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sonable 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 také 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 were 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. He 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 re
ceive 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 diffi'culty, that the blessings of this dispensation will be se'cured. 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 selfdenial 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 expressions 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 a Matt. iii. 11. and other places.
of God; as if hinderances were laid in the way of men's salvation by determinations of the Divine Being, secret or 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 selfdenial, 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 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—declar
ing, that unless "mens' 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 findeth 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 of God, thou art the king of 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