The witness of the persecuted.
It was natural enough that the disciples, when the Lord foretold the destruction of the temple, should wish to know when an event so stupendous and awful should occur. On their way to Bethany at eventide, the little party, composed of Jesus and his four most intimate friends, paused upon the crown of Olivet, and looked back upon the glorious but guilty city, and upon that edifice which was its proudest ornament and beast. The anxious, awed disciples took this opportunity of asking at what time the disaster foretold by the Lord should take place, and by what signs they might be led to expect its approach. Jesus did not state the exact date of the impending catastrophe, but he did mention certain signs by which his disciples might be forewarned; and he took occasion to forearm them against the troubles which were at hand. His words may not have gratified their curiosity, but they must have established their confidence in their Master, and they must have prepared them for the tribulation and the trial now so near. The great lesson is that Jesus would have his people prepared, especially in times and amid circumstances of affliction and probation, to bear a firm and faithful witness to himself. Our Lord, in this language, enjoins upon his disciples—
I. FIDELITY AMID TEMPTATION AND APOSTASY , Days of trial were at hand; impostors should appear, professing that the Messiah had only now arrived; and by such deceits and pretences many should be led astray from their allegiance to Jesus. Then should the faithfulness of the disciples be tested. It is always so. Rivals come forward at all periods in history, asserting claims which they cannot substantiate, but by which they impose upon the excitable and unstable. Teachers, leaders, systems, philosophies, are ever seeking to displace the Divine Christ from the throne of the human heart, of human society. Let every Christian, when exposed to such assaults, when staggered by the success with which these are too often directed against the professed followers of Jesus, be upon his guard, and listen to the voice of the rightful and authoritative Lord sounding across the ages, "Let no man lead you astray!"
II. PEACE OF MIND AMID WARS AND CALAMITIES . The troubles and conflicts which befell the nations during the period which elapsed between the crucifixion of Christ and the fall of Jerusalem, are well known from the records of history. It could have been no easy thing for the Christians to have preserved a quiet mind amidst such constant alarms; nor can we suppose that our Lord intended to forbid or blame the natural and proper sympathy and solicitude which such circumstances must have induced. But he warned them that these events must precede the end, and must not be allowed to fill the mind with dismay, to weaken faith in Divine providence, or to deter from the fulfillment of an appointed ministry. In every age there occur events which, taken and considered alone, might appal the stoutest, bravest heart. But it is for the follower of Christ to bear in mind that light and darkness will contend until the victory of the Redeemer is complete, that the Lord reigneth, and that the convulsions of the nations are the birth-throes of the kingdom of the Christ. It is he who admonishes us, "Be not troubled!"
III. STEADFASTNESS AMID THE HOSTILITY OF FOES . The first followers of Christ were forewarned that they should incur the enmity of authorities, both civil and ecclesiastical. Before councils and in synagogues, at the bar of governors and in the presence of kings, they should be arraigned upon charges true or false, but always with a temper of enmity and with purposes of malice. How were they to demean themselves in circumstances of peril? They were to remember that they were but treated as their Master had been treated before them, that they were honored by being summoned to act as his witnesses , that they were the spokesmen, so to speak, of the very Spirit of God. Amidst trials so severe, they were directed to take heed how they comported themselves—never to yield to fear, to dismiss all anxiety, and to trust to a heavenly inspiration for their defense. And there is no age in which servants of Christ are not exposed to some of the attacks of the foe, and in which there is not need for watchfulness, fortitude, and courage. Let the persecuted remember that the eye of the Divine Lord is upon them; and let them bear themselves as those who would honor their Leader and maintain his cause—quit them like men, and be strong.
IV. ENDURANCE AMID THE TREACHERY AND DESERTION OF FRIENDS . The great Prophet foretold that discords should reveal themselves among families and social communities; that one should rise up against another. In this way was fulfilled his saying, "I am not come to send peace, but a sword." To most hearts, treason within the camp is more painful and more trying than hostility without. Yet even against this our Lord would have us proof. It is a trial to which most faithful and consistent servants of the Lord Jesus are at some time exposed; it is a trial which shakes the faith and damps the zeal of not a few. Christ calls his people, when so tried, to exercise the grace of perseverance. Whoever forsake Jesus, let their desertion only drive us closer to him we love!
V. NOTWITHSTANDING OPPOSITION , THE GOSPEL MUST BE PREACHED . It is not enough to be steadfast ourselves; we have to think of and to care for others. The glad tidings the followers of Jesus have themselves freely received, it is for them freely to communicate to their neighbors, How devotedly and valiantly the first disciples fulfilled this trust we well know. Not only the twelve, but even more notably others who were raised up in the first age, preached the gospel to all nations whom they were able by any toil and hardship to reach. The light streamed upon many a dark, benighted land, and brought hope and peace, joy and life, to many a wretched heart. The labor of the apostles and their companions was not in vain in the Lord. Far from being deterred by opposition, this seemed to act as a stimulus to new exertions and to new daring. Nor is this function of the Church peculiar to the first age. So long as there are nations unvisited by the news of salvation, so long is there a summons to engage in missionary enterprise. If this can only be done in certain cases at the risk of safety, liberty, and life, so much the more do present circumstances correspond with the predictions of our Lord. " The more danger, the more honor." There is a crown to be gained by following Christ and his apostles in the perils of the holy war.
VI. PATIENCE UNTO SALVATION . It is well known that, whilst multitudes of Jews perished in the siege and the destruction of Jerusalem, the Christians escaped. Faithful to the instructions of their Lord, they were delivered from the ruin and the death which were the fate of their fellow-countrymen. Enduring in constancy and obedience to the end, they were saved. And their exemption from disaster and death was a symbol of the salvation of all those who retain their faith and allegiance amidst the temptations and the trials of this earthly life. Endure! endure unto the end! and the unfailing promise of your Divine Lord shall be fulfilled in your experience. You shall be saved!
This chapter relates almost exclusively to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Yet in its testimony to the Divine power of foretelling future events, it has its evidential value to all students of the person of our Lord; while its central and simple lesson, " Watch! the day of your Lord's coming ye know not," may be profitably reiterated with frequency in the ears of all. One of the disciples, on passing out of the temple, drew the attention of the Master to the massiveness and grandeur of its building. How great! how stable! how wondrous! In this, as in so many instances, he saw what they saw not; and his thoughts were not as theirs. It must have been to their great surprise that he declared, "There shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." Sad and doleful words follow, as strikingly in contrast to the expectations of his questioners as were the former. The eager desire to know "when shall these things be," was met by threats of deception, war, earthquakes, and famines, the mere presages of trouble, to be followed by personal afflictions, persecutions, hatreds, and deaths, mingled with the uttermost national and religious confusion. The dire symbols were, "the sun shall be darkened," "the moon shall not give her light," "the stars shall be falling from heaven." We who read these words with the picture of Jerusalem's destruction before us, and in the light of modern Jewish history, see a depth of meaning in them which, the words being words of prophecy, the disciples failed to see. Pitifully do our hearts move towards Israel according to the flesh, and pray for the lifting up of the veil that is upon their eyes, that they in a true sense may " see and believe." The lesson is founded upon this prediction of judgment. In interpreting it in its application to ourselves we must see that it teaches—
I. THE EXTREME PERILOUSNESS OF HINDERING THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN BY UNFAITHFULNESS . The Jew was favored as was no other nation under heaven. Fidelity to the great trust reposed in that people would have been attended with unmeasured Divine blessing; while unfaithfulness resulted in the direst calamity and judgment. Who shall describe the bitterness to Israel of those dread days? A free and wider diffusion of the spiritual kingdom followed. But Israel, in giving birth to a gospel of blessing to the nations, suffered throes of travail "such as there hath not been the like from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and," happily, "never shall be."
II. IN OUR IGNORANCE OF THE TIMES OF GREAT AND SUDDEN CHANGES IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN , OUR HIGHEST WISDOM IS A DILIGENT ATTENTION TO THE DUTY OF THE HOUR . The hour is always uncertain when the Lord cometh to judgment. The indolent spirit that is deluded into neglect because there is no sign of his coming, will be inevitably found "sleeping." How often has the Church been lulled thus to slumber! How often have the most responsible trusts been unfaithfully held! Times of judgment awake the sleepers often to find their work neglected or undone. The watching spirit that momentarily devotes itself to the doing of the Lord's will is the only safe spirit. Such a spirit is never surprised, never taken unawares. It matters not when "the lord of the house cometh," whether "at even, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the morning." The watching servant hails and rejoices in his lord's approach.
III. THE CERTAINTY OF THE FINAL RECOGNITION OF HUMBLE , FAITHFUL , CONTINUOUS SERVICE .
1 . The gracious words of warning stimulate to effort.
2 . The help of the Divine Spirit is comfortingly promised to the suffering. "It is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost."
3 . The perseveringly patient one shall reap in due time. "He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved."
4 . The scattered ones whom cruel persecution has driven into all lands shall finally be restored, and the felicities of the heavenly life compensate for the sufferings of earth. "He shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven." The Lord's one command, holding all within itself, is "Watch? "Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing."—G.
I. " MATERIAL TEMPLES , POLLUTED BY MEN 'S SINS , MUST PERISH ."
II. " THE TEMPLE OF HUMAN MINDS , PURIFIED BY THE DIVINE SPIRIT , WILL ABIDE FOR EVER " (Godwin).
III. THE EDUCATION OF ILLUSIONS . (See F. W. Robertson's sermon on 'The Illusiveness of Life!') God in history is God in disguise. To detect his presence is not always easy. Surface and show are constantly taken for truth and reality.
IV. VAGUE TROUBLES PRECEDE GREAT CHANGES . We live in restless times. "Something is in the air." We know not what is meant; but something is meant. The beginning of a process must not be mistaken for the end.
V. A MORAL PRINCIPLE AND PURPOSE LIES IN ALL CHANGE . This is the secret leaven which occasions all the ferment. Deep was the truth expressed by the philosopher when he said, "War is the father of all things." Or in the myth, conflict and love are close companions. In convulsed times, be sure Divine love is profoundly working. Persecution represents the expiring struggles of error and its fellow, passion.
VI. THE CONSTANT HEART NEED FEAR NO EVIL . Nothing can bring us peace but loyalty to principle. Nothing can exempt us from unmanning fears but the sense that truth is on our side. The only secret of eloquence lies here. There is no salvation for the coward, the untrue, and the disloyal. For the true heart there is salvation from every possible danger.—J.
I. PROPHECIES .
1 . Distribution of prophetic intimations. Great diversity of opinion prevails in regard to the predictions contained in this chapter. About one part of it, however, there is unanimity; the early portion contains, as all admit, a prophecy about the destruction of the temple which was literally and actually fulfilled within forty years after it had been uttered. The remainder of the chapter is understood by the majority of interpreters to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the world or present dispensation. In relation to this second part there are many divergent theories, but these in the main are reducible to two:
2 . Practical observations. There is
3 . Character of the disciples ' observation. The object which the disciples had in view, when they called the attention of their Master to the great stones of the temple, is not quite clear. We may consider their remark a casual one, called forth by the sight of such huge structures—such immense stones, measuring, according to Josephus, some of them twenty-five cubits in length, eight in height, and twelve in breadth; others forty-five cubits in length, five in height, and six in breadth. Or perhaps the numerals in case of the cubits, in both the passages of Josephus, should be the same, namely, twenty-five. The sight of stones of such vast dimensions, of enormous marble blocks, of the gorgeousness and grandeur of the buildings, would justify their remark; still the sight of all these would not vindicate it from being somewhat superficial and commonplace, natural enough to Galilean peasants, and such as might be made by very unsophisticated persons. We may perhaps be warranted, therefore, in reading a deeper meaning into their observation. Might it not be that the thought occurred to them that an edifice of such splendor and magnificence would be no way unsuitable to, nor unworthy of, Messiah's reign and of the temporal kingdom which they still clung to?
4 . The point of time at which the observation was made. Jesus was leaving the temple, and leaving it for the last time. What solemn thoughts must have occupied his mind as he bade farewell to that beautiful sanctuary! How different they must have been from those of his disciples, in whatever way their words are to be understood! He is now turning his back for ever on the national temple, long the center of Jewish worship, with its august shrine, where the Shechinah glory had appeared above the cherubim, where the Divine presence in visible symbol had been manifested, where the most solemn acts of religious service had been performed, and where the one living and true God had been worshipped, while polytheism had prevailed in the nations all around. Now, however, the spirit of the theocracy was gone, Judaism had fallen into decrepitude, the national temple still stood in all its splendor; but the great Inhabitant was about to take his departure. The Messenger of the covenant had come suddenly to his temple; but with his rejection and death already determined on, life and light and liberty were on the eve of departing for ever, and the kingdom about to pass into other and more worthy hands. The disciples, who, like other Jews, still indulged the daydream of a worldly kingdom and political independence in connection with Messiah, must have been more than surprised by our Lord's reply. Their pleasant fancies are dispelled; to their fondsst aspirations a rude shock is given. They are startled, stunned, and silenced. Stone not left upon stone that shall not be loosened from its place and thrown to the ground! anal all this affirmed with the utmost positiveness of assertion! What can it mean? They roll the matter over in their thoughts; they reflect, but cannot persuade themselves that the words are to be understood in their strict, unfigurative sense. The statement is past their comprehension.
5 . Their inquiry . And now they have left the temple courts, descended the side of Moriah, crossed the Kedron, and are seated on a slope of Olivet. What a lovely prospect is there presented to their gaze! Right opposite and full in view was the temple, with its white marble, its roof and pinnacles overlaid with gold, the prodigious stone substructures already the objects of such admiration, all sparkling in the clear light of an Eastern sky. Here was a sight of such surpassing splendor that it was esteemed equal to one of the wonders of the world; a spectacle of such beauty that once seen it remained ever after a part of sight. Here was a prospect corresponding to the eloquent and withal exact words of Milman, when he says, "At a distance the whole temple looked literally like a mount of snow, fretted with golden pinnacles." And was the glory of all this, like ordinary mundane things, to pass so soon away! The disciples naturally desire more information on this stupendous subject; they have by this time recovered somewhat from their surprise. They break silence by trying to ascertain with certainty and preciseness some particulars in regard to the wonderful event predicted, and its consequences, immediate and remote, implied in the expression, "these things"—an expression erroneously referred by some to the world itself, and by others to the buildings of the temple. They are at once curious and anxious to be informed of the time when what was foretold would be fulfilled; of the sign of the Savior's coming for the performance of what he had thus predicted; and further, as we are informed by St. Matthew, of the end of the world.
6 . Minuteness in details. As usual, St. Mark is most minute in his record of particulars, such as an eye-witness, or one writing the words of an eye-witness, would be most likely to take note of. He tells us here the exact position of our Lord and his disciples—on a knoll of Olivet, right over against ( κατέναντι , the κατὰ being intensive) the temple. He also informs us that the disciples who were closest to our Savior on the occasion, or who were most earnest and urgent in their inquiries which they probably repeated ( ἐπηρώτων , imperfect), were Peter and James and John and Andrew. These were the persons who spoke in their own name and that of their brethren—acting at once for themselves and the other disciples. There was in this an evident appropriateness. These four disciples, consisting of two pairs of brothers, were the first who had enrolled themselves in the list of discipleship; they were the first of the apostolic band. They had been longest with our Lord, and, it would seem, on the most familiar terms with him; and now they are nearest to him in position, and, on the ground of their close intimacy, venture to put questions from which perhaps the others shrank. Three of these, moreover, had been specially privileged—already on two, as subsequently on another and third occasion—to accompany our Lord. Long attendance on the Master, as the consequence of early and faithful discipleship, would thus appear to have peculiar advantages, and to elevate, not by merit but by grace, to higher privileges. How important, then, for the young to join themselves early to the ranks of Christ's disciples, remembering their Creator in the days of their youth, and coming in early childhood to the Savior!
7 . Peculiarity in and fulfillment of the prophecy. We may not overlook, or lose sight of, the prediction that led to the inquiries of the disciples, and of these special favourites who represented the wishes of their brethren, as well as their own, on this occasion. The prediction in question is one of the most remarkable on record, if we consider all the circumstances. There was scarcely anything more unlikely at that time than the overthrow of such a stable fabric, where the buildings and substructures were so massive that Titus himself attributed his triumph to the hand of God. The original temple had been built by Solomon, and having stood for four centuries, was destroyed, after the lapse of that period, by Nebuzaradan, commander-in-chief of the forces of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. It was rebuilt by Zerubbabel, at the head of the restored Jews, somewhat more than five centuries before Christ. This was the second temple; and though it was renewed by Herod the Great, and had several magnificent additions made to it by that king, such as a porch with white marble slabs, towers, and so on, it was still known, not as the third, but second temple. The work of renovation commenced by Herod had continued six and forty years, as we learn from the Fourth Gospel ( John 2:20 ), where we read," Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building." It was still much more improbable even if, contrary to all expectation and all reasonable calculation of chances, it should be destroyed, that that destruction would be carried to such an extreme of demolition that no ruins should be left—no, not so much as one stone upon another. Other temples have been destroyed by hostile attack, or fallen into decay and yielded to the corroding tooth of time; but their ruins at least remain, while the magnificence of those ruins attracts the visitor, and excites his admiration or astonishment. Witness the far-famed Parthenon or temple of Minerva at Athens, or the temple of Baalbek, or Karnak, or Luxor. But though the Roman general did his utmost to save the temple, it was destroyed by fire; and subsequently the work of demolition was carried out so thoroughly by the tenth legion, under Terentius Rufus, that the temple area and precincts were dug up The peculiarity of the prophecy was its uncommon clearness, distinctness, and definiteness at a time when all the probabilities were against it; while the exactness of its fulfillment has so puzzled infidels, that they have tried to make themselves and others believe that the prediction was post eventum ; and, finding that impossible and incredible, others have resorted to such miserable shifts as coincidences, lucky guesses, or skillful prognostications. All in vain; for it remains, and must remain, an irrefragable testimony to the truth of God. There was, besides, the fulfillment of an older prophecy by Micah: "Zion shall be ploughed like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps."
8 . The perspective of prophecy. There is a very general agreement that in the predictions contained in this chapter of St. Mark and corresponding chapters of the other synoptists, the two events of Christ's coming at the fall of Jerusalem, and of his coming at the end of the world or present dispensation, are combined. While some explain this according to the theory of two applications, one primary and another secondary; and others by the typical theory, one event being typical of another, so that the one description covers both; others again prefer that theory of prophecy according to which it exhibits events without regard to the periods of time or portions of space that intervene between them and separate them from each other; just as in the landscape hill rises above hill, while to the spectator at a distance the valleys that lie between, or the interspaces that separate them, are not seen nor observed, and it is only when the summit of each hill is reached that the interval between it and the next is discernible. So we may conceive it to be with respect to the close of the αἰὼν which was marked by the fall of Jerusalem, and the completion, or τέλος , of the present dispensation or current age.
II. THE SIGNS SPECIFIED .
1 . Enumeration. There is some slight difference in the enumeration of the signs; they are also divided by some into negative and positive. We prefer dividing them into the immediate and more remote, and enumerate them as follows:—
2 . Verification. Scripture itself bears witness to the fulfilment of the first sign; for St. John says, "Even now are there many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time;" while Josephus acquaints us with the fact that "the land was overrun with magicians, seducers, and impostors, who drew the people after them in multitudes into solitudes and deserts, to see the signs and miracles which they promised to show by the power of God." Several names, moreover, are expressly mentioned, of such persons as Dositheus, Simon Magus, Theudas, Barchochab; but it is objected that some of these were too early, and others too late, in point of time. In like manner it may be objected to the statement of the Apostle John, that, while it is so distinct in relation to the fact, it is indefinite with respect to the element of time. But if some were too early and others too late, it is not likely that the intervening period had the good fortune of being freed from their presence; while, from the statements of St. John on the one hand and Josephus on the other, we may rightly conclude a succession of pretenders, and quite a number of them all along, as true coin is seldom for long without its counterfeits. The second sign had its verification in the violent deaths of no less than four Roman emperors—Nero, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius—within a year and a half, and the scenes of tumult and bloodshed consequent thereon; while the Jews were assailed with three threats of wars by Caligula, Claudius, and Nero respectively. There were other rumors of wars, in consequence of Bardanes, and subsequently Volageses, declaring, but not carrying out, war against the Jews; as also by Vitellius, Governor of Syria, declaring war against the Arabian king, Aretas. These two signs were among the more remote, for, as we have seen, it is added, "The end is not yet;" that is, the end of the Jewish polity at the destruction of Jerusalem was not to follow immediately. This caution was subjoined to prevent that state of excitement and alarm which the Apostle Paul, at a subsequent period, found it necessary to allay among the Thessalonians. The third sign may be illustrated by the general character of the period, which the Roman historian Tacitus describes as "rich in calamities, horrible with battles, rent with seditions, savage even in peace itself;" as also by particular catastrophes, as the conflict between the Syrians and Jews at Caesarea, in which twenty thousand of the latter perished; another at Seleucia, in which fifty thousand Jews lost their lives; with others similar at Joppa, Scythopolis, Ascalon, and Tyro, recorded by Josephus in his ' Wars of the Jews,' a title of itself significant of the state of the times; while Philo makes mention of a serious outbreak between Jews and Greeks in Alexandria, though at a much earlier period. The fourth sign consisted of tremors of the earth, by which towns and cities were often shaken and ruined. These earthquakes were to occur in divers places. Never perhaps, in an equal period of time in the history of our earth, did so many of these fearful convulsions occur, as in the interval between the Crucifixion and fall of Jerusalem. Seneca, in a somewhat rhetorical passage in one of his Epistles, mentions a surprising number of such casualties having occurred in many different quarters, and with the usual disastrous results; in his list of places where earthquakes had taken place are proconsular Asia, Achaia, Syria, Macedonia, Cyprus, and Paphus. Tacitus makes mention of several in different localities—in Crete; in Italy, one at Rome and another in Campania; in Phrygia, at Apamea, and Laodicea. Josephus speaks of one in Judaea; and several others are recorded about the same time. Of the fifth sign, or famines, we have the record in the Acts ( Acts 11:28 ), where Agabus foretold "that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar;" and the testimony of Tacitus, Suetonius, and Josephus to similar effect. The whole time of the reign of Claudius appears to have been one of scarcity; that in the ninth year of his reign appears to have been particularly severe. Three other famines occurred in his reign. During this period, Rome, Syria, and Greece suffered most painfully. From the famines we might naturally infer the existence of the sixth sign, or pestilences, even if we had no historical record of their occurrence, according to the old proverb, that "after famine comes pestilence," so neatly expressed in the Greek μετὰ λιμὸν λοιμός . And yet disasters of this kind are recorded—one in Babylonia, by Josephus; one in Rome, which swept away thirty thousand persons in one autumn, by Tacitus and Suetonius. The New Testament itself furnishes proof enough, and more than enough, of the persecutions which were the seventh sign. In Acts 4:3-7 we read of the Apostles Peter and John being arrested, thrown into prison, and brought before the Sanhedrim; in Acts 5:18 we read that they "laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison," and at the twenty-seventh verse of the same chapter that they "brought them and set them before the council;" in Acts 16:23 , Acts 16:24 , that they "laid many stripes upon them [Paul and Silas], and cast them into prison," where the jailor "thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks;" in Acts 18:12 of Paul being brought to the judgment, and in Acts 23:1 of his appearing before the council and being smitten on the mouth, by command of the high priest Ananias. One of the duties of the Chazzan , a minister of the synagogue, was to exercise discipline, and of this Paul had his share, when, as he tells us, "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one;" and again, "Thrice was I beaten with rods." The εἰς before "synagogues" is pregnant, implying that they were previously brought into the synagogues and then beaten therein. The distinction that makes εἰς refer to the persons present before whose eyes the punishment was inflicted, while ἐν only indicates the place, is more than doubtful. Again, St. Paul affords an exemplification of the succeeding statement that they should "be brought before rulers and kings," having appeared before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa in succession, as recorded in Acts 24-26.; also before Nero, as we may infer from 2 Timothy 4:16 , 2 Timothy 4:17 , where he speaks of his first answer, and of being delivered out of the mouth of the lion. Of apostasies, the eighth sign, we have both direct and indirect evidence. The latter is found in the many and earnest warnings which the Epistle to the Hebrews contains against such, while evidence of the former kind is supplied by the heathen historian Tacitus. The rapid progress which the preaching of the gospel had made, notwithstanding all the opposition and hindrances, and cruel persecutions, and sad apostasies, is perhaps the most surprising fact of all; while of this we have such incidental notices as the following:—"Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world," writes St. Paul to the Romans; to the Galatians he writes of his own circuit to Arabia, back to Damascus, and then to the head-quarters in Jerusalem; to the Colossians he says of "the Word of the truth of the gospel, which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you;" and again, in the same chapter ( Colossians 1:23 ), he speaks of the hope of the gospel, and adds, "which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven." Thus was verified the ninth sign.
III. THE MORAL LESSONS INTERSPERSED .
1 . Practical directions. With the important predictions of this section, and indeed of the whole chapter, practical directions of greatest consequence are blended. Similarly, in the writings of the apostles, we usually find along with exposition of doctrine the enforcement of duty. The principal practical directions of our Lord in this portion of Scripture are mostly of the nature of moral lessons, and are the following: —Heedfulness , which is several times repeated in the course of the chapter; needfulness of perseverance; prayerfulness; and watchfulness. Other lessons of great practical importance, though expressed rather as categorical statements or predictions than in the form of directions like those enumerated, are contained in it.
2 . The first of these great moral lessons. The first of these lessons occurs in the fifth verse, in the words, "Take heed lest any man deceive you." The same, though slightly altered, and in a somewhat different connection, occurs in the ninth verse, in the words, "But take heed to yourselves;" again, in the twenty-third verse, we read, "But take ye heed;" and once more, in the thirty-third verse, it is set as a preface or introduction to other duties: "Take ye heed, watch and pray." In its first occurrence, it warns the disciples against being deceived by others; in the second, it cautions them in reference to their own deportment; in its third occurrence, it calls on them to do their duty, as the Savior had done his by them in full predictions and directions; while, in its last occurrence in the chapter, its repetition seems designed to add emphasis to the injunctions immediately coming after. This first lesson is as elastic in its application as practical in its nature, which is manifest from the varying context with which it is connected. In its first context in this chapter, it puts us on our guard against deception. As originally applied, it warned the disciples against pretenders to Messiahship—competitive claimants to that dignity, or rather personators of Christ himself, alleging they were himself returned again, according to the promise of his second advent. But in principle and spirit it applies to ourselves, and is needed by Christians at all times. In a world like this, where so many things are not what they seem, we are required to be upon our guard. Satan is watching to impose on us with his lies, and deceive us to our destruction; we must beware of him. Sinners are waiting to deceive us by their enticement; we must beware of them, and when they entice us not yield consent. Sin itself contains the very essence of deception. It promises pleasures; but the pleasures of sin last only for a season, and that season is a short one, while during that season, short as it is, they do not satisfy. Often instead of pleasure it brings us pain; and it is always pain in the end. In the second of its occurrences, as above specified, the warning related to the deportment of the disciples themselves, in the extremely trying circumstances in which they would often find themselves placed. Other perils and other unsettling circumstances were of a general nature; their attention is now claimed for those more imminent and more immediately affecting themselves. When arraigned before councils or shamefully maltreated in synagogues, when scourged or scorned, amid indignities and insults and injuries, it behoved them, after their Master's example, to bear themselves bravely; when they suffered, to forbear threatening; when evil entreated, to bear up with patience and meekness as well as fortitude. When brought before rulers and kings, magistrates of the lowest and highest rank, they are reminded of the duty then especially incumbent on them—to be valiant for the truth. They were to take heed to themselves, that no unfaithfulness on their part should mar their message which they had for men, high or low, rich or poor, foes or friends, or induce them to keep back aught of the testimony they had to bear. Nay, more, they were to take heed to themselves lest they should esteem Christ's yoke a weariness, or duty to him a drudgery; but, on the contrary, to consider it a privilege to have an opportunity to testify to his cause and claims, however perilous or painful the position. In like manner, whenever opportunity is fairly afforded us to present Christ's claims, or plead his cause, or testify to the truth of his religion, it is incumbent on us joyfully to avail ourselves of it, faithfully to declare the whole counsel of God, to stand up bravely for the truth, and to "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints."
3 . The second great moral lesson. The second of these lessons is, as already intimated, the necessity of perseverance. "He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." This, in the first instance, was applicable to the apostles, and peculiarly appropriate in their case; but it has a wider scope and more general bearing. It warns against that fickleness which enters on the path of duty with eagerness and seeming earnestness, it may be, but speedily turns aside, as did the Galatians, of whom the apostle had reason to complain, "Ye did run well, but something hindered you." It cautions us against putting our hand to the plough and then turning back, as many do when they realize the arduous nature of the work, or when some discouragement comes in their way, or some formidable obstacle has to be encountered. It urges us to endurance amid the toils, the trials, the troubles, the many perplexities, the sore sufferings, and manifold afflictions which the Christian has to endure during this mortal life and strife. It exhorts us to patience , withal; we are to endure patiently, that is to say, unmurmuringly. Some endure, indeed, but their endurance loses half its virtue through the complaining and frettings that accompany it. Further, it encourages us to-perseverance—a manful holding out to the last, and to a brave persistence in the way and work of God, however arduous our task may be, and however difficult or dangerous the path we have to travel. In a word, we are to " stand fast in the faith, quit us like men, and be strong." The path of duty here, as elsewhere and often, shall prove the way of safety. If we suffer with him, we shall reign with him; if we bear the cross, we shall wear the crown.
"Then steadfast let us still remain,
Though dangers rise around,
And in the work prescribed by God
Yet more and more abound;
Assured that, though we labor now,
We labor not in vain;
But, through the grace of heaven's great Lord,
Th' eternal crown shall gain."