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We have a strange instance of the force of prejudice in Thomas a disciple of Jesus, and unquestionably a sincerely good and upright man. He had heard all that Christ had before said of his dying, and rising again from the dead. He had also been assured by the other disciples, that they had seen the Lord since his crucifixion. They whom he well knew, whose honesty he had no ground to suspect, whose prejudices too had prevailed greatly, say to him: "We have seen the Lord." Here are ten witnesses concerning a point about which they could not be easily deceived. And very probably, some others, who had seen Christ separately, told him the same thing. Nevertheless, he did not believe them. Nor would he believe, he said, unless he should himself see and touch the marks of his crucifixion. Thus acted this person, because of some prejudices, too much favoured and indulged. Nevertheless Jesus did not give him up to his unbelief. But he comes again among his disciples, and at a time when Thomas was with them. He shows himself to him, speaks to him, and discovers the strange and positive demand that he had made for his satisfaction.
In like manner, may some others, good and sincere men, reject a sufficient evidence of some truths, on account of prejudices, which have been long and deeply rooted in their minds.
When this is the case, though they should withhold their assent to the first representation of the evidences of some truth; it may not be always reasonable to give them up. It may be fit to take some other opportunity to repeat the evidence or to set it before them in a different light, or to add new and farther proofs if they can be had. It is a kind and generous work, to carry men on from truth to truth, and bring them to a persuasion of every truth, conducive to the enlargement of their minds, and the increase and perfection of their virtue.
Thomas was a Jew and a good man, and believed the general articles of religion. But our Lord does not leave him there. For his own benefit, and the benefit of others, he affords him evidences of his resurrection, till he is convinced: that thereby he might have farther evidences of a future state, and be acquainted with all the inducements to virtue, and steadiness therein, which would flow from a belief of his resurrection: and might be also able to recommend them to others.
You know how St. Paul solemnly exhorts Timothy. "Preach the word," says he, "be instant in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine,” 2 Tim. iv. 1, 2.
4. We may infer from the declaration of our Lord in the text, that the Divine Being in his acceptance of men, and in the recompenses he bestows upon them, has a respect to their several circumstances, and their suitable improvements.
It is a general maxim, mentioned by our Lord. Luke xii. 48. "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required. And to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more."
The doctrine of the text is to the like purpose. Our Lord pronounceth a special blessing upon such as have not seen, and yet have believed. He that did not see, has not all the same inducements to believe that Thomas had, who saw Christ after his resurrection. In this respect he excels Thomas, who believed upon the evidence of sight, and not before.
If then any one, with less and fewer advantages, attain to an equal degree of faith and virtue with him who has more and greater advantages, he is more commendable, and will be more blessed than the other.
It was very fit that all the apostles of Jesus should have the highest evidence; that they might give the best satisfaction to others concerning his resurrection, and that they might all be eminent examples of zeal, patience and fortitude.
And yet he who with less advantages equals them in zeal, patience and fortitude, may be reckoned to exceed and excel them.
We hereby see how difficult it must be to answer that question: "Who shall be greatest in the kingdom of heaven," Matt. xviii. 1; a question which the disciples put to our Saviour, when their notions of that kingdom were too worldly and sensual. The question is still very difficult, though our ideas are enlarged: nor can we say, "who shall be greatest in the kingdom of heaven;" or whence that person shall come: Whether from among those who lived in the time of our Saviour, who heard the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth, and saw the wonderful works that he did; and thereby were filled with a lively faith in God, and in the Son of God, and were excited to labour, and endure hard things for his name's sake. Whether I say,
he shall be one of those who "have seen, and therefore believed;" or whether he will be one of those "who have not seen, and yet have believed." Whether he may be one who lives in latter times, and by serious and humble inquiry and consideration arrives at a faith of equal strength and activity with those of the more early ages of the gospel, and labours, and suffers, and dies as they did.
Or, whether he shall come from among those, who under the obscurer revelations of the divine will, before the coming of Christ, arrived at eminence in all virtue and holiness.
Or, finally, whether he shall come from some of the dark places of the earth, where scarcely one ray of divine revelation has reached: and be a person, who under the greatest disadvantages for religious knowledge, arrived at some considerable justness of sentiments concerning God, and the way of serving him, and has been there an example of virtue to the men among whom he lived; who had sought, and found, and acknowledged the one God, Creator of the universe, and under great discouragements recommended the worship of God, and the practice of virtue.*
But though we cannot say who will be the greatest, we know, that "whoever hears Christ's sayings, and doth them," Matt. v. 19; whoever sincerely "keeps the commandments of God, shall be great in the kingdom of heaven," ch. vii. 24. And we know what are the virtues, and what the works which are in high esteem with the Saviour and Judge of the world: "feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and such as are in prison" (especially when it is for a good cause) and other like offices of benevolence to our fellow-creatures in this state
Upon the whole, then, let us cherish and improve a faith of invisible things, by serious and impartial consideration; and attending to the evidence which God has given us: which, though not the highest, is very cogent and sufficient. And let us be concerned to shew our faith by works suited to the doctrine of Christ, which we have received, and all the advantages which we enjoy.
JESUS THE SON OF MAN.
And he said unto the disciples: The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and ye shall not see it. Luke. xvii. 22.
THE words of the text are owing to an inquiry concerning the time of the manifestation of the kingdom of the Messiah; accompanied, it is likely, with indications of their prevailing prejudice concerning its worldly nature. Ver. 20. "And when he was demanded of the pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come; he answered them, and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:" or with the outward pomp and splendour, visible in earthly king. doms, exciting wonder and surprise, attracting the eyes, and pleasing the passions of carnal and worldly people.
Ver. 21. "Neither shall they say, Lo here, or lo there for the kingdom of God is within you." Neither will it come after the manner of worldly kingdoms, set up by a great leader, to whose standard all should be invited to resort, to put themselves under his protection, in order to join in advancing it, and share in its emoluments and advantages. "For behold the kingdom of God," though you are not pleased to regard it, and the signs of it are such as you disdain to
a Whoever places the true moral worth and excellence where it ought to be placed, I mean, not in the soundness of the head, but in the soundness of the heart, will easily discern, how possible it is for one professor, that is furnished with the scantiest stock of knowledge, to be a far better, worthier and more amiable character in life, than another who is possessed of the greatest. And if God, in the great day of tribulation, will render to every one according to his work; for the same
reason it is not impossible, after all our boasted advantages in point of knowledge, but that a man, cast upon the most barbarous and illiterate part of the globe, may come off with more applause at that impartial tribunal, than our Clarkes, Newtons, or any other the most distinguished characters, whether of the philosophic, religious, or civil kind.' Dr. J. N. Scott. Serm, xx. vol. ii. p. 416, 417.
observe, is within you, or among you. It is already begun to be set up, the kingdom of the Messiah is come, the doctrine of it is preached, the rules, and the rewards and privileges of it are published. And it is received by some, who even press into it, and are the willing subjects of it: and rejoice in and shall partake of all its blessings and privileges.
So the kingdom of God was then among them: but not literally within the persons to whom Christ was speaking, as some have thought. For if our Lord be supposed to speak directly to the pharisees, or of them, this kingdom was not within them. It had not gained power in their minds, nor been received and acknowledged by them.
Ver. 22-25. "And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it. And when they shall say unto you, See here, or see there" [looking for the appearance of the Messiah] "go not after them, nor follow them for as the lightning that lightens out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven, so shall also the Son of man be in this day:" his kingdom will prevail on a sudden, and his doctrine will make a swift and amazing progress in a very short time, beyond expectation, and without the ordinary methods made use of in advancing worldly designs and interests. "But first he must suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation." So is the context.
In considering the words of this text there offer to us three several subjects of inquiry. 1. How are we to understand that character, the Son of man? 2. Who are the persons here spoken to, and said to be the disciples? 3. What our Lord says to them, or the design of this warning and prediction: "Ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it."
I. The first subject of inquiry is, how we ought to understand that character, the Son of man? And as it is frequently used by our Lord in speaking of himself, we may be desirous to determine the meaning of it. But here, as in many other cases, where certainty would be. desirable, it is not a little difficult to find what shall be decisive.
Son of man is often in scripture equivalent to man. Job xxxv. 8. "Thy wickedness may hurt a man as thou art, and thy righteousness may profit the son of man." Ps. viii. 4. "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him?" And Prov. viii. 4, says Wisdom: "Unto you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men:" or to all men in general, and of every rank, to whom my instructions will be useful, Isa. li. 12. « I, even I am he, which comforteth thee. Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man, that shall die, and of the son of man, which shall be made as grass?" And in like manner in many other places. See particularly Jer. xlix. 18, 33; ch. 1. 40; li. 43. This then is one common, obvious meaning of son of man. It is the same as man.
Some think that the son of man, when used by our Saviour, denotes his high dignity, or a man of distinction and eminence, and is equivalent to Messiah, or the Christ: and that he hereby intends to signify, that he is the great person spoken of by the prophets, who was to come for the benefit of mankind. And indeed in Dan. vii. 13, 14, is this remarkable prophecy: "I saw in the night visions. And behold, one like unto the son of man," or like to a son of man, "came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion and glory, and a kingdom, that all people and nations and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." And our Lord is supposed to allude to this prophecy upon a very memorable occasion: when being before the high priest, he adjured him, saying: "Tell us, whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him: Thou hast said. Nevertheless I say unto you: Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." Matt. xxvi. 63, 64. See also Mark xiv. 61, 62.
The Son of man, then, when used by our Saviour in speaking of himself, may denote his great character, the promised Messiah. This sense I do not absolutely reject, and it may be embraced by those to whom it approves itself.
Nevertheless there are some exceptions to be made against its being equivalent to Messiah, and against its being what our Lord intends thereby.
It seems to me, that the forecited text from Daniel is not a sufficient foundation for this opinion. The phrase is no where used in Daniel, but in the place just taken notice of, and in a Illud eros pav recte vertitur in medio vestri. Conf. Matt. xxi. 43. Grot. in loc. 2 C
oné more; ch. viii. 17. Where an angel says to Daniel himself: "Understand, O son of man. For at the time of the end shall be the vision."
Though therefore in the other place of Daniel those words, "there came one like the Son of man," intend Jesus, the Messiah; it does not follow, that it is equivalent to Messiah, and is used by our Lord in that sense.
Another difficulty there is, which must be reckoned of some moment. Our Lord very often speaks of himself in the character of the Son of man. But yet he declined to own himself publicly, and ordinarily, to be the Messiah. There is a text in Matt. xvi. 13-16, which is observable. "When Jesus came into the coast of Cesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying: Whom do men say, that I the Son of man am?" After they had mentioned the opinions of others concerning him, he asks their own. Whereupon "Peter answered: Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." It seems therefore, that the Son of man, and the Christ, are not equivalent, and that the phrase is not so used by our Lord.
Moreover, if it had, it is likely, that the disciples and others would have often spoken of our Lord in that character, and would sometimes have made their profession of him in such words, saying, that they believed him to be the Son of man: whereas there is not one such instance in the gopels, and but one in the Acts of the apostles; ch. vii. 56, where St. Stephen says: "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." This phrase is also found in Rev. i. 13, and ch. xiv. 14.
It should be here observed by us, that man, and Son of man, with the Hebrews, often denote a man of low condition. "Hear this, all ye people,both low and high, rich and poor toge ther," Ps. xlix. 1, 2. The original Hebrew word rendered by us low is sons of Adam: evidently meaning men of obscure birth and low rank, or mean condition. 66 Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him? or the son of man, that thou takest account of him?" Ps. cxliv. 3. Where the Psalmist intends to represent the human meanness and wretchedness.
Farther, it is observed by learned commentators, that this denomination is given to some prophets, with this view, and in this sense, particularly to Daniel and Ezekiel. However, I think, it is but once applied to Daniel, and in the place before mentioned. But to Ezekiel very frequently. "And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious house," Ezek. ii. 3. And in like manner, very often in that book, almost in chapter of it, and in some chapters several times. And it is said by those commentators, that this expression is there used with a design to admonish those prophets of their meanness and frailty, as men. Our Lord therefore by this phrase or character represents that humbling of himself, which is spoken of by the apostle in the second chapter to the Philippians, and is the same with what is said in Is. liii. 3," he is despised, and rejected of men," or is one of the lowest and meanest of men.
Our Lord adopts this character in speaking of himself, in order to undeceive the Jews, and correct their false opinion concerning the kingdom of the Messiah, and to intimate, that he was not to arrive at glory, and the full possession of his kingdom, but through sufferings and
Thus argue those interpreters, and, as seems to me, very cogently. And therefore, if Son of man be equivalent to Messiah, it is not used to denote his dignity, as the first and greatest of men, but rather to signify his humble form and low condition, in which he then lived and is expressive of the scorn and contempt which was cast upon him, and in which he acquiesced.
Moreover, possibly, our Lord frequently makes use of this expression, to denote his real humanity, and also that he was not made and created as Adam, but was a man born even of a woman.
Once more, it seems to me, that our Lord takes this character as a modest way of speaking. Eminent and distinguished persons, who have many occasions to speak of themselves, especially if it be to their advantage, decline the too frequent use of the phrases I and me, and choose to speak in the third person, as of another, distinct from themselves.
Having mentioned all these several observations concerning this title and character, let us now take notice of some of the places of the evangelists where it is used.
Matt. xx. 17, 18. "And Jesus going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them: Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and scribes, and they shall deliver him unto the Gentiles." Here, and in
other places our Lord may be supposed to make use of this expression, as a modest way of speaking. So also in John i. 51. "Thou shalt see greater things than these.Hereafter shall ye see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." Which must be reckoned more agreeable to decorum, than to say upon me. John xii. 23. And "Jesus answered them, saying: The hour is come that the Son of man shall be glorified." Which likewise must be allowed by all to be more agreeable than to say: "When I am to be glorified."
And in the text. "The days are coming, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man.". Our Lord might have said," one of my days." We actually have that expression in John viii. 5, 6. "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day. And he saw it, and was glad." But he might choose, generally, to speak in the other way, especially as the title, Son of man, carried in it no ambitious aspiring meaning, but rather denoted a mean condition, as was before shewn.
Therefore let us observe a few more passages of the evangelists, where this character occurs. It seems to be used in the same manner in the text above cited. "Whom do men say, that I the Son of man," who appear in so mean a form, "am?" So likewise John v. 27. "And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man:" that is, as seems to me, because of his present willing humiliation and abasement. So St. Paul, Philip. ii. 8, 9, having spoken of our Lord's "humbling himself unto death," adds: "wherefore God also has exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name."
Matt. xxvi. 63, 64. "The high priest answered, and said unto him: I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us, whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus said unto him: Thou hast said. Nevertheless I say unto you: Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man," that is, him, who now is in so low a condition, so humbled and abased," sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven."
And when St. Stephen says, Acts vii. 56, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God:" it is likely that he refers to our Lord's mean con dition in this world, and the base treatment which he had received from the Jewish people. But though once he had been so low, he was now exalted.
And some judicious expositors think, that the title is to be understood as used with this view in that noted place of Daniel: "I beheld and one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven." He had a humble appearance, but he was greatly honoured and exalted. "He came
on the clouds of heaven," and an extensive and everlasting dominion was given to him.
This title, then, being expressive of humility and abasement, is very fitly adopted by our Lord, in representing the glory conferred on him by the Father, of which he was obliged to speak, and to inform his disciples about it. Matt. xiii. 41. "The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend." Matt. xvi. 28. "Verily I say unto you: There are some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." Matt. xxv. 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 his glory."
These are the observations which have been mentioned for illustrating this title and character, so often made use of by our Lord when speaking of himself.
It sometimes denotes in scripture man in general, or any man. It is also used for a man of low condition. And for that reason, probably, is frequently used by our Lord in speaking of himself, as expressive of the low estate, in which he, the Messiah then was, and in which he willingly acquiesced. It was a modest way of speaking, and was suited to admonish the Jewish people, and correct their mistaken apprehensions concerning the worldly nature of his kingdom: and to intimate, that, as Messiah, he must suffer before he was advanced to glory. Moreover, such being his condition in this world, his followers also should expect the like, and be willing to submit to afflictions and trials here, that they may be thereby farther prepared and qualified for heavenly glory and happiness.
II. The second thing to be considered by us is, who are the persons to whom our Lord here speaks.
"And he said unto the disciples." Possibly, we need not thereby understand the twelve apostles. The word is sometimes used concerning the followers of Jesus in general, and of some who were not sincere, or well instructed, who attended on him for a while only, and with worldly