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no bread.” They understood him literally; he was speaking figura. ratively, therefore, he says to them, “ Why do ye not understand ? It is not concerning bread that I said to you, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." You see how careful he is to correct the meaning, though no great harm could have arisen from the error, for no great doctrine was based upon it. But there is a more special circumstance with regard to this passage.
Our Saviour saw that his expression was misunderstood by the apostles, and now afterwards, in the twelfth chapter of Luke, which is placed by Townsend, and all modern writers on the Harmonies, as a much later discourse than the previous one, our Saviour wished to make use of the same image. He remem. bered how his phrases had been misunderstood by the apostles before, and he is careful therefore to explain them. Hence, he says,
" Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy;" thus guarding against the recurrence of that misunderstanding which had before taken place.
Once more. In John iv. 32. Jesus said to his disciples, “ I have meat to eat which you know not of.” They understood him literally; he meant to be understood figuratively. “ The disciples, therefore, said one to another, Hath any man brought him any thing to eat? Jesus saith to them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me." He corrects their mistake, and shows he was speaking figuratively. Again, in John xi. II, “ Lazarus our friend sleepeth.” Our Saviour saw they mistook his meaning. They said to bim, “ Lord, if be sleepeth he will do well"—there is a chance of his recovery. “ But Jesus spoke of his death ; but they thought that he spoke of the repose of sleep. Then, therefore, Jesus said to them plainly, Lazarus is dead.” No harm could have ensued from their continuing to believe that Lazarus was likely to recover, as our Saviour intended to raise him from the dead; but no, he would not allow them to take bis figurative words literally, in such an insignificant case as this, and therefore he said to them plainly, “ Lazarus is dead-I wish to be understood of his death, not literally of sleep.” In another instance, Matthew xix. 24. when the disciples took literally the expression, “ It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Our Saviour instantly corrects them by adding, that it was “a thing impossible with men, but not to God:” they had taken the words literally, and consequently understood them as a practical impossibility. In the one case as in the other, our Saviour corrected them, and told them that he did not mean the figure of possibility or impossibility to be pushed so far; he only meant, according to human power, it was impossible, brit with God all things are possible. Again, he
says, “ Whither I go ye caunot come.” The Jews took the phrase literally, because he said, “ Whither I go ye cannot come.” He replies,
with great meekness and simplicity, “ You are from beneath, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world”-I mean “as I go to the world to which I belong, and as you do not belong to that world, of course you cannot come with me.” Our Saviour explains his expression. There are three or four other expressions exactly of the same nature, but in every one of which our Saviour acts in the same way; that is to say, an objection is raised against his doctrine; he is misunderstood by the words which he meant to be figurative being taken literally, and he invariably corrects it, and lets his hearers know that he meant to be understood figuratively.
I know but of two passages which can in the least be brought against these;
and the one is where our Saviour speaks of his body under the figure of a temple, and they understood it of his body; and the other is, where the Samaritan woman understood him as speaking of water literally, and he seems not to explain it. Now, if I had sufficient time to enter into the analysis of these two discourses, which would take a very considerable time, I would proceed to show you here, how both these instances are perfectly inapplicable to this case; that there are peculiar circumstances, involving a very minute analysis of the two passages which take them out of this class, and place them in two distinct classes, quite by themselves. Indeed, I would show you, that so far from going against these, they rather go to confirm them.
But, as I think that these passages together establish the rule quite sufficiently, I proceed at once to the other class ; that is to say, where objections are brought against our Saviour's doctrine, grounded upon taking them literally, when he meant them to be taken literally. In the ninth chapter of Matthew our Saviour said to the man sick of the palsy, “ Son, be of good heart, thy sins are forgiven thee.” The Scribes took these words literally in the sense of forgiving sins, and they make an objection to the doctrine. They say immediately, “ This man blasphemeth ;” that is to say, by arrogating to himself the power literally of forgiving sins. What does our Saviour say? He repeats the expression which had given rise to the difficulty—those very words which had given offence. He says immediately, “ Whether is easier to say, Thy sins are forgiven thee, or to say, Arise and walk? But, that you may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins
then said he to the man sick of the palsy,” and so on. therefore, in the second place, that when his hearers object to what he says, taking it in a literal sense, and being right in so doing, he does not remove the objection, he insists upon being believed in a literal sense, and repeats the expression. Again, in the eighth chapter of John, our blessed Saviour says, “Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it, and was glad.” The Jews took his words literally, as though he meant to say, that he was contemporary with Abraham, and they said
to him, “ Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham ?” They took his words literally, and objected to the doctrine. How did he answer? By repeating the very words which bad given offence : “ Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am.” He confirms the doctrine by repeating it again. In the sixth chapter of John, the very chapter under discussion, we have an instance where the Jews said, “ Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then he saith, I came down from heaven?" They took him literally; they objected to it; be repeats it again, he insists upon it no less than three times, that he came down from heaven,
Thus, then, we have two rules for ascertaining, whether the Jews were right or wrong. Whenever the Jews took our Saviour's words literally, which he meant to be understood figuratively, he universally explained them, and told them, and made them understand, that he only meant that they should be taken figuratively. Whenever the Jews were right in taking them literally, and objected to the doctrine, he repeated the pbrases which had given offence. Now, therefore, if our Saviour in this case modifies the expression, and tells the Jews when they said, “ How can this man give us bis flesh to eat ?" that be meant to be understood figuratively, then the passage belongs to the first class of cases, and the Jews were wrong in taking him literally, and so are we. But if, instead of this, he repeats the obnoxious phrase, then it belongs to the second class, the Jews were rigbt, and so are we. That is a simple rule, and I do not see any objection that there can be made to it: I do not see that we can be long in perceiving to which class it belongs.
Take the three instances together. First, this one of Nicodemus, “ Unless a man be born again of water and of the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Secondly, that of Abraham, “ Your father rejoiced that he might see my day: he saw it, and was glad :" and, thirdly, the passage in our case: “ If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever : and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.” These are three propositions.
Now come to the three objections. 1.“ Nicodemus saith to him, How can a man be born again when he is old ?”—2. “ The Jews said, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham. 3. “ The Jews, therefore, debated among themselves, saying ; How can this man give us his flesh to eat.” The two last are exactly parallel objections.
Now for the method of answering them. In the first case, “ Jesus answered and said to him, Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The expression is modified into a figurative one. The second answer: “ Jesus said to them, Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Now let us see to which of these two answers has its parallel. 3. “ Then
Jesus said to them, Amen, amen, I say to you: except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye shall not have life in you.” Does our Saviour modify the expression ? Does he say,
“ Unless a man eat my flesh figuratively, in spirit,” as he did to Nicodemus? Or does be repeat the very expression? If he does, it belongs to the second class of passages, to those passages where his hearers were right in taking him literally, and objected to his doctrine on that ground; and, therefore, I conclude, that the hearers of our Saviour, the Jews, are proved, by the methods universally followed by our Saviour, to have been right, in taking the words in their literal sense.
If they were right, we are also right, and we are warranted also in taking that interpretation.
After this argument, I need only proceed in as summary a way as possible, to examine and to analyze our Saviour's answer, because I am not content merely with saying, that our Saviour repeated the phrase, thereby showing that the Jews were right, but I am anxious that you should see in what way he repeats it, and what peculiar circumstances there are to give extraordinary force to his answer.
The first is, that it is now proposed under the form of a precept. We all know, that when a command is given, the words should be necessarily literal and simple; there should be as little figure as possible; all should be conveyed in the clearest and most easily understood sense. Now our Saviour goes on to give a very important precept, one to which a most solemn sanction is attached, and also a penalty for its neglect; for he says,
“ Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.” Here then is a precept, with eternal life to be lost or gained by doing something. Can we believe, that our Saviour clothed it under such extraordinary images as these are shown to be, and that he made use of such strange phraseology in laying down a precept, to the observance of which eternal life was to be attached, and by the neglect of which eternal punishment was to be incurred? What are we, therefore, to conclude ? That this is to be taken in its strictest and most literal sense. And this becomes still more evident when we observe, that it is proposed in a two-fold form, in a positive and in a negative shape, for our Saviour says, “ Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life.” We have, therefore, the precept with its promise, and we have the neglect with its threat. Now this is precisely that form which is used by our Saviour in instituting baptism, where he says first of all, " He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be con. demned.” It is this form, therefore, which is used by our Saviour in
inculcating a precept of the first rate importance. Such, therefore, we must believe this one to be; and, in the same way, being a precept, we must take it literally.
In the second place, our Saviour now goes on to make a distinction between eating and drinking; to mark, in a very striking manner, the difference between eating his flesh and drinking his blood, over and over again. But if there be a figure in this, there should be no distinction between eating his flesh and drinking his blood. If it is meant simply of believing, no doubt it is precisely the same thing; it is immaterial which should be the symbol of everlasting life. This distinction still further confirms, that he meant to be understvod literally.
In the third place, when he gives a very strong asseveration, such as the expression “ Amen, amen;" which is always used when a particular emphasis, a particular weight is meant to be given to words; it should be held, that it should be taken in the most simple and obvious signification.
In the fourth place, it is even a qualifying and determinating phrase, for he says, “ My flesh is meat indeed,” truly, verily meat; that his blood is verily drink. This surely should go far to exclude the idea that it was only figurative meat, figurative drink. When a person says 66 verily, truly,” we are to understand him literally, if it is possible for the language to express literal signification.
Finally, to pass over a great many observations, our Saviour uses that exceedingly strong, harsh expression, “ He that eateth me,” a phrase which has something almost, I should say, painful, even when repeated, however spiritually understood. We can hardly conceive that he would make use of such a strong, marked expression, so much at variance, not only with the formularies used in the preceding portion of his discourse, but also with the passages quoted from the prophets and others, whenever he discoursed of this doctrine, or delivered precepts, or anything of the sort.
This very concise, almost superficial analysis of our Saviour's answer (for I might have filled up every one of these items by considerable illustration from other passages of Scripture), goes still further to confirm the result at which we have arrived, from the examination of various illustrations that have any weight in determining the meaning of our Saviour's expressions. But now we come to another expression : the disciples immediately said, “ This is a hard saying ;” a hard diffi. culty; meaning, it is a disagreeable, an odious proposition. It is in this sense that such an expression is constantly used by classic authors. For instance, it is said in one classical author, speaking of the example of any one, who stood so closed in that he had no chance of escape, - This is a hard saying,” using precisely the same Greek word wbich is used in this passage, that is to say, it is one repugnant to human feeling,