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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 a 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. Notwithstanding 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.35-38.
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 shouldest 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 were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought, that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. And the next sabbath-day came almost the whole city to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting, and blaspheming. But the Gentiles rejoiced, and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as were ordained," or disposed, or prepared," for eternal life, believed."
All which was often prophetically represented beforehand by our Lord in divers of his beautiful parables. With regard to this event, he also said: "The first will be last, and the last first." And after the commendation of the centurion's faith: "I say unto you, That many shall come from the east, and from the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But
the children of the kingdom," who had so many superior advantages, "shall be cast out into outer darkness."
Thus I have endeavoured to explain the nature of the violence, which our Lord here speaks of, and have mentioned some instances of it.
To use the words of a pious and pathetic writer,b upon this subject: Now it was, that multitudes should throng ' and crowd to enter in at the strait gate, and press into the kingdom; and the younger brother should snatch the inheritance from the elder; the unlikely from the more 'likely; the Gentiles from the Jews, the strangers from the 'natives, and publicans and sinners from the scribes and pharisees. Who like violent men shall by their importunity, obedience, watchfulness and diligence, snatch the 'kingdom of heaven from those to whom it was first offered.' APPLICATION. I shall now conclude with a few remarks, tending to illustrate this argument, and to confirm the explication which has been given of the text.
1. From what has been said, we may perceive, that when our Lord says, the kingdom of heaven" suffers violence, and the violent take it by force;" the primary meaning of "the kingdom of heaven" is "the kingdom of God" under the Messiah, or the gospel-dispensation. But as embracing the doctrine of the gospel, and obeying its rules and precepts, is the sure way to obtain the happiness of heaven; it is also true, that the future happiness is likely to be the portion of those who practise the zeal and resolution here intended.
2. True christians are the most unlikely of any men, to do any wrong, or violence to others, for the sake of the honours, riches, or other advantages of this world. For they are men, who take the kingdom of heaven by violence. Truth, the principles of religion, improvement in virtue, and the future everlasting happiness, are the things they are most intent upon; for the promoting, and securing of which, they are willing to part with all earthly advantages, if the circumstances of things should require it.
3. It may be observed that the several kinds of violence which have been mentioned, as intended in these expressions, may be all found united in one and the same person. He may resolve to deny irregular appetites and affections, and bring them into conformity to the strictest rules of virtue. He may embrace the principles of religion, contrary to former prejudices, and notwithstanding external difficulties and discouragements. The same person may do Dr. Jer. Taylor, in his Life of Christ.