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from the particular abuses and extortions of those persons who were thus turned out by our Saviour, and whose practices were such as fully to justify the severe name of “ thieves.”
The case was this :— Every grown up person in the Jewish nation was obliged by the law to attend at the time of Easter in the Temple, when, after certain offerings, they were admitted to the great yearly sacrifice. In like manner, at the birth of a first-born son, and on certain other occasions, they were obliged to offer, according to their circumstances, a calf, a lamb, or a pair of young pigeons, as an offering of purification. Now as those Israelites who came from a distance could not conveniently bring the proper offerings with them, the officers of the Temple sold doves and lambs to such as wanted them for this purpose, and had their stalls within the cloisters, where, having the command of the market, and their customers being anxious to finish those religious ceremonies for which they came, they rated their commodities at a very extravagant and oppressive price, often demanding a piece of gold for a single pigeon. Hence, too, another great oppression arose; for, as the worshippers had not always sufficient money to answer such demands, or required to have their money changed, others were ready, who either lent them money at interest, contrary to the law of Moses, or required a heavy per centage on every sum, how small soever, which they reduced into a more convenient form. The noise, the quarrelling, the confusion to which such proceedings gave rise, may be easily conceived ; and as none were admitted into the Temple who did not thus
at the door, many of the poor were completely shut out from the house of God, which was, of right, common to all. As many, however, of the rich men and the magistrates derived a considerable profit from the practice, no one had power to alter that of which many complained: and St. Jerome, perhaps with reason, considers it as one of the most extraordinary miracles ever wrought by our Saviour, and only to be accounted for by the Divine terrors of His eye and His awful countenance, that a single man like Him, without any worldly authority or claim to respect, could, at once, and without resistance, drive out such a multitude of interested and insolent attendants and guards as were concerned in this traffic. But, be this as it may, whether the Divine power were visibly exercised on this occasion, or whether, as is more naturally to be supposed, the number of that believing multitude who followed Jesus with their loud hosannas, were not of itself sufficient to account for the awe which seized the profaners of the Temple, there are other considerations, which arise from this story, in themselves of more consequence and more surely founded on Scripture :
and of these the first is, that Christ, by this act of authority, laid open claim, and was understood, by the Jews, to lay such claim to the office of the Messiah, and to the rank of the Son of God. The very action itself was that of a master in his own house; and it was typical of that which our Lord himself was shortly after to accomplish; namely, the turning out of the Jewish priests and Levites from the spiritual temple of God, as stewards who had abused their trust, and who were to give place to other and more faithful guardians. Further, however, the action of casting the offending Levites out of the Temple was one which the Jews, both by tradition and prophecy, were led to expect that the Messiah should perform, as the only person who had either the power, or the lawful authority, to interfere in such a question, The general tradition ran that the Messiah was to restore the second Temple, which then stood, to the same and even greater dignity than had been enjoyed by the former; and our Saviour's conduct on this day had been accurately described four hundred years before, by the prophet Malachi. “ The Lord, whom ye seek,” are his words, “shall suddenly come to his temple, even the Messenger of the Covenant, whom ye delight in : behold, He shall come, saith the LORD of Hosts. But who may abide the day of His coming ? and who shall stand when He appeareth ? for He is
like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver ; and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.”]
The same was He, of whom John the Baptist spoke, “whose fan was in His hand, wherewith He was throughly to purge his threshing floor ;” and of whose devouring zeal for the house of God, David had long since testified. Therefore it was, that the people, beholding these things, gave honour to Him as the son of David: therefore, were the chief priests and rulers so grievously enraged, when they witnessed that this despised Nazarene had now begun to take unto himself His great power, and to reign as it had been foretold of Him: and this explains, why Jesus, when they asked Him for His authority for such acts of royalty, referred them to the testimony which John had borne of Him, and which, unless they could deny it to be of heavenly inspiration, of force compelled them to acknowledge, that He, who came after John, had been from age to age before him, and was indeed the Son of God, the King of Israel.
These things they saw, but saw in vain ; miserable that they were, whose day of was set, their opportunity of repentance gone by, and the axe of justice already laid to the tree of their strength! May we, my brethren, take warning by their faults and their fate ; and make such use of the day of the Lord, that we may understand the things which belong to our everlasting peace, before they are hid from our
1 Malachi, iii. 1, 2, 3.
There are several other more minute and practical observations which arise from this part of Scripture, and of which I shall now attempt to give you the most important. First, when we behold the reverence which Christ both himself paid, and required to be paid by others, to that Temple of the Jews, which was so soon to be destroyed, can we help perceiving the inference, which naturally follows, as to the duty of paying all due respect to the houses of
prayer in our own land, dedicated as they are to the service of a faith which is never to pass away unto the end of the world ? Let not him boast the name of Christ's follower, who neglects the outward tokens of respect within these sacred walls, even when prayers are not celebrating ; or who devotes the place of the Lord's name to profane and unworthy uses, even when the altar is empty of its mysteries. But what shall be said of those who, in the very hour of prayer, and when two or three are gathered together in the name of the Lord, and when, if they believe the Gospel, the Lord himself is personally present in the midst of them, will, before that