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Parable of the Sheep and Goats.
MATT. XXV. 31–46.
“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, but 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 a hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ge gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothcd 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 a hungered, 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 thce 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 say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels : For I was a hungered, 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 also answer him, saying, Lord, whey saw we thee a hungered, 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."
We have now approached a parable, that, for many ages, by the almost universal consent of the Christian church, has been applied to the events which it is supposed will take place at the end of time, and in the future state of existence. Notwithstanding it has been thus generally misinterpreted, the meaning is certainly plain ; and the reader would be infallibiy led to it by the context, were his mind not diverted by prejudice from the strain of the Saviour's reasoning, and were he to exercise a due degree of caution in the investiga. tion. With a proper deference to the general opinion of divines and commentators, we shall proceed with care, assuming nothing which is not evident, nor asserting what we do not prove.
At the very cominencement of the parable, the Saviour informs us, when those things of which he spake were to take place. See verse 31. "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 glory,” &c. &c. Let the reader now be careful to observe, that all which is predicted in this parable was to be fulfilled, at the coming of the Son of mai in his glory. The only inquiry, therefore, necessary to make, in order to ascertain when the events of this parable took place, is this--when did the Son of man come in his glory?
In the first place, see Matt. xvi. 27, 28, “ For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels ; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” This must be the same coming of the Son of man, mentioned in the text. In both instances it is a glorious coming ; in both the Son of man is accompanied with angels; and in
both, he comes to reward men according to their works. There is no room for doubt, that it is the same event which is spoken of in both these passages. Now notice particularly that the Saviour
says, "there be some standing here which shall not taste + of death till they see the Son of man coming in his
kingdom.” To “taste of death,” is a Hebraism, signifying to die; and hence the meaning of this passage is, there be some standing here which shall not die, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. Here it is evident beyond possibility of mistake, that the coming of the Son of man was to take place, during the natural lives of some of those who stood near him at the time he uttered these words. Whenever the evangelists give an account of this conversation of our Lord with his disciples, as to the subject under consideration, they give it precisely in the same manner. See Mark viii. 38, ix. 1, "Whosoever, therefore, shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels. And he said unto them, Verily, I say unto you,
that there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” See, also, Luke ix. 26, 27, "For whosoever shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy ingels. But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death till sthey see the kinglom of God.” Here, in each instance, the evangelists have recorded the explicit assurance of Jeus, that his comiug to judge and recompense men acording to their works would take place, while some f those people lived who stood near him when he
spake. What can be more plain than this subject?
On other occasions, Jesus embraced opportunities to impress upon the minds of his disciples, the same fact with respect to the coming of the Son of man. And in one particular instance, he pointed out John, his beloved disciple, as a person who should live until his coming took place. The account of this is recorded in John xxi. 21–23. “Peter seeing him, saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die : yet Jesus said not unto him, he shall not die; but if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee ?" Agreeably to this account, John lived until after the destruction of Jernsalem. Again, in Matt. x. 23, we have the following words: “But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another : for verily I say unto you, ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come,
Here is an unconditional assurance from the lips of the Sa. viour, that, pursued by their angry persecutors, the disciples would not traverse all the cities of Israel, before the coming of the Son of man took place. Now, as every thing predicted in the para ble was to be fulfilled at the time of the coming of the Son of man, why ought it to be applied to a day of judgment in the future state ? Is not the fulfill ment confined by the words of the Great Teacher, to time long ago passed by ?
But there are other means by which to ascertain to what time the Saviour alluded in the parable be fore us. We must consult the connexion in which it is found. This, however, is not done because it is thought there is any thing invalid in the explana.
tion and proofs already offered. But as there may : be a multitude of proofs brought forward on this
interesting question, we wish to make the reader acquainted with a fair proportion of them.
Let it then be understood, that the 24th and 25th chapters of Matthew are one discourse, unbroken by any thing but the division into chapters and verses. This division is comparatively a modern
invention, carried into effect by uninspired men. Ś It is, in some respects, very useful. By the help
of it, we are enabled to point out a particular sentence, phrase, or word in any book, refering to the chapter and verse in which it may be found ; and this we could not conveniently do, without the aid of this division. And it is pre-eminently useful in the construction of Concordances to the scriptures. Cardinal Hugo, we think, has the credit of being one of the earliest projectors of the division. While : we bear testimony to the general utility of it, we still believe that the division is, in some places, made where it ought not to be; but where, on the contrary, the closest connexion ought to have been preserved. That the 25th chapter of Matthew is a continuation of the subject commenced in the 24th, is evident from the first verse, and even from the first word of it. “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins.” Here it is evident the Saviour was refering to time of which he had before spoken, and that the things he was about to describe were to take place at the same time. If not, why is then, the abverb of time, used? Let us go back, and examine the context.1
1 Bishop Pearce, in his Commentary, has maintained, at some length, that the subject of the destruction of Jerusalem is continued through the twenty-fifth chapter. Here follow his Notes on several verses of that chapter. Verse 1. “Then shall the kingdom, &c.