« PreviousContinue »
the world from the land of Judea : the story of Naaman is wonderfully instructive in all its circumstances *. Upon another occasion, the prophet made iron to swim, when the head of an axe was lost in a river. How are we to justify the wisdom of God, in recovering a thing of little value by the exercise of a power so extraordinary? The reason of this, being not in the thing itself, must be found in the use and sense of the thing; and we must ask here, as the
people did on the occasion, when Ezechiel acted in a manner they could not account for, what are these things unto us? When this miracle is examined according to the rule of faith, we see in it a pledge of our own recovery from the consequences of the Fall, by the power of Christ's death and resurrection. For let us mark the circumstances, and they will speak for themselvest. The sons of the prophets complain of dwelling in a place too strait for them; and, as they are at work for their own enlargement, the head of an axe falls from its helve into the river Jordan; and the loss was the worse because it was borrowed : Alas, master, said the workman to the prophet, for it was borrowed! The prophet, having cut down a stick of wood, casts it in at the place; with which the iron swims,
* 2 Kings v.
+ 2 Kings i. 6.
and the man recovers what he had lost. Upon this case let us venture thus to argue, after the manner of the primitive Christians, and we shall not be far from the truth. As the head of the axe, the better part of it, was lost in the water, so did the soul or spirit of man, the better part of him, fall into death the very day on which he undertook to enlarge and improve his condition: and when man loses his soul, he. loses what is not his own, but that for which he is accountable to God, who hath trusted it to his free will; and, if lost upon a vain experiment, he must be accountable for it, and hath just reason to bewail the obligation he is under. For when the soul of man is lost and sunk, no human power can recover it. As surely as iron rests at the bottom of a deep river, so surely must the soul of man remain for ever under the dominion of death. But as the prophet, by casting in wood, which swims of its own nature, brought up the iron with it, so doth the Son of Man draw all men unto himself: the branch of the stem of Jesse was cut down, and cast with us into the waters of death: but as wood, if thrown to the bottom of a river, will rise up again, so could death have no power over him. And thus are we, when sunk and lost, raised up to life by the power of his resurrection upon
When considered in this
power exercised by the prophet gives us as true and philosophical a pattern of the miracle of our salvation, as the whole circle of nature can afford: and as such I have often reflected upon the case with admiration and pleasure not to be express sed *
When the widow cried unto the prophet in behalf of herself and her two sons, who were seized by the creditor for bond-men, he could have found means of paying their debt, without multiplying a vessel of oil by a miracle †: but then, our faith would not have been able to learn from the story, how the two sons of the church, the Jews and the Gentiles, are redeemed from the bondage of sin and death by Jesus Christ, the great prophet; to whom the spirit was given without measure, as the oil was given to that inexhaustible vessel, and of whose fullness we have all received. St. Augustin has an excellent discourse upon all the circumstances of this miracle, and applies them as every other commentator will do, who has the Scripture ready in his mind, and interprets by the same rule.
Ву Compare what hath been here said with the interpretation of Irenæus, lib. v. 17.
+ 2 Kings 4.
By a miracle of like sense and signification, did our blessed Saviour pay tribute for himself and his disciple from the mouth of a fish which came first out of the sea*, I have a notion of my own, for which I can produce no authority of any commentator, that the three orders of animals, the fowls of the air, the beasts of the earth, and the fishes of the sea, represent three states of being : the fowls of the air, the angelic or spiritual nature, both bad and good; the land animals, the present state of man's life; the fish of the sea, the state of the dead, who are silent and invisible. This may appear strange and visionary to those who have not considered it: but, if the distinction is founded on the Scripture, then the fish, that first cometh up, is he that first cometh up from the dead, as Christ did; the first fruits of them that slept : and as he rose for our justification, he brought with him our ransom, to be paid for those who have no tribute-money of their own to give. With this sense, the case was worthy of the divine interposition.
There is another miracle of our Saviour, which, when considered in itself, as it stands in the letter of the history, is very difficult, and hath perplexed many commentators; but is
easily reconciled, if we take it in its undoubted signification. In the way to Jerusalem our Lord saw a fig-tree, which had nothing but leaves upon it when he wished for fruit; and he pronounced sentence upon it; in consequence of which it soon withered away*. Now a fig-tree is no object of a curse, unless it be for a sign or figure ; least of all could this figtree be so, because, as the history adds, it was not yet the season of figs t; had it been so, they would have been gathered, in which case no fruit could have been expected, and then the tree had not been proper for the use he intended to make of it, as a sign of the character and fate of the Jewish church. He was returning in displeasure from Jerusalem, where he had observed the unprofitable state of the people, whose religion was now reduced to a form of words, without any good works as a fig-tree having leaves but no fruit: and from this example it was to be understood, that, as the fig-tree withered away, so should the fruitless Jerusalem perish. Its fate is els
* Mark xi. 13, 21. + A fig-tree with us has always figs upon it in'some stage or other. If it was not the time of pigs, they had not yet been gathered; so the tree should have had its fruit