« AnteriorContinuar »
his mouth? See now how his eyes sparkle with holy anger, and dart forth beams of indignation in the faces of these guilty Collybists : see how his hands deal strokes and ruin. Yea, thus, thus it became thee, O thou gracious Redeemer of men, to let the world see thou hast not lost thy justice in thy mercy; that there is not more lenity in thy forbearances, than rigour in thy just severity; that thou canst thunder, as well as shine.
This was not thy first act of this kind ; at the entrance of thy public work thou begannest so, as thou now shuttest up, with purging thine house. Once before had these offenders been whipt out of that holy place, which now they dare again defile. Shame and smart is not enough to reclaim obdured offenders. Gainful sins are not easily checked, but less easily mastered. These bold fies, where they are beaten off, will alight again : “ He that is filthy, will be filthy still.”
Oft yet had our Saviour been, besides this, in the temple, and often had seen the same disorder; he doth not think fit to be always whipping. It was enough thus twice to admonish and chastise them before their ruin. That God who hates sin always, will not chide always, and strikes more seldom; but he would have those few strokes perpetual monitors; and if those prevail not, he smites but once. It is his uniform course, first the whip, and, if that speed not, then the sword.
There is a reverence due to God's house for the Owner's sake, for the service's sake. Secular and profane actions are not for that sacred roof, inuch less uncivil and beastly. What but holiness can become that place which is the “ beauty of holiness ?”
The fairest pretences cannot bear out a sin with God. Never could there be more plausible colours cast upon any act; the convenience, the necessity of provisions for the sacrifice : yet through all these do the fiery eyes of our Saviour see the foul covetousness of the priests, the fraud of the money-changers, the intolerable abuse of the temple. Common eyes may be cheated with easy pretexts; but he, that looks through the heart at the face, justly answers our apologies with scourges.
None but the hand of public authority must reform the abuses of the temple. If all be out of course there, no man is barred from sorrow; the grief may reach to all, the power
of reformation only to those whom it concerneth. but a just question, though ill propounded, to Moses, “Who made thee a judge or a ruler?" We must all imitate the zeal of our Saviour ; we may not imitate his correction. If we strike uncalled, we are justly stricken for our arrogation, for our presumption. A tuinultuary remedy may prove a medicine worse than the disease.
But what shall I say of so sharp and imperious an act from so meek an agent? Why did not the priests and Levites, whose this gain partly was, abet these moneychangers, and make head against Christ? why did not those multitudes of men stand upon their defence, and wrest that whip out of the hand of a seemingly weak and unarmed prophet ? but instead thereof run away like sheep from before him, not daring to abide his presence, though his hand had been still ? Surely had these men been so many armies, yea, so many legions of devils, when God will astonish and chase them, they cannot have the power to stand and resist. How easy is it for him that made the heart, to put either terror or courage into it at pleasure! O Saviour, it was none of thy least miracles, that thou didst thus drive out a world of able offenders, in spite of their gain and stomachful resolutions! their very profit had no power to stay them against thy frowns. “Who hath resisted thy will ?" Men's hearts are not their own: they are, they must be such as their Maker will have them.
The Fig-tree cursed.
When, in this state, our Saviour had rid through the streets of Jerusalem, that evening he lodged not there. Whether he would not, that, after so public an acclamation of the people, he might avoid all suspicion of plots or popularity (even unjust jealousies must be shunned, neither is there less wisdom in the prevention, than in the remedy of evils), or whether he could not, for want of an invitation; hosanna was better cheap than an entertainment; and perhaps the envy of so stomached a reformation discouraged his hosts. However, he goes that evening supperless out of Jerusalem. O unthankful citizens ! do ye thus part with your no less meek
than glorious King? his title was not more proclaimed in your streets than your own ingratitude. If he hath purged the temple, yet your hearts are foul. There is no wonder in men's unworthiness; there is more than wonder in thy mercy, O thou Saviour of men, that wouldst yet return thither where thou wert so palpably disregarded. If they gave thee not thy supper, thou givest them their breakfast: if thou mayst not spend the night with them, thou wilt with them spend the day. O love to unthankful souls, not discourageable by the most hateful indignities, by the basest repulses ! What burden canst thou shrink under, who canst bear the weight of ingratitude ? · Thou, that givest food to all things living, art thyself hungry. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus kept not so poor an house, but that thou mightst have eaten something at Bethany. Whether thou hast outrun thine appetite, or whether on purpose thou forbarest repast, to give opportunity to thine ensuing miracle, I neither ask nor resolve. This was not the first time that thou wast hungry. As thou wouldst be a man, so thou wouldst suffer those infirmities that belong to humanity. Thou camest to be our high-priest ; it was thy act and intention, not only to intercede for thy people, but to transfer unto thyself, as their sins, so their weaknesses and complaints. Thou knowest to pity what thou hast felt. Are we pinched with want? we endure but what thou didst, we have reason to be patient; thou enduredst what we do, we have reason to be thankful.
But what shall we say to this thine early hunger? The morning, as it is privileged from excess, so from need ; the stomach is not wont to rise with the body. Surely, as thine occasions were, no season was exempted from thy want : thou hadst spent the day before in the holy labour of thy reformation; after a supperless departure, thou spentest the night in prayer; no meal refreshed thy toil. What! do we think much to forbear a morsel, or to break a sleep for thee, who didst thus neglect thyself for us?
As if meat were no part of thy care, as if any thing would serve to stop the mouth of hunger, thy breakfast is expected from the next tree. A fig-tree grew by the wayside, full grown, well spread, thick leaved, and such as might promise enough to a remote eye: thither thou camest to seek that which thou foundest not; and, not finding what thou
soughtest, as displeased with thy disappointment, cursedst that plant which deluded thy hopes. Thy breath instantly blasted that deceitful tree; it did (no otherways than the whole world must needs do) wither and die with thy curse.
O Saviour, I had rather wonder at thine actions than discuss them. If I should say, that, as a man, thou either knewest not, or consideredst not of this fruitlessness, it could no way prejudice thy divine oinniscience; this infirmity were no worse than thy weariness or hunger : it was no more disparagement to thee to grow in knowledge than in stature; neither was it any more disgrace to thy perfect humanity, that thou, as man, knewest not all things at once, than that thou wert not in thy childhood at thy full growth. But herein I doubt not to say, it is more likely thou camest purposely to this tree, knowing the barrenness of it answerable to the season, and fore-resolving the event, that thou mightst hence ground the occasion of so instructive a miracle: like as thou knewest Lazarus was dying, was dead, yet wouldst not seem to take notice of his dissolution, that thou mightst the more glorify thy power in his resuscitation. thy willing and determined disappointment for a greater purpose.
But why didst thou curse a poor tree for the want of that fruit which the season yielded not ? if it pleased thee to call for that which it could not give, the plant was innocent; and, if innocent, why cursed ? O Saviour, it is fitter for us to adore than to examine.
saucy in inquiring after thee, and fond in answering for thee.
If that season were not for a ripe fruit, yet for some fruit it was. Who knows not the nature of the fig-tree to be always bearing? That plant, if not altogether barren, yields a continual succession of increase; while one fig is ripe, another is green; the same bough can content both our taste and hope. This tree was defective in both, yielding nothing but an empty shade to the mis-hoping traveller.
Besides that, I have learned that thou, O Saviour, wert wont not to speak only, but to work parables ; and what was this other than a real parable of thine? all this while hadst thou been in the world; thou hadst given many proofs of thy mercy (the earth was full of thy goodness) none of thy judgments : now, immediately before thy passion, thou thoughtst fit to give this double demonstration of thy just austerity. How else should
the world have seen, thou canst be severe as well as meek and merciful ? and why mightst not tbou, who madest all things, take liberty to destroy a plant for thine own glory? wherefore serve tly best creatures, but for the praise of thy mercy and justice? what great matter was it, if thou, who once saidst, “ Let the earth bring forth the herb yielding seed, and the tree yielding the fruit of its own kind,” shouldst now say, “Let this fruitless tree wither?" All this yet was done in figure: in this act of thine I see both an emblem, and a prophecy. How didst thou herein mean to teach thy disciples how much thou hatest an unfruitful profession, and what judgments thou meantst to bring upon that barren generation ? Once before hadst thou compared the Jewish nation to a fig-tree in the inidst of thy vineyard, which, after three years' expectation and culture, yielding no fruit, was by thee, the Owner, doomed to a speedy excision ; now thou actest what thou then saidst. No tree abounds more with leaf and shade, no nation abounded more with ceremonial observations and semblances of piety. Outward profession, where there is want of inward truth and real practice, doth but help to draw on and aggravate judgment. Had this fig-tree been utterly bare and leafless, it bad perhaps escaped the curse.
Hear this, ye vain hypocrites, that care only to shew well; vever caring for the sincere truth of a conscionable obedience: your fair outside shall be sure to help you to a curse.
That which was the fault of this tree, is the punishment of it, Fruitlessness : “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever.” Had the boughs been appointed to be torn down, and the body split in pieces, the doom had been more easy, and that juicy plant might yet have recovered, and have lived to recompense this deficiency; now it shall be what, it was, fruitless. Woe be to that church or soul that is punished with her own sin. Outward plagues are but favour, in comparison of spiritual judgments.
That curse might well have stood with a long continuance; the tree might have lived long, though fruitless : but no sooner is the word passed, than the leaves flag and turn yellow, the branches wrinkle and shrink, the bark discolours, the root dries, the plant withers.
O God, what creature is able to abide the blasting of the breath of thy displeasure? even the most great and glorious angels of heaven could not stand one moinent before thine