josephus our historian was governor) forty thousand, at Joppa four thousand, at Tarichæa near upon eight thousand, at Gamala nine thousand, at Giscala two thousand; in all fourscore and ten thousand.
Afterward, by their own seditions at Jerusalem, eight thousand five hundred at several times: and afterward, by the faction of the zealots, twelve thousand of the chiefest and noblest of the citizens were slain at one time; at the river Jordan by Placidus thirteen thousand, besides many thousands drowned, so that the river was filled up almost with dead carcasses: at two towns in Idumæa by Vespasian ten thousand, at Gerasa, one thousand; in all forty-five thousand.
Whilst Vespasian was thus wasting the cities of Judea, the faction of the zealots filled all places at Jerusalem, even the temple itself, with continual slaughters; and after they had conquered Ananus, 510who stood for the people against the zealots, and got all into their own hands, they were divided into parties, and made slaughter of one another; and one party let in Simon, who headed a seditious multitude, which he brought out of the country; and after that they were subdivided into three parties, John’s, and Eleazer’s, and Simon’s, which held several parts of the city, and day and night continued to destroy one another; in which seditions all their granaries of corn, and magazines of arms, were burnt; so that though provision had been laid in the city, that would have sufficed for several years, yet, be fore they came to be besieged by Titus, they were almost reduced to famine.
And after they were besieged, at the first they united a little against the Romans; yet, after a few days, they divided again into factions, and more of them were slain by one another’s hand, and with more cruelty, than by the Romans; insomuch that Titus, the general of the Romans, wept several times, to consider the misery they brought upon themselves; and their very enemies were more pitiful to wards them, than they to one another.
After two months siege, the famine began to rage within, and then all manner of cruelties was exercised by the soldiers upon that miserable people; and at last they were brought to such necessity, that many endeavoured to flee out to the enemy, and yet were not permitted; but as many as were suspected of any endeavour to escape were cruelly killed. It is not to be imagined what barbarous inhumanities, in those straits, all exercised one towards another; snatching the meat out of one another’s mouth, and from their dearest friends, and their very children.
And so obstinate were they, that neither those calamities which they suffered, nor the severity of 511the Romans in crucifying many thousands of them before the walls, and threatening them all with the same death, in case they would not yield, in ripping open the bowels of two thousand of them in a night, who fled out of Jerusalem, upon a report that they had swallowed gold (as many of them had, Josephus, lib. vi. cap. 15.) nor all the kind messages of Titus, offering peace to them, and using all manner of intreaties and persuasions not to run upon their own ruin, could prevail with them to accept of a peace. And thus they continued, till by famine and force the city was taken, and then their provocation of the Romans to cruelty towards those they had got into their power was so great, that Titus was not able to withhold the soldiers from exercising great cruelties towards them.
In short, from the beginning of the siege, to the taking of the city, there were famished and slain by the factions among themselves and by the Romans one million one hundred thousand; the greatest number, and with the saddest circumstances, that is to be read of in any story.
Was not this “a time of great tribulation?” Were not these “days of vengeance” indeed? Was there ever a sadder accomplishment of any prediction, than these words of our Saviour had?
And after all this, the temple was burnt and made desolate, the whole city destroyed, and all their whole land seized by the Roman emperor, and the remnant of the people in other parts of the nation were prosecuted with great severity. Great numbers of Jews were destroyed at the taking of the castle of Herodion, and Machærus, and Massada, and in the thickets or wood of Jandes. And there were great slaughters of the Jews in other parts, at Antioch, in all places about Alexandria and Thebes, 512and at Cyrene, so that it was visible that there was “wrath upon this people.”
(Verse 22.) “And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days;” that is, if those calamities had lasted a little longer, there would not one Jew have been left alive: “but for the elect’s sake,” that is, for the sake of those Christians who were left among them, “those days were shortened:” God inclining the heart of Titus to shew pity towards the remnant, and not to suffer the nations to exercise any more cruelty towards them; particularly at Antioch (the first seat of the Christians). Josephus tells us, that when Titus came thither, the people petitioned him earnestly, that they might expel the Jews, but he told them that was unreasonable, for now their country was laid waste, there was no place for them to go to. Thus we see how, “for the elect’s sake, those days were shortened.”
2. Another circumstance, which was to follow the destruction of Jerusalem, was, the arising of false Christs, and false prophets, (ver. 23, 24.) “And then, if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ, or, lo, he is there! believe him not. For false Christs and false prophets shall arise, and shall shew signs and wonders.” Such was Jonathan, who presently after the destruction of Jerusalem, as Josephus tells us, drew many into the wilderness of Cyrene, pretending that he would shew signs and wonders to them; therefore our Saviour adds, (ver. 25, 26.) “Behold, I have told you before.—Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth.” There appeared in Egypt, Crete, and Cyprus, several other impostors, who gave themselves out to be Christs and false prophets, who applied the prophecies 513of the Old Testament to these counterfeit Messiases; as they did that of Balaam concerning a “star coming out of Jacob” to Barchochebas, be cause his name signifies “the son of a star.” And this was a notorious impostor in the time of Adrian the emperor, not many years after the destruction of Jerusalem, about twenty (as I remember) Eusebius counts; he had a great multitude followed him, which put to death many Christians, because they would not renounce Christ, and join with them against the Romans, and that was the cause of the death of some hundred thousands of them.
3. Another subsequent circumstance, was, the Jews being led into captivity, and dispersed into all nations. This St. Luke adds, (Luke xxi. 24.) “They shall be led away captive into all nations.” I need not prove this out of history; we see the effect of it to this day.
4. That they should continue in this captivity and dispersed state, and their city remain in the power of the gentiles, “until the times of the gentiles were fulfilled.” So also St. Luke tells us, (ver. 24.) “They shall be led away captive into all nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the gentiles, until the time of the gentiles be fulfilled;” that is, till the gospel have had its course among the nations. And thus it is still with them at this day, Jerusalem is in the hands of other nations, and the captivity of the Jews continues; and when it shall end, God alone knows.
Having thus explained the particulars of our Saviour’s prediction, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, I should in the next place proceed to make some reflections upon this prediction, and its punctual accomplishment; but this I reserve for the following discourse.514
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