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were made, to judge with equal precision both negatively and affirmatively of the time of the same event which is here called the end; both when it should be still distant, or “ not as yet,” and when it should be near at hand, that is, “ immediately” about to ensue. With respect to the event itself, denoted by this name of the end, the context of all the Evangelists, and especially of St. Matthew's account, very plainly intimates that it is closely connected with the destruction of Jerusalem, the approaching visitation of the Jews; and consequently may be understood either of the appointed close and termination of the previous period of longsuffering and forbearance, before the commencement of the days of vengeance—or of the dissolution of the existing state of things among the Jews, the close of the Mosaic dispensation, the end of their polity both ecclesiastical and civil—or of both.
The common end then of the prophetical matter of the present discourse, up to a certain point at least—that is, of so much of the discoveries of the future as were made in reference to the period of this inemorable catastrophe—we may conclude to be, to supply the knowledge of certain things, before which it could not happen, and of others, after which it could not be delayed. Presages and tokens of the approaching event all were more or less to be, but presages and tokens of different degrees of significancy; some shewing it to be merely coming on, others to be close at hand : of the first of which it might be said, These things indeed must precede, but the end will not be yet; and of the second, These things shall first precede, and then will the end itself come next.
This view of the general drift of the prophecy is in unison with that account of its origin which each of the Evangelists concurs in giving ; viz, that all these disclosures of the future, comprehended in the discourse on the inount, were vouchsafed in answer to an express inquiry from four of our Lord's apostles. This inquiry embraced two points at least(and probably three, as we shall see hereafter); the first, to state them in the way in which they are recorded by St. Matthew, “ When these things shall “ be ?” the second, “ What is the sign of thy ap“ pearing and presence ?” The producing cause of the prophecy, then, was this inquiry: the immediate cause of the inquiry is very probably to be traced up to the answer, returned by our Lord not long before, to one of his disciples a, who, as they were passing out of the temple for the night, had called his attention to the stones and buildings of which it was composed—the grandeur and magnificence of its structure, the number, variety, and costliness of the ornaments or dedicated things, with which it was embellished.
It is of importance that we should attend to the nature of our Lord's reply to that observation ; “ Seest thou these great buildings? Stone upon “ stone shall not be left, which shall not be utterly “ loosed :" because it predicts in the plainest terms the entire overthrow of that sumptuous fabric; but nothing more. It was eminently qualified, there
a This disciple was probably St. Peter. St. Mark only specifies the observation as addressed to our Lord by one of his disciples; and even if this one was St. Peter, St. Mark would naturally speak of him in that indefinite manner, rather than by name.
fore, to convey a mournful certainty of the futurity of the fact, though perfectly silent as to the time and circumstances, of the destruction in question ; which nevertheless the assurance of the futurity of the event, some time or other, might render the hearers only the more desirous to know. The inquiry immediately after put by the four apostles is exactly such as might have been expected under such circumstances. This inquiry too takes facts for granted in each instance, and asks for information only about circumstances, “ When shall these “ things be?” and “ What is the sign of thy ap“ pearing and presence ?” It is assumed that those things must some time be; the only uncertainty, in the apprehension of the inquirers, is when they must be : it is taken for granted that Christ must have an appearing and presence, and that appearing and presence a sign; the only doubt was, what sign.
If the principal object, then, of the question of the apostles, which directly produced this discourse, was not to be certified of the truth of general facts, but of subordinate circumstances, connected with them; the answer of our Lord, in the particular disclosures of the future vouchsafed by it, might be expected to be accommodated to the views of the inquirers accordingly. And so, indeed, it was, if the account which has been given of the end of the prophetical part of his discourse more especially, is correct; that it was intended to supply them not with the simple assurance of an event still to come, whether yet distant or even then near at hand—but taking the futurity of the event for granted, to give them the means of judging of its approach; when it should yet be comparatively remote, and when it
should now be close at hand. But unless we were to suppose that the object of the apostles in desiring thus much information, or the answer of our Lord in vouchsafing it, had no further motive than the mere gratification of a curiosity to pry into the future; we may take it for granted that both they and he, and more particularly our Lord himself, consulted some higher and worthier, because more practical and beneficial end, by all that passed upon this occasion between himself and them. And if the nature of any such further motive does not appear upon the face of the question, we must endeavour to collect it from the reply of our Lord.
The combination of practical admonitions with predictions of the future, in every part of the discourse, has been already insisted on; and the subserviency of the final end of the simply prophetical, to that of the simply preceptive matter, has been thence very naturally inferred. Now as this prophetical portion of the whole, though designed to facilitate a common end, viz. the perception of the true time of the arrival of one and the same event, differed in its subserviency to this common purpose, by assigning one class or description of events, designed as prognostics to shew it at a distance, and another, which should intimate it to be close at hand; so in the directions associated with these predictions all through, is a similar distinction perceptible, of one class of precepts which go along with the prophetical intiinations of the former kind, and another which accompany those of the latter. It was to be expected, that different lines of conduct would be proper to be pursued, and therefore a different kind of advice would require to be given, before and after the time of the event in question : it might even be consistent with the situation of the parties, and the nature of the case, to require or to advise them to do one thing at one of these times, and the very contrary to it at the other.
There is accordingly a very observable difference in the strain of the precepts and admonitions which accompany and apply the disclosures of the future, at one time, and those which do the same at another —that cannot be explained except on this principle. After that point in the order of prediction, where it is said, “ And then will the end come,” we meet with warnings, admonitions, and instructions, the direct tendency of which is to excite alarm and apprehension in those to whom they are addressed, and could answer their purpose solely by the production of such fears : before that point, and so long as it might still be said, “ But the end is not as yet,” we meet with assurances whose tendency to remove all sense of fear and uneasiness in the hearers, is just as clear. After one of these times we meet with plain intimations of instant danger; before it, with distinct assurances that all was secure; each, as it would seem, alike opposed to existing appearances, or what the hearers might have imagined for themselves. Beyond a certain period in the discourse, injunctions crowd thick upon the hearers, urging departure and flight, with the utmost expedition, secresy, and dispatch; until then, others are found addressed to them, which on the very principle of contraries, if their own language did not shew for what they were meant, must be interpreted strictly to recommend a continued stay. There is no means of reconciling