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multitudes against him. The bulk of the common people seldom think for themselves in religious concerns, but judge it sufficient to give up their understandings and consciences to their professed teachers. They are, however, for the most part, more unprejudiced and open to conviction than their guides, whose reputation and interest are more nearly concerned to maintain every established error, and to stop up every avenue by which truth and reformation might enter. The Jewish people, uninfluenced by the proud and selfish views of the priests and rulers, readily honoured the ministry of Christ, and attended him in great multitudes. If they did not enter into the grand design of his mission, they, at least, gave him testimonies of respect. When Jesus caused the † dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see, they glorified the God of Israel, saying, "A great prophet is risen up amongst us, God has visited "his people." Now, what was to be done in this case? Would the Scribes and Pharisees stand unconcerned? No; it is said in several places, they were filled with indignation, and essayed every means to bring his person and miracles into disrepute. The methods they used are worthy of notice, having been often repeated
* This is much to be lamented; for," if the blind lead the blind, "shall they not both fall into the ditch?" Matt. xv. 14. When the blind lead the blind, how, indeed, can it be otherwise; if the former imagine they see, and the latter are content to be led? Alas, for the people that are in such a case! alas, for their guides!
Matt. xv. 31.; Luke vii. 16.
It is a strong symptom of hypocrisy and enmity to the Gospel, to be offended with any new and remarkable displays of divine grace.
since, (as to their substance,) against the servants of Christ.
1. They availed themselves of a popular mistake concerning his birth. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, according to the Scriptures; but being removed from thence in his infancy, to avoid Herod's cruelty, and his parents afterwards living at Nazareth in Galilee, he was supposed by many to have been born there. Even Nathanael was prejudiced by this mistake; but happily yielded to Philip's advice to examine for himself. But it prevented many from inquiring much about Jesus, and therefore his enemies made the most of it, and confidently appealed to the Scripture, when it seemed to decide in their favour. *" Search and look, "for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet." It is probable, many were staggered with this objection, and thought it sufficient to invalidate all his discourses and miracles, since, let him say and do what he would, he could not be the Messiah if he was born in Galilee.
2. They urged, that he could not be of God, because he infringed the law of Moses, and broke the sabbath †. This, though it may seem a groundless objection to us, was not so to many at that time, who knew not the spiritual design and meaning of the law, and, perhaps, had not the opportunity to hear our Lord vindicate himself. They urged this vehemently against the force of a notorious miracle, and not without some colour from the words of Moses himself, who had warned them to beware of false teachers, though they should confirm their doctrine by signs and wonders.
3. They reproached the freedom of his conversation.
* John vii. 42. 52. † John ix. 16.
Deut. xiii. 1, 2, 3.
Jesus was of easy access, and condescended to converse and eat with any who invited him. He neither practised nor enjoined the austerities, which carry the air of superior sanctity in the judgment of weak and superstitious minds. They therefore styled him "a glut"ton and wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners;" that is, (as they intended it,) a companion with them, and a conniver at their wickedness. Nothing could be more false and slanderous than this charge, or more easily refuted, if the people would examine closely. But as it came from teachers who were highly reverenced for mortification, and as Jesus was usually attended by many with whom it was thought infamous to associate, it could not but have great weight with the credulous and indolent.
4. They laid much stress upon the mean condition of his followers. They were mostly Galileans, a people of small estimation, and of the lowest rank, fishermen or publicans; while, on the other hand, few or none of the rulers or Pharisees, who were presumed to be best qualified to judge of his pretensions, had believed on him. Those who are acquainted with human nature, cannot but know how strongly this appeal to the judgment of persons eminent for their learning or station, operates upon minds who have no better criterion of truth. How could a Jew, who had been from his infancy superstitiously attached to the Pharisees, suppose that these eminently devout men, who spent their lives in the study of the law, would have rejected Jesus, if he had been a good man?
5. When, notwithstanding all their surmises, multitudes still profess high thoughts of Jesus, beholding
* Luke vii. 34.
↑ John. vii. 48.
his wonderful works; they proceeded, with the most blasphemous effrontery, to defame the miracles they could not deny, and maliciously ascribed them to the agency of the devil*. This pertinacious resistance to the conviction both of their senses and consciences, was the highest stage of impiety, and constituted their sin, (as our Lord assured them,) unpardonable. Not that any sin, considered in itself, is too great for the blood of Jesus to expiate; but, as they utterly renounced and scorned his mediation, there remained no other sacrifice, but they were judicially given up to incurable impenitence and hardness of heart. Yet it is probable, that even this black assertion was not without influence upon some who were wedded to their sins, and therefore glad of any pretext, how unreasonable soever, to refuse the testimony of truth.
6. Another means they made use of, (the last we shall enumerate,) and not the least effectual, to intimidate the minds of the people from acknowledging Jesus, was the convincing argument of violence and ill treatment. Having the power in their hands, they employed it against his followers, and made an agreement, that whoever confessed he was Christ, should be put out of the synagoguet, that is, excommunicated. This decree seems to have been made by the Sanhedrim, or great council, and to imply, not merely an exclusion from the rites of public worship, but likewise a positive punishment, equivalent to an outlawry with us. The fear of incurring this penalty restrained the parents of the man born blind, and prevented many others, who were in their hearts convinced that he was the Messiah, from owning him as such. They loved the world, they
* Matt. xii. 24. + John ix. 22.
John xii. 42.
preferred the praise of men to the praise of God, and therefore remained silent and neuter.
From such motives, and by such methods, our Lord was resisted and opposed by the heads of the Jewish nation. The scribes and teachers, to whom the key of knowledge was by authority committed, disdained to use it themselves, and those who were willing they hindered. Had they been wise and faithful, they would have directed the people to Christ; but, on the contrary, they darkened the plainest Scriptures, and perverted the clearest facts, to prevent, if possible, his reception. In vain "he spoke as never man spoke," and multiplied the wonders of his power and love in their presence. In vain to them. They pursued him with unwearied subtilty* and malice; traduced him to the people and to the government, and would be satisfied with nothing less than his death. So obstinate and wicked is the heart of man; so fatal are the prejudices of pride and worldly interest. For, as we observed before, these tempers were not peculiar to the Jews; they are essential to depraved nature, and operate universally, where the grace of God does not make a difference. To this hour the Gospel of Christ is opposed upon the same grounds, and by the like artifices, as were once employed against his
The doctrines which his faithful ministers deduce and enforce from the written word are no other than what he himself taught, namely, a declaration of his personal
*Mark xii. 13. They sent unto him certain of the Pharisees to catch him. Aygu expresses the art and assiduity of sportsmen, in the various methods they use to ensnare, entangle, or destroy their game. It well suits the spirit and design of our Lord's enemies, in the question proposed, and is finely contrasted by the meekness and wisdom of his answer.