« AnteriorContinuar »
or those frightful sufferings to which in Judea, he would soon be exposed, in common with his unbelieving countrymen. Either, any or all of these might appropriately be represented by the terrors of Gehenna. And, 2d. another reason why the Saviour would more naturally put his admonitions against apostasy in this form than in any other, was, that both himself and his hearers were familiar with the penalty which the law provided for the same crime under the Jewish dispensation. That penalty, especially for the apostate city, was so nearly identical with the literal Gehenna, as it had so long been known to the Jews of the Saviour's time, that the latter might well be substituted for the former; and the former could not fail to suggest the latter. There was no crime in the Jewish code more odious and abominable, especially in their later history, than that of forsaking the God of Israel, and worshiping the gods of the surrounding nations; and the punishment of it was as infamous as the crime was odious. For the apostate individual the following was the penalty provided by the law : “ Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.” 17 Even the bare proposition to serve other gods was treated with the same severity as the crime itself; and with such rigor was the law to be executed, that neither the tenderest ties of friendship nor the dearest 'bond of blood could excuse a man from becoming himself the executioner of the apostate. Whether friend or companion, brother or sister, child or parent, be the offender, the law permitted no alternative;
Thou shalt surely kill him ; thy hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. But it was especially the punishment of the apostate city that so forcibly reminds us of the horrors of Gehenna. After having ascertained beyond a doubt that the accusation of apostasy was well founded, the people were instructed to proceed as follows : “ Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword. And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it into the midst of the street thereof, and shall burn with fire the city and all the spoil thereof every whit, for the Lord thy God : and it shall be a heap forever; it shall not be built again.” 19 According to the obvious import of these words, the slain inhabitants, the slaughtered cattle, and all the spoil of the apostate city, were gathered into the street and there consumed with fire. Thus, long before Josiah polluted the valley of Hinnom, in the punishment which the law prescribed for the apostate city, we have a perfect prototype of Gehenna. This was familiar to those whom Jesus addressed; they knew for what crime that odious penalty was provided. The bare mention of apostasy would not fail to present to their minds the picture of the apostate city and its ignominious fate. How could it be otherwise than that these associations, so familiar to Jesus and his disciples, should suggest the form of his warnings intended to guard them against the same offence ? The literal punishment of Gehenna, so loathsome and abhorrent to the Jew, was scarcely more or less than the provision of the law against the apostate city. Hence, when guarding his disciples against apostasy, it seems almost unavoidable that, as an emblem of the disgrace and suffering it would inevitably bring upon them, he should refer to that ignominious doom so strikingly corresponding with the provisions of the law against the same crime ;—in other words, that the penalty of the law against apostasy should suggest the symbol of the penalty under the gospel.
17 Deut xvii. 5.
18 Deut. xiii. 6-10.
There is one view of this subject, deserving at least a passing notice, which presents the punishment of Gehenna in the most literal sense, as not improbably the fate of those residing in Jerusalem, or even in Judea, who should forsake the gospel and return to Judaism. It is well known that at the time of the Saviour's ministry the great calamity was rapidly hastening on that should blot out the Jewish nation from among the families of the earth. Those who embraced the gospel and remained true to their profession, heeded the warnings 20 of Jesus, and fled in season to avoid the terrific sufferings of those who were shut up by the besieging armies of Rome within the walls of the doomed city. Those who rejected Christ, of course, gave no heed to his warnings ; and those who deserted his cause—for such there probably were—would share the fate of their unbelieving countrymen. During the wars that desolated Judea, and resulted in the destruction of the Jewish nation, one million five hundred thousand of the Jews are computed to have perished by famine, pestilence, or the sword. During the siege of Jerusalem alone, one million and one hundred thousand lives are said to have been sacrificed. An official record, from the fourteenth of April to the first of July, reported one hundred and fifteen thousand eight hundred and eighty dead bodies to have been carried out of a single gate, for burial at public expense, beside those carried out of other gates, thrown over the walls, buried by their friends, or left unburied within the city; and this nearly a month and a half before the fall of the city. Six hundred thousand of the poorer people are said to have perished. The streets, lanes, aqueducts and sewers of the city were choked with the putrid bodies of the dead. Every accessible place beyond the walls was already crammed with bodies to its utmost capacity ; and the awful prediction of the prophet literally verified. 31' Within the walls, when they could no longer bury their dead, they piled their bodies in heaps in some of the larger buildings and left them there. The city thus full of the famished and dying, strown every where with the haggard and loathsome remains of the dead, presented a sight of horror which no words can describe; while the whole atmosphere was putrid with the pestilential stench of the innumerable bodies decaying above-ground. Centuries before, the terrible doom had gone forth; I will “even make this city as Tophet; ” 22 and now the whole city and its suburbs had become one vast Gehenna ; more horribly loathsome than the valley of Hinnom ever could have been with all its abominations. To such a fate, and to such calamities did he expose himself, who, to evade the danger, sacrifice and suffering to which the disciples were then subject, sought safety and peace by turning back to Judaism. Well might Jesus warn his followers not to fear man who could only kill the body; but to fear God, who could bring such terrific retribution upon that apostate nation ;-a retribution in which, of course, the apostates from the cause of Christ would be involved with their country
19 Deut. xiij. 15, 16.
20 Matt. xxiv. xxv. ; Mark xii.; Luke, xxi.
men. This is not offered as the interpretation of the passages under review, but as a suggestion not wholly unworthy of notice. It has been said above that Gehenna is here used as the general representative of all the evils to which the unfaithful disciple would expose himself by deserting the gospel of Christ; that the word was never used by the sacred writers—or, so far as we can ascertain, by any Jewish writer before the time of Christ and the apostles—with any reference to the future state ; and we have just now suggested that the great calamity, hastening to overwhelm and extinguish the Jewish nation, deserves notice as one form of calamity to which the disciple would open the door by apostasy.
If the foregoing views of these passages are entitled to the weight we attach to them, the Saviour's warning to his disciples may be interpreted thus : The time is near at hand when faithfulness as my disciples will subject you to scorn and hatred, persecution and death ; but fear not those who can only torture or kill the body, but cannot disturb the life of the soul-its security and peace, in conscious reconciliation to the divine will ; but fear Him, who, besides having power to kill the body, can bring upon you such tortures of mind and body as may be well represented by the loathsome abominations of Gehenna.
Two deaths recorded in the New Testament seem to us perfectly to illustrate this subject. In the death of Stephen we have an example of all that human power could do. It could only kill the body. The martyr, strong in his integrity and true to his faith, suffering the utmost that man could inflict, sinks down securely in the sleep of death, praying for his murderers, and commending his departing spirit to that Jesus whom no torture could induce him to deny or forget. In the case of Judas, the record has preserved the description of an apostate from the gospel. In that instance we are permitted to see with what awful power these foreshadowed woes fell upon the head of the poor wretched traitor. What terrible anguish followed the black deed of treachery. What suffering does he exhibit, rushing like a maniac into the presence of the chief priests, exclaiming, “I have betrayed innocent blood ;" hurling down their base bribe, at their polluted feet, as if it had been thirty arrows of fire, piercing his heart through and through ;
till at last the poor body could endure it no longer, and sunk down, and was buried in the potter's field. What anguish of spirit was that ; what a death did he die ; what a burial had he, about which the Jew was always so solicitous; and how blackened and disgraced the name which he has transmitted to the ages. In the death of Judas we have a melancholy illustration of those woes to which the disciples would expose themselves by apostasy, and which Jesus so aptly represented by the loathsome scenes of Gehenna. After having done so much to secure the favor of the rulersthe temporal authorities whom the Saviour warned them not to fear—the wretched apostate, without the touch of human power upon him, or the sentence of any human tribunal, died a death as horrible as thought can conceive. Here then, from among the disciples themselves, we obtain the most striking illustrations of our theme ;-the death of the martyr, enjoying a tranquil peace of soul above the reach of human power ; and the death of the apostate, under the sense of divine retribution alone, expiring in such tortures as no human power could inflict. If, under the fiercest sufferings within the power of man to inflict, God can still sustain the trusting soul in serene peace and triumphant joy; and if, when He touches the soul with the rod of his chastisement, all human favor and temporal power are so impotent for either support or relief, then how impressive the lesson that teaches us to fear-not those whose power can touch the body only—but Him whose displeasure withers and blights the life of the soul.
A. R. A.
The New Testament Doctrine of Salvation.
proper and perfectly safe to be guided by reason in some particulars of religious belief, yet in respect to all important matters the Christian desires to