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We have now followed Christ through another important scene of his last sufferings, his apprehension by the soldiers; and we see as much reason to praise and admire his conduct, as to censure and condemn the conduct of others,
1. The conduct of Judas was in the highest degree base: he approaches Jesus with expressions of respect and joy, hail master, while he was meditating the greatest injury: he employs the symbol of friendsiip, to perform the part of an enemy: this was a blacker deed than that of Joab towards Amasa, who said, “ Art thou in health, my brother?”—taking hold of his beard to salute him with one hand, and stabbing him to the heart with the other.
Nothing is so apt to ruffle the mind as the unkindness of a friend, or ungrateful usage from those upon whom we have conferred benefits; and the farther men are from this baseness of character themselves, the more sensibly are they affected by it in others. This trial Christ was now exposed to, in the severest form: he saw one of his own disciples, whom he had endeavoured to instruct in the principles of true religion, and to whom he had shown every possible mark of kindness and friendship, approaching him with expressions of love and respect in his mouth, only to conceal his design of betraying him. What could be more cruel and provoking than such behaviour? Yet not one angry word or abusive expression falls from his lips: Friend, wherefore art thou come, is the language in which he addresses him. Base and vile, however, as was this act of treachery in Judas, he is not the only one of Christ's professed disciples who betrays his master with a kiss: this is a crime committed by many others, who profess to detest the hypocrisy of Judas: under the appearance of respect and professions of friendship, they do him the greatest injury; there are some who declare they respect his character as a man, but reject the credentials which he has produced of his divine mission, as if it were possible that a person should be a good character who practises fraud and imposture: such professions cannot be sincere: they are only employed to conceal their design of undermining his authority and of sinking both him and his religion into contempt. Many are the additions which have been made to the simple institutions of the gospel, under the pretext of doing honour to Christ and his religion, but in reality to gratify the pride, the ambition and the sensual lusts of men. By such corruptions Christianity has received a deep wound; and the saviour of mankind been degraded. Under pretence of a holy zeal for the religion of Jesus, Christians have persecuted infidels: they have treated them with every kind of injustice and cruelty: they have hereby taught them to regard Christians as plunderers and usurpers, and perpetuated that enmity to Christianity which might have been easily removed by calm reasoning and mild treatment. These have all betrayed their master, as Judas did, with a kiss : while professedly fulfilling his wishes, they have been gratifying their own: under pretence of zeal for his service, and of doing him honour, they have rendered his person and his religion odious.
2. The reproof which Peter met with, when about to defend his master with the sword, should teach us what conduct we ought to observe under persecution; viz. to avoid danger, and flee from our enemies, if it be possible, but, if this cannot be done by peaceable means, not to attempt to rescue ourselves or others by violence. It is the design of Providence that Christians should suffer: it answers a very useful purpose under the divine government, by awakening men's attention to the truth, and inducing them to embrace it: whereas resistance awakens enmity, and turns men's attention to another subject. That Christians should suffer, has likewise been foretold in the Scriptures: to refuse to submit to it, therefore, is to refuse to submit to the will
of God, as intimated to us by the experience of mankind, and by his holy word, and consequently is highly criminal.
That those who take the sword, perish by the sword, had been so frequently observed in our Lord's time, that it was become a proverb. The experience of two thousand years more in the history of the world, has only served to confirm the observation: individuals who de lighť in blood and massacre, fall a sacrifice to it them. selves : nations which are fond of engaging in war, without regard to the principles of justice and equity, accomplish their own ruin: yet, alas! notwithstanding the experience of so many ages, mankind seem as little disposed to learn wisdom from the event, as if they had never received instruction.
Matthew xxvi. 59----68.
59. Now the chief priests and elders, and all the council, sought false witness, false testimony, against Jesus, to put him to death,
60. But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none.
That is, none that was sufficient for putting him to death: they sought for evidence to convict him of a capital crime; but in this they did not succeed, although they were ready to admit what was false. The charges produced either did not amount to a capital offence, or were so evidently groundless, as not to afford a plausible pretext for passing sentence of death.
At the last came two false witnesses, 61. And said, This fellow, this man, said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.
These witnesses are justly called false, because they did not report exactly the words of Christ, and likewise because they put a false construction upon them.When the Jews asked him for a sign, or proof of his authority as a divine teacher, he referred them to his resurrection from the dead, saying, John ii. 19, “ Destroy this temple,” not the temple, "and in three days I will raise it up,” meaning the temple of his body, in which the divine perfections were manifested in the same manner as they were on the mercy-seat of that celebrated building. The Jews perverted these words into a declaration of an intention to destroy the temple at Jerusalem, and to rebuild it in three days, which was a criminal project, that discovered a mind disposed to sedition and tumult.
62. And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing ? What is it which these witness against thee? 63.
But Jesus held his peace. The charge brought against Jesus, if well founded, could not amount to a heinous crime, sufficient to ground a sentence of death upon it; for he could not mean ill to the temple, who talked of destroying and building it again: such language, if it had been really used, ought to have been regarded as an empty boast, more deserving of contempt than of censure. The high priest, therefore, wished to make Jesus himself speak, hoping that, in the course of his defence, something might be said which would afford better ground of accusation, than any thing which had hitherto been produced: but Christ, having been silent at first, because the charges were too frivolous to merit refutation, had an additional motive for silence, when he perceived the design of the high priest.
And the chief priest answered and
said unto him, I adjure thee, by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God? This was the Jewish form of putting a man upon
his oath: whoever was thus adjured, and refused to speak, was condemned, by the law of Moses, to severe punishment. (Lev. v. 1.) Whatever a person delivered after being thus adjured, had all the force and solemnity of an oath. The high priest, having failed in his endeavours to draw Jesus into a snare, by calling upon him to speak in his own defence, now exercises his authority, as president of the council, to oblige him to answer, upon oath, to the question, whether he were the Christ, the Son of God: where you see that Christ and Son of Ľ God are synonymous terms, words of the same signification in the estimation of the high priest. If he replied that he was, he hoped to take occasion thence to convict him of a capital crime: if he were still silent, it would be a virtual renunciation of his claims ; in either case an important purpose would be answered.
64. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said, i. e. according to the Hebrew phraseology, I am. See Mark xiv. 62. also Matt. xxvi. 25.
Jesus had declined hitherto saying that he was the Messiah, because, as the idea of a temporal prince was universally connected with that character by the Jews, the public avowal of it might have excited tumult and sedition among the people, and jealousy among the civil rulers. He wished also that the people should collect the evidence of his being the Messiah from his miracles, rather than from his own declarations: but no evil could arise to any one but himself, from his acknowledging himself the Messiah, in his present circumstances; he therefore plainly declares it, although he knew the use that would be made of his declaration.