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upon them, to afflict, but not to make a full end; and only enough be reserved at the close to purge away the obstinate transgressors, and then to bow the stubborn hearts of the remnant, that in their affliction they may look on Him whom they have pierced, and mourn.
Again, we may conceive the divine righteousness to be the virtual standard by which the words are explained. The moral nature of the tribulation is a penal chastisement for the accumulated sins and stubborn unbelief of the Jewish people. After their long abuse of privileges, and their rejection of the Gospel itself, th natural effect of God's judicial righteousness would be to send on them unmitigated and severest vengeance, till they either repented of their guilt, or were completely destroyed. But such was their blindness of heart at the time when the judgment began, that, had this course been pursued, the nation would have perished, and none have turned to Christ with a godly sorrow. The whole scheme of mercy to the nation in times to come would then have failed, and the season of the ingathering of the elect from the Gentiles would itself have been excluded. Therefore, for the elect's sake, the days should be shortened. The woe should be stopped short, before its severity should have exterminated the whole people. It should be resumed and completed only when the elect from the Gentiles should be gathered in, and when their long dispersion, and the provocation of them to jealousy by the long course of Gentile privileges, should, as moral antecedents, have prepared the way for the conversion and repentance of a large remnant, when the last dregs of the woe should descend on them in the last days.
These two explanations, though drawn from distinct principles, are in substantial harmony with each other. They both suggest the conclusion, that the shortening
of the days denotes a suspense, for an indefinite period, of the severity of judgment upon the Jews, that the elect Church may be gathered in, and also that the nation may be brought into a state to profit unto repentance, by the closing acts of divine indignation and vengeance. The tribulation is thus one and the same at the beginning and close of the period, in its moral and judicial character—“the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” It would also be one even in its chronology, were it not for this express departure from the natural order of Divine Providence, for a peculiar object, the ingathering and salvation of the elect people of God. And, in strict accordance with this view, the interval is styled in St. Luke, “the times of the Gentiles ;" which may denote equally the times of Gentile domination; and the times of peculiar favour, when God is visiting the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for His name.
The great tribulation, in this view, may be defined as the season of special divine retribution on the people of Israel—the days of vengeance, which, as the words of St. Luke imply, are the burden of all the prophecies. This season has two parts--one in the apostolic age, when the Jews were destroyed, the temple overthrown, and the remnant led captive into all nations ; the other, a little before the second advent, when there shall be distress of nations and perplexity, and men's hearts shall fail them with fear. These two seasons are morally one; but in chronology they are widely separate, through this provision of divine wisdom and forbearance, in shortening the days until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. We have probably a similar instance in the last week of Daniel's vision; which, in consequence of the unnatural guilt of the Jews in the cutting off of Messiah, is separated from the rest by an unna
tural break; and, as was suspected from the earliest times (Primas. in Rev. xi. 9), may have a second or sole fulfilment in the last days.
There is a further harmony in this explanation of the prophecy which deserves to be noticed.
The flight described in Matt. xxiv. 16-20, on this hypothesis, relates entirely to the days of Titus. Accordingly, we know that a flight of the Christians, agreeably to the warning of our Lord, did take place at that time. On the other hand, the prophecy of Zechariah, and other texts that relate to the final siege of Jerusalem, seem rather to exclude the expectation of a local flight of believing Jews at that later period.
Again, the verses Matt. xxiv. 23-28 will be referred, on this view, to the last days, and to a season still future. Accordingly, they agree to the letter with the description in St. Luke xvii., which bears the plainest tokens of a reference to the last times and the actual revelation of the Son of Man. They also resemble Matt. xxiv. 5, but with a remarkable amplification. And this confirms the opinion that they relate to a distinct season, when similar delusions shall be repeated on a larger scale, and with more awful intensity. Every verbal feature of the prophecy seems thus to be satisfied by the above explanation. Its beginning and its close are alike left in their natural connexion and simple meaning; while the transition from one to the other is supplied from the words of St. Luke, with the clearest evidence of its existence and its true place in the prophetic series.
VI. One important question still remains the true meaning of those remarkable words, “ This generation shall not pass away till all these things be fulfilled.” Perhaps no text has given rise to a greater variety of opinions; and its difficulty and importance seem to
make it desirable that each of the principal ones should receive, at least, a short examination.
1. The simplest explanation of this verse, taken alone, is doubtless that which refers the whole prophecy, without exception, to the fall of Jerusalem. This is the exposition of Bishop Newton and many other divines.
But here the difficulty is only multiplied; and in simplifying the explication of one verse, we perplex and distort at least twenty others from their plain meaning. Nor is anything really gained with regard to the integrity of our Saviour's statement in the verse itself. For if we accept for the fulfilment of his words, events so totally different as the fall of Jerusalem is from the appearing of the Son of Man with the attendant angels, and the gathering of all the elect into His presence; then the solemn affirmation in the following verse has its force quite as much limited or impaired as it can be by any other solution whatever. We must, therefore, reject this view as directly opposed to the plain scope of nearly half the prophecy, confirmed by the second inquiry of the disciples, “What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world ?”
2. The next solution, adopted by perhaps all the Futurists, renders the words of our Lord—“ The same generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled.” Or otherwise, which is nearly the same, it supposes the words “ this generation” to be referred mentally to the generation living when the previous events occur. Thus Mr. Mac Causland paraphrases, after attempting to disprove two other interpretations:
“ As surely as ye know that summer shall immediately follow the budding of the fig-tree, so surely know also, that, when ye see all these things, the kingdom of heaven is nigh at hand; and that 'this generation, that is, the same generation of believers that shall see the commencement shall see the end of the dispen
sation and the full completion of the prophecy...... The space of time will be so brief, that the generation which shall witness the commencement, will be, for the most part, in existence at its conclusion, and may calculate on beholding it as securely as they calculate on the approach of summer by the budding of the fig-tree."
This general solution has been received with surprising facility by several writers, who in general differ widely from the Futurist system ; and on this account demands a full and exact scrutiny. However plausible it may appear at first sight, I believe that no one ex. planation is more unsatisfactory, or loaded with more insuperable objections.
(1). And first, our Lord is thus made to assert that all the events of the prophecy shall be fulfilled exclusively in the last generation of the Church. In other words, the sentence becomes a solemn assertion, that not one clause of the prediction relates to the fall of the actual temple, which was the first great subject of the disciples' inquiry. The same assertion will also be made concerning the prediction in St. Luke, which even Mr. Mac Causland refers to the days of Titus. This one reason alone, the entire frustration of the disciples' inquiry, should be a sufficient refutation of the suggested version.
(2). Next, the words thus explained directly contradict what we have proved to be the true meaning of the discourse, and therefore all the arguments already adduced are conclusive against it.
(3). Thirdly, it deprives the words of all practical use. For, by supposition, the events at the fall of Jerusalem, though they correspond exactly with, at least, the first eight verses, were no real fulfilment of the prediction. Yet no test is given us to know the actual generation designed, but the fulfilment of the first events of the prophecy. Therefore, neither false Christs, nor