George Hill.

Lectures in divinity (Volume 1) online

. (page 9 of 32)
Online LibraryGeorge HillLectures in divinity (Volume 1) → online text (page 9 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and whatever interpretation we give to these words


when tliey are spoken by the one sister, we cannot
avoid giving them the same when they are spoken
by the other. In this exhibition of the manner of
the two sisters there is so much of nature, and of
nature appearing strongly in minute circumstances,
as to be far superior to that truth of painting which
we admire in a fancied picture, and to carry with it
an internal evidence that John was a witness of what
he describes, and that his drawing is part of a scene
which, from the powerful, yet different emotions of
the two sisters, had made a deep impression upon his
feeling breast.

The next object which presents itself in this mo-
ral exhibition, is the character of the Apostles. The
Gosj)els present us with the most natural picture of
the Apostles ; their doubts, their fears, their slow-
ness of apprehension and of belief. By circumstances
that seem to be incidentally recorded, we see them
feeling and acting, not indeed in the manner which
would have occurred to a rude, unskilful hand, had
he attempted to draw those who were honoured with
being the comj^anions of Jesus, but in the manner
which any one intimately acquainted with the hu-
man heart will perceive to be the most natural for
men of their condition and education, and situated
as they were. We see them differing from one an-
other in sentiments and conduct, with the same kind
of variety which is observable amongst our neigh-
bours and companions, each preserving in every si-
tuation his peculiar character, and all at the same
time uniting in attachment to their master.

Although the companions of Jesus were interest-
ed in the fate of his friend Lazarus, yet they did not
understand the hints which our Lord gave them.


Although sleep is one of the most common images
of death, they suppose when Jesus says, " Our
friend Lazarus sleepeth," that he was enjoying a
refreshing sleep, by which nature was to work his
cure ; and not attending to the impropriety of Jesus
going a long way to awake him out of such a sleep,
they say, " Lord, if he sleep he shall do well."
When Jesus tells them plainly " Lazarus is dead,"
Thomas stands forth, and by one expression pre-
sents to us the same character which is more fully
unfolded in another chapter of this Gospel.*

All the disciples were filled with sorrow and de-
spair, when they saw their Master condemned, exe-
cuted, and laid in the tomb. " For as yet," says
John, " they knew not the Scripture that he must
rise again from the dead." At length, " Jesus came
and stood in the midst of them." " Then were the
disciples glad when they saw the Lord." It hap-
pened that Thomas was not present. And when
" the other disciples had said to him, we have seen
the Lord," his answer was, " Except I shall see in
his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger
into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into
his side, I will not believe." About eight days af-
ter, Jesus condescended to give him this proof.
" Reach hither," said he, " thy finger, and behold
my hands ; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it
into my side, and be not faithless but believing.
And Thomas answered and said. My Lord and my
God." He had felt doubts, but his heart appears
full of affection and reverence. Now, mark here
the same Thomas. The disciples were alarmed at

* John XX. 0, 19, 20, 21—28.


the danger of going back to Judea. They had tried
to dissuade their Master, but they find him fixed in
his purpose. " Lazarus is dead, nevertheless let us
go unto him. Then said Thomas unto his fellow-
disciples, let us also go, that we may die with him."
You see here the same warmth of temper, the same
firm determined mind which appeared at the other
time, but you see also the same defect of faith.
Thomas does not think it possible that Jesus could
shelter himself from the Jews. He does not see any
purpose that could be served by the journey. He
thinks Jesus is going to throw away his life. Yet
he resolves himself, and he encourages his fellow-
disciples not to part with him. Our Master makes
a sacrifice of his life. We have forsaken all and
followed him. Let us follow him also in this jour-
ney ; " let us go that we may die with him." It is
the strong effort of a mind which loved and vene-
rated Jesus, yet distrusted and did not know his
divine power: Thomas faithless, yet affectionate
and manly.

Such is the mixture of character which we often
meet with in common life. They who are most in-
timately acquainted with the workings of the hu-
man heart, and who have observed most accurately
the manners of those around them, will best perceive
the truth of that picture which the Evangelists
have drawn of themselves, and they will be sti*uck
with the force of that internal evidence for the Gos-
pel history which arises from this simple natural
record. We cannot attend to this picture without
recollecting the divine power which, out of these
feeble doubting men, raised the most successful in-
struments of spreading the religion of Jesus. There


was no want of faith after the day of Pentecost.
Thomas was one of that company which was assem-
bled, when they were all filled with the Holy Ghost ;
and he W»io now says, " Let us go and die with Je-
sus," with power gave witness of the resurrection of
the Lord.*

The principal object in this moral exhibition yet
remains. It is Jesus himself. The striking feature
throughout the whole is tenderness and love. But
we discern also prudence, fortitude, and dignity ;
and this chapter may thus serve as a specimen of
that most perfect and most difficult character, which
the Apostles were incapable of conceiving, and which,
had they conceived it, they would have been unable
to support in every situation with such exact pro-
priety, if they had not drawn it from the life.

After he receives the message from the sisters, he
relieves himself from the importunity of his disciples,
by an assurance which was sufficient to remove their
anxiety, and he lingers for two days in the place where
he was. The purpose of his lingering was, that La-
zarus might be truly dead, that he might not mere-
ly recover a man who was sick, but that he might
raise a man who had been in the grave. But this
lingering did not proceed from indifference. Mark
how beautifully the fifth verse is thrown in between
the assurance given to the discijjles, and the resolu-
tion to delay. He loved the family. He entered
into their sorrows. His sympathy for them, indeed,
yields to his prosecution of the great purpose for
which he came, yet his love is not the less for de-
lay. How tender and how soothing ! The merci-

* Acts iv. 31, 33.


ful High Priest, to whom Christians still send their
requests, is not forgetful, although he does not in-
stantly grant them. He loves and pities his own.
But he does not think their time always the best.
His own time for showing favour is set. No inter-
vening circumstance can prevent its coming ; and
when it arrives, they themselves will acknowledge
that it has been well chosen, and all their sorrow
will be forgotten and overpaid by the joy which is
brought to their souls. One of the finest moral les-
sons is conveyed by this delay of Jesus. It is pleas-
ing to act from kindness, compassion, and love.
But the excess of good affections may sometimes
mislead us ; and there are considerations of pru-
dence, of fidelity, and justice, which may give to the
conduct of the most tender-hearted man an appear-
ance of coldness and severity. The world may
judge hastily in such instances. But let every man
be satisfied in his own mind, first, that he has good
affections ; and next, that the considerations which
sometimes restrain the exercise of them, are such
that he need not be ashamed of their influence.

It is strongly marked in this moral picture, that
the delay of Jesus, although dictated by prudence,
did not proceed from any consideration of his per-
sonal safety. For, when the disciples represented
the danger of retiring to Judea, his answer is, " Are
there not twelve hours in the day ? If any man walk
in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the
light of this world. But if a man walk in the night,
he stumbleth, because there is no light in him." His
meaning is explained by other similar expressions.
The Jews divided the day both in summer and win-
ter into twelve hours, so that an hour with them


marked, not as with us, a certain portion of time,
but the twelfth part of a day, longer in summer, and
shorter in winter. The time of his life upon earth
was the day of Jesus, during which he had to finish
the work given him to do. While this day continued,
none of his enemies had power to take away his life,
and he had nothing to fear in fulfilling the com-
mandment of God. When this day ended, his work
ended also ; he fell indeed into the hands of his ene-
mies ; but he was ready to be offered up. And thus
in the same picture Jesus is exhibited as gentle, feel-
ing, compassionate to his friends, undaunted in the
face of his enemies, assiduous and fearless in work-
ing the work of Him that sent him. There shines
throughout the whole of this picture a dignity of
manner ; no indecent haste ; no distrust of his own
power ; a delay, which rendered one work more dif-
ficult, yet which is not employed in preparing for an
uncommon exertion. " Lazarus is dead, and I am
glad for your sakes, that I was not there, to the in-
tent ye may believe." He wishes to give his disciples
a more striking manifestation of his divine power ;
and the display is made for their sakes, not for his
own. With what awful solemnity does he unfold to
Martha his exalted character in these words : " I am
the resurrection and the life ; he that belie veth in
me, though he were dead, yet shall he live ; and
whosoever liveth, and believeth in me, shall never
die ;" and how suitably to the authority implied in
that character does he require from Martha a con-
fession of her faith in him ! Yet how easily does he
descend from this dignity to mingle his tears with
those of his friends. " When he saw Mary weeping,
and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he


groaned in the spirit, and was troubled :" and as they
led him to the sepulchre, " Jesus wept." How amia-
ble a picture of the Saviour of the world ! He found
upon earth an hospital full of the sound of lamenta-
tion, a dormitory in which some are every day fall-
ing asleep, and they who remain are mourning over
those who to them are not. He hath brought a cor-
dial to revive our spirits, while we are bearing our
portion of this general sorrow, and he hath opened
to our view a land of rest. But even while he is
executing his gracious purpose, his heart is melted
with the sight of that distress which he came to re-
lieve, and although he was able to destroy the king
of terrors, he was troubled when he beheld in the
company of mourners a monument of his power.
We do not read that Jesus ever shed tears for his
own suflferings. When he was going to the cross, he
turned round and said, " Daughters of Jerusalem,
weep not for me." But he wept over Jerusalem when
he thought of the destruction that was coming upon
it ; * and here the anguish of his friends draws from
him groans and tears. He was soon to remove their
anguish. But it was not the less bitter during its
continuance ; and it is the present distress of his
friends into which his heart enters thus readily.

Let the false pride of philosophy place the perfec-
tion of the human character in an equality of mind,
unmoved by the events that befal ourselves or others.
But Christians may learn from the example of him
who was made like his brethren, that the variety in
the events of life was intended by 'the author of na-
ture as an exercise of feeling ; that it is no part of

* Lukexxiii. 28;xix. 41.


our duty to harden our heart against the impressions
which they make, and that we need not be ashamed
of expressing what we feel. That God, who chastens
his children, loves a heart which is tender before
him ; and Jesus, who wept himself, commands us to
weep with them that weep. The tears shed are both
a tribute to the dead, and an amiable display of the
heart of the living, and they interest every spectator
in the persons from whom they flow.

Thus have we seen in this moral picture of the
character of Jesus, tenderness, compassion, prudence,
fortitude, dignity, " Christ, the power of God, and
the wisdom of God,"* the strength of an almighty
arm displayed by a man like his brethren, " the glory
of the only begotten of the Father, fuU of grace and
truth." f The assemblage of qualities is so uncom-
mon, and the harmony with which they are blended
so entire, that they convey to every intelligent reader
an impression of the divinity of our religion, and we
cannot contemplate this picture without feeling the
sentiment which was afterwards expressed by the
Centurion who stood over against the cross of Jesus :
" Truly this was the Son of God." t

II. Circumstances of the miracle.

Mr. Hume and other philosophers, both before and
after his time, have denied the conclusiveness of the
general argument from miracles, or they have en-
deavoured to destroy that evidence from testimony
upon which we give credit to the works recorded in
the Gospel. But there is a set of minute writers in
the deistical controversy, who have adopted a style

* 1 Cor. i. 24. + John i. 14. J Matt, xxvii. 54.


of philological or verbal objections, which would set
aside the truth of the record, not by any general rea-
soning, but by supposed instances of inaccuracy or
impropriety in particular narrations. This style of
objections enters into ordinary conversation ; it is
level to the understanding of many, who are incapa-
ble of apprehending a general argument ; and it is
the usual refuge of those who have nothing else to
oppose to the evidences of the Christian religion.

You will find objections of this kind occasionally
thrown out in many deistical writers. But they were
formed into a sort of system in a treatise published
about sixty years ago, by Mr. Woolston, and entitled,
" Discourses aipon the Miracles of our Saviour," a book
now very little known, but which drew great atten-
tion at the time, and was overpowered by a variety
of able answers. Mr. Woolston attempted to show
that the earliest and most respectable writers of the
Christian church understood the miracles of our Sa-
viour purely in an allegorical sense, as emblems of
the spiritual life ; and that there was good reason
for doing so, because the accounts, taken in a literal
sense, are absurd and incredible. He has been con-
victed by those who have answered him, of gross dis-
ingenuity in maintaining the first of his positions.
It is true that the fathers, even of the first century,
were led by their attachment to that philosophy in
which they had been educated, to seek for hidden
spiritual meanings in the plain historical parts of
Scripture. And Origen, in the third century, went
so far as to undervalue the literal sense in compari-
son with the allegorical, saying, " the Scriptures are
of little use to those who understand them as they


are written." * He has pursued this manner of in-
terpreting the miracles of our Saviour much farther
than became a sound reasoner. But although it ap-
peared to him more sublime and instructive than a
simple exposition of the facts recorded, yet it proceeds
upon a supposition of the truth of the facts ; and ac-
cordingly in his valuable work against Celsus the
Jew, where he answers the objections to the truth of
Christianity, and states with great force of reason
the arguments upon which our faith rests, he appeals
repeatedly to the miracles which Jesus did, which he
enabled his apostles to do, and some faint traces
of which remained in the days of Origen. He says
that the miracles of Christ converted nations, and
that it would have been absurd in the apostles to
have attempted the introduction of a new religion
without the help of miracles. Mr. Woolston, there-
fore, is left without the support of that authority
which he pleads ; for Origen, the most allegorical of
the fathers, even where he prefers the allegorical,
does not exclude the literal sense ; and his argumen-
tative discourse proceeds upon the acknowledged
truth of the facts recorded.

The second position does not profess to rest upon
the authority of any name, but upon the nature of
the narration, which, Mr. Woolston says, is so filled
with monstrous incredibilities and absurdities, that
the best way in which any person can defend it, is
by having recourse to the allegorical sense. But,
in this way, the argument from miracles is totally
lost, because, if we regard them not as facts, but as
a method of conveying spiritual instruction, the ap-

* Origen, Stromata, lib. x.


peal which Jesus continually made to the works that
he did, must appear to us chimerical or false. Al-
though, therefore, Mr. Woolston has the effrontery
to pretend a zeal for the honour of Jesus, in his at-
tempts to get rid of the difficulties arising from the
literal sense,, that literal sense must be defended by
every Christian.

It is impossible to lead you through all the objec-
tions which have been made by Woolston and other
writers. But I shall point out the sources from
whence satisfying answers may be drawn, and give
some specimens of the application of these sources.

The sources of answers are three : An intimate
acquaintance with local manners, customs, and pre-
judices — an analysis of the true meaning of the
words in the original — and a close attention to the
whole contexture of the narration.

1. An intimate acquaintance with local manners,
customs, and prejudices. One of the most satisfying
evidences of the authenticity of the books of the New
Testament, arises from their reference to the peculia-
rities of that country in which we say the authors
of them lived, a reference so exact, so uniform, and
extending to such minuteness, as to affprd conviction
to any person who considers it properly, that these
are not the production of a later age or another
country. This continual reference, while it is a proof
of their authenticity, colours every narration con-
tained in them, with circumstances which appear
strange to a reader who is not versant in Jewish an-
tiquities ; and this strangeness furnishes many ob-
jections to those who are themselves ignorant, or
who wish to impose upon the ignorance of others.
But the phantom is dissipated by that local know-


ledge which may be easily acquired and easily ap-

2. An analysis of the words in the original. Par-
ticular objections against the miracles of Jesus are
multiplied by this circumstance, that we read a nar-
ration of them, having a continual reference to an-
cient manners, not in the language in which it was
originally written, but in a translation. For, allow-
ing that translation all the praise that is due to it,
and it deserves a great deal, still it must happen that
the words in the translation do not always convey
precisely the same meaning with those to which they
correspond in the original. Different combinations
of ideas, and different modes of phraseology diversify
those words which answer the most exactly to one
another in different languages ; and although trans-
lations even under this disadvantage are sufficient to
give every necessary information to those who are
incapable of reading the original, yet we have expe-
rience, in reading all ancient authors, that the delicacy
of a sentiment and the peculiar manner of an action
may be so far lost by the words used in a translation,
that there is no way of answering objections ground-
ed upon the mode of exhibiting the sentiment or ac-
tion, but by having recourse to the original.

3. A close attention to the whole contexture of
the narration. Those who are forward to make ob-
jections, are not disposed to compare the different
parts of the narration, because it is not their business
to find an answer. They choose rather to lay hold
of particular expressions, and to give them the most
exceptionable form, by presenting them in a detailed
view. The beautiful simplicity of Scripture leaves
it very much exposed to this kind of objections.


When all the circumstances of a story are artfully
arranged, so as to have a visible reference to one an-
other, the manifest unfairness of attempting to pre-
sent a part of the story disjointed from the rest, be-
trays the design of a person who makes such an at-
tempt. But when the circumstances are spread care-
lessly through the whole narration, inserted by the
historian as they occurred to his observation or his
recollection, without his seeming desirous to pre-
possess the readers with an opinion that the story
is true, or aware that any objection could be raised
to it in this natural manner, which is the manner of
truth and the manner of Scripture, it is easy to raise
a variety of plausible objections ; and a connected
view of the whole is necessary in order to discern
the futility of them.

From these three sources answers may be drawn
to all the objections that have ever been made to the
literal sense of the miracles of Jesus. To show their
utility, I shall give a specimen of the application of
them to some of the objections which Mr. Woolston
has urged against three of the miracles of our Lord ;
the cure of the paralytic in the second chapter of
Mark, the turning of water into wine at Cana, in the
second chapter of John, and the resurrection of La-
zarus in the eleventh chapter.

" And again he entered into Capernaum, after
some days ; and it was noised that he was in the
house. And straightway many were gathered toge-
ther, insomuch that there was no room to receive
them, no, not so much as about the door : and he
preached the word unto them. And they come unto
him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne
of four. And when they could not come nigh unto


him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he
was : and when they had broken it up, they let down
the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay." *

Mr. Woolston says, in a mode of expression which
he uses without any scruple, this is the most mon-
strously absurd, improbable, and incredible of any,
according to the letter. If the people thronged so
much that those who bore the paralytic could not get
to the door, why did not they wait till the crowd
was dismissed, rather than heave up the sick man to
the top of the house with ropes and ladders, break
up tiles, spars, and rafters, and make a hole large
enough for the man and his bed to be let through to
the injury of the house, and the danger and annoy-
ance of those who were within ? A slight attention
to the ordinary style of architecture in Judea, and to
the words of the original, removes every appearance
of absurdity in the narration. The houses in Judea
were seldom more than two stories high, and the
roofs were always flat, with a battlement or parapet
round the edges, so that there was no danger in
walking or pitching a tent, as was often done upon
the roof. There was a stair within the house, which
led to a door that lay flat when it was not opened,
forming to all appearance a part of the roof, and was
secured by a lock or bolt on the inside, to prevent
its being readily opened by thieves. By this door
the inhabitants of the house could easily get to the
roof, and there was often a fixed stair leading to it
from the outside, or where that was wanting, a short
ladder was occasionally applied. Supposing, then,
the house mentioned by Mark to have been built af-

* Mnrk ii. 1—4.


ter this common fashion ; the court before it so full,
that it was not possible to get near the door of the
house ; the people so throng, and so earnest in list-
ening, that it was vain to think of their giving place
to any one ; in this situation, the four persons who
carried the palsied man upon a little couch, jtX/w?»ov,
think of going round to another part of the house,
at which by a stair or ladder they easily reach the

Online LibraryGeorge HillLectures in divinity (Volume 1) → online text (page 9 of 32)