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report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him. Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
The Prophet Isaiah,'- so the Evangelist interprets him,is by anticipation viewing this time, and marvels that so few believed what the Prophets had spoken; marvels that though Christ displayed such power, the people would not acknowledge it to be Divine. "It was designed that the fulfilment of these various predictions should form a part of the evidence of the Divine authority of the Gospel. . . . . . They did not happen because they were foretold; but they were for the wisest purposes foretold, because it was foreseen that they would happen."3 The Evangelist, continuing his comment on the apparent failure of the Lord's ministry, proceeds to make another citation from the same Prophet. Before he had said, "They did not believe;" here he adds, They could not believe." For this is the exact order of the Divine judgment. If a man wilfully shuts his eyes to
The words are cited also in Rom.
xi. 8. Bp. Wordsworth reminds us that St. John here applies to the Son what St. Paul (Acts xxviii. 25) refers to the Spirit; while the original passage of the Prophet (Is. vi. 1 ff. with which compare Rev. iv. 8 ff.) commemorates the Holy Trinity.
2 St. John v. 36; x. 25, 36-38; xiv. 10, 11; xv. 24.
3 Bp. Tomline in D'Oyly and Mant. "Utterly absurd, of course, would be the supposition, that an inspired writer could wish to imply that a spirit of unbelief had been enforced upon the Jews in order to save the credit of one of God's ancient Prophets. . . . The
prophecy depended on the event; it did not make it."-A Plain Commentary. Concerning however the questions which have been raised here, we must content ourselves with remembering, as South says (Ser. lxvii.) "that they are in the number of those mysterious things, which it surpasses the wisdom of man to give an account of." But as Chalmers (Lectures on Butler's Anal. ch. i.) observes, "There is no danger of a conflict between reason and revelation, when reason keeps within her proper sphere, and proceeds aright on the knowledge and observation of her own limits."
the truth, God may seal those rebel eyes in a confirmed blindness. First the man will not see; afterwards it may be he can not. Pharaoh hardens his heart wilfully, before God hardens it judicially. The words "refer not to the cause of their unbelief, but to the event. For it was not because Isaiah spake that they believed not; but it was because they were not about to believe that he spake. What Isaiah foretold fell not out otherwise but as he said. . . . So in many places he is wont to term choice, power.... Because they will not, therefore they cannot." 1 The Prophet tells us it was the glory of the Lord, Jehovah, that he saw in heavenly vision. The Evangelist tells us it was the glory of Christ. The conclusion is inevitable, that Christ is God. Isaiah's vision of God's glory, St. John's testimony to our Lord's divinity, here meet. That the people were not restrained by any unalterable decree from believing in the Lord is clear from what the Evangelist is careful to add, the fact, namely, that some of them actually did believe in Him; some even of the rulers; though their belief indeed was not worth much, as it did not lead them to confess Him." Already we have heard that impious decree of the Jewish Council, that they should be excommunicated who acknowledged Him to be the Christ. The short-lived breath of human applause prevailed with these men more than the approving voice of God."
THE POWER OF FAITH.
St. Mark xi. 20-26.
And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
His Disciples had heard what their Lord had said to the fruitless, leafy tree,' but they returned that evening to Bethany at too late an hour to note the effect that followed. St. Matthew, connecting cause with effect, "concerned for the inner idea," tells the whole story at once, and hastens on to the end, "omitting circumstances which came between." 3 From his account we learn what followed, while the Lord with His Disciples pursues the path to Jerusalem. The sentence is passed. The Judge leaves the judgment seat. The Court is cleared. Straightway "a shuddering fear "4 runs through all its leaves. They drop as in the end of autumn; those leaves it put forth so bravely, as though this were all that was required of it. It is smitten root and branch; "at Thy rebuke, O Lord, at the blasting of the
1 St. Mark xi. 14, p. 194 above.
2 Abp. Trench.
Abp. Trench, who seems to have in mind the sensation of Sinon, Vir. En. ii. 120.
breath of Thy displeasure." And "yet this barren fig-tree, withered by Christ's word, bears fruit for ever in the garden of Holy Scripture, by the warning it gives." As this figtree which failed of fruit presently lost even its leaves, so shall all hypocrites be unmasked. There shall not be left so much as a leaf to hide their lack of fruit. So was it with that Jewish Church of old. They had no fruit to show, and so the fig-leaves in which they gloried, and with which, Adam-like, they sought to cover their spiritual nakedness, even these were withered. All the glories of their state fell like autumn leaves. Their religion was thus represented. It was foliage without fruit. It all went to leaf. Like this tree "beguiling the hungry passer-by to quit the road and come and look for fruit, and then baulking him with barrenness." The Disciples, we find, marvelled that a tree they had lately seen looking so luxuriant should so soon be withered away. But Peter calls to remembrance what all had heard the day before, and seems to ask his Master for explanation. The Lord leaves the parabolic miracle to speak for itself. It proclaims its own moral. This former lesson of faith is the only one He now expressly draws from it; adding those words concerning prayer so closely connected
1 Bp. Wordsworth.
2 Henry, who contrasts the miracle of Aaron's dry rod that budded in a night (Num. xvii. 8) with this of the green tree which was dried up in a day. In our Lord's words (St. Luke xxiii. 31) some have seen an allusion to this present miracle.
3 St. Matt. xxi. 20.
4 "His followers were evidently profoundly unconscious of the symbolic character of the transaction . . . and beheld in it simply an act of wondrous power. The Holy One, ever condescending to the infirmity of His creatures, is therefore silent concerning the typical character of His recent act, (which He leaves for the Divine Illumination of a subsequent day to explain ;) but in the meantime proceeds to impart to His Disciples as much of heavenly wisdom as they show them
selves able to bear. They have inquired how such wonders are wrought? and He answers them, as He virtually did on a former occasion, by bidding them have faith in God.' Then because Prayer is the very language of Faith, He makes the lesson yet more practical by straightway discoursing concerning Prayer."-A Plain Commentary.
5 St. Matt. xvii. 20. If the Lord's words here had been recorded only by St. Mark, there are not wanting critics who would not have failed to charge him (seeing St. Mark does not add the saying after the miracle of healing the lunatic child) with having mistakenly inserted them here. Happily however St. Matthew (xxi. 21) also records this repetition of His former saying, showing in the same words what the Disciples still had need of,
with it, and concerning a forgiving spirit of which He saw they had reason to be reminded.' He pointed, it might be, to the Mount of Olives, at whose foot they then were, as before to the Mount of Transfiguration. The all things we ask in faithful prayer must of course, from the analogy of Scripture, be understood with this limitation, that they are according to the wise will of God.
TEACHING IN THE TEMPLE.
St. Mark xi. 27; St. Luke xix. 47, 48; St. John xii. 44-50.
St. Mark xi.-And they come again to Jerusalem :
St. Luke xix. And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him, and could not find what they might do for all the people were very attentive to hear him.
St. John xii.-Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save
1 St. Matt. vi. 14, 15; xviii. 35. 2 Bunyan in his Grace Abounding (p. 51) narrates of himself, "The tempter came in with his delusion, "That there was no way for me to know I had faith, but by trying to work some miracles;' urging those Scriptures that seem to enforce and strengthen his temptations. Nay, one day as I was between Elstow and Bedford, the temptation was hot upon me, to try if I had faith, by doing some miracle; which miracle at this time was this, I must say to the puddles that were in the horse-pads, Be dry; and to the dry places, Be you puddles. And
truly, one time I was going to say so indeed &c." These confessions of an evidently morbid mind, and the way in which Scripture (with which he takes strange liberties) was made a snare to him, may well remind us of that question and answer in Acts viii. 30, 31. God has not given us a Bible without a Church, to help us to a right understanding of the same. Into what errors may those fall who overlook either of His gifts! John Bunyan's ordeal of water may call to mind Savonarola's ordeal of fire. "Les extrêmes se touchent."