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that they had embraced it themselves, and an earnest of their intention to obey it.
35. For I was an hungered, “hungry,” and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and
took me in. The great value of these services, when performed for the preachers of the gospel, can only appear from considering the state of things in these early times: for as there were no public inns, for the reception of travellers, they were obliged to depend upon the hospitality of private persons; and if this failed, to lodge in the streets. Hence hospitality to strangers came to be esteemed a virtue of great value, and those who practised it prided themselves on possessing so excellent a quality. Job says, xxxi. 52, “The stranger did not lodge in the street; but I opened my door to the traveller.” Against showing such hospitality to Christians, whose principles were so obnoxious, and brought danger upon all who appeared in the smallest degree to countenance them, there were strong objections: few would have courage to do it, except those who were themselves Christians, or inclined to become so *; yet was it absolutely necessary to the propagation of the gospel: great rewards were therefore promised to those who received and entertained the apostles; and severe threatenings denounced against those who refused to admit them into their house. Thus, when Christ sent out his apostles to preach, he declares, “ he that receiveth you receiveth me; and he that receiveth a prophet, in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet's reward; and whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones," meaning his disciples, “a cup of cold water, only, in the name of a disciple,” i. e. as a disciple, "verily I say unto you, He shall in no wise lose his reward t;" and, in another place; “whoso shall receive one such little child,” meaning still a disciple,“ in my name receiveth me.” The consequences of refusing to entertain the apostles and first preachers of the gospel are thus described; “ and whoso shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house, or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah, in the day of judgment, than for that city*." 36.
* Acts xvi. 15. xvii. 7. + Matt. x. 40, 41, 42. Matt. xvii. 5.
Naked, and ye clothed me. As the apostles, when sent out to preach, were to carry nothing with them for their journey; neither gold nor silver; neither two coats nor shoest; but to depend for these things upon the charitable contributions of those whom they instructed, it would often happen that they wanted decent clothing: the conduct of those who supplied their necessities in this respect is here commended.
I was sick, and ye visited me. Frequent sickness would be the natural consequence of much fatigue and great exposure in travelling continually. On these occasions, the circumstances of the apostles and first preachers were so much the more deplorable, as they were at a distance from their friends, and from the means of relief; without the humane attention of their fellow-christians they must perish.
I was in prison, and ye came unto nie.
How often it was the lot of the first Christians to be in prison, I need not mention to those who are acquainted with their history. The apostle Paul probably referred to this passage, when he prays for Onesiphorus, who oft refreshed him, and was not ashamed of his chain; but when he was in Rome, he sought him out very diligently, and found him, “The Lord grant unto him, that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day I,” i. e. the day of judgment: may Christ reward his visits to me in prison, as he has promised.
37. Then shall the righteous an
Matt. x. 14, 15. + Matt. x. 9, 10. 2 Tim. i. 16, 17, 18.
swer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38. When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in; or naked, and clothed thee?
39. Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
As it was not obvious how those on the right hand could have rendered the judge such services as he had mentioned, they are represented as asking him, how it could be, or when they were performed. This discourse shows that what is delivered by Christ was not intended to represent what will literally happen at the day of judgment; for it cannot be supposed that such a conversation would be held between the judge and those who
appeared before him.
40. And the king shall answer, and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me,
By one of the least of his brethren, Christ here means the least of the apostles and first preachers of the gospel. Many instances occur in the gospel of Matthew, in which he calls them little ones, and babes; because his disciples were like to children in regard to knowledge, or the simplicity of their disposition.
He now declares that he regarded every act of kindness and hospitality rendered to the meanest of these persons as performed to himself; agreeably to the language just quoted, in which he says, “ he that receiveth you receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me; and whosoever shall give to drink a cup of cold water, only, to one of these little ones, as one of my disciples, shall not lose his reward;” and, agreeably to the language which he is represented as holding in the evangelist John, “Verily, verily I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me *." We see now the ground on which the services rendered to the apostles were considered by Christ as performed for himself; and on which he rewarded them with a place in the kingdom of his father. To receive the apostles, was the same thing as receiving Christ, or the gospel which he brought; and to receive Christ, was to receive the message of God, who spake by him. It may serve to illustrate this method of reasoning, and to show that it is not unusual in Scripture, to remark that in the same manner as acts of kindness to the first preachers of the gospel, are here considered as equivalent to believing and obeying it, and as qualifying the person performing them for eternal life; so faith in the gospel is likewise considered as equivalent to a compliance with its precepts.
41. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.
The wicked are here called cursed, as the righteous were before denominated blessed, in allusion to the language of God when speaking of the children of Israel, who calls them blessed or cursed, obedient or disobedient. The place to which the wicked are doomed is fire: but this fire must be understood figuratively, i. e. to refer to excruciating pain, such as fire usually inflicts, and not to any natural substance. This fire is called everlasting, not because it will continue to burn for ever, but either because the destruction it will produce will last for ever, or because it is fire that will continue to burn for a very long period. In both these senses is the word everlasting used in Scripture, and, therefore, we are at liberty to adopt either of them in any parti
* John xiii. 20.
cular passage, as may suit the design and known sentiments of the writer. Which of them is more proper in the present instance, I shall not take upon me to decide.
42. For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink.
43. I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick and in prison, and me not.
These are condemned for not exercising that hospitality and kindness towards the apostles and first Christians which would have evinced their belief of the Christian religion, and led them to obey its precepts.
44. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45. Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, In as much as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
By refusing to receive and entertain the first preachers of the gospel, they showed that they rejected Christ, or the revelation which he brought, upon the knowledge and belief of which their hopes of future happiness depended.
46. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.