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are not needful. Eminent virtue may be in any station. Wherever it is, it is discerned by the penetrating eye of Jesus, and is beheld with approbation, and will be rewarded by him in due time.
6. This text gives no encouragement to those honours, approaching to idolatry, or altogether idolatrous, which some have since given to departed saints, both men and women.
Our Lord, in this place, speaks not of any such thing. And it is inconsistent with the tenour of his, and his apostles' doctrine. But I need not enlarge upon this, in an assembly of persons, who think freely, and exercise their highest power of reason and understanding in things of religion, as well as about matters of less moment.
7. We have in this history, an instance of the favour of our Lord for virtue.
A person having performed an action, which proceeded from laudable dispositions, he expresseth his approbation of it, and declares, that it should be celebrated. We may be assured therefore, that when our Lord shall come again, to judgment, this benevolent, this remunerative property of his all-knowing and perfect mind, will be gratified, and displayed to the full. He will then bestow rewards, answerable to the riches, the honours, the delights and entertainments of this world but greatly surpassing them, and the ideas, which we have formed from what now appears to us most splendid and magnificent.
8. And lastly, This text teacheth us to think, and judge for ourselves, and to act according to the light of our own judgment and understanding, after having taken due care to be well informed, without paying too great deference to the favourable, or the unfavourable sentences of others.
This woman met with checks and rebukes in her testimony of respect to Jesus. But he approved of it. Some acts of charity, some works of goodness, which appear reasonable and expedient to ourselves, may be preferred by us before some others, which are in more general esteem. Those we should perform, without discouraging these others, or entirely omitting them, if our ability can reach them all. But every man is the best judge of his own abilities, and what is most proper to be done by him, in the circumstances, in which he is placed, and the relation he bears to others. If we perform what appears to ourselves best and most expedient, with a sincere regard to the glory of God: and upon all occasions strive to excel in what is laudable: we need not doubt the approbation of our Lord, whose judgment is the most impartial, and the most equitable, and will secure such rewards, as are most valuable and desirable.
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN TAKEN BY FORCE.
And from the days of John the Baptist, until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. Matt. xi. 12.
JOHN the Baptist sent two of his disciples to Jesus with that question: "Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?" Our Lord having wrought some miracles in the sight of those two persons, as well as taught the people in their hearing, sends them back again to John in prison, saying, "Go, and show John the things, which ye do hear and see."
When they had departed, our Lord took that opportunity to speak to the multitudes concerning John, the better to remove their prejudices against himself, and the gospel-dispensation. He enlargeth upon John's character, whom they generally owned for a prophet. tells them, that they therein judged very rightly. He was a prophet indeed, and superior to most, or any of the prophets, that had been sent to them, upon account of the doctrine taught by him which was pure religion, recommended upon forcible motives and considerations.
"Nevertheless," adds our Lord," he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." He that shall receive my doctrine, and be a subject of the gospel dispensation, fully
revealed and established, will excel him in the knowledge of religion in some respects. As much was intimated by John himself.
It follows in the words of the text: "And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." As if he said: However ' after all, it is not every one that will attain to this excellence and dignity. Such are the prejudices that obtain, and such are the worldly and self-interested views of many, that it is not without considerable difficulty, that the blessings of this dispensation will be secured. And they may be said to be a sort of violent men, that enter into the kingdom of God, now setting up in the world.'
"For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John." Hitherto, you have had the teaching of the law and the prophets. But the genuine, and sublime principles of true religion are now more clearly taught. And more self-denial is requisite to embrace them, than many are willing to practise and submit to.
There is a parallel place in St. Luke, which is in these words. "The law and the prophets were until John. Since that the kingdom of God is preached. And every man," who enters into that kingdom, "presseth into it," Luke xvi. 16. that is, forceth his way into it, by breaking through many obstacles.
It is added in the fore-cited place from St. Matthew, where our Lord is discoursing to the people concerning John: "And, if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was to come. He that has ears to hear let him hear." Which expression we never find used by our Lord, but when he says somewhat of great importance, or which men were prejudiced against, and therefore it required more than ordinary attention and honesty of mind, to admit and embrace. For though John was really very eminent, and at his first appearance raised the regard of the whole Jewish nation, they did not now so generally consider him, in his proper character of the fore-runner of the Messiah as they had done.
"The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." Our Lord, by violent men, does not intend such as are injurious to others in their rights and privileges. Nor does he design to intimate, that any violence is necessary to be used against the will and disposals of God as if hinderances were laid in the way of men's salvation by determinations of the Divine Being, secret or open. For God is ready, graciously to receive all who repent. And Jesus Christ calls and invites all in general, saying: "Come unto me, all ye that labour, and are heavy laden: and I will give you rest." But the force here spoken of is that resolution, which is exerted in denying ourselves, and overcoming prejudices, or acting contrary to some obstructions laid in our way by other men.
Not to enlarge any farther in a general way concerning the meaning of this observation of our Lord, I shall endeavour to explain it by representing, in several particulars, the nature of that force, which is here spoken of, and mention divers instances of the violent people here intended. After which I may add some reflections, and conclude.
I. I shall mention some particulars, which may show the nature of the force here spoken of. 1. One kind of force here intended is a resolution of mind to receive the doctrine and precepts of strict holiness and virtue, though contrary to the ordinary bias of men's appetites and inclinations.
If religion consisted only in some ritual observances, or bodily mortifications, at some certain seasons; it would not be so difficult a thing, nor very contrary to any bad habits and dispositions. But true religion, such as was taught by John the Baptist, and by our Saviour, is a doctrine hard to be received, and complied with, cordially and fully. The general strain and tenour of their preaching is, "repent:" forsake all sin: return to God, and serve him in the practice of real holiness. "When the people came to John, and asked him, saying, What shall we do then? He answered and said unto them: He that has two coats, let him impart to him that has none. And he that has meat, let him do likewise," Luke iii. 11. Hard doctrine! And it requires a good deal of resolution of mind, and much self-denial, to determine to put it in practice, by parting with our all upon special occasions, or our superfluous abundance, from time to time, as the wants and exigencies of men may demand.
The same may be said of his other admonitions to publicans and soldiers, that they should
Matt. iii. 11. and other places.
perform the duties, particularly suited to their employments, and forbear the exactions, or other offences, which their way of life more especially inclined them to. Luke iii. 12-14.
Such was John's doctrine. And certainly our Lord's was of the same kind, and an improvement of it-declaring, that unless "men's righteousness exceeded the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, they could in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven," or obtain the everlasting happiness of the life to come.
Our Lord's precepts are very difficult, as they are contrary to generally prevailing affections and inclinations, enjoining purity of heart and life, meekness under provocations, and forgiveness of injuries.
Compliance with these rules and precepts he has himself compared to the parting with a valuable member of the body, saying: "If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee. For it is profitable for thee, that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell," Matt. v. 29, 30. And what there follows.
And in regard to the difficulty of this holy conduct, and this complete conquest, which we ought to make of irregular appetites and passions, his apostles have delivered some of their exhortations in such terms as these: "Mortify your members, which are upon the earth; and crucify the flesh, with the corrupt affections, and lusts thereof."
2. Another kind of violence intended by our Lord is the quitting favourite notions and prejudices, upon sufficient evidence, and with mature, serious and diligent consideration,
It is, undoubtedly, somewhat difficult to part with opinions that have been long entertained, and thereby to own that we were once in the wrong. Prejudices are sometimes strengthened by fond affections, which increase the difficulty of parting with them. This was very much the case of the Jewish people in general. They expected in the Messiah a glorious prince, a successful and victorious warrior, a king that should reign over them with power and splendour, and enrich them with the spoils of the nations.
They thirsted for the pleasure of being revenged upon the gentiles, the Greeks and the Romans, who had successively brought them into subjection, and laid them under tribute: And many were in expectation of some of the most profitable and honourable posts of this extensive empire. They were intent upon the external ordinances of the law of Moses; but thought little about any precepts or encouragements of internal religion and real virtue.
It must therefore have been the effect of serious consideration, that any embraced Jesus as the Messiah upon the evidence of his miracles, and the testimony of John, and such like arguments whilst they saw nothing in him suited to the idea, which most had formed of a worldly prince. And yet there were some, yea many, who believed on him, "when they saw the miracles that he did," John iii. 2; ch. vii. 31; ch. ix. 30-33. To these our Lord imputes a laudable violence and zeal, in distinguishing themselves from the most.
All the disciples of our Lord are to be remembered here, who overcame, in part at least, at the very beginning, some prejudices: who made a profession, that he was the Christ, the Son of God, and adhered to him as having the words of eternal life: though they did still maintain hopes of seeing him appear, some time, with worldly glory.
Nathanael is a plain instance of a man, who gave up his prejudices, and false notions, upon evidence. "Philip finding Nathanael, and saith unto him: We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said: Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" John i. 45-51. Nevertheless, when Jesus had manifested extraordinary knowledge, he answered, and said unto him: "Rabbi, thou art the Son God, thou art the king Israel."
This must have-been true of all in general, among the Jewish people, who at that time believed in Jesus. They did give up, in some measure, though not yet entirely, some notions that had for a while a deep rooting in their minds.
3. Another kind of violence intended by our Lord, is quitting some present worldly advantages, for the sake of the gospel, and making a profession, of the truths of religion, against much opposition, and notwithstanding difficulties and discouragements.
This kind of violence was practised by many, if not all Christ's disciples, whom he chose to be his apostles. They had at first, in believing in him, as before said, yielded up some prejudices and wrong notions, in part at least. And in obeying his call, to follow him, and attend upon him, they resigned some earthly advantages. They left their employments, the ordinary means
of their subsistence. And they would be, for the most part, removed from the society of their friends and relatives. They never were great in the world. Yet they practised a self-denying part for the present. And Peter once said to our Lord: "We have left all and followed thee. What shall we have therefore ?" All who then believed in Jesus, and made a profession of his being the Christ, must have withstood some opposition, and met with difficulties and discouragements. They went against the stream of the nation. They fell under some reproaches, by believing in one as the Messiah, who made so mean an appearance in this world. Some who did not openly, and upon all occasions, acknowledge him, did at some seasons show considerable resolution. Nicodemus, who at the first came to Jesus by night, spoke in his favour, in the Jewish council; for which he was checked and insulted, as very ignorant. "They answered, and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet," John vii. 51, 52. And he joined with Joseph of Arimathea, in giving our Lord an honourable burial after he had been crucified, ch. xix. 39, 40.
I need not now observe particularly, in how remarkable a manner the apostles of Jesus, and the first believers at Jerusalem, practised the violence here spoken of, after his ascension, when they professed, or taught in the name of Jesus, under the greatest difficulties. Nor need I stay to show, how the kingdom of heaven was taken by violence afterwards, and how the violent took it by force, for a long while, under heathen emperors: when professing the Christian religion was prohibited by edicts: and it could not be embraced, but with manifest hazard of life itself, and all that is dear in the world.
4. Another thing very probably intended here, is the willing forwardness, and resolute zeal of many in embracing the principles of true religion, and entering into the kingdom of heaven, who, to outward appearance, were the most unlikely of any, to have a share in the blessings and privileges of the gospel.
Here I shall mention three sorts of persons: men of mean rank, and low education: men of unreputable character, and of a sinful, vicious course of life: and the gentiles.
1.) I observe here the forward and resolute zeal of men of mean rank.
Our Lord did not require assent, without sufficient evidence, that his doctrine was from heaven. Indeed, he gave abundant proof of it. But it was reasonable to expect, that men of à liberal education, and of experience in the world, and in easy circumstances, should first discern the evidences of truth and yield to them. It might therefore have been expected, that the scribes and pharisees, should first of all have owned our Lord's character, and have perceived, that the works done by him were works of divine power. In Jesus also were fulfilled many ancient prophecies. And it might have been thought, that the scribes and pharisees, versed in the law, should have first discerned this fulfilment. But yet, instead of this, they were, generally, the meaner people, who believed in him, and publicly professed him.
Of this number were most, or all our Lord's disciples, men of mean employments, and low education, though not poor or destitute. Such were most of the rest, who believed in him. These were the men, who most admired the wisdom of his words, and the greatness of his miracles. As St. Matthew observes at the conclusion of the sermon on the mount. "When Jesus had ended all these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine. For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes," Matt. vii. 28, 29.
This is the more remarkable, and the more properly styled by our Lord, "taking the kingdom of heaven by force," because the scribes and pharisees, the more knowing, and the more powerful men of the nation, did all they could to discourage the people, by many insinuations to the prejudice of Jesus. And hereby and by other means, as our Lord told them, "they shut up the kingdom of heaven against men. They neither went in themselves, neither suffered they them that were entering, to go in." Matt. xxiii. 13.
In this respect also the man born blind is to be reckoned among them that took the kingdom of heaven by force. Notwitstanding the disadvantages which he had lain under, by his total and early blindness, and notwithstanding the meanness of his condition, he withstood the arguments as well as threatenings of the Jewish council: and insisted upon it that he who had cured him, "was a prophet," John ix. 17.. They were so offended, as to excommunicate him. He nevertheless continued firm in his persuasion, and proceeded yet farther, owning Jesus to be the Christ.. Ver.35-88.
Of this number also may be reckoned the officers of the high priest, who had been sent out to apprehend our Lord, who when they returned, and were rebuked for not bringing him, answered, "Never man spake like this man," John vii. 46.
2. Among the people of a forward and resolute zeal we must place some men of unreputable characters, and a bad course of life. These might be thought less likely than others. And yet some of these embraced the doctrine of true religion, and entered into the kingdom of heaven. Therefore it is said: "And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, not being baptized of him," Luke vii. 29, 30. That is, there were more of the publicans, and mean people, who came to John's baptism, and who also heard Christ gladly, than of the scribes and pharisees. The publicans were reckoned men of a sordid and unreputable profession. And though they were most of them Jews by birth and religion, the pharisees, and many others disliked them for collecting the Roman tribute, and would not willingly converse with them, or sit at table with them.
Among these was one of our Lord's disciples, who upon the call of Jesus, "left all, and followed him," Luke v. 28.
Another remarkable instance is "Zaccheus, who was the chief among the publicans. He sought to see Jesus. And afterwards received him joyfully. When the multitude saw this, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner." But he was a true penitent, and so sincere and warm was his zeal, "that he gave the half of his goods to the poor," Luke xix. 2-8; and engaged to make ample restitution, if he had wronged any in the way of his employment.
There is also recorded in the gospels a notable instance of a person of a sinful course of life, who came to our Lord, and showed proofs of repentance, and paid him the highest tokens of affection, respect and honour and all this without the approbation, or leave of the pharisee, at whose house Jesus then was, and contrary to the rules and maxims of the governing sect among the Jewish people.
3. Among people of a forward and resolute zeal are to be reckoned the gentiles, who seemed not so likely to embrace the principles of true religion. But they also took the kingdom of heaven by force.
There were some early and remarkable instances. A centurion, whose servant was sick of the palsy, sent messengers to our Lord. "Jesus said he would come, and heal him. But the centurion answered, and said: Lord, I am not worthy, that thou shouldst come under my roof. Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed." Whereupon, it is said, that "Jesus marvelled, and said to them that followed him: I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel," Matt. viii. 6-10.
The woman of Canaan is another of these violent people, of whom our Lord here speaks in the text, who pressed into the kingdom of heaven, and strove to partake in its blessings and privileges. "She cried unto him, saying: Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David, my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil." Our Lord was pleased to try her faith, that the truth and eminence of it might be unquestioned. "But he answered her not a word. His disciples came, and besought him, saying: Send her away, for she crieth after us. But he answered and said: I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Yet she is not discouraged. "Then came she, and worshipped him, saying: Lord, help me. But he answered, and said: It is not meet to take the children's bread, and cast it to dogs. And she said: Truth, Lord. Yet the dogs eat of the crumbs, which fall from the children's table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her: O woman, great is thy faith. Be it unto thee, as thou wilt," Matt xv. 22—28.
And so it was also afterwards. When the kingdom of heaven was more fully manifested to men, upon the ascension of Christ, and the publication of the gospel to the gentiles, there were more of these who believed, and came into the kingdom of God, than of the Jews: though the gospel was first preached to them, and though the unbelieving Jews, every where, did all that lay in their power to obstruct the reception of the gentiles, and forbad the apostles to preach to them, "that they might be saved," 1 Thess. ii. 16.
I do not stay to allege proofs, or instances of this, out of the Acts, or the Epistles, where they may be easily found. I shall only refer to Acts xiii. 42-48; where is the account of the preaching of Paul and Barnabas in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia. "And when the Jews