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him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christn? It is plain from these last words that they looked upon it as the business of the rulers or magistrates to apprehend him and put him to death. The evangelist, in what follows, tells us it was owing wholly to the overruling providence of God that he was not at that time taken by them. For several of the by-standers had a strong inclination to apprehend him, yet did not, being in some secret manner prevented by him who disposes of all events'. Nay, the Pharisees and chief priests sent officers on purpose to bring him P; but they, delighted and quite overcome with his discourse, return without him 9. The Pharisees, in rebuking the officers for neglect of duty, plainly declare him to be an impostor". Nicodeinus, one of the council, who believed him to be the Messiah, says to them, Does our law judge, i. e. condemn, any man as an impostor or malefactor before it hear him, and know what he doth ? He puts them in mind that the law of Moses obliged them to give him a hearing before they pronounced him a deceiver or false prophet. I leave it wholly to the reader to determine what is the import of these passages in the most easy and natural construction; whether that the Jewish magistrates did now execute their laws in capital cases, or did not.
n John vii. 25, 26.
• Then they sought to take him : but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come, ver. 30. And some of the people would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him, V. 44. 9 Ver. 45, 46.
Ver. 47, 48, 49.
p Ver. 32.
s Ver. 51.
Further arguments from the Gospels. AFTER the resurrection of Lazarus, the chief priests and Pharisees gather a council, deliberate, and at length determine that it was fitting to put Jesus to death; and issue forth their orders, that if any man knew where he were, he should shew it, that they might take himt. Our Lord, to escape the effect of this order, for the little time that yet remained before the passover, walked no more openly among the Jews, and went to a remote part of Judæa, near the wilderness u. We are told in the next chapter, that the chief priests consulted also how they might put Lazarus to death*. These places, if taken in their obvious sense, clearly enough shew what I am contending for; but that which makes it appear to me in a yet stronger light, is the fear of the people, so frequently expressed. Thus is it said in St. Matthew, When the chief priests and Pharisees sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophety. And again, the chief priests, and Scribes, and Elders of the people, assembled at the palace of the high priest, consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him; but they said, not on the feastday, lest there be an uproar among the people, Thus also it is said in St. Mark, The Scribes and chief priests sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people were astonished at his doctrine a. And again, They sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people b. So in the Gospel of St. Luke, The chief priests, and the Scribes, and the chief of the people, sought to destroy him; and could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him. Again, The chief priests and the Scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him; and they feared the peopled. And again, The chief priests and Scribes sought how they might kill him ; for they feared the people e. In like manner it is said in the History of the Acts, when the council had further threatened Peter and John, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people : for all men glorified God for that which was done. It is said also of the officers, that they brought the apostles before the council without violence : for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned 5. When it is so often said that the rulers of the Jewish nation sought means to put Jesus to death, had it been meant that they would have put him to death by a private hand, in an extrajudicial manner, or have suborned witnesses to accuse him of some capital crime before the Roman governor, or by the weight of their influence have prevailed with the governor to order his execution, though evidence of the crimes alleged against him were wanting; I say, if any of these were the things meant, whence could arise the fear of the people, so frequently and strongly expressed? All these things might have been so man
u Ver. 54
+ John xi. 47, &c. y Matt. xxi. 46.
x John xij. 10. a Mark xi. 18.
2 Matt. xxvi. 4, 5.
d Luke xx. 19.
b Mark xii. 12.
c Luke xix. 47, 48. e Luke xxii. 2.
f Acts iv, 21. g Acts y. 26. Vid. Luke xx. 6. Matt. xxi. 26.
aged as that the authors of them should have lain concealed. Might not the hand which gave the fatal blow have remained a secret? At least the persons who set the assassin to work would have remained unknown; for who could oblige him to disclose it when the magistrates were on his side ? And if they had employed any to accuse him to Pilate, how could it have been discovered who they were which gave the witnesses their instructions ? And if they determined to influence the governor even against evidence, how could it have been known by whose particular persuasion he was so overcome as to order the execution ?
But should we admit, what it must be owned is very difficult to be admitted, that none of these things would have remained a secret, could any of them, though known and public, be ground of fear to the whole body of the Jewish magistracy.? For it is said of the chief priests, the Scribes, and the Elders, i. e. of the Jewish magistracy in general, it is said of the whole council or court of judges, that they were afraid of the people. Had any of the foregoing methods been taken, there could not well have been many of them active in the affair. It is most likely that the execution of the method fixed upon would have been committed to a very few : which few, indeed, upon a discovery, might have apprehensions of the people's resentment, but not the whole body. On the other hand, if the great council of the nation intended to proceed in a judicial way to condemn and execute Jesus against the prevailing bent and inclination of the people, who held him as a prophet, here is a plain reason for that general fear expressed. Herod the tetrarch,
whose authority in capital judgments I suppose no one ever questioned, suspended the execution of John the Baptist for a while, from the very same apprehension. St. Matthew says, that when he would have put John the Baptist to death for the freedom of his reproofs, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a propheth. The expression is exactly the same with some of those we have before recited concerning the Jewish magistrates. Had they sought to put Jesus to death by secret means, the authors and instigators, when found out, might have been afraid. Had they endeavoured it by spiriting up persons to accuse him to the governor, the witnesses and prompters, when known, might have been afraid. Had they resolved upon it by persuading the governor, the persons who prevailed with him, when discovered, might have been afraid. But that this should affect the whole body of the Jewish magistracy, and that while the discovery was yet uncertain, and I may add not a little improbable, seems wholly incredible. It must therefore be an act of the great council of the Jewish nation, or body of their chief magistrates, which is referred to in those several places of the Gospels where this general fear is expressed : and what can that be, but their sitting in judgment on Jesus, condemning him, and ordering his execution ? They were afraid to do this because of the multitude, in the same manner as Herod was afraid to execute John the Baptist : and that they were in truth afraid to act in their judicial capacity is fully expressed to us in one of those places quoted from the
h Matt. xiv. 5.