« السابقةمتابعة »
were the peculiar doctrines of the Encratites or Continentes, a sect which appeared very early in the second century, and amongst whom it is not improbable, that the same madness of superstitious enthusiasm, which soon after led men into hermitages, monasteries, and even to stand for a great length of time in an erect posture on the top of a pillar, might have produced some instances of the unnatural self-violence the author speaks of, not long after the rise of that sect, the very allusion to which convicts him of being a writer later than those instances, that is, not earlier than near the middle of the second century; but it is absolutely impossible that in our Saviour's time, almost as soon as the New Covenant of the kingdom of God was begun to be preached, and even before his disciples comprehended its nature and intent, any men could have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of it. In the latter half of the second, and within the third century, indeed, such numerous instances occurred in consequence of the approbation of our Saviour himself, supposed to be given in this spurious Gospel, which had been received as the Apostle Matthew's, that early in the fourth century, the first Council of Nice, in conformity to
the Mosaic Law* which forbad any Man, that had a blemish or defect, from performing the office of a priest, decreed that no man, who had castrated himself, should be admitted into, or retained in any clerical office : though the same Council evinced their attachment to the principles and doctrines of the Encratites, by decreeing, at the same time, that no man of the clerical order should be allowed to marry. It should be observed also, that in the introduction to this curious discourse, the writer again betrays the grossest ignorance of the geography of the country; for he says, it passed when our Saviour “ leaving Galilee, came into the coasts of “Judea beyond Jordan ;” though the Jordan was the eastern boundary of both the Jewish and Roman province of Judea, and consequently no part of it was beyond the Jordan.
V. The twentieth chapter begins with another parable peculiar to this author, who, with his usual incongruity of figurative language, here resembles the kingdom of heaven to an householder hiring labourers into his vineyard, at different hours of the day, and in the evening, paying those who were hired early in the morning, the stipulated, customary price of their day's labour, and generously giving the very same sum to all those who were hired later, or even to such as had worked only a single hour. But if, by working in the vineyard, is meant men's performing the moral duties of the Gospel; and by their payment in the evening, is to be understood, the rewards of that future life, which God has promised to all faithful and true Christians; there is not the least resemblance of any kind between the circumstances of the Gospel Covenant and those of the bargain made with the labourers in the parable: for ever since the Gospel has been preached to the world, wheresoever it is known, the labourers in the Christian vineyard are invited all together to enter into it; and the same covenanted terms are proposed to all, without any partial choice or predilection, viz. an eternal life of happiness in heaven. Now in this parable, though the labourers, who had wrought the entire day, having received the bare payment they had earned, had certainly no right to complain of injustice in the householder, nor to controul his generosity towards the others, in giving them more than they had earned ; yet surely they must feel the great difference between his mere justice to themselves, and his extraordinary liberality to those who had wrought but one hour; and we cannot wonder that they murmured at so seemingly unreasonable a preference and partiality, in the distribution of his bounty. But the eternity of happiness, promised us in the Gospel, is so transcendent a recompense that, in comparison of it, the difference between the longest and the shortest life of man becomes perfectly evanescent; we are all, therefore, taught to consider ourselves as unprofitable, that is, unmeriting servants, who, in constantly doing our utmost, can barely do our duty : and, instead of finding cause to murmur, the best of men must see reason for endless gratitude to the Deity, for the Gospel promises of such an infinite and undeserved portion of his beneficence. The beginning of the twenty-first chapter contains the history of our Lord's entry into Jerusalem, amidst the hosannas of the people, as predicted by the prophet Zecharjah, “meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt, “ the foal of an ass;” but this writer was so ignorant of the usual pleonasm and redundancy of the Hebrew idiom, that, misunder
* Lev. xxi. 17–24. Q
standing the prophet, who only means to say, that the promised king would come riding on an ass, and that the ass he should ride on, would be a young one, or an ass's colt, he supposes him to predict his riding upon two asses; and therefore, to shew that the prophecy was more literally accomplished than Luke's history had shewn it to be, he informs us, our Lord sent two of his disciples to fetch an ass and a colt with her : that “they “brought the ass and the colt, and put on “ them their clothes, and they set him upon “ them.” In what position either the writer himself, or those who, for so many centuries, have believed him to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ, conceived our Saviour to have been seated on two animals at a time, I pretend not to determine; but surely, a more glaring instance of the gross ignorance of the one, respecting the Jewish prophecies, and of the extreme credulity of the others, need not be produced ' '
At the twenty-eighth verse of this chapter, there is a kind of an attempt at another parable; but whether working in the vineyard means becoming Christians, or living righteously under any religious institution; why publicans and harlots are styled the eldest