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Ezekiel was required to bear the iniquity of Israel forty days, and forty days were granted to guilty Nineveh for repentance. At the opening of the New Testament, we meet it again in the duration of the fast and temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. And as his public ministry opened with this period of forty days, so it closes with the great forty days that elapsed between the resurrection and ascension, the most wonderful of them all.
It is perhaps impossible for us to understand all the reasons for the re-appearance of a particular number in this way. The mystical conjectures, and extravagant fancies of recent German writers show how easy it is to wander in the mist, and mistake a cloud for a crag, when we give loose to mere fancy in explaining facts. But there is at least one thing that is common to nearly all these periods of forty days. They were periods of preparation. The first forty days of Noah introduced the first great display of God's wrath that was made to the world. The second ushered in the second great chapter of human history, the dealings of God with the race of man since the flood. The forty days of Moses prepared him for setting up his Divine Institute. The forty days on the banks of Jordan, prepared Israel for their entrance into the promised land. The forty days of Elijah were a proper prelude to the solemn scenes of Horeb, and the close of his prophetic ministry. The forty days allowed to Nineveh prepared them to avert the wrath of God by repentance. The forty days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness prepared Jesus to enter on his public work as Mediator. Hence when we reach the last forty days in this long series, we are prepared to find it a period of
preparation for what was to follow. Such accordingly was the fact. It was an introduction to the opening of the New Dispensation, for it was spent by Jesus in "speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." It was to Jesus himself a season of preparation for the glories of the ascension, and the return to heaven, when the everlasting doors were lifted up, to let the King of Glory in. And it was especially so to his disciples, for in the interviews accorded to them during this interval, they were fully instructed on many points concerning which they had hitherto been but imperfectly informed. And these forty days were the preparation for the wonderful scenes of Pentecost.
There are few ordinary readers of the Scriptures, who are aware of the riches of this portion of our Lord's life on earth, or the number of important doctrines and principles that were brought to view during these interviews. There are few dootrines of the New Testament that do not come legitimately under the scope of this period of the life of Jesus. It furnishes to a remarkable degree an epitome of Christian doctrine and practice, even in the brief records we have of the facts. Doubtless there are many points that have not been recorded. The brevity of the record has left some things in obscurity, and created difficulties in the interpretation of this portion of our Lord's life, that every careful reader has encountered. It is in the hope of drawing attention to this wonderful and rather neglected portion of the earthly life of Jesus, and of throwing some light on the various points included in it, that this volume has been prepared. In its preparation these difficulties have not been avoided, and whilst all formal criticism and learned discussion have been omitted, as far as possible, yet the results of the most careful and laborious investigation have been embodied in the presentation of the successive subjects. There is one feature that may require some apology, as it is a departure from the usual method of treatment. It is the discarding of all attempts to make a harmony of the four records of the Apostolic commission. The difficulty of doing this has been felt by every student, and the marvel is, that we should not conclude that there was a reason for having four forms of this commission, and that it was never intended that they were to be clipped and mosaicked into one. The advantage of taking the facts as they stand, rather than trying to make a harmony of them, as is usually done, will appear in the sequel. The gospel is a harp with four strings, and the attempts to twist them all into one string really destroy the harmony, instead of creating it.
In the preparation of this work, use has been made freely of every available help, and especial obligation should be acknowledged to the writings of Grierson, Trench, Adams, J. A. Alexander, Stier, Bengel, and others, whose labours have been greatly useful in casting light on these wonderful interviews. Should Christians be led to study the life of Jesus with a new interest, to draw out the less obvious facts of his wonderful history, and to investigate the inspired' writings with more care and satisfaction, the labour bestowed on the preparation of these pages, itself a delightful pleasure, will be richly rewarded.