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SERMON CCXXXVII.

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.

I AM considering the fourth evidence which those who lived in our Saviour’s time had of his Divine authority, viz. the spirit of prophecy, proved to be in him, and made good by the accomplishment of his predictions. I gave five instances of our Saviour’s predictions.

1. Those which foretold his death, and its circumstances.

2. Those which foretold his resurrection, and its circumstances.

3. Those which foretold the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the apostles, with the circumstances thereof.

These three I have considered, and now proceed to the two which remain:

4. The next instance therefore of our Saviour’s prophetical spirit, is his foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem, with the circumstances of it. Now be cause this is one of the greatest instances of our Saviour’s prophetical spirit, and so particular a prediction, so punctually answered by the event, 486therefore I shall insist the longer upon it; especially because I look upon it as one of the most convincing arguments that can be brought against the Jews for the truth of our religion.

And in order to our clearer proceeding in this matter that I am speaking to, I shall do these three things:

First, Explain the series and order of this prediction of our Saviour’s concerning the destruction of Jerusalem.

Secondly, Expound the particulars of it, as we find them in Matt. xxiv. compared with the other two evangelists that wrote of it, St. Mark and St. Luke.

Thirdly, Make some reflections upon this prediction, and the punctual accomplishment of it; from which it may appear of what force this argument is for the conviction of the Jews of the truth of our religion.

First, I shall explain the series and order of this prediction concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. And this is necessary, because it seems to most interpreters to be so intermingled with a prophecy of Christ’s last coming at the end of the world, that it is no easy matter to separate those two prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the world. Besides that, it is encumbered with some other difficulties, arising from some particular expressions in this famous prediction of our Saviour’s.

From the 34th verse of the 23d chapter of St. Matthew, to the 29th of the 24th chapter, there is a clear prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, with the preceding signs, and concomitant and subsequent circumstances of it: but at the 29th verse, the prophecy of the end of the world seems to be designedly joined to it: for the evangelist says, 487“Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened,” &c. Where he enumerates dismal signs, and forerunners of the dissolution of all things; but it is now sixteen hundred years since the destruction of Jerusalem, and yet the world is not at an end. How is it then that the evangelist says, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days?” This is the first difficulty.

Secondly, After this prophecy of the end of the world, we find these words in all the three evangelists, “Verily, I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be fulfilled.” As if not only the destruction of Jerusalem, but the end of the world were to happen in that age. This is the other difficulty.

But notwithstanding all this, I doubt not but by comparing the three evangelists together, to make the series and order of these prophecies very clear.

In order whereunto, we are to consider that our Saviour in this prophecy foretells three things very distinct in time.

1. The destruction of Jerusalem.

2. The fate and condemnation of the Jewish nation after this desolation, and during their captivity among the gentiles, among whom they were to be scattered. And this we have clearly and fully expressed by St. Luke, xxi. 23, 24. “There shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and 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.” So that this prediction comprehends from the destruction of Jerusalem all the time of the captivity of the Jews among the gentiles, which we see is not yet 488expired, and God alone knows how long it shall last. And then,

3. Forerunning signs of the end of the world, which the evangelists say shall happen “after the tribulation of those days;” that is, when God hath made an end of punishing the nation of the Jews. And this seems to me wholly to clear and take off the first difficulty.

As to the second, namely, that, after the prophecy of the end of the world, we find these words added by our Saviour, “Verily, I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all these things shall be fulfilled,” which seems to intimate that the end of the world should happen in that age: for the answering of this, I shall not betake myself to that refuge which some have done, by explaining these words thus—“this generation,” that is, this nation, “shall not pass away,” shall not be utterly destroyed, but shall remain scattered up and down the world, as a monument of God’s displeasure against them, till the end of all things. For though the expression γενεὰ αὕτη, “this generation,” may well enough be translated “this nation—this race of people;” yet the precedent words will not admit this interpretation; for it is said in the verse immediately be fore, “So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.” So that our Saviour speaks of something very near at hand, which necessarily confines it to that generation.

Therefore, the plain solution of this difficulty is this: that our Saviour ends his prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the world, at the 31st verse, where he says, that “the Son of man shall send his angels with a great sound of a 489trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” And then he makes some reflections upon what he had foretold concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the world.

(1.) As to the destruction of Jerusalem, he tells them a parable of the fig-tree, that, by the putting forth of its leaves, we know that the summer is nigh; “So likewise, when ye shall see all these things,” namely, all those signs which I have given you of the destruction of Jerusalem, “know that it is near, even at the doors;” and then he adds, “Verily, I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away until all these things be fulfilled;” that is, many of those who are now alive, shall live to see all those signs which I have mentioned. And then,

(2.) He reflects upon his prediction of the end of the world, (ver. 36.) “But of that day and hour knoweth no man,” &c. that is, not of that other day, of which I have been speaking, namely, of the end of the world, no man knows; as if he had said, The signs which I have given of the destruction of Jerusalem, are as plain, as the budding of the fig-tree is a sign of summer: but I have not given such plain signs of the end of the world, and the day of judgment. That I have declared to you in dark allegories, of the sun’s being darkened, and the moon’s not giving her light, and the stars falling from heaven; which cannot be understood literally, and the mystical meaning of them is very hidden.

And thus I hope I have removed those difficulties, and made the order and series of this prophecy very clear.

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Secondly, I come in the next place to expound the particulars of this prophecy, so far as it concerns the destruction of Jerusalem, as we find them in the 24th of St. Matthew, compared with the other two evangelists that wrote of it, St. Mark and St. Luke; and to shew the exact accomplishment of each of these particulars, not only from the tradition of Christians, but from the writings of the Jews and heathens, which are so much the stronger on our side, because they are the testimonies of enemies. And, in the expounding of this prophecy, I shall distinctly consider these three things:

1. Our Saviour’s general prediction of the siege, and total destruction of the city of Jerusalem, and of the temple, which you have from the 34th verse of the 23d chapter, to the 3d verse of the 24th.

2. His prediction of the signs that should forerun the destruction of Jerusalem, from verse the 3d to verse the 21st.

3. The concomitant and subsequent circumstances of it, from verse 21, to verse 29.

1. Our Saviour’s general prediction of the siege of Jerusalem, and of the total destruction of the city. This our Saviour foretells, (Luke xix. 41-44.) “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side; and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee: and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” So Josephus 491tells, lib. vi. that Titus raised a wall round about Jerusalem, and kept them in on every side; so that none could come out, though many thousands were famished with hunger; which was so sad and dismal a calamity, that our Saviour, though he knew how just a cause there was for it, yet, out of very humanity and tenderness of nature, he could not but, upon the foresight of so sad a destruction, weep over it. He, indeed, expresseth his vehement desire that this might have been prevented; (Matt. xxiii. 37.) “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thee, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” Therefore, having brought this ruin wilfully upon themselves, he pronounceth the sentence of their desolation, (verse 38.) “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate!” And at the beginning of the next chapter, when the disciples were shewing him the beautiful structure of the temple, he foretells, that “there should not one stone be left upon another, which should not be thrown down.”

Now that all this was punctually accomplished, Josephus tells us, lib. vii. Bell. Jud. that when the Romans had taken the city, Cæsar gave order to lay it waste to the ground, excepting some part of the wall which was left for the guards of soldiers, and three of the strongest towers, which he ordered to be left for a standing monument of the Roman courage; but all the rest of the city was so levelled, that no man that should come to see it, could believe that it was ever inhabited.

And our Saviour’s prediction of the utter ruin of the temple, was most remarkably fulfilled. For the 492Roman history tells us, that Turnus Rufus, with a plough-share, did tear up the foundation of the temple, and left no part of it, not so much as under ground, undissolved. So that our Saviour’s prophecy was literally fulfilled, “There was not left one stone upon another, that was not thrown down.

2. I shall next consider our Saviour’s prediction of the signs which should forerun the destruction of Jerusalem; namely, these eight:

First, That there should rise up false and counterfeit Christs, or Messiases.

Secondly, Great judgments should befal the world, and particularly that nation, not long before that time; there should be “wars, and rumours of wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, in divers places.”

Thirdly, Fearful sights and signs from heaven.

Fourthly, Persecution of the Christians.

Fifthly, That upon this occasion there should be a great apostacy of Christians.

Sixthly, That upon this persecution many false prophets or teachers should arise.

Seventhly, That there should be an universal; publication of the gospel before this great desolation should happen.

Eighthly and lastly, which was to be the most immediate sign and forerunner of their ruin, “The abomination of desolation should be seen standing in the holy place.” And these you have set down from the 3d verse of this 24th chapter, to the 21st, which I shall briefly expound, and shew how the event did correspond to the prediction.

Our Saviour having before foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in general, the disciples come to him, and ask him two questions; 493“When these things should be? and what should be the sign of his corning?” that is, in judgment, to destroy Jerusalem, and what “should be the signs of the end of the world?” I shall only consider the first, the signs that should forerun the destruction of Jerusalem, as being only pertinent to my present purpose.

First, He foretells there should be false and counterfeit Christs, or Messiases: (ver. 3, 4.) “Take heed that no man deceive you; for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many/ This our Saviour gives as one of the first signs, and therefore, St. Luke adds, (chap. xxi. 8.) “The time draweth near,” that is, it should not be long before this sign should appear; and it accordingly happened. Josephus mentions several of these; of whom, though Josephus do not expressly say that they called themselves the Messias, yet he says that which is equivalent, that they undertook to rescue the people from the Roman yoke, which was the thing which the Jews expected the Messias should do for them: and therefore we find, (Luke xxiv. 21.) that the disciples that were going up to Emmaus, and knew not that Christ was risen, and were doubtful what to think of him, because it was the third day, they say, “We hoped this had been he that should have redeemed Israel;” that is, they hoped this had been the Messias, that being, it seems, a common periphrasis of the Messias, that he was he that was to deliver Israel. Such as one Theudas pretended himself to be; not that Theudas of whom Gamaliel speaks (Acts v. 36.), but another of the same name, who, about twelve years after our Saviour’s death, when one Cuspius Fadus was procurator of Judea, rose and seduced the people; 494of whom Josephus (lib. xviii.) gives this account—that, being a sorcerer, he rose up, and deceived many; which is the very expression our Saviour useth, “they shall deceive many.” This man persuaded a great multitude to bring their goods and follow him down the river Jordan, which he promised by his command to divide, and to give them a safe passage over it. But while he was thus playing the fool among the people, Fadus sent some forces, and surprised him and his company, killing many of them, and cutting off his head; and so there was an end of him.

Such likewise were those impostors, which, about two-and-twenty years after our Saviour’s death, were so rife among them, when Felix was governor of Judea; of whom Josephus tells us, that they drew multitudes after them into the wilderness, promising to work great signs and wonders before them; which agrees exactly with the description which our Saviour gives of the false Christs and false prophets (ver. 24.), where he says, that they should “shew great signs and wonders,” σημεῖα καὶ τέρατα, the very words which Josephus useth. And, (ver. 26.) “If they shall say to you, He is in the desert, go not forth;” answerable to what Josephus says, “that they drew many after them into the wilderness.”

Such an one likewise was the Egyptian prophet, who, as Josephus tells, came to Jerusalem much about the same time, and persuaded the people to follow him to Mount Olivet, persuading them, that from thence they should see the walls of Jerusalem fall, and so might enter the city; which Felix understanding, sent soldiers, and slew and took several of them, but the Egyptian impostor himself made 495an escape; which is the reason of that saying of the chief captain to Paul, (Acts xxi. 38.) “Art not thou the Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar,” &c.

Such another was that impostor (if he be distinct from the former) who, as Josephus tells us, about three years after, under Festus Portius, the procurator, deceived the people with vain promises of deliverance and ease from their oppressions, if they would follow him into the wilderness; but Festus sent soldiers, and destroyed him and his company.

“And shall deceive many;” that is, by raising false expectations in the people, shall draw them into ruin, as Josephus tells us they did many of the Jews. And this our Saviour elsewhere foretold as a just judgment of God upon them for rejecting of him who was the true Messias; (John v. 43.) “I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not; if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.”

Secondly, The next sign our Saviour gives, is “wars, and rumours of wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes,” &c. (ver. 6, 7.) “And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars.” About this time the Jews began to be set upon in several places, by the command of the emperor, and many thousands of them were slain at Alexandria and Babylon, as Josephus tells us. And there was a fear and rumour of a general war denounced against them by Caius Caligula, the emperor, unless they would receive his statue into the temple. Upon this rumour the whole nation was in great astonishment, insomuch that the Jews left their business, and neglected to till their, grounds, expecting the Romans would have fallen upon them; of which consternation, both Josephus and Philo give us a particular account.

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Our Saviour adds, “See that ye be not troubled; for these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet;” that is, when you see the nation in this danger from the Romans, be not ye troubled, as the Jews will be, thinking now will be the ruin of the nation. This and many other things will happen, before the final end come. And accordingly it fell out. For so Josephus and Tacitus tell us, that this storm was blown over by the sudden death of the emperor.

(Verse 7.) “Nation shall rise up against nation.” Which happened under Claudius and Nero, the two next Roman emperors, when, in several cities, as Cesarea, Ptolemais, and many others, the Jews, and those of other nations that inhabited those cities, fell upon and destroyed one another, as may be read at large in Josephus.

And “kingdom against kingdom.” This seems to refer to the several provinces or tetrarchies in Palestine, which were also called kingdoms, which at this time had cruel wars against one another; as the Jews and the Galileans against the Samaritans, and several others that Josephus speaks of.

“And there shall be famines and pestilences;” accordingly Josephus tells us, that under Claudius Cæsar there was a great famine in Judea; namely, that which was prophesied of by Agabus (Acts xi. 28.) And this Grotius very probably supposeth to be the reason why St. Paul, in his epistles written about that time, is so earnest with the Christians to send relief to the saints at Jerusalem. “Pestilences,” they usually follow famine; “and earthquakes, in divers places,” which happened in the times of Claudius and Nero. Philostratus speaks of a great earth quake that happened in Crete in the time of Claudius, and in several other places, as Smyrna, Chios, 497Samos, &c. not long before the destruction of Jerusalem; Tacitus speaks of one in Asia about the same time. And though these were at a greater distance than the other signs which our Saviour mentions, yet the Jews could not but hear of them, because several of the nation were dispersed into some of those places.

Thirdly, “Fearful sights and signs from heaven.” So St. Luke, (chap. xxi. 11.) “There shall be fearful sights, and great signs from heaven.” Joseph us gives us a clear comment upon this; Bell. Jud. lib. vii. says he, “This wretched people believed impostors and counterfeits; but those great signs and prodigies which did forerun their desolation, they neither minded, nor believed.” A little before their destruction (he tells us) there hung over their city a fiery sword, which continued for a year together. A little before their rebellion against the Romans, there appeared a comet, which shined so clear in the temple, and about the altar, as if it had been day. And the same day an heifer, that was led to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the middle of the temple. The eastern gate of the temple, which was of massy brass, and very heavy, and could scarce be shut by the strength of twenty men, and was constantly made fast with strong locks and bars, flew open at midnight, which, when it was told to the magistrate, and he came to see it, they could scarce get strength enough to shut it. One evening not long before their desolation, there were seen in the air chariots and armies hovering over the city. At the feast of Pentecost, the priests, going one night into the temple, according to their custom, first heard a noise, and afterwards a sudden voice, saying, “Let us go hence.” And, which is very terrible, one Jesus, a plain countryman, four years 498before any troubles began, when the city was in a deep peace, came up to Jerusalem, and upon one of their festivals, began to cry out with a loud voice, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the temple, a voice against bridegrooms and brides, a voice against the people.” And thus he went about crying day and night; and being seized on by the magistrate, and punished and tortured, he would not give over, but still went crying about, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” And thus he continued for seven years and five months together, and was neither weary nor hoarse until the city was besieged, and then he was quiet; but one time went up upon the walls, and cried with a loud voice, “Woe, woe to the city, and the temple, and the people!” and added, “Woe also to myself!” and immediately was struck dead by a stone out of a cross-bow.

Were not these “fearful sights, and great signs from heaven?” and these we have all related by one of the most prudent historians, who lived at that very time, and that very place; and he says, that many were alive when he wrote, and could attest all this.

(Verse 8.) “All these are the beginning of sorrows.” The Scripture usually compares the greatest sufferings and afflictions to the pains of a woman in travail, to which our Saviour here alludes, and says, “These were but the first pangs, nothing to those throes which should come at last.”

These are three of the signs forerunning the destruction of Jerusalem, which were predicted by our Saviour. There are yet five more, which I reserve for my next discourse on this subject.

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