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hardly conceive it possible that any people could be so lost to gratitude and humanity, as to oppose him. He went about doing good: he raised the dead, healed every disease, and relieved the distresses of all who applied to him, without any difference of cases, characters, or parties; as the sun, with a rich and unwearied profusion, fills every eye with his light. Wisdom flowed from his lips, and his whole conduct was perfect and inculpable. How natural is it to expect that a person so amiable and benevolent, so blameless and exemplary, should have been universally revered a!
But we find, in fact, it was far otherwise. Instead of the honours he justly deserved, the returns he met with were reproach, persecution, and death. The wonders of his power and goodness were maliciously ascribed to Satan; he was branded as an impostor, madman, and demoniac; he was made the sport of servants and soldiers, and, at length, publicly executed, with every possible circumstance of ignominy and torture, as a malefactor of the worst sort.
What could be the cause and motives of such inju
• The heathen moralists have supposed that there is something so amiable in virtue, that, could it be visible, it would necessarily attract the love and admiration of all beholders. This sentiment has been generally admired; and we need not wonder; since it flatters the pride of man without thwarting his passions. In the Lord Jesus, this great desideratum was vouchsafed; virtue and goodness were pleased to become visible, were manifest in the flesh. But did the experiment answer to the ideas of the philosophers? Alas! to the reproach of mankind, Jews and Gentiles conspired to treat him with the utmost contempt. They loved darkness, and therefore could not bear the light. They had more compassion and affection for the most infamous malefactor; therefore, when the alternative was proposed to them, they released Barabbas, a robber and a murderer, and nailed Jesus and virtue to the cross.
rious treatment? This is the subject of our present inquiry. It might indeed be answered very briefly (as it has been) by ascribing it to the peculiar wickedness and perverseness of the Jews. There is not a fallacy more frequent or pleasing to the minds of men, than, while they act contrary to present duty, to please themselves with imagining, how well they would have behaved in another situation, or a different age. They think it a mark of virtue to condemn the wickedness of former times, not aware that they themselves are governed by the same spirit. Thus these very Jews spoke highly of the persons of the prophets, while they rejected their testimony; and blamed their forefathers for shedding innocent blood, at the time they were thirsting for the blood of Jesus. It is equally easy, at present, to condemn the treachery of Judas, the cowardice of Pilate, the blindness of the people, and the malice of the priests, who were all personally concerned in the death of Christ. It is easy to think, that if we had seen his works and heard his words, we would not have joined with the multitude in crying, Crucify him though, it is to be feared, many, who thus flatter themselves, have little less enmity against his person and doctrine, than his actual murderers. On this account, I shall give a detail of the true reasons why Christ was opposed in the flesh, and of the measures employed against him, in order to show that the same grounds of opposition are deeply rooted in the fallen human nature; and how probable it is, that if he was to appear again in the same obscure manner, in any country now called by his name, he would meet with little better treatment, unless when the constitu
Matth. xxiii. 29, 30.
tion and laws of a civil government might interpose to prevent it.
But it may be proper, in the first place, briefly to delineate the characters of the sects or parties mentioned by the evangelists, whose leaders, jointly and separately, both from common and distinct motives, opposed our Saviour's ministry, and cavilled at his doctrine, These were the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians.
The Pharisees, including the Scribes (who were chiefly of this sect) were professedly the guardians of the law, and public teachers of people. They were held in high veneration, by the common people, for the austerity of their deportment, the frequency of their devotions, and their exactness in the less essential parts of the law. They observed the traditions of the elders, were still adding to them; and the consequence was (as it will always be in such a case), that they were so pleased with their own inventions, as to prefer them to the positive commands of God; and their studious punctuality in trifles, withdrew their regard from the most important duties. Their specious show of piety was a fair outside, under which the grossest abominations were concealed and indulged. They were full of pride, and a high conceit of their own goodness. They fasted and prayed, to be seen and esteemed of men. They expected reverence and homage from all, and challenged the highest titles of respect, to be saluted as doctors and masters, and to be honoured with the principal seats in all assemblies. Many of them made their solemn exterior a cloak for extortion and oppression; and the rest, if not hypocrites in the very worst sense, yet deceived both themselves and others by a form of
See Matth. xxiii.; Mark, vii, 13.; Luke, xviii 9-14.
godliness, when they were, in effect, enslaved by their passions, and lived according to the corrupt rule of their own imaginations.
The Sadducees, their antagonists and rivals, were equally, though differently, remote from the true knowledge and worship of God. They not only rejected the tradition of the elders, but a great part of the Scriptures likewise, and admitted only the five books of Moses as of divine authority. From this circumstance, together with the difficulty they proposed to our Lord, and the answer he gave them; it appears that they were persons, who professing, in general terms, to acknowledge a revelation from God, yet made their own prejudices and mistakes, under the dignified name of reason, the standard to determine what books should be received as authentic, and in what sense they should be understood. The doctrine of a resurrection did not accord with their notions; therefore they rejected it, together with those parts of Scripture which asserted it most expressly. Their question concerning the seven brethren, seems to have been a trite objection, which they had often made, and which had never been answered to satisfaction, till our Lord resolved it. But the whole difficulty was founded upon false principles, and when these were removed, all fell to the ground at once.
Matth. xxii. 23.; Acts, xxiii. 8.
• That the Sadducees received only the law of Moses, is the general opinion; though, I do not say, that it has been either indubitably proved, or universally held. That they put their own sense upon the Scriptures (whether in whole or in part) which they did profess to receive, is manifest, from their asserting, that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit; a tenet which contradicts not one or a few texts, but the whole strain and tenour both of the law and the prophets.
From this, however, we may learn their characteristic. They were the cautious reasoners of those times, who valued themselves on examining every thing closely, refusing to be influenced by the plausible sounds of antiquity and authority.
The Herodians were those who endeavoured to in gratiate themselves with Herod. It is most probable that they received their name and distinction, not so much from any peculiar sentiments, as from attempting to accommodate their religion to the circumstances of the times. The Pharisees, boasting of their privileges as the children of Abraham, could hardly brook a foreign yoke; but the Herodians, from motives of interest, were advocates for Herod and the Roman power. Thus they were opposite to the Pharisees in political matters, as the Sadducees were in points of doctrine. And therefore the question concerning tribute, was proposed to our Lord jointly by the Pharisees and Herodians: the former designing to render him obnoxious to the people, if he allowed of tribute; the latter to accuse him to the government, if he refused it.
From what has been said, it is evident the leading principles of these sects were not peculiar to themselves. They may rather be considered universally, as specimens of the different appearances a religious profession assumes, where the heart is not divinely enlightened and converted to the love of the truth. In all such persons, however high the pretence of religion may be carried, it cannot proceed from a nobler principle, or aim at a nobler object than self. These dispositions have appeared in every age and form of the Christian church, and are always active to oppose the self-denying
f Matth. xxii. 16.; Mark, iii. 6.