Imágenes de páginas

traordinary miracle we have not only from ancient Christian writers of credit, who lived at the very time when it happened, but from an heathen author of great veracity, Ammianus Marcellinus, who wrote the history of Roman affairs from Nerva to the death of Valens, in the year 378. Though he wrote in Latin, he was a Greek by birth. He had several honourable military commands under different emperors; was with Julian in his Persian expedition, in the year 363, and was a great admirer of that emperor, whom he makes his hero; yet acknowledges, that his attempt to rebuild the temple of Jerusalem was defeated in the manner I have mentioned. The fact is frequently appealed to by the Christians of those days, who affirm that it was in the mouths of all men, and was not denied even by the atheists themselves; and "if it seem yet incredible to any one, he may repair (say they) both to witnesses of it yet living, and to them who have heard it from their mouths; yea, they may view the foundations lying yet bare and naked t.' And of this, says Chrisostom, "all we Christians are witnesses; these things being done not long since in our own timet."

Such are the testimonies for this miracle, which are collected and stated with great force by the learned Bishop Warburton, in his work called Julian; and most of them are also admitted by Mr. Gibbon, who, in his recital of this miracle, acknowledges that it is attested by contemporary and respectable evidence; that Gregory Nazianzen, who published his account of it before the expiration of the same year, declares it was not disputed by the infidels of those days, and that his testimony is confirmed by the unexceptionable testimony of Ammianus Marcellinus §.

I now proceed to the explanation of the next chapter, the twenty-fifth of St. Matthew; which begins with presenting to us two parables, that of the ten virgins, and that of the servants of a great lord entrusted with different talents, of which they are called upon to render an account. As these parables contain nothing that requires a very particular explanation, I shall content myself with observing, that they are designed to carry on the subject with which the preceding chapter concludes; * Ammianus Marcellinus, lib. xxiii, cap. i, p. 350, ed. Valesii, + Sozomen. Hist. Eccles. lib. v, cap. xxii, p. 632, 633, B. ✰ Chrys. adv. Judæos, Orat. iii, p. 436.

§ History of the Roman Empire, vol. ii, p. 388.

namely, that of the last solemn day of retribution: and the object of both is to call our attention to that great event, and to warn us of the necessity of being always prepared for it. Thus, in the parable of the ten virgins, the five that were wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps, and when the bridegroom appeared they were ready to receive him, and went in with him to the marriage. But the five that were foolish took no oil with them ; and while they went to procure it, the bridegroom unexpectedly came, and the door was shut against them. The application is obvious, and is given by our Lord himself in these words, "watch ye, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour when the Lord cometh."

In the same manner, in the parable of the talents, he that had received the five talents, and he that had received the two, did, during the absence of their Lord, so diligently cultivate and so considerably improve them, that when at length he came to reckon with them they returned him his own again with usury, and received both applause and reward; while that slothful and indolent servant, who had received only one talent, and instead of improving it went and hid it in the earth, when his lord came and required it at his hands, was severely reprimanded for his want of activity and exertion, and was cast out as an unprofitable servant into outer dark


This, like the former parable, was plainly meant to intimate to us, that we ought to be always prepared to meet our Lord, and to give him a good account of the use we have made of our time, and of the talents, whether many or few, that were entrusted to our care.

After these admonitory parables, and these earnest exhortations to prepare for the last great day, our blessed Lord is naturally led on to a description of the day itself; and it is a description, which, for dignity and grandeur, has not its equal in any writer, sacred or profane. It is as follows: "When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, and the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred.

and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee; or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in; or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he also say unto those on his left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal."

Such is the description which our Divine Master gives us of the great day of account; and so solemn, so awful, so sublime a scene, was never before presented to the mind of man.

Our Saviour represents himself as a great and mighty King, as the supreme Lord of all, sitting on the throne of his glory, with all the nations of the earth assembled before him, and waiting their final doom from his lips. What an astonishing and stupendous spectacle is this! He then at one glance, which penetrates the heart of every individual of that immense multitude, discerns the respective merits or demerits of every human being there present, and separates the good from the bad with as much ease as a shepherd divides his sheep from his goats. He next questions them on one most important branch of their duty, as a specimen of the manner in which the inquiry into the whole of their behaviour will be conducted: and then, with the authority of an almighty Judge and Sovereign, he in a few words pronounces the irreversible sentence, which consigns the

wicked to everlasting punishment, and the righteous to life eternal.

Before I press this important subject any farther on the hearts of those who hear me, I must make a few observations on the description which has been just laid before you.

The first is, that all mankind, when assembled before the judgment-seat of Christ, are divided into two great classes, the wicked and the good, those who are punished and those who are rewarded. There is no middle, no intermediate station provided for those who may be called neutrals in religion, who are indifferent and lukewarm, who are "neither hot nor cold," who do not reject the Gospel, but give themselves very little concern about it, who, instead of working out their salvation with fear and trembling, leave that matter to take care of it. self, and are at perfect ease as to the event. These men cannot certainly expect to inherit everlasting life. But they hope, probably, to be considered as harmless, inoffensive beings, and to be exempted from punishment at least, if not entitled to reward. But how vain this hope is, our Saviour's representation of the final judgment most clearly shows. They, who are not set on the right, must go to the left. They, who are not rewarded, are consigned to punishment. There are indeed different mansions, both for the righteous and the wicked: there are different degrees of punishment for the one, and of reward for the other; yet still it does not appear, that there is any middle or intermediate state between punishment and reward.

The next remark, and which has some affinity to the last, is, that we are to be examined at the bar of our great Judge, not merely as to our exemption from crimes, but as to our performance of good actions; substantial and genuine Christian virtues are expected at our hands. It will not be sufficient for us to plead, that we kept ourselves clear from sin; we must show, that we have exerted ourselves in the faithful discharge of all those various important duties, which the Gospel requires from us.

Lastly, it must be observed, and it is an observation of the utmost importance, and which I wish to impress most forcibly upon your minds, that although charity to our neighbour, and indeed only one branch of that comprehensive duty, viz. liberality to the poor, is here specified as the only Christian virtue, concerning which in

quiry will be made at the day of judgment, yet we must not imagine, that this is the only virtue which will be expected from us, and that on this alone will depend our final salvation. Nothing can be more distant from truth, or more dangerous to religion, than this opinion. The fact is, that charity, or love to man in all its extent, being the most eminent of all the evangelical virtues, being that which Christ has made the very badge and discriminating mark of his religion, is here constituted by him the representative of all other virtues; just as faith is, in various passages of Scripture, used to denote and represent the whole Christian religion. Nothing is more common than this sort of figure (called a synecdoche) in profane as well as sacred writers; by which a part, an essential and important part, is made to stand for the whole. But that neither charity nor any other single virtue can entitle us to eternal life is clear, from the whole tenour of the New Testament, which everywhere requires universal holiness of life. We are commanded" to stand perfect and complete in all the will of God;" to "add to our faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity+." Here you see, that charity makes only one in that large assemblage of virtues, which are required to constitute the Christian character. And so far is it from being true, that any single virtue will give us admission into the kingdom of heaven, that St. James lays down a directly opposite doctrine; namely, that if we do not to the best of our power cultivate every virtue without exception, we shall be objects of punishment instead of reward. "Whosoever," says he, "shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." Nay, even if we endeavour to fulfil all righteousness, yet it is not on that righteousness, but on the merits of our Redeemer, that we must rely for our acceptance with God. For the plain doctrine of Scripture is, that it is "the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanseth us from all sint;" and that "by grace we are saved, through faith; and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God." Of this, indeed, no notice is taken in our Saviour's description of the last judgment, and that

[blocks in formation]
« AnteriorContinuar »