And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,…
Well-known as these words are, there is in them something, when we think of it, unexpected; something different, apparently, from what we should have looked for. The condemnation of the people seems to be put upon a cause somewhat unlike what we might have thought. The Lord does not say, it is because ye are about to crucify the Lord of Glory; or, because ye have been a sinful and stiff-necked people; or, because by your traditions ye have made the Word of God of none effect; or, because ye are hypocrites, or impenitent: though all these things, and many more, were not only true against the people, but had often been alleged by Himself to their condemnation. He does not, I say, allege any of these broad, overt, intelligible sins in this, the last most solemn, irreversible denunciation of their judgment; but He says, "Because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation!" God had visited His people, and they knew it not I He had come unto His own, and His own had known Him not He does not even say, that they had pretended not to know Him; but, literally and plainly, that they knew Him not. They might have known Him; they ought to have known Him; but He came, and they knew Him not. Let us learn, then, that men may really be quite ignorant of what they are doing, and yet very guilty, and involved in the heaviest condemnation. But, again, are we to suppose that they did not choose to know; that they might, then and there, by a stronger exercise of will, by some more forcible or candid purpose, have known what they thus wilfully were ignorant of? It is possible that they might; but it is by no means certain: that is, it is by no means certain that much disobedience, much inattention to the constant indications of God's will vouchsafed to them, much neglect of opportunities, had not set them so much out of the way of forming right judgments on such things, as to make it morally impossible, or, at least, in the highest degree unlikely, that they should come to a right knowledge of the nature of our Lord and the sacredness of His mission. No doubt they had, if we may so speak, a great deal to say for themselves, in their firm and persevering rejection of our Lord and His doctrine; not, indeed, a word of real weight or truth, but a great deal which, urged by men in their state of mind, and addressed to men of their state of mind, would appear to be full of force and cogency. Would they not, feeling no doubt of the sacred validity of their own traditions, look upon Him and describe Him as one who made light of the authority of God, and of Moses, and the ancients? May we not easily suppose with what immense effect they would urge the impolicy of giving any heed to our Lord's teaching: the impolicy in respect of the Romans; the impolicy in respect of the great impediment which would, by our Lord's partial success, be thrown in the way of the true, temporal Messias, so long expected? If we suppose that the actions, which we criticize, appeared to the persons who were about to perform them in the same clear and unquestionable light in which we see them, we at once lose, or rather turn into mischief and hurt, the historical examples: we do exactly what the Jews did, when they said, "If we had lived in the times of our fathers, we would not have been partakers in their deeds," and yet filled up the measure of those very fathers, by doing a deed precisely like theirs in kind, though infinitely worse than theirs in degree. We comfort ourselves by condemning them, while we exactly imitate, or even exceed their sins. We, like them — like all mankind — are perpetually called upon to act; often suddenly — often in cases of great and obvious consequence — often in cases apparently slight, but really of most serious and vital importance to us: the same per. plexities and bewilderments as I just described, of feeling, of policy, of liberality and candour, of conscience, of foreseen consequences, rise up around us; we act in more or less uncertainty of mind, but our uncertainties often woefully aggravated by our previous misconduct; and there are many to excuse us, many to encourage us, many to take part with us, and yet, in the sight of God, our act is one, it may be, of clear and undoubted sin. But again, the particular thing of which the Jews were in this instance ignorant, was the visitation of God. Christ had come to them, God had visited His people; and they, blinded by all these various kinds of self-deceit, of long. continued disobedience, of inveterate hardness of heart, and neglect of lesser indications of God's will and presence, had not known Him. Now here again is matter of high concern and warning to us all. For we, too, have our visitations of God; if not exactly such as this great one of Christ coming actually in the flesh, for us to worship or to crucify, according as our hearts recognize and know Him, or disown and rebel against Him, yet visitations many, various, and secret. But it by no means follows that we have known them. Some, indeed, may have been so striking as not to be mistaken. But many, perhaps most, perhaps the most searching and important, may have been absolutely unknown to us. And not less than this seems to be plainly taught by our Lord, where, in the 25th of St. Matthew, He describes the actual scene of judgment. The righteous and the wicked alike seem to be amazed to hear of the matters alleged for their acquittal and condemnation. How unexpected, then, may be to us the voice of judgment!
Parallel VersesKJV: And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,