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not so much above them as to be unable to distinguish their persons, and to be heard by them, was struck on beholding his mother, and the group which surrounded her. He considered, that as Joseph was dead, Mary had lost her only protector, and might suffer all the miseries of want, and thinking that St. John, from whom he was even now receiving marks of friendship, would not refuse his last request, to him he committed the care of his mother; it was indeed a precious charge. He wishing the apostle to fulfil towards her the various duties of husband and son, therefore said, "This is from henceforth to be thy mother," and to Mary, "Behold thy son." St. John faithfully observed this commission, and inviolably adhered to it, and from that time Mary had no home but his. This, my brethren, seems to be the general import of the affecting narrative under consideration; on which the following questions are sometimes started.
Why is Mary, the sister of the Virgin, and mother of James and Joseph, called the wife of Cleophas?
Some have said that Cleophas was her father, others say, with a greater appearance of probability, that he was her husband; why then was her son James called the son of Alpheus? it has been supposed that she was twice married, and that her first husband, whose name was Alpheus, was the father of James; and the second, Cleophas, the one mentioned here. But the prevailing opinion is, that the Syriac or Hebrew word in the original, may be rendered with equal propriety, Cleophas or Alpheus, so that it is not difficult to perceive that the Alpheus mentioned by St. Luke, is the same whom St. John has named Cleophas.
Again, Who is this other Mary, surnamed Magdalene, probably from her birth-place, Magdala, either the town of that name, near Capernaum, on the borders of the sea of Tiberias, or another place of the same name, on the other side. She is commonly supposed to be the same out of whom went seven devils. Some have inquired whether she is the same Mary who is mentioned in the 11th chapter of St. John, whose brother Christ raised from the dead, on whom, and on her family, he had wrought so many miracles, and who was nearly related to him. But these are questions which do not concern us, and which we have no means of deciding.
These, and many other inquiries, may be not improperly started, and pursued to a certain length, provided they are proposed, not as points of importance in themselves, but as all that concerns the history of our Saviour's life and death should be deemed interesting to us. But after all, as I remarked before, there is no event in the sacred volume narrated in a manner so simple, so intelligible, and on that account so little open to contradiction, as that now under consideration. But, my brethren, it is scarcely credible, that superstition has been more than usually busy in fabricating misrepresentations on this subject. Superstition has multiplied the minute details of this afflictive event, and has given a more particular account than our evangelist. Some pretend to have ascertained the exact distance between Christ and the spectators of his crucifix
ion, to have measured it, and found it fifteen cubits. They say, that even the lapse of seventeen centuries does not prevent their clearly discerning even now, the spot where St. John and the three Marys stood. They maintain, that there are still remaining vestiges, which they show to those who visit the Holy Land, and which they call the way of bitterness. For, my brethren, what do not they see, who view things through the medium of superstition, and do they not find in every object, nourishment for their chimerical and false devotion, which amply repays them for all the fatigues and difficulties they may have undergone. Is there any event so trifling, any recital so simple, any place mentioned in sacred history, so obscure as not to be traced by them? The house of Joachim, father of the virgin, the room in which she was born, the stone on which she sat when the angel saluted her, the place where our Saviour was born, the seat on which she received the wise men from the east, the grotto where she suckled our Lord, the fig-tree that he cursed, and which up to this time, produced no fruit, the place where he stood when Mary said, "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died;" where he composed the Prayer still distinguished by his name. The dungeon where he was shut up when they led him before Pilate; the arch through which Pilate showed him to the people; the street in which he was scourged; the spot in which Judas betrayed him with a kiss; the room in which he instituted the holy sacrament; the room in which he appeared to his disciples, the doors being shut; the form of his left foot, which was made on the rock when he ascended into heaven; the pedestal of the column on which the cock crowed; the place where Judas hung himself; the apartment in which the apostles were when they received the gift of the Holy Ghost; the place in which they composed the Creed; the abode of the wicked rich man; the door through which the angel led St. Peter out of prison; the fountain where Philip was baptized; and many other places, which are all seperately shown, and regarded with veneration.
But even this is not all, they pretend, that the afflictions of the Virgin overpowered her, and she fainted away and fell to the ground. Cardinal Cagison says, that they formerly kept a festival in the church, called, "The feast of the fainting," in memory of this event. And if any one inquires into the history of this fainting, the reply they receive is from the works of a visionary, who published eight volumes of his speculations, and whom the popes canonized by the title of St. Brigite, or the seraphic cardinal Bonaventura, whose letter is so carefully preserved at Lyons, or one named Mallonius, and other authors of this sort, who lived in the fifteenth century. But still this is trifling, compared with the signification which superstition has attached to the words, "Woman, behold thy son." "Behold thy mother." They include, according to the opinions of the doctors of the Romish Church, the greatest mysteries of religion, they afford the strongest proof of the powerful protection which the Virgin affords to the church, and the religious worship due to her from the church. St. John, they say, represents, in this place, all the faith
your power, angels themselves bow, and these behold fresh sources of pleasure; the just implore a share in your righteousness, the guilty look to you for pardon."
Some persons have had the courage to proagainst these erroneous doctrines, even among the Catholics, and to desist from the worship of the virgin. "O my God," cried feebly, one of their most celebrated preachers,
ful. Christ put in his person the whole human | race under the government and protection of Mary. "Woman, behold thy son," or in other words, I delegate to thee, all the power and authority, that my divinity and quality of Mediator give me over the church; from hence-test forth, be thou its firmest pillar, its strongest support and defence; be to its children a light to lighten their darkness, be their counsellor in all difficulties, in persecution itself, their guide" is it necessary, in this age, so strenuously to in all their wanderings, their consolation in defend the homage that the Christian world Must it fall to my trouble, and life to them even in the last ago-pays to the Holy Virgin. nies of expiring nature. In the words, "Be- lot to fight against the false scruples of those hold thy mother," he says, Mortals attend, who fear to praise thee, and dare to complain while I point out to you the most worthy ob- of the honour given to thy name. But notject of your worship and humble adoration; withstanding the enterprises formed by the here you behold the fountain of all my favours, enemies of religion to destroy thy worship; and it is through her alone that you can hope through all these ages it still remains. O to attain to my glory. Cease then to weep for blessed Virgin, never shall the gates of hell my death, regret no longer my absence from prevail against the zeal of real Christians.” I compensate for it all, by leaving Mary Alas, how many persons feed on this unsubwith you. In accordance with this opinion, the stantial food. What a deplorable example of Virgin is addressed as "the help of the weak, prejudice and bad education. How do those the tower of David, the arch of the holy alli- minds deserve pity, which are enveloped in ance, the door of heaven, the queen of the the veil of superstition, and blinded to prevent apostles, confessors, and martyrs, the coadju- them from discerning the truth. It is thus, trix with God in the work of salvation;" and my brethren, that the enemy of our salvation these titles are given, not in the writings of in- suits his attacks to the dispositions of every dividuals, for which they were personally re- man. Does he wish to deceive those lofty sponsible, but in the public offices and services spirits, who would lead captive to their will, of the church. even the oracles of God, instead of submitting themselves to them, those rebellious souls who bring down the most sublime mysteries of religion to the level of their own capacity? To them he represents the doctrine of the divinity of our glorious Redeemer as confused and contradictory, persuading them, that this wonderful and incomprehensible mixture of grandeur and misery, of glory and ignominy, of divinity and humanity, is at variance with all common and received ideas; he thereby persuades them to refuse obedience and worship to him, whom even the angels obey, in whose presence every knee shall bow, both of things in heaven and of things on the earth; or is his concern with those weak minds who are led astray by every appearance of wonder, any thing new? To them he represents, that many creatures partake of the glory of God; he persuades them to worship together with God, beings of an inferior order. Thus some refuse to pay any homage to God at all, while others adore him in a wrong and ineffectual way; thus he succeeds too well in his wicked plans for the ruin of mankind.
We see solemn vows paid to her in all ages. Among many thousands of them was that of Louis XIII., who consecrated to her service, his person and kingdom, by an inviolable oath. From this source spring all the blasphemies of those who have dared to maintain, that the Virgin created all the universe; that her influence with God, is almost equal to authority and sovereign power; that she approaches the throne of Christ, not in quality of a servant, but as his equal; as a goddess; that all in heaven, even God himself, acknowledge her sway and submit to her power; that the authority of Christ is founded on justice; that of the Virgin on love. They argue, that if the foolish virgins had called on her, instead of God, and had substituted the invocation of her name, for the words, "Lord, Lord," the doors of heaven would have been opened to them. In the psalter of St. Bonaventura, the name of Mary has been substituted for that of God, in all the psalms of David, and to her are ascribed all the names, perfections, worship, and works of the Deity, and all the passages cited by the apostles from the Old Testament, to prove the Divinity of Christ, are likewise applied to the Virgin. We find also the following prayer, "O Virgin, exercise your parental authority over your Son. Who can understand, O blessed and holy mother, the extent of your mercy. Who can comprehend the height, the breadth, or the depth, of it. It extends itself even to the day of judgment, it is wide as the universe, it reaches up to the heavens, and descends to the deepest abyss. It is your presence that forms the joy of heaven, your absence the torments of hell; by your counsel the new Jerusalem is edified and sanctified. Intelligent beings all pray to you; some to be delivered from the torments of hell, others, who have attained eternal happiness, for an increase of their felicity. To
But praised be God, we need not fear the inroads of superstition in our time: the only feelings that it is likely to excite in our minds, are those of pity and indignation. O church of Rome, if thou wouldest re-establish thy sway amongst us; arm afresh thy inquisition, equip thy galleys, light up again thy fires, prepare new tortures, open thy dismal dungeons, erect more gibbets, and devise more cruel martyrdoms. With such arguments as these, thou mayest perhaps, prevail on some feeble profes sors of our reformed religion, through the influence of fear, to become thy proselytes; but all thy reasonings, thy specious tales, and false arguments, only serve to sap the foundations of an old building even now in ruins.
Superstition has also invented numerous
histories, well known to be entirely fabulous, which have been added to that given by St. John of the Virgin. The evangelist relates, that from that hour the disciple took her unto his own home; and we find, both after the death of our blessed Lord, and after his resurrection, that she continued with the apostles constant in prayer and praises; after this we lose, in the sacred writings, all farther trace of the life of this holy woman; and we find nothing which could serve for the materials of a complete history of her life and death. The books written in the first century are also silent on this subject, and do not present any thing to fill up the void in the sacred writings. letter from the council held at Ephesus in the fifth century, affords some very slight grounds for supposing that she might be buried in that city; and one who lived a considerable time before that period, acknowledges his ignorance on this subject. He says, that he cannot be sure whether she is really dead, or whether she received the gift of immortality, and remained alive at that time; whether she suffered martyrdom, or terminated her life by a natural and easy death; no one knows any thing of her latter end. So general a silence, unanimously preserved at a time when particulars relative to the death of the Virgin might have been so easily procured, should teach succeeding ages to beware of speaking positively on this subject. But when an author is so infatuated, as to be intent on endeavouring to fix the particulars of events, in themselves quite uncertain and unimportant, what difficulties does he find too great to overcome, what obstacles of sufficient magnitude to arrest his progress. Thus, we see in succeeding ages, that men have even thought they could trace the features of the Virgin, which they pretend to have seen delineated by St. Luke, in a picture drawn for an empress who supposed she had found her tomb; they have also detailed the slightest circumstances of her life and death. To give a shadow of plausibility to these impositions, they have attributed them to persons of celebrity, from whose names they might derive popularity. Of this nature was a work published in the second century, entitled, "The Life and Death of the Blessed Virgin," and placed among the apocryphal books. And as all these histories had no other foundation than the imaginations of their authors, we perceive a diversity of opinions, similar to the diversity of the persons, from the fertility of whose inventions they sprung. Some maintain that the holy Virgin suffered martyrdom; others that she followed St. John to Ephesus, where she died at a very advanced age; others assert that after her death she arose from the grave: but others have carried their theories still farther, and pretended that she was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire, as was Elias. But we will turn from the consideration of this subject, and employ the rest of our time in considering the two principal branches of our subject.
I. The conflict passing in the minds of those who behold the last moments of those who are dear to them.
1. The case of Mary exemplifies the conflicting emotions that agitate the souls of those who surround the dying pillow of their dearest relatives. Nature, reason, and religion, all must lend their aid to support their trembling courage. And let me inquire, who is there among you, my brethren, who sufficiently feels the force of the demonstration of which his proposition is susceptible. If any of you have concentrated your principal care, your warmest affections, on one object, on one favourite child, to whom you have looked for consolation in trouble, whom you have regarded as the honour of your house, to whose filial tenderness you have trusted for the support of your declining years; to the feelings of such a one I appeal, to picture to his mind a scene which baffles all attempts at description. Let him put himself in the place of Mary, and view in the death of our Saviour, that of his beloved child: he will still form but an imperfect idea of the mental agonies which Mary was suffering. She beheld her Son, whose birth was miraculously announced to her by an angel; that Son, on whose appearance the armies of heaven sung with triumphant joy; that Son, whose abode on earth was a distinguished course of mercy, charity, and compassion; she saw him, whose abode on earth crowned it with blessings, ready to quit it for ever. She anticipated the frightful and dreary solitude in which she was so soon to be plunged; she viewed herself forsaken and deserted by all, deprived of the dearest object of her affection; the rest of the world appeared to her a blank, as if she remained alone, the only inhabitant of this spacious globe. And in what manner is she about to lose her beloved Son? He dies a death, he suffers a martyrdom of unexampled agony. She sees those hands, which had so often dispensed blessings, cured diseases, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and wrought so many miracles, pierced with nails. She beheld those lips, on which dwelt grace and beauty, and from which had flowed the accents of mercy, scandalized by the impurities of the furious Jews. That royal head, which the crown of the universe would become, torn and lacerated with thorns; that arm destined to wield the sceptre of the world, bearing a reed in mockery. She saw the temple of her God; that temple which had been distinguished as the peculiar abode of the divinity, which had been blessed with peculiar manifestations of his wisdom, his glory, his justice, and his mercy, and all those perfections which belong to the Supreme Being, falling beneath the attacks of the impious multitude. She heard the voice of the children of Edom, crying, "Down with it, down with it!" and levelling the dwelling of the Most High with the ground. Then she beheld the full accomplishment of that saying, of which she could not formerly perceive the meaning: "A sword shall pierce through thine own soul also," Luke ii. 35. Again, she was denied the sad consolation of approaching this her beloved Son, to comfort him, and to receive his last breath. O ye, his murderers, allow her at least to embrace him once more; let her shed her tears by his side, and bid him
II. The conflict, or rather the triumph, of a final farewell; let her stop the blood which those who thus expire. has began to flow in large drops, and consumes
the remainder of his nearly exhausted strength. | in the beauties of holiness; from the womb of O let her approach this expiring Prince, and the morning thou hast the dew of thy youth?" pour a healing balm into its wounds. But no; Ps. cii. 1-3. she is forced to yield to the violence of those who surround her; the thick darkness obliges her to depart, all the care and tenderness that she could show to our Lord, all her tears are useless. Holy woman, if "all generations shall call thee blessed," Luke i. 48, "because thou wast the mother of thy glorious King and Redeemer," shall not endless ages commise rate thy grief. when destined to behold him suffering so shameful and agonizing a death.
I know not, my brethren, what were the feelings of these holy women, and this beloved disciple, at this trying period; what rays of comfort were afforded to them, to lighten their mental darkness; nor what assistance was granted them in this conflict. But I know, that the cross of Christ is a stumbling-block to the Jew, and to the Greek, foolishness. I know that the Jewish nation had, in all ages, fixed their attention on the glory of the MesBut I mentioned also that reason and faith siah, and forgot his previous humiliation; and led the holy Virgin into a conflict of a different I know that even the disciples of Christ, tremnature. How could a human understanding, bled at the name of the cross. St. Peter beareven with the aid of reason and religion, pierce ing his divine Master speak of his approaching the thick veil that covered the divinity of our death, said "Be it far from thee, Lord, this Saviour, at the time of his crucifixion. If the shall not be unto thee," Matt. xvi. 22; and mystery of the cross surpasses and startles our when Christ spoke to them of a future resurfinite imaginations now, when it is announced rection, they questioned one with another, to us by a preacher, who gives us the infallible what the rising from the dead should mean, word of God as security whereon to rest our Mark ix. 10. Christ rebuked them, saying, belief, what must have been its effect on the "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that minds of those who beheld Christ suffering by the prophets have spoken," Luke xxiv. 25. the hand of murderers, chosen of God for this The women came to the disciples to tell them, purpose. Every circumstance of his passion, that they had been eye-witnesses of his resurhad indeed been exactly foretold by the pro-rection; but their information seemed more phets of old and the close accordance, the like the day-dreams of a confused imagination, great harmony, that was visible between the than the result of cool deliberation, or unpreprophecies, and their accomplishment, ought judiced judgment. Thomas, especially, notto have carried conviction to the minds of all withstanding the testimony of these same wowho attentively consider the subject. The men, and that of the rest of the apostles, represumption certainly was strong, that he who plied to those who said they had seen the so well fulfilled the humiliatory and painful Lord, "Except I shall see in his hands the part of the prophecies concerning him, would print of the nails, and put my finger into the likewise verify those parts that referred to his print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his exaltation and glorious triumph. But the side, I will not believe," John xx. 25. Thus, spectators of the death of Jesus, saw only his although we are disposed to think very highly degradation; his glory was yet to come; death of the virtue and constancy of these holy withad now seized his victim, and his resurrection nesses of the crucifixion of our Lord, we dare was to them uncertain; the predictions of his not propose them as models for your imitation; humiliation were fulfilled, but they had not although we have a strong conviction, that seen the accomplishment of those concerning they did not fall under the attacks of the enehis exaltation. This Jesus whom we now be- mies of salvation, yet we dare not affirm, that hold ready to expire, the thread of whose life they entirely triumphed over them; and in is almost spun out, and who will only come discoursing upon their conflicts, we dare not down from the cross to be laid in the tomb, and enter fully on the subject of their victory. to go into the lower regions of the earth, can But not so, when we look to our blessed and this, I ask, be the promised Messiah, who will adorable Redeemer; if we place Christ before "ascend on high, and lead captivity captive, your eyes, we give you a perfect model: you and receive gifts for men?" Ps. Ixviii. 18. Can shall see him struggling, and you shall also this same Jesus, that we see wearing a crown see him more than conqueror; we shall speak of thorns upon his head, with a reed in his less of his struggle, than of his conquest: hand, addressed by the insulting titles, "Jesus" And Jesus seeing his mother, and the disciple standing by whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son. Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother; and from that hour that disciple took her to his own home."
of Nazareth, king of the Jews," John xix. 19,
We are to remark in this place, First, the presence of mind, that showed itself through all the sufferings of Christ; no man was ever placed in circumstances so likely to destroy this feeling, as was our blessed Lord at this time. My brethren, when we have lived as men generally do, without thought or reflection, except of the things and affairs of this transitory world; and paid no attention to that future day of judgment, which is so fast approaching, and when our eternal destiny will be determined; when we behold the coming
of death, and have made no preparation for it, never fixed our thoughts on religious subjects, nor acted agreeably to the dictates of conscience; have not restored our ill-gotten wealth; if we have slandered our neighbour; have made no reparation; have never learned what is the end of our existence, nor what is death; can we view the approach of the king of terrors, under these circumstances, without emotion? will not our minds be filled with confused ideas, and overpowered with the multiplicity of concerns; and having so many objects pressing on them, be prevented from attending to any.
But if we have, on the contrary, been, during the whole course of our life, considering our latter end, and following the example of our blessed Saviour; have always been diligent to do the work of the Lord, and have never lost sight of that awful period, to which we approach rapidly but insensibly; if such has been our conduct through life, we may meet death with calmness. When the Christian on his death-bed, beholds around him a weeping family, near relations and intimate friends full of grief, he still is calm, he retains his self-possession through a scene so affecting. Death to him is not a strange object, he views it without alarm, and employs the moments that yet remain, in administering consolation to his friends, instructing or comforting his family, or in the exercise of religion. And this tranquillity of soul is perhaps one of the best characteristics of a happy death, and yields greater satisfaction than more triumphant expressions, for which there is less solid foundation. I have seen men in whose minds the approach of death excites emotions that partake more of the turbulence of frenzy, than of zeal; they heap Scripture upon Scripture, and prayer upon prayer, and from not having thought soon enough of their last moments, they can now think only of them, and can neither see, nor hear, nor think, of any thing else. How different were the last moments of Christ; in the midst of all his agony, he still distinguished from the crowd of spectators his mother; he saw her, and pitied her, and recommended her to the care of his beloved disciple. Woman, behold thy Son, Son, behold thy mother.
We see, secondly, the tenderness and compassion of our Lord. There is a certain disposition in some, that partakes more of ferocity, than piety; that possesses none of the amiable properties of true religion. On pretence of being Christians, they cease to be men: as they must one day quit the world, they will form no connexions in it. Being occupied with the concerns of the soul, they forget the care of this life, and the concerns of it.
The piety of Christ was not incompatible with the innocent cares and concerns of life, he contributed largely to the pleasure of those with whom he associated, he behaved towards them with kindness, mildness, and condescension. He changed water into wine, at the marriage in Cana; he multiplied the loaves and fishes in the desert, to afford subsistence to those who followed him; he partook of the
feasts to which he was invited, and sanctified them with his heavenly conversation.
This compassionate kindness shone most conspicuous in the period referred to by the evangelist in the words of our text, the weighty cares of his soul, which he was on the point of yielding into the arms of his Father, did not make him neglect his temporal concerns, he thought of his mother's grief, he procured her a comforter of her poverty, and gave her a maintenance.
But, my brethren, the example of Christ is worthy not only of praise, but of imitation. The same religion, which directs our thoughts to a future state, and to the hour of death, teaches us rightly to perform our duties in the present life. A Christian before he dies, will regulate his affairs, make his will, exhort his family, direct the education of his children, recommend to them proper tutors and guardians, and declare what are his dying requests. But unhappy are they, who on their death-bed are wholly taken up with such cares; religion, while she directs us to give them a portion of our attention, forbids their having it all. Look to the example of Christ, who seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved, said to his mother, Behold thy Son, and to the disciple, Behold thy mother.
But how was Mary provided for, now she was under the protection of St. John; what was the prospect that she had before her: he was poor; it is true, that he was disposed faithfully to fulfil the trust reposed in him by his adorable master; and that poverty and misfortune, so fatal to common friendships, only served to animate his. But what assistance or protection could she hope for from an apostle devoted to his ministry, and treading in the footsteps of his crucified master. It was, my brethren, but a poor hope, a feeble consolation, for his mother to cling to; but here again we see the triumph of Christ, which he gained over those fears, which so often disturb the bed of death. We see in the last moments of our Lord, none of those suspicions, none of those bitter cares, that so often empoison the peace of the dying; that criminal distrust of God, which offends him at a time, when by prayer and praise we ought to conciliate his favour. Christ displayed on this, as on other points, a perfect confidence in the great Disposer of all events. But Christ triumphed again in another way, in which we should endeavour to imitate him. Do you say what will become of my children, or my family? Do you think that you were the only person to whose care God could confide them, or that if he calls you away, he will have no resource left for their subsistence? Do you think that the manifold wisdom of God, can raise them up no other protector? Do you think that if the paternal character excites in you such tender emotions, that he who is the Father of all, does not feel them also? Do you imagine that he who pardons all your sins, cleanses you from your guilt, snatches you from destruction, invites you to glory, will disdain to supply food and clothing, to those who survive you? No, he will not: had they for their sole resource, a man in such a sphere of life as was St. John,