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HISTORY OF JESUS CHRIST.
JOHN II. 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.
And the Jews' passover was at hand; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and found in the temple those
that sold oxen, and sheep, and doves, and the changers of money, sitting : and when he bad made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the lemple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; and said unto them that sold doves, take these things bence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise. And his disciples remembered that it was written, the zeal of thine house hath ealen me up.
Besides the usual, universal and fixed measurements of time, all men have a particular and personal standard of calculation and reference, namely, certain incidents of their own lives, to themselves inexpressibly momentous, however uninteresting to the rest of mankind. Thus a mother, with much accuracy and distinctness, refers every other event, of whatever magnitude and importance, to the respective dates of the birth of her children. The expiration of his time, as it is called, that is of his clerkship, or apprenticeship, forms an important epoch in the existence of a young man; and the fate of princes, and the revolutions of empire acquire, in his eyes, a peculiar consequence from their relation, in point of time, to that grand revolution in his own little state. The consecration of prelates and the inauguration of kings are, at once, public and private measures of duration. Every act of the state is dated by the year of the sovereign's reign. But human life admits not of a repetition of those more distinguished periods. They are remembered and referred to because they are rare. Were every day to exhibit a state-trial, hardly any, except the parties and their connections, would care to attend it, or think of setting a mark upon it.
There is one life, however, of which every hour is an epoch, of which every act is decisive, of which every event is highly and universally interesting, and of which every period is a “fulness of time." of this life each instant, each incident, every progressive step furnishes a theme for the tongues, for the pens of thousands of thousands of men and angels, and, when their stores are exhausted, it presents a subject as new, as important, as unbounded as it was at the beginning. The beloved disciple, having thrown his mite of information into the public treasury, concludes his gospel with declaring his belief, his deliberate conviction that the history of the life and actions of his divine Master was a subject infinite and inexhaustible. “There are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written ;” meaning undoubtedly, that the things which Jesus said and did were so many, so extraordinary, so significant, so efficient, as iafinitely to exceed human comprehension and belief. But wherefore should
the expression of the Evangelist be considered as hyperbolical, when we are told that ihese are the “things which the angels desire to look into ;” and when we reflect on the burihen of the eternal song of the redeemed, in heaven “ I heard,” says Joha, “the voice of many angels rouod about the throne, and the living creatures, and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands : saying with a loud voice, worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever."
From the marriage in Cana of Galilee, Jesus again "went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples : and they continụed there not many days.” How those days were employed we have seen in the preceding Lecture: in conducting the service of the synagogue, in cultivating the charities of private life, in secret devotion, in healing the sick, in casting out devils, in preaching the kingdom of God. Having made a progress of teaching and preaching over the cities and synagogues of Galilee, lle for the first time since he assumed a public character, went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of passover. Proserving the order of events as accurately as an attentive comparison of evangelist with evangelist enables us, we are now to contemplate an incident in our Lord's history marked with very peculiar features, and presenting a new and instructive opening into bis character, namely his purgation of the temple from the impurities with which it was profaned by an impious and infamous traffic.
From his earliest years the commanded solemnities of that sacred place were punctually observed. Whatever the law enjoined was to his infant state duly performed. While under parental authority, particularly when it led to the house and worship of God, He respectfully submitted to it. In the maturity of age, voluntary and cheerful obedience to the ordinances of heaven distinguished the great exemplar of decency and order. Through the goodness of God, we are delivered from all burdensome and costly attendance on the service of the temple. We are not called to wait upon God with rams and calves of a year old. Our husbandmen, manufacturers and merchants are not summoned, under severe penalties, several times in the year, to join in the worship of the metropolitan church, at a great expense of time aud substance. Is therefore the service of the Christian sancluary worthless and contemptible? Do we therefore requite the Lord of the sabbath with neglect and ingratitude? Do we therefore snuff at his bloodless sacrifices, and say, “ Behold, what a weariness is it ? and bring that which is torn, and the lame, and the sick for an offering ?” Dare Christian parents set the example to their children and dependants of irreligion and profanity, and, because they are set free from a costly ceremonial, and a superstitious observance of the sabbath, will they claim and assume an exemption from the offices and the spirit of piety, devotion and gratitude ? Liberated from an intolerable yoke of iron, disdain they to wear the honourable, the golden chains of love?
The Jewish ritual was at this period vilely profaned, and was rapidly hastening to dissolution. But so long as it is in force, our blessed Lord condescends to be the pattern of attention and respect to it. And yet, What a scene did the house of God then present! The forms of religion remained, but the power and glory had departed. The letter of the law was still held in affected veneration, but the spirit was completely evaporated. The sacrifices of the living and truc God' were shamefully prostituted to gratify the
most sordid of human passions, godliness was perverted into a mere instrument of filthy lucre, and the house of prayer was degraded into a den of thieves. And such is the fearful progress of moral corruption. Fervour gradually subsides into lukewarmness, and lukewarmness into cold. Indifference soon becomes mere formality, and formality is but a step from total neglect. Neglect degenerates into hatred and aversion, and an unhallowed zeal at length attempts to destroy what a zeal according to godliness once endeavoured to build up. What can be more opposite and unlike than devout worshippers engaged in a holy contention of gratitude, praise and love, striving who should present the most acceptable sacrifice to the Father of spirits ; and carnal, worldly minded formalists trying to overreach one another; the one eager to purchase the ox or the sheep for his offering at as cheap a rate as possible, and the other 10 seli it at the highest price. And the very court of the temple is made the open theatre of this abominable commerce.
Before thou listest up thy hand, Oman, to scourge out those impious, sordid, profane Jews, pause, and look into thine own heart. Is no unholy traffic going on there ? Knowest thou not that thine own body is the temple of the living God? Whose altar, then, is reared up in that sacred edifice of God's own building ; and what incense smokes upon it? Say, is the name of Mammon inscribed there? Does sensuality there celebrate no nocturnal revels? What, shall the palace of the great King be transformed into “a cage of every unclean and hateful bird ! Or, with the superstitious Athenian, art thou ignorantly bowing down before an unknown God ?". Thou reguJarly observest the hour, and frequentest the house of prayer; but is there no table of “the money-changer” lurking in some obscure corner ? Didst thou leave the world at the door on coming in? Why wander these eyes abroad over thy neighbour's garb and appearance? They ought to be fixed on " thy Father who is in secret," and who “seeth in secret.” Dost thou too "offer the sacrifice of fools ?” Darest thou approach the altar of God, conscious that thou art not yet reconciled to thy brother ? Thé gift in thy hand is polluted; presume not to offer it. “Leave it before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”
It was the court of the Gentiles which this scandalous trade thus shamefully profaned, by the buying and selling of sheep, and oxen, and doves; and by the exchange of foreign for current coin, and of money of a higher for that of a lower denomination. And thus not only was the worship of the great Jehovah debased and perverted, but the minds of decent and devout strangers, who had come to Jerusalem for to worship,” must have been grievously shocked and scandalized, to the utter extinction of every serious and devotional impression. This it was which excited a holy and just indignation in the Son of God; in beholding the temple violated, the sacrifices of God defiled, and a stumbling block laid in the way of proselytes, by men invested with a sacred character.
“ And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables ; and said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise." This discloses a new and singular exhibition of our blessed Lord's spirit and temper. No personal injury or insult could provoke one expression of rescntment. He "gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: he hid not his face from shame and spitting :" you have heard of the meekness of Moses, and of the patience of Joh. But what are they to the patience, meekness and gentleness of Christ ? Nevertheless these gracious qualities have a boundary. There are occasions where the exercise of them would cease to be virtue, and where a man would “do well to be
angry." Wanton, deliberate profanation of the name, the day, the house of the Lord, is one of those occasions which justify severity. A commanding dignity, an irresistible glory must have occasionally beamed from the person of our Lord, which overawed and intimidated the beholder. How is it possible otherwise to account for the quiet submission of those men to corporal chastisement. They were many in number; they had a common interest to bind them to each other; they were in hitherto unquestioned possession of the ground; their property was concerned ; they had the connivance at least, if not the permission of the higher powers. He was alone, unknown, unconnected, unsupported. But they cannot stand the lightning of his eye, his voice strikes horror into their guilty consciences. They presume not to reason or to resist, but tamely give up their painful traffic abashed and confounded. Thus the multitude that came with Judas to take Jesus, though furnished “with lanterns, and torches, and weapons," were so overwhelmed by the majesty of his appearance, that “as soon as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward and fell to the ground." And if such were the glory with which he sometimes invested himself, in his state of humiliation, what must be the glory of his second coming “ with clouds," when “every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him ?"
What a severe reproof was this action of our Lord, of the carelessness and indifference of the high-priest, and of the other ministers of religion? To them it belonged to guard the sanctity of the temple and of its worship. The dignity of their own station and character suffered, when the house of God was violated. Is it doing them injustice to suspect that they partook of the profits of this illicit trade? If this suspicion be well founded, the grossest enormity is immediately accounted for. When the love of money has once taken possession of the heart, no tie of religion or morality is binding. Conscience, sense of honour, sense of decency, sense of duty, all, all is sacrificed at the shrine of this insatiate demon, which never says “it is enough.” At those seasons the demand for cattle to be offered in sacrifice must have been very great. Josephus, in his Wars of the Jews, informs us, that no less than two hundred and fifty-six thousand and five hundred victims were presented at one passover. A small share of the gains upon such an extensive consumption, must therefore have amounted to a very large sum. What a confederacy, then, had the zeal and intrepidity of Christ to encounter! a whole host of inhuman, un feeling dealers in flesh, actuated by the basest and most unrelenting of human passions, and leagued with a timeserving priesthood who put every thing up to sale.
We have before us a striking and an encouraging instance of the power and influence of one person of inflexible integrity, in a corrupted state of society. He may singly and successfully oppose a torrent of iniquity. Vice is timid when directly attacked. “ The wicked flee,” saith the wise man, " when no one pursueth, but the righteous are bold as a lion." Irresistible is the force of truth and conscience. “ Is not my word like as fire ? saith the Lord ; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces ?” “The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heari.” This is the weapon which our Master wielded, together with the “ scourge of small cords.” Smilten at once in their persons and in their consciences, they retreat with shame from the field, acknowledging, feeling the superiority of real goodness. Thus then learn, O man, to arm thyself, and say, the Lord God will help me ; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.” From the inexhaustible stores of Scripture draw thy resources for the warfare, and thou
shalt find thyself invincible. What has he to fear, who is conscious of the goodness of his cause, who employs “the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God," and who goes forth conquering and to conquer in full confidence of divine conduct and support:
It is evident from the.censure pronounced upon the violators of the temple, that their trade was every way unlawful. This transaction is recorded by all the four Evangelists with little if any variation. And by comparing them together we shall find, that the abuse exposed and condemned was a horrid mixture of impiety and dishonesty, of contempt of God, and robbery of man. Not only was “the house of prayer for all nations" abominably polluted by what fell from the flocks and herds for sacrifice, but it was literally perverted into" a den of thieves,” who had entered into a wicked combination to prey upon the public, by enhancing the price of an article which was at once a necessary of life and of religion. These two enormities, however, generally go hand in hand. If there is no fear of God before a man's eyes, his neighbour has but a slender hold upon either his veracity or integrity, when the falsehood may be uttered, or the fraud committed without danger of detection. And, on the other hand, he who deliberately practises deceit upon “ his brother whom he hath seen,” cannot have a very high degree of reverence for “ God whom he hath not seen."
While we contemplate with shame and sorrow the corruptions which disgraced the Jewish Church, is it possible to refrain from lamenting the equally deplorable corruptions which have disfigured the hallowed form of Christianity ? Did not all history attest the truth of it, who would believe that there was a long period, not yet quite expired in some parts of Christendom, and that there was a succession of priest, called Christians, who presumed, for a piece of money, to grant a man indulgence to commit every species of wickedness, which his corrupt heart might suggest, and for any given period, with complete impunity? Who could beliere that this priest, in consideration of something cast into his treasury, would take upon him to issue a pardon of the most attrocious offences, and thereby screen the vilest of offenders from punishment; nay, confer the power of pardoning on stone walls and lifeless altars? The murderer who smote his brother to death in the open street, in broad day, had but to step into the next church, and it stood always open on purpose, to be protected from the vengeance of the law. Who could believe that a present or bequest to the Church was considered as a full compensation for all the crimes of a life of violence, and rapine, and blood, and as a fair passport to the kingdom of heaven? That such things should ever have existed is most wonderful; that they should have maintained their ground over all Europe for many centuries together is most wonderful. But the scandalous usurpation is hastening to a close. And with the downfal of popery; may every remaining errour in the doctrinè, discipline and practice of the churches of the Reformation finally terminate.
The disciples of our Lord possessed one great preparatory qualification for the exercise of their future ministry, acquaintance with the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Struck with this display of their Master's zeal for the honour of God, and for the purity of Temple-worship, they call to rememberance a text from the Psalms of David, which appeared to them a prefiguration of what had just passed. “And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up." We pretend not to affirm that, the words of the Psalmist amount to a prediction of what Christ felt, and said, and did upon this occasion. Darid unquestionably uttered his own feelings, though there was as yet no temple at Jerusalem dedicated to the most High God. But the expression amounts to this: Whatever affects the character and worship of Deity, I make my personal concern. " The zeal of