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We shall now consider, in the next place, the unjust proceeding itself. Here is indeed an appearance, as if every thing was transacted in a regular, just, and legal manner: for the method prescribed by the law of Moses is observed in the trial, and, conformably to that law, witnesses are heard. More- . over, though the law required but two or three witnesses for prououncing sentence of death on a person convicted of capital crimes, against which such a punishment was denounced, (Deut. xvii. 6.) they went beyond this injunction, and produced multitudes of witnesses, who accused the holy Jesus, the Son of God, of the most heinous crimes. But these witnesses were the most abandoned of men, hardened against all sense of shame. For some of their depositions were utterly false ; and by others, they perverted the true and innocent meaning of the words of the Lord Jesus, and maliciously put a criminal construction upon them.
them. In these proceedings we may observe a two-fold injustice.
As to the former, we shall take notice of the means which this council made use of; their drift in employing those means; and lastly, the unsuccessful issue of this contrivance.
1. As to the means, which the council made use of in carrying on this flagrant injustice, we are informed, that the whole council sought false witness against Jesus.' Undoubtedly they must either have bribed some profligate wretches to accuse Jesus of the worst of crimes ; or, others, in order to gain the favour of the members of the council, (as it conduced to profit and preferment) voluntarily offered themselves, to vent the most notorious falsities against the Lamb of God, and confirm them by a flagitious oath. These false testimonies was probably to be reckoned in the class of necessary lies; the peace, and even the existence, of the Jewish church depended on taking such measures.
Those who suborned those false witnesses, at the same time, were not sparing of their assurances, that all this might be atoned for by a few sin-offerings; and it is not improbable, that the High Priest himself promised these sons of Belial to take the guilt on his conscience, and be answerable for it before God. From such presumptuous beginnings, the Popish clergy have gradually infused a daring hardness into many thousands of weak and timorous minds, and instigated them to the commission of the most execrable sins.
2. Their impious drift, in employing these means, was to put Jesus to death. Their intent in hearing witnesses, &c. was not to come at the truth, and acquit Jesus if he should be found innocent of the charge : On the contrary, they did it with a design of varnishing over that sentence of death, which they had long before determined among themselves to pass on the innocent Jesus, with an appearance of justice. It was their fixed resolution, to rid themselves of this troublesome person, who by his frequent reproofs disturbed their carnal tranquillity, laid open their hypocrisy, and exposed their wicked artifices; insomuch that they had suffered considerably in their credit and esteem with the people, as well as in point of interest. But their real motives for removing Jesus out of the way were, by all means, to be concealed from the people. For this purpose, witnesses were to be suborned to swear all manner of crimes against Jesus, that he might be put to death as a malefactor, who had forfeited his life, being convicted of heresy and sedi. tion. Thus the husbandmen of the vineyard were for delivering up to death the Lord Jesus, who was heir of the vineyard, by the same contrivance as formerly was used against the innocent Naboth; who was put to death at the instigation of the impious Jezebel, who suborned two false witnesses charging him with blaspheming God, and speaking treason against the king; and on this false information he was stoned. (1. Kings xxi, 13. Matt. xxi. 38, 39.)
3. These means, which were contrived to effect so wicked an end, failed in the issue. These wicked suborners of false witnesses were utterly disappointed: for it is said, they found none,' i. e. they did not find sufficient evidence, on which they might pronounce sentence of death on the prisoner. Besides, after several false witnesses had given in their evidence on oath, it is added, their witness, or testi. mony, did not agree;' for one contradicted, or related in a quite different manner, what another said before him. Thus God confounded the speech of these witnesses, as he did the language of the projectors of the tower of Babel, and exposed the unrighteous judges to shame and contempt. At this, they ought to have reflected on their own injustice, and considered that God himself blasted their designs, and thwarted their wicked purposes. But when this first attempt proved abortive, the council proceeded to a second contrivance, which is the other part of the two-fold injustice mentioned above.
As to the means made use of in this second instance of injustice, it was the suborning of two witnesses ; whose deposition consisted in wresting and perverting the meaning of the innocent words spoken by our Saviour. We observe in the behaviour of these men, that they were hardened in vice, and that their testimony was false.
St. Mark informs us that there arose certain, and bare false witness. From these words some would infer, that these two false witnesses were members of the Sanhedrim ; who had hitherto kept their places, but now rose up in order to make their depositions. Thus the High Priest is said afterwards to stand up from his seat, on which, till then, he had been sitting. It is farther said by St. Matthew, 'At last came,' &c. that is, they advanced into the middle of the hall, in order to confront Jesus. They likewise pretended to have heard with their own ears what they were deposing, "We heard him say ;' and consequently affirmed, that they were present when our blessed Lord spoke those words, which they construed into such horrid blasphemy:
Having given this instance of their effrontery, they proceed to their false evidence, “We heard him say, I am able to [I will] destroy this temple of God, which is made with hands, and within three days I will build another, made without hands.' These words allude to what Jesus had said in the beginning of his ministry; which was, consequently, at least three years before, when he drove those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, and the changers of money, out of the temple.
What our blessed Lord then said, as recorded by St. John, (John ii. 19.) was this : 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' These words of the Lord Jesus were most scandalously perverted by these perjured informers: For Jesus therein prophesied of his approaching death, and subsequent resurrection. He shews. them, how the temple of his body, in which his divinity dwelt, would be broken and pulled down by death : but that on the third day, by his Almighty power, he would raise it up again, and restore the breathless corpse to life. But this testimony concerning the words which Jesus had formerly spoken, was evidently false in the following particulars :
1. Our blessed Lord's words were, Destroy this temple :' but they pretended that they heard him say, I will destroy this temple.'
2. The temple which Jesus spoke of was that of his body; for, no doubt, he pointed with his finger to his breast when he said, “Destroy this temple.' But they make the words allude to the Jewish temple at Jerusalem ; which, at that time, had been magnificently embellished by the Herodian family.
3. As a further proof that Christ meant the temple at Jerusalem, they add, that is made with hands;' words which never came out of our Saviour's mouth.
Lastly, They falsely depose, that he said he would build 'ANOTHER temple made without hands.' On the contrary, our blessed Lord's words were I will raise it (the same temple which they should demolish,] up in three days.
By thus perverting the words of the blessed Jesus they fulfilled what the Messiah, in the person of David, complains of: Every day they wrest, or maliciously pervert my words. (Psalm lvi. 5.)
But this second attempt to oppress the innocence of our blessed Lord succeeded no better than the former. We find that their testimonies agreed not together. For though they were only two witnesses, yet, we may presume, that as they were heard separately, they probably differed from each other in the circumstances of place, time, &c.
The design of these false witnesses was evidently wicked and malicious. They intended, in the first place to represent Jesus as a vain-glorious boaster, who from an absurd pride, would undertake things beyond the
power of men to effect: Thus the Jews had before reproached Christ, saying, 'Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up
in three days?' (John xi. 20.) But this was not all : by this accusation they charged him with a much greater crime. They would represent him as an enemy to the whole Jewish nation, wheresoever dispersed; since they all acknowledged the temple at Jerusalem as the only place appointed for the public worship of God, and three times a year repaired thither from all parts of the world, to pay their vows to the Lord, to acknowledge their sins and to pour forth their supplications before God; all which devout usages would at once be at an end, if this threatening to destroy the temple were put in execution. They made him likewise, by this assertion, an enemy to the Jewish priesthood, who served by courses in the courts and sanctuary, burnt and offered incense, by sprinkling the blood purified the people of Israel, blessed them and