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L E C T U R E XX.
Jn my last Lecture I explained to you that remarkable prophecy respecting the destruction of Jerusalem, which is contained in the twenty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew; and by a reserence to the historians who record or mention that event, I proved to you the complete and exact accomplishment of that wondersul prediction in all its parts. And this, in a common case, I should have thought sully sussicient for your satissaction. But this prophecy stands so eminently distinguished by its singular importance, and the great variety of matter which it embraces, and it affords so decisive, so irresistible a proof of the divine authority of our religion, that it appears to me to be well worthy of a little more attention and consideration. I shall therefore, before I proceed to the next chapter, make such surther remarks upon it, as may tend to throw new light upon the subject, to shew more distinctly the exact correspondence of the prediction with the event, and to point out the very interesting conclusions that may be drawn from it.
And sirst I would observe, that, in some instances, the providence of God seems evidently to have interpofed in order to bring about several of the events, which Jesus here alludes to or predicts. Thus, in the twelfth year of Nero Cestius Gallus, the president of Syria, came against Jerusalem with a powersul army; and, as Jofephus assures us, he might, had he assaulted the city, easily have taken it, and thereby have put an end to the war*. But without any apparent reason, and contrary to all expectation, he suddenly raised the siege, and departed. This, and some other very incidental delays, which took place before Vespasian besieged the city, and Titus surrounded it with a wall, gave the Christians within an opportunity
* De Bell. Jud 1, *. c. 19.
•of following our Lord's advice, and of escaping to the mountains, which asterwards it would have been impossible for them to do.
In the same manner the besieged inhabitants themselves helped to sulsil another of our Saviour's predictions, that thefe days should be Jbortencd; for they burnt their own provisions, which would have been sussicient for many years, and satally deserted their strongest holds, where they never could have been taken by force, the fortisications of the city being considered as impregnable. Titus was fo sensible of this, that he himself ascribed his success to God. "We have fought, said he to his friends, with God on our side; and it is God who hath dragged the Jews out of their strong holds; for what could the hands of men and machines do against such towers as these*?"
In the next place, it is worthy of remark, that at the time when our Lord delivered this prophecy, there was not the slightest probability of the Romans invading Judæa, much less of their besieging the city of Jerusalem, of their surrounding it with a wall, of their taking it by storm, and of their destroying the temple so entirely, as not to leave one stone upon another. The Jews were then at persect peace with the Romans. The latter could have no motives of interest or of policy to invade, destroy, and depopulate a country, which was already subject to them, and srom which they reaped many advantages. The fortisications too of the city were (as I have before observed) so strong, that they were deemed invincible by any human force, and it was not the custom of the Romans to demolish and raise the very foundations of the towns they took, and exterminate the inhabitants, but rather to preserve them as monuments of their victories and their triumphs.
It could not therefore be from mere human sagacity and foresight that our Saviour foretold these events; or had he even hazared a conjecture respecting a war with the Romans, and the siege of Jerusalem, yet he could only have done this in general terms; he could never have imagined
* Newton's Differs. on Prophecy, T. » p. 476. .
or invented such a variety of minute particulars as he did predict, and as actually came to pass.
It is indeed of great importance to observe the surprizing assemblage of striking circumstances, which Christ pointed out in this prophecy. They are much more numerous than is commonly suppofed, and well deserve to be distinctly specisied.
They may be arranged under three general heads.
The sirst consists of thofe signs that were to frectde the destruction of Jerusalem.
And these signs were, salse Christs, salse prophets, ru< mours of wars, actual wars, nation rising against nation, samines, pestilences, earthquakes, searsul sights, the persecution of the apostles, the apostacy of some Christians, and the treachery of others, the preservation of Christ's saithsul disciples, and the propagation of the Gofpel through the whole Roman world.
The second head is the commencement of the siege.
Under this head are specisied the distinguishing standard of the Roman army, the eagle, with the images of their gods and their emperors assixed to it.
The idolatrous worship paid to this standard, called the abomination, for so it was to the Jews.
The planting of this standard near the holy city, and afterwards in the very temple.
The defolation which the Roman armies spread around them.
The escape of the Christians to the mountainous country round Jerusalem.
The inconceivable and unparalleled calamities of every kind which the wretched inhabitants endured during the
siege; and the shortening of thofe days of vengeance on account of the Christians. ...
The third head is, the actual capture of Jerusalem by the tesieging army.
, And here it is foretold, "that not one stone of its magnissicent buildings should be left upon another;" that the temple, the government, the state, the polity of the Jews, should be utterly subverted: and lastly, that all these thine:'; should h:ippen before the then present race of men fiii >tild be extinguished.
If now \re collect together the several particulars here specisied, they amount ttrno less than twenty-two in number. A larger detail -of minute circumstances than is to he found in any other of our Lord's prophecies; and all these we see actually sulsilled in the history of Jofephus, and other ancient writers; and it is extremely remarkable that his description of the siege of Jerusalem, like this prophecy, is more minutely circumstantial and more spread out into detail, than the account of any other iiege that we have in ancient history. It should seem therefore as if this historian was purpofely raised up by Providence to record this memorable event, and to verisy our Saviour's predictions. And indeed no one could pofsibly be better qualisied for the task than he, from his situation and circumstances, from his integrity and veracity, and above all from the opportunities he had of being persectly well acquainted with every thing he relates.
He was born at Jerusalem, under the reign of the emperor Caligula, and about seven years after our Lord's crucisixion. He was of a noble samily; on his sather's side descended from the most illustrious of the high priests; and on his mother's side, from the blood royal. At the age of nineteen, after having made a trial of all the disferent sects of the Jews, he embraced that of the Pharisees; and at the age of twenty-six he made a journey to Rome, to obtain from Nero the release of some Jewiih priests, who had been thrown into bonds by Felix the procurator of Judæa. He succeeded in this business; and on "his return to Jerusalem found his countrymen resolved on commencing hostilities against the Romans, from which he endeavored to dissuade them, but in vain. He was foon after appointed by the Jewish government to the command of an army in Galilee, where he signalized himself in many engagements; but at the siege of Jotapata was taken prisoner by Vespasian, and afterwards carried by Titus to the siege of Jerusalem, where he was an eye-witness of every thing that passed, till the city was taken and destroyed by the Romans. He then compofed his history of the Jewish war, and particularly of the siege and capture of Jerusalem, in seven books; which he sirst wrote in Hebrew, and afterwards in Greek, and presented it to Vespasian and Titus, by both of whom it was highly approved, and ordered to be made public. And it is in this history that we sind the accomplishment of all the several sacts and events relative to the siege and the destruction of Jerusalem, which our Saviour foretold forty years before they happened, and which have been above recited. This history is spoken of in the highest terms by men of the greatest learning and the soundest judgment, from its sirst publication to the present time.
The sidelity, the veracity, and probity of the writer, are universally allowed; and Scaliger in particular declares, that not only in the affairs of the Jews, but even of foreign nations, he deserves more credit than all the Greek and Romon writers put together*. Certain at least it is, that he had that most essential qualisication of an historian, a persect and accurate knowledge of all the transactions which he relates; that he had no prejudices to mislead him in the representation of them; and that, above all, he meant no savor to the Christian cause. For even allowing the so much controverted passage, in which he is suppofed to bear testimony to Christ, to be genuine, it does not appear that he ever became a convert to his religion, but continued probably a zealous Jew to the end of his lise. - . ,
. * *"
From this account it is evident, that we may most securely rely on every thing he tells us respecting the siege of
* In Prolcgom- ad opus dc Emendations Temporum.