« Prev Sermon LXXX. The Vanity and Wickedness of… Next »


[Preached on All-Saints Day.]


Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: that the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation from the Hood of Abel, unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, it shall be required of this generation.—Luke xi. 49, 50, 51.

THE latter part of this chapter is a very sharp, but just invective, made by our Saviour against the hypocrisy of the scribes and pharisees, of which he gives many instances; and this among the rest for one, that they pretended a great honour and respect for the righteous men and prophets of former ages, whom their fathers had persecuted and slain; but yet were of the very same spirit and temper, and as ready to persecute good men as their fathers were. They raised, indeed, stately monuments to the memory of those saints and martyrs, and adorned them with great art and cost, and, it is likely, made a great shew of esteem and veneration for them: but all this while they were of the same disposition with their fathers, and bear the same implacable hatred and malice against the prophets 486and righteous men who then lived among them, (yea, against that great prophet, whom God had sent into the world—Jesus, the Son of God) which their fathers did against the good men of their times. And though they disclaimed the wickedness and cruelty of their fathers, with never so much zeal and vehemency, yet for all that they were ready to do the same things. Now this was so gross and odious a piece of hypocrisy in them, that our Saviour doth with great reason denounce so severe a woe against them: “Woe unto you; for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly, ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers; for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres.” And then it follows: 4 therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: that the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple.”

There are considerable difficulties in both these passages. As to the former, “Woe unto you, for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly, ye bear witness, that ye allow the deeds of your fathers; for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres.” The force of this reasoning is at first sight not easy to be discerned; and therefore expositors have gone several ways to explain it.

Some comparing this with the parallel place in St. Matthew’s Gospel, (chap. xxiii. 29.) will not have our Saviour to mean, that by “building the 487sepulchres of the prophets,” they expressed their approbation of their fathers killing them. They did indeed testify, by their usage of the righteous men that lived amongst themselves, that they were of the very same temper and spirit which their fathers had been of; and that they would have done just as their fathers did, if they had been in the same circumstances with their fathers; so that they were witnesses to themselves (as it is in St. Matthew) that they were children of them which killed the prophets; they owned themselves their children by descent, and their actions witnessed that they were their children also in resemblance; nay, (as it is there farther intimated) they seemed resolved to fill up the measure of their fathers, though all this while they pretended not to approve their father’s behaviour; and, therefore, whilst they were building the tombs of the prophets, and garnishing the tombs of the righteous, they said, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. And the interpreters that go this way do accordingly render these words of St. Luke, not as they are in our translation, “ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers;” but “ye bear witness, and ye allow (or are well-pleased with) the deeds of your fathers;” that is, ye own that they were your fathers, who did these things; and though you do not in words allow what they did, yet your inward tempers and dispositions (whether you know it or no) are the very same with theirs, which you too plainly testify by your actions; so that when “you build the sepulchres of the prophets,” you only expose the deceitfulness and hypocrisy of your hearts, your pretences and your 488actions directly contradicting each other. Thus some expositors give the sense of this passage.

But others think that our Saviour intended some what more, in St. Luke; namely, to retort upon them the honour which they seemed to do to the prophets, in building their sepulchres, as an argument that they rejoiced in their death; seeing they were so well content to be at the charge of a monument for them; like Herod, who, when he had murdered Aristobulus, made a magnificent monument for him; or as the Roman historians say of Caracalla, though he hated all good men whilst they were alive, yet he would pretend to honour them when they were dead. This, some think, our Saviour intended in these words: “Truly, ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres;” as if he had said, hereby ye testify that ye allow and like very well what your fathers did to the prophets. According to which latter exposition, there seems to be more force and greater sharpness in our Saviour’s reproof; as not only charging them with the ill usage of the righteous men of their own times, but moreover making them, by their building the tombs, and garnishing the sepulchres of the ancient prophets, to become as it were accessaries to the murder of them.

But, leaving this digression, I now proceed to that which I primarily intended; namely, first, to explain the following words, which I have chosen as my present subject, and then to make some observations upon them.

“Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute; that the blood of all 489the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, it shall be required of this generation.”

There are three considerable difficulties in the words, which I shall endeavour to explain to you.

I. What is meant by “the wisdom of God.”

II. Who this Zacharias was, here mentioned by our Saviour; “from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, who perished between the altar and the temple.”

III. In what sense, and with what reason and justice it is here threatened, “that the blood of all the prophets and righteous men, shed from the foundation of the world, should be required of that generation.”

I. What is here meant by “the wisdom of God.” “Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles,” &c. In St. Matthew, our Saviour speaks this in his own name, “Wherefore, behold I send unto you prophets: for which reason, some think that by “the wisdom of God” our Saviour here designed himself; as if he had said, Therefore I, who am the “wisdom of God,” declare unto you. But this is not very probable, our Saviour no where else in the gospel speaking of himself in any such style; though St. Paul calls him “the power of God, “and “the wisdom of God.” Others think that our Saviour here refers to some prophecy of the Old Testament to this purpose: “therefore, the Wisdom of God hath said;” that is, the Holy Spirit of wisdom, which inspired the prophets in the Old Testament. But this conceit is utterly without ground, for we find no such passage, 490nor any thing to that sense, in any of the prophets of the Old Testament.

But the most plain and simple interpretation is this: “therefore hath the wisdom of God said;” that is, the most wise God hath determined to send among you such messengers and holy men, and I foresee that ye will thus abuse them, and thereby bring wrath and destruction upon yourselves. And whereas our Saviour says, in St. Matthew, “behold I send unto you prophets;” it is very probable, he speaks in God’s name, and that it is to be under stood, Behold, says God, I send unto you. And this phrase of “the wisdom of God,” for the most wise God is very agreeable to other forms of speech, which we meet with in the Jewish writers; as, dicit norma judicii, “the rule of judgment” says, that is, the most just and righteous God; which serves very well to explain the phrase in the text, “therefore, saith the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles.”

By apostles is here meant, all sorts of Divine messengers: for so St. Matthew expresseth it, “I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes;” that is, several holy and excellent men, endowed with all sorts of Divine gifts; “prophets, and wise men, and scribes;” which were the most glorious and admired titles among the Jews.

” And some of them they shall slay and persecute.” St. Matthew expresseth it more particularly, “some of them ye shall kill and crucify;” as it was afterwards fulfilled in the two James’s, and Stephen, who were slain by them, and in Simon the son of Cleophas, and before him in Jesus the Son of God, who were crucified; and “some of them ye shall scourge in your synagogues,” as we read 491they did to Peter and John; and “persecute them from city to city,” as they did Paul and Barnabas. The sending of these messengers of God among the Jews, and this ill usage of them, the all-wise and all-knowing God had determined and foreseen.

II. Who this Zacharias was, here mentioned by our Saviour. And there are so many of them (no less than four of this name) to whom it may with some probability be applied, but especially to two of them, that it is very hard to determine which of them our Saviour means. Three Zacharias’s are mentioned in Scripture, and one more in the history of Josephus.

There was Zacharias the father of John the Baptist; but whose son he was we do not read: and though of his death the Scripture is silent, yet there are two traditions about it; one, that he was slain by Herod’s officers, because he would not tell where his son John the Baptist was, when Herod sent for him. But the credit of this relies upon very doubtful authors. The other is mentioned by several of the fathers, and the substance of it is briefly this; that there being a place in the temple, where the virgins by themselves used to pray, the Virgin Mary coming to that place to pray among the virgins, was forbidden, because she had had a child; and that Zacharias, for maintaining her virginity, was set upon, “and killed between the temple and the altar.” But this tradition is rejected by St. Jerome: and I doubt there is little ground for it.

Zacharias, one of the lesser prophets, was the son of Barachias, which agrees so far with St. Matthew’s description of him: but there is no mention in Scripture that he was slain; nor could he well be in the temple, which was but building in his 492time; though the author of the Targum says, that Zacharias, the son of Ido, was slain by the Jews “in the house of the Lord’s sanctuary,” on the day of the propitiation; because he admonished them not to do evil before the Lord. Now Zacharias, the son of Barachias, was the grandson of Ido; but yet, I think, this was only lapse of memory, and that he means Zachary in the Chronicles, who was slain by Joash.

And he is the third Zacharias I mentioned, (2 Chron. xxiv. 21.) who, as he was reproving the people “for transgressing the commandment of the Lord, was stoned with stones at the commandment of the king, in the court of the house of the Lord.” And this our Saviour seems more particularly to reflect upon, immediately after the text: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that stonest the prophets,” &c. Now this one would think was certainly the person intended by our Saviour, and fit to be mentioned with Abel, whose blood is said to have cried to the Lord. For of Zacharias, it is likewise said, that “when he died, he said, The Lord look upon it and require it.” And Drusius cites a Jewish writer, speaking thus by way of complaint against the Jewish nation; “because in the midst of thee fell the priests of the Lord, and his prophets, and because before the holy temple in the midst of thee was slain the godly and righteous prophet Zacharias, who lay unburied, nor did the earth cover his blood, but to this day it goes up and speaks in the midst of thee.” So that none could have been more fit to have been joined with Abel in this respect

But, as probable as this looks, there are two very great objections against it. One is, that St. Matthew calls the Zacharias spoken of by our Saviour, 493the son of Barachias; whereas this Zacharias, slain by Joash, was the son of Jehoiada; and though it be very considerable, which St. Jerome observes, that, in the Hebrew or Nazarene gospel, it is Zacharias, the son of Jehoiada; yet it is hard to rely upon that, against all the Greek copies. But a more difficult objection, in my opinion, is, that our Saviour seems to design to mention the two extremes, the first and last righteous man that was slain, and, between them two comprehended the good men of all ages, that were persecuted and slain; and, if so, then that Zacharias in the Chronicles, who was slain so long before, can by no means be the person.

There is yet a fourth Zacharias, (mentioned by Josephus, lib. 4.) the son of Baruch (which is probably enough the same name with Barachias), who was the last remarkable good man that was slain, immediately before the siege of Jerusalem , and that, as Josephus tells us, in the midst of the temple; which agrees with our Saviour’s description of it, “between the altar and the temple;” not the al tar of incense, but of burnt-offerings, which was in the outward court, before the ascent to the temple. So that Grotius thinks this was the man intended by our Saviour; yet so, that he does both allude to the history of the former Zacharias, and foretel the death of this. And there is but one objection against this; that our Saviour speaks of this as al ready past; “whom you have slain;” whereas this Zacharias was not slain till after our Saviour’s death. But I think that a satisfactory answer may be given to this; viz. that our Saviour foretelling those future persecutions, which should (ill up the measure of their sins, and bring final destruction upon them, he speaks of this as already past; because before 494that destruction should come upon them, it would be true. “they had slain him:” so that, speaking of the vengeance coming upon them, well might he say, that “upon them should come the blood of all the righteous men, from Abel to Zacharias, whom they had slain,” &c.

III. The third difficulty remains: and that is. in what sense, and with what reason and justice it is here threatened, that “the blood of all the prophets and righteous men, shed from the foundation of the world.” should be required of that generation. Some understand this more strictly: they should be charged with it, and formally punished for it, because, in imitating their cruel predecessors, they should be guilty of all their cruelty. But there is no necessity of this. All that our Saviour seems to intend, is this: that their punishment in the destruction of Jerusalem, should be so horrible, as if God had once for all arraigned them of all the righteous blood that ever had been shed in the world, and brought the punishment of it upon them; though in truth the punishment did not exceed the desert of their own sins. And if this be the meaning of it, there is nothing harsh and unreasonable in it. And thus I have explained, as well as I can, the several difficulties in the text. I shall make two or three observations from the main scope and design of it, and so conclude.

I. That it hath been the lot of holy and righteous men, in most ages of the world, to meet with very bad usage, to be “persecuted and slain.” The devil began this work early. When there were but three men in all the world, and two of them brethren; the one slew the other, “because he was more righteous, and served God better than he did. And 495this trade hath continued, and been practised more or less, in most ages and generations of the world, as might be deduced through the history of the Old and New Testament, and of most ages since; though “the rod of the wicked hath not always abode upon the back of the righteous, lest at last piety should be quite discouraged, and “the faithful fail from among the children of men.” The people and the church of God have had many intervals of peace and prosperity; and sometimes, for a long continuance, the favour and countenance of authority, and the powers of the world, and the laws of nations on their side.

But yet there is a continual enmity between the seed of the woman and the serpent, between the righteous and the wicked, between those that serve God, and those that serve him not; because their ways are contrary one to another, and quite of another fashion, their principles and practices do contradict and clash with one another; the virtues of good men are a continual upbraiding of the bad, a living reproof and reproach to them: go that it is no wonder, that evil men do so violently hate and persecute the good, and do by all means endeavour to remove out of the way those who are so opposite and offensive to them.

II. We may observe likewise, hence, how great a sin they are guilty of who persecute the righteous, and how terrible a vengeance from God waits on them. Particular examples of this have been in all ages: but as the guilt of this sin never went higher than at this time foretold by our Saviour, when God sent to the Jews such “prophets, and wise men, and scribes,” and such a number of them as never upon any occasion were sent into the world, and they 496used them in that bloody and barbarous manner; no wonder, if the vengeance that came upon them was such as never had been before; and if, after they had filled up the measure of their sins, by crucifying the Lord Jesus, and persecuting his apostles, and stoning and killing all the prophets that were sent unto them, “the wrath of God came upon them to the utmost,” and such a terrible destruction from the Lord, as never befel any people; insomuch that our Saviour, upon the foresight and mention of it, forty years before it happened, could not but weep over them, and express himself in those compassion ate words, “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; but ye would not! Behold your house is left unto you desolate.”

III. From this whole passage of our Saviour, which I have been explaining to you, we may learn how vain it is for men to pretend to honour the dead saints, when they persecute the living. This was the great hypocrisy of the scribes and pharisees among the Jews in our Saviour’s time; and is at this day of the rulers and governors of the Roman church among us Christians; nay, they exceed the scribes and pharisees, not only in their veneration of the ancient saints and righteous men, but also, if it be possible, in their malice and cruelty towards the living. For they not only build costly monuments to their memory, which was the utmost the scribes and pharisees did, but they honour them with shrines and rich offerings, with prayers and vows to them, more frequent than to Almighty God himself, and our blessed Saviour: but then they 497hate and persecute the living, with as great violence and cruelty, as ever was used by any part of mankind towards one another. It is true they do it under the notion of heresy; and so did the scribes and pharisees too, as St. Paul witnesseth. “After the way which ye call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things that are written in the law and in the prophets.” So they call us heretics; though we receive and believe all that is written in the Holy Scriptures, only rejecting their additions, whereby they would make the commandment of God of none effect. And as Rome is parallel with Jerusalem in many other respects; so especially in the bloody persecution of righteous men: and as Jerusalem is charged by our Saviour with the blood of all the prophets and righteous men of all ages; so St. John in the Revelation says of Rome, that “in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth: (chap. xviii. 24.) which is no less true of Rome Christian, than of Rome pagan. In all the churches and religions in the world, and perhaps in Rome pagan herself, hath not so much innocent blood been shed, as in Rome Christian and catholic, and that under a pretence of religion: and no doubt there is a day coming, when she shall be called to a heavy account for these things, “when the heavens shall rejoice over her, and the holy angels and prophets, because God hath avenged them on her.”

« Prev Sermon LXXX. The Vanity and Wickedness of… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection