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by it, that it is impossible so much as to identify the very sites on which they once stood. The rocks of Tyre and the harbour of Sidon may still be seen ; the place of Sodom is defined by the Sea which destroyed it, the very name of which is, as it were, the epitaph of its inhabitants. But a more intolerable and obliterating judgment has fallen on the cities of Galilee. The place that once knew them knows them no more ; no indubitable vestige of them can be traced. We know that they were once busy and growing towns on the teeming north-western shore of Gennesaret; and that is all we can say of them. Some geographers, indeed, have found Capernaum, i.e., the village of Nahûm, in the heap of ruins which the Arabs call Tell Hûm, and Chorazin in the modern Kerâseh, and affirm that Bethsaida stood on both sides the river at the point where the Jordan runs into the lake. But there is no common or general assent to any of these identifications. These ancient cities were sentenced to destruction by the Divine Wisdom to which they had refused to listen ; and the sentence has been executed so rigorously, and so long ago, that all trace of them has been lost.
And yet it was not without pain and regret, we may be sure, that Jesus pronounced so heavy a doom on “his own city,” Capernaum, in which He had spent many tranquil and many laborious hours; or on the neighbouring towns, which had yielded Him many disciples, and in which He had so often taught and healed. He was a man such as we are ; and that which was familiar was dear to Him, as it is to us. I dare say He could have better spared many a better city than either Capernaum or Bethsaida. And there is some trace of this natural pity and regretthere is a sound of sighing in the very sentence He pronounced upon them; for the Greek word (oủai), rendered “ woe” in the exclamations, “ Woe unto thee Chorazin! woe unto thee Bethsaida !” is elsewhere translated “Alas !” and here also it is an expression of pity; for by these exclamations our Lord means nothing less, though He may mean much more, than this : “Unhappy and unblessed are ye, Chorazin and Bethsaida, and I am sad to tell you so !” There is another slight but significant indication of this mood of ruth and pity in the verb with which the Evangelist introduces the “woe.” “Then began He to reproach the cities,” &c. ; for we only “reproach ” those whom, in some sort, we have loved and trusted, of whom we had hoped better things.
But, though his heart hung with tender compassion over these doomed but familiar cities, Jesus does not hesitate to utter their doom ; for Love can be strong and severe even while it is sad and pitiful, and He who loved men much loved God more. And, indeed, it was not He who condemned these cities,
nor God. They had condemned themselves. He does but utter the sentence which they had virtually passed on themselves—that they were unworthy of eternal life. Life, in its true sense, was not in any of their thoughts. They did not aim at a life wisely and righteously ordered, but at a busy, money-getting, self-indulgent life-a life which fits men neither for earth nor for heaven—a life, therefore, which, though it may seem to soar into a very heaven of wealth, success, distinction, enjoyment for a time, is inevitably doomed, and self-doomed, to sink into a hades of ruin and oblivion.
This was the condemnation of these cities, that light had come to them, the very Light which is the life of men; and they had loved darkness better than light, because their deeds were evil. But in the mind of our Lord this condemnation took a special and instructive form. If we ask Him why He sighs forth sentence against the cities of Galilee, He replies that He condemns them for this, that in this they condemn themselves, that the mighty works done in them had not brought them to repentance. But why should they? What was there to induce repentance in the miracles of Christ ? Miracles naturally beget wonder, admiration, awe; but what is the link of connection between miracles and penitence? I apprehend it to be this. Miracles, mighty works, disclose the Divine presence and activity. They shew that God is with men. They bring home to the thoughtful heart a sense of his abiding presence and activity. And how shall sinful men consciously stand in the immediate presence of God without becoming aware of the sins by which they are degraded and defiled? And how should they become profoundly sensible of sin without also becoming profoundly sorry for it? We cannot so much as wake up in the night under the impression that any invisible Presence is with us, but we tremble and are afraid, because we feel our unfitness to enter into the world in which our spirits lie open and naked to God and our fellows. And if, as we went about the daily business of life, God were suddenly to stand before us, to become visible to us in all the sweetness and glory of his goodness, yet not clothed in the robes of his eternal majesty, would not our first impulse be to fling ourselves at his feet and cry, “Unclean, unclean !” Would not a goodness so pure call up an intolerable and crushing sense of our own impurity ? And if He were to lay his hand upon us, and to lift us from the dust of our self-abasement, and to go with us for a little while on our way, should we not walk with Him with a softened, penitent, and lowly heart ? That, then, was one of the functions—perhaps the main function—of the miracles wrought by Christ. They were capable of producing, they were designed to produce, so vivid and intense a consciousness of the Divine Presence as should convict men of sin and lead them to repentance.
Just now the set of thought among students of the Bible is to underrate the value of miracles, as in the last century the tendency was to overrate them, or at least to apply them to evidential purposes which they were not intended to subserve. Then perhaps men made too much of them ; now we make too little of them. Science scorns miracles, though she herself has both discovered and wrought many mighty works, and furnished us with many a sign and proof of the Divine presence and activity and goodness. And, to meet the changed attitude of the world around it, Theology is busily engaged in reducing both the evidential and moral force of miracles, in arguing that the unexampled character and the pure morality of Christ are the best proof of the miracles He claimed to have wrought, rather than in arguing that his miracles prove Him to have been sent by God to teach men truth and win them to repentance and righteousness : while Biblical Criticism eagerly undertakes to shew that in the addresses and letters of the Apostles little stress is laid on the miracles wrought by Christ, and great stress on the still mightier truths He enunciated and enforced.