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by those who esteemed themselves more wise and holy than others, relying on their ritual observances, and specious, actions." They rejected the council of God toward them. Griesbach has removed from the text the words beginning the next verse, “ And the Lord said," which words rather implied that the discourse had been discontinued ; and thus obviated the only objection to considering the passage, as having been spoken by our Saviour. Matthew proceeds, as if in confirmation of John's great
« And from the days of John the Baptist, until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force."* " And these words also,” says Lightfoot, t " make for the praise of John. That he was a very eminent prophet, and of no ordinary mission or authority, these things evince; that from his preaching the kingdom of Heaven took its begining, and it was so crowded into by infi. nite multitudes, as if they would take, and sieze upon the kingdom by violence. The divine warmth of the people in betaking themselves thither by such numberless crowds, and with so exceeding a zeal, sufficiently argued the divine worth both of the teacher and of his doctrine." But this interpretation is not admitted by all. There is a total disagreement among expositors both with regard to the meaning of Bialetal, suffereth violence, and of Brasdi, the violent. Some understand the former word as does Lightfoot. Others interpret it as meaning, The kingdom of Heaven has been pow. erfully operative, or rather, has been preached with great force. Others have supposed that the enemies of the gospel, and their attempts to destroy the rising religion, are here alluded to. But this latter is not a natural interpretation. With regard to Biasals, the violent, “ I,” says Wetstein «understand by Biasas, the publicans and soldiers, (see Luke iii. 12-14.) who
* Matth. xi. 12. also Luke xvi. 16.
before lived by violence and rapine ; but now, yielding to the serious admonitions of the Baptist, struggled against themselves, and endeavoured with all their power to remove the stains which were upon their characters, and amend their lives by repentance. They siezed on that, (viz. divine knowledge,] which seemed properly to belong to the priests, levites, and rabbis.” Others understand by the violent, those who sought the blessings of Christianity with strong desire. Perhaps on the whole the following interpretation of this metaphorical language, which is authorized by Schleusner, may be preferred. Since John has preached, religious zeal has been generally excited, and things pertaining to divine knowledge have been assiduously pursued, and obtained by all who are eagerly desirous of them; they now being openly taught, and not confined to the learned and
Matth. xi. 13.1 6 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John," or, “ All the prophets and the law were your teachers until John.” That is, the annunciations and allusions of scripture were not realized until John came. There appears to be here a contrast between the obscurity of prophecy, and the clearness of the knowledge attainable in consequence of the presence and instructions of Christ. Wetstein says, “ To prophecy and to see are opposed. . (Inf. xiii. 16, 17.) All the prophets obscurely and enigmatically announced those things which John in part saw, but which you now clearly behold.” Our Lord here declares, that what was the constant subject of prophecy, and implied continually in the law, had begun to take place at the coming of John. Thus obscurely acknowledging himself to be the Messiah, and John to be his forerunner.
Matth. xi. 14. “ And if ye will receive it, this is Elias
which was for to come.” If John was the predicted precursor of the Christ, and John had born testimony that Jesus was he, it followed that Jesus was the Messiah. This our Saviour knew would not be readily acknowledged: he therefore says, “ if ye will receive it," i. e. “ if ye will bear that I should tell you the truth."* But a difficulty here occurs : John denied that he was Elias. I will endeavour to remove it.
The prophecy of Malachi is very express that Elias should be the precursor of Christ. “I will send you Elijah the prophet be. fore the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” This is rendered by the LXX,“ Behold, I send unto you Elias the Tisbite;" and if the original Hebrew had been thus written, the expectations of the Jews could not, it would seem, have been more decidedly directed than they were, to a literal ap. pearance of the prophet Elijah. In his dialogue with Justin Martyr, Trypho declares, “ All we Jews expect the Christ to be a man, and that Elias will anoint him at his coming ;" and it is one of the objections to the Messiahship of Jesus, that he was not preceded by this prophet. The fathers of the Christain church, not knowing how better to remove this difficulty, admitted that this prophecy was yet to be fulfilled, and in its literal sense. They said that it related to the second coming of Christ, previous to which Elijah would appear. “ As John,” says Chrysostom,“ was the precursor of Christ at his first coming, so Elias will be the precursor of his second." Theophylact argues to the same conclusion from Matth. xvii. 11. where Jesus says, “ Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things;" “ When he says," observes this father, « Elias will come, he shows that he has not yet come ; for he will come the precursor of his second advent, and restore to the faith of Christ all those Jews who are found obedient." And this he says, notwithstanding Christ immediately added,
* Clarke's Paraph.
† Mal. iv. 5.
* Elias is come already.” This however he interprets, when explaining the passage we are considering, in the following manner. f ye will receive it, i. e, if you will judge with a sound mind, and not invidiously, this is Elias, whom the prophet Malachi said would come, for this precursor and Elias have the same ministry; the one is the precursor of the first, the other of the second advent."*_Indeed the opinion, that Elijah himself would appear to precede the second coming of Christ, seems to have been almost universal among the fathers. “Tradit tota patrum antiquitas," says La Cerda; and the same is affirmed by other writers.t
I will not spend time in refuting so idle a notion. It is not easy to find in the New Testament a more express declaration than that, this [John] was the Elias which was to come ;' he in whom the prophecy of Malachi was fulfilled ; he who was to convert the heart of the fathers together with the children, and the heart of the children together with the fathers ;' If John denied that he was Elias, he denied truly; he was not the Elias whom the Jews expected, the prophet returned again to this world. If Christ affirmed that he was Elias, he affirmed truly; he was the Elias whom the prophets had predicted, who came in the spirit and power of Elias, and to whom the name of that prophet had been figuratively applied. That this name was figuratively used in the passage of Malachi, would be the only idea that would occur to a rational interpreter of the scriptures. The Jews however, there is abundant evidence, expected from this passage a literal advent of the ancient prophet. It is this notion of the Jews that John contradicts; and from this cause only, an apparent opposition is produced between him and our Saviour. In a similar manner may be explained how it was, that when our Saviour declares John to have been a prophet, he himself tells the Jews, in answer to a question proposed by them, that he was not the prophet, i. e. not some particular prophet other than Elijah, (probably Jeremiah, see Matth. xvi. 14.) whom they intended by their question.
* Suiceri Thesaurus, verb. Hurces. | Whitby in Matth. * See Wetstein's New Test, vol. i. pp. 382, 383.
Our Saviour having thus given proofs that he was the Christ, first from his own miracles, and then from the fulfilment of the prophecy of Malachi in John the Baptist, proceeds to exhort those who were present at the declaration of such glorious truths, to reflect on and understand them.
He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."