« Prev Sermon CCXXXIX. The Evidences of the Truth of the… Next »

SERMON CCXXXIX.

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.

IN discoursing on 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 came to consider that remarkable prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem.

In doing this, I proposed three things:

First, To explain the series and order of this prediction.

Secondly, To consider the particulars of it, as we find them in the 24th of St. Matthew, compared with the other two evangelists.

Thirdly, To make some reflections upon this prediction, and its punctual accomplishment. The two former of these I have despatched, and now proceed to what remains, viz. the

Third thing I propounded, which was, to make some reflections upon this prediction of our Saviour’s concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, and the punctual accomplishment of it. And now that I have been so large in the explication of this 515prophecy, I shall make use of this argument farther than I intended, not only to shew that those who lived in that age, and saw our Saviour’s prediction so punctually answered by the event, might from hence be satisfied of the prophetic spirit of our Saviour, and consequently of his Divine authority; but likewise to shew of what force to the conviction of the Jews this consideration is, of the destruction of Jerusalem, and that long train of miserable consequences which followed upon it, and have lasted to this day.

And the reflections I shall make upon this shall be these:

I. That nothing less than a prophetic spirit could so punctually have foretold so many contingents, and improbable things, as this prediction of our Saviour’s does contain in it. Such were some of those signs which did forerun the destruction of Jerusalem as, the great famine which happened under Claudius; the several great earthquakes under Claudius and Nero; the universal publication of the gospel all over the Roman empire, in so short a space; those wonderful sights, and prodigious signs from heaven, so strange as are not to be paralleled in any history. And such likewise were the circumstances of the destruction of the city and the temple; as, that it should be an utter desolation, which was strangely accomplished, when, as Josephus tells us, the very mountain upon which the temple stood was almost burnt up and consumed with the fierceness of the fire; and the Roman history gives account of the plucking up of the very foundations of the temple, by Rufus Turnus: but the most remarkable circumstance of all, which is so fully expressed by our Saviour in this prediction, was, the 516strange and unexampled calamities which should attend this destruction, such as never befel any people before, which our Saviour foretells in these words, “Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not from the beginning of the world to this time, nor ever shall be.” And never had any words a more sad and full accomplishment than this part of our Saviour’s prophecy had, in those woful miseries which befel that people by civil and intestine seditions, and the utmost extremity that famine could reduce a people to; besides the cruel ties of a foreign enemy. No history makes mention of so vast a number of men, that in so short a time did perish in such sad circumstances; fourteen or fifteen hundred thousand within less than a year’s space, and more of these by far cruelly murdered by one another’s hands than by the Romans. So that these were “days of vengeance,” and “of great tribulation,” such as the world had never seen before, and “if they had not been shortened, no flesh could have been saved,” as our Saviour adds in the prophecy; if things had gone on at that rate a little longer, not one of the Jewish nation would have been left alive.

Now that our Saviour should foretell so punctually the sad calamity of this people, I take to be one of the most material circumstances of this prophecy, and to be a thing so contingent and unlikely, that it could not have been foreseen, but by Divine inspiration. For though one might easily have foretold from the temper of the people, which was prone to sedition, and very impatient of the Roman government, that the Jews were very likely in a short time to provoke the Romans against them; yet there was no probability at all, that 517things should have come to that extremity; for it was not in the design of the Roman government to destroy any of their provinces; but that such a calamity should have happened unto them under Titus, who was the mildest and farthest from cruelty of all mankind, nothing was more unlikely; that ever any people should have been so besotted, as the Jews were at that time, and have so madly conspired together to their own ruin, as they did; that they should so blindly and obstinately run themselves into such calamities, as made them the pity of their very enemies, was the most incredible thing in the world. Nothing but a prophetic spirit could have foretold an event so contingent, and so extremely improbable.

II. Not only those who lived in that age were capable of satisfaction concerning the accomplishment of this prediction of our Saviour; but that we also might receive full satisfaction concerning this, the providence of God hath so ordered it, as to preserve to us a more punctual and credible history of the destruction of Jerusalem, than there is of any other matter whatsoever so long since done.

And this is more considerable, than possibly at first we may imagine. For,

1. We have this matter related, not by a Christian (who might have been suspected of partiality, and a design to have paralleled the event with our Saviour’s prediction), but by a Jew, both by nation and religion, who seems designedly to have avoided, as much as possibly he could, the very mention of the Christian name, and all particulars relating to our Saviour, though no historian was ever more punctual in all other things.

2. We have this matter related by one that was 518an eye-witness of all those sad calamities that befel the nation of the Jews, and during the war in Galilee, against Vespasian, was one of their chief commanders, and being taken by the Romans, was in their camp all the time that Jerusalem was besieged.

3. As he was an eye-witness, and so able to give the truest account of those matters, so hath he always had the repute of a most faithful historian. Joseph Scaliger, who was a very good judge in these matters, gives this character of him; that he was diligentissimus καὶ φιλαληθίστατος, omnium scriptorum; “The most painful historian, and the greatest lover of truth, of any that he had ever read;” De quo nos hoc audacter dicimus, non solum in rebus Judaicis, sed etiam in externis, tutius illi credi quam omnibus Græcis et Latinis historicis; “Of whom (says he) I might confidently affirm, that not only in the Jewish affairs, but in all foreign matters, one may more safely rely upon his credit, than upon all the Greek and Latin historians put together.”

4. There is no ancient history extant, that relates any matter with so much particularity of circumstances, as Josephus does this of the Jewish wars, especially the siege and destruction of Jerusalem.

5. That the providence of God may appear the more remarkable in this history, which is the only punctual one that hath been preserved down to us of this great action, it will be worth our observation to consider, how remarkably this person was preserved for the writing of this history.

When Vespasian made war upon Galilee, Josephus was chief commander there, and was besieged by Vespasian, in the city of Jotapatah; which, after a long and stout resistance, being taken by the Romans, he, with forty more, hid themselves in a cave, 519where at last they were discovered by the Romans; which Vespasian hearing of, sent and offered them life; and Josephus would have accepted of their offer, but the rest would not permit him to yield himself, but threatened to kill him; and when by no persuasions he could take them off from this obstinate resolution, he was glad to propound this to them that they should cast lots, two by two, who should die first, and he that had the second lot should kill the first, and the next him, and so on, and the last should kill himself. The providence of God preserved Josephus and another to the last lot; and when all the rest were killed, Josephus persuaded him to yield himself up to the Romans, and so they two escaped with their lives; by which remarkable providence he was preserved to write this history.

III. It seems very plain, from this relation which Josephus gives, that the Jewish nation were remarkably devoted by God to destruction, and most fatally hardened and blinded to their own ruin. This Josephus every where takes notice of, that there was a sad and black fate hung over the nation, and God seemed to have determined their ruin. And after the destruction of Jerusalem, when the castle of Massada was besieged by the Romans, Eleazer, the governor, in his speech to the soldiers, reckons up the sad symptoms of God’s displeasure against them; and tells them, that from the beginning of the war it was easy for any one to conjecture, that God in great wrath had devoted the nation, which he formerly loved, to destruction.

And indeed all along the hand of God was very visible against them; for when, in the beginning of their rebellion, Cestus Gallus, the Roman commander, 520had an opportunity to have taken Jerusalem, and to have put an end to the war; Josephus tells us, that God, being angry with them, would not permit it, but did reserve them for a greater and sadder destruction. And afterward, when Vespasian renewed the war against them, Josephus tells us, that he used all kind of earnest persuasion with his countrymen to prevent their ruin, by submitting to the Roman government; but they were obstinate, and would not hearken to any moderate counsels. And when the sedition of the zealots began in Jerusalem, Josephus takes notice, that all the wisest men among them, and those who were most likely, by their interest and moderation, to have saved the city, were first of all cut off by the zealots, so that there were none left to persuade the people to moderate things.

They provoked the Romans against them all manner of ways; their seditions among themselves continued when the enemy was before their walls; and when in probability they might have held out so long as to have wearied the Romans, by their own seditions they burnt all their granaries, and provisions of corn, and magazines of arms, as if they had consulted the advantage of the Romans against themselves; and which, was very remarkable, Josephus tells us, that before the siege the fountain of Siloam was almost dried up, and all the springs about Jerusalem, so that water bore a great price; but as soon as Titus came before Jerusalem, the springs broke out again, and there was never greater plenty; which if it had not happened, the Roman armies could very hardly have subsisted. And after the temple was destroyed, when Titus would have given John and Simon, and the rest of the zealots, 521their lives, they would not submit, but were all destroyed by their own obstinacy. At Massada, rather than yield to the Romans, nine hundred men, women, and children, killed one another; so that when the Romans entered the castle, they found them all dead, except one woman and a child that had hidden themselves.

Philostratus tells us, that when some of the nearer nations would have crowned Titus for his victories over the Jews, he refused it, saying, That he deserved nothing upon that account, for it was not his work, but God had made him the instrument of his wrath against that people. So that there were never greater acknowledgments of a Divine hand against any people, than at this time against the Jews. Never was there greater courage and contempt of death in any people, and yet they were conquered by numbers much inferior to them. Never was any soldier so merciful as Titus was, and so solicitous to have spared the effusion of blood; and yet he was necessitated, against his nature, to exercise great cruelties towards them. Many times he endeavoured, by the most severe inhibitions, to restrain the cruelties of the soldiers towards them; and when he found that they ripped open the bowels of the Jews who fled out of Jerusalem, in. hopes to find gold which they had swallowed, he was much enraged against the soldiers, and would have put all to death that were engaged in that cruelty, but that he found them so many; and not withstanding this, when he forbade the like cruelty to be exercised for the future, under the most severe penalties, yet Josephus says that the soldiers did not forbear privately to do it; and though, in other cases, such a severe prohibition would have 522taken place; yet, says he, because God had devoted that people to ruin, all the ways which Titus used for the saving of them, turned to their destruction, (lib. vi. cap. 15.) Nay, there was as much blood shed by the dissensions among themselves, between those who desired peace with the Romans, and those that would not hearken to it, as by the Romans. So much reason was there for that passionate wish of our Saviour’s concerning Jerusalem, “Oh! that thou hadst known, in this thy day, the things which belong to thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.” Never was any nation so infatuated; never were the things that tended to peace so strangely hidden from any people as from the Jews.

IV. It must needs be, that it was for some very great sin that God sent those dreadful calamities upon that nation. Josephus says, that it was sure for some greater impiety than that nation were guilty of, when they were carried away captive to Babylon. Nay, he says that the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were but small in comparison of those the Jews were guilty of; so that he says, that they were so ripe for destruction, that if the Roman army had not come when it did, he did verily believe that either an earthquake would have swallowed up the city, or a deluge overflown them, or fire from heaven have consumed them; which is very much the same with that the apostle says of them, (1 Thess. ii. 16.) that they were “filling up the measure of their sins, that wrath might come upon them to the uttermost.”

Now what can we imagine their great sin should be at that time? All along the history of the Old Testament, usually, the great sin whereby they provoked God was their idolatry, for which God sent 523many judgments upon them, and at last sold them into captivity. But when this desolation came upon them, and for a long time before, even ever after the captivity, they had been free from that great transgression, and were mightily bent against idolatry, so that they would rather die than commit that sin.

The account which Josephus gives of their sin, was their intestine seditions, and the cruelties and profanations of the temple that were consequent upon them. But that this could not be the original provocation, is plain, because, by the acknowledgment of Josephus and the Jews themselves, this was the greatest judgment and calamity that came upon them; yea, much greater than any thing which they suffered by the Romans; yea, so great, that it rendered them the pity of their very enemies; and when the Romans would have granted peace to them, and gladly have put an end to those miseries they saw them involved in, yet they continued their intestine seditions, and would not betaken off from destroying one another.

Let them then give us any probable account, for what great sin it was, that God first gave them up to this great judgment of an industrious endeavour to destroy one another; or if they cannot, let them believe the account which the history of the New Testament gives of it, and the truth whereof was so remarkably confirmed by the fulfilling of our Saviour’s predictions against them. The apostle gives a clear account of their sin in the forementioned place, (1 Thess. ii. 15, 16.) that it was because “they had killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and persecuted the apostles:” by these steps they “filled up their sins, and wrath came upon them to the uttermost.”

524

V. The punishment that was inflicted upon them hath very shrewd marks and signatures upon it, from which it is easy to conjecture, for what sin it was that they were thus punished. Titus laid his siege to Jerusalem at the very same time and season that the Jews crucified Christ, namely, at the time of the passover; and the very day that he began his siege, he crucified one before their walls, and afterward, almost the only cruelty that the Romans exercised towards them by the command and permission of Titus, was crucifixion; insomuch that sometimes five hundred were crucified in a day, till they wanted wood for crosses. So that they who earnestly cried out against our Saviour, “Crucify, crucify,” had at last enough, God made them “eat the fruit of their own ways, and filled them with their own devices;” and they who had bought Christ for thirty pieces of silver, were afterwards themselves sold at a lower rate.

VI. Their religion was remarkably struck at, and affronted, as if God intended to put an end to that dispensation, and to abrogate their law. Most of their great calamities happened to them upon the sabbath-day, and upon their great festivals. Cestius Gallus sat down with his army before Jerusalem on the sabbath. Titus besieged them at the time of the passover. And Jerusalem was taken (as Dio, in his Roman history, observes) on the sabbath-day, that day for which the Jews have so great a veneration. The zealots profaned the temple by making it a garrison, and by the rapine and bloodshed committed in it; they brought the priesthood into contempt, by choosing the meanest of the people into the highest offices; they turned the materials of the temple into instruments of war. The Romans themselves 525were as much grieved to see how the Jews profaned the temple, as the Jews themselves ought to have been if it had been so profaned by the Romans; they are the very words of Josephus. And though Titus gave express orders, and used great endeavours to have saved the temple, and hazarded himself to have quenched it when it was on fire; yet he could not do it, but it was burnt to the ground: and afterward, when the priests came to him, and supplicated to him for their lives, contrary to his usual clemency, he commanded them to be slain, saying they came too late; that it was fit they should perish with the temple, and now that was destroyed, for the sake of which they should have been saved, he saw no reason to spare them. Afterward the Roman ensigns were set up upon the ruins of the temple, and the soldiers sacrificed to them; and their law was carried in triumph at Rome before Vespasian and Titus.

These were as great signs as could be, that God had a design to abrogate and put a period to that administration; especially if we take in this, which Ammianus Marcellinus, a heathen historian, tells us, that this temple could never be rebuilt, though it was attempted by the Jews several times, and that whenever they went about to lay the foundation, fire broke out of the foundation, and consumed the workmen.

I will add but one circumstance more, to shew that that dispensation was at an end. God seemed to have wholly given over his particular care of that people, and to have no longer regard to the covenant made with them, in which he had promised, that when they came up three times a year, from all parts of the land, to serve the Lord, he would so order 526things by his providence, that the enemy should make no advantage of their absence from their borders; nay, the enemy should not then desire their land; and yet, notwithstanding this, at the time of the passover, when the whole nation were met at Jerusalem, Titus came upon them, and enclosed them all in the city.

VII. And lastly, Consider how God hath pursued the Jews with great severity ever since, making them to be stigmatized and hated in all nations; great cruelties and oppressions have frequently been exercised towards them; and, by a strange providence, God hath kept them distinct from other people, that they might remain as a monument of his displeasure; and considering how other colonies of people have fallen in, and been mixed with the inhabitants in an age or two, so as they never could be kept distinct for any long time; that the Jews for sixteen hundred years should still remain so, as it is an argument of the special providence of God, so it is one of the most material and standing evidences of the truth of our religion, that they should remain still as witnesses of the Old Testament; and as monuments of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the fierce wrath which God executed upon them for the crucifying of Christ.

Upon the whole matter, if so particular a prediction as this of our Saviour’s concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, so punctually answered by the event, be not an argument of Divine inspiration, then there can be no evidence of any such thing as a spirit of prophecy. For what greater evidence of a true prophet, than to foretell so many things, so contingent and improbable; all which have accordingly afterward fallen out, just as they were foretold?

527

Suppose the Jews say true, that Jesus Christ was an impostor, and consequently justly put to death by them; what greater reflection upon the providence of God can be imagined, than that this person should be permitted to foretell, that such and such calamities should befal those that had put him to death, as a punishment upon them for that sin; and afterward all this should happen in so remarkable a manner, as the world cannot give the like instance? Is it in the least credible, that the Divine Providence should permit such things, as of necessity will give credit to an impostor, and would be good evidence, to a prudent and considerate man, that he was divinely inspired?

I have now done with the fourth head of our Saviour’s predictions, namely, his prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem; which I have been the longer upon, because it is so considerable an evidence of the truth of our religion, and so strong an argument against the Jews, that, if they are not wrought upon by the consideration of the accomplishment of this prediction of our Saviour’s, and the great severity of God still continued towards that nation, it can be ascribed to nothing but the just judgment of God, still hiding the things of their peace from their eyes, and giving them up to the same kind of fatal hardness and blindness, which sixteen hundred years ago was the cause of their destruction.

There remains yet one instance more of our Saviour’s prophetic spirit, which I must reserve for another discourse.

528
« Prev Sermon CCXXXIX. The Evidences of the Truth of the… Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |