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Refine our nature with thy gentleness and longanimity, for the sake of thy eternal love. Amen.
THE SECOND EXAMINATION AND CONDEMNATION OF CHRIST BEFORE THE JEWISH
SANHEDRIM. AND straightway in the morning, as soon as it was day, the chief Priests, the Elders of the people, and the Scribes, came together, and led him into their council. And they said, Art thou the Christ? Tell us. And he said unto them, If I tell you, ye will not believe; and if I ask you, ye will not answer me, nor let me go. Hereafter shall the Son of Man sit on the right hand of the Power of God. Then said they all, Art thou then the Son of God? And he said unto them, Ye say that I am. And they said, What need we any further witness ? for we ourselves have heard of his own mouth.' (Matth. xxvii. 1. Mark xv. 1. Luke xxii. 66–71.)
In these words we have an account,
Secondly, The second sentence and condemnation of Christ, before the Jewish Sanhedrim.
I. In the second examination, four particulars offer themselves to our consideration.
1. Here is mentioned the time when this was transacted. This was early in the morning, as soon as it was day.' During the night, which now was drawing to a period, the Sanhedrim had spent several hours successively in examining and sentencing our blessed Saviour; and afterwards, as nothing farther could be done till the next morning, the assembly had broke up, and delivered Jesus into the hands of the soldiers and servants. These, duing the remainder of the night, committed against
his sacred person the most brutal indignities, as we have shewn above in the preceding Consideration. But no sooner did the day begin to dawn, than the whole council met again ; either, as some think, in a large apartment, in the temple, called Gazith, where they commonly used to meet ; or, as others with greater probability imagine, they again assem. bled in Caiaphas's house, the place where they had met the night before: For St. John (chap. xviii. 23.) does not say that they led Jesus out of the temple to the judgment-seat, but from Caiaphas, and out of his house. Though they had sat very late, and had not retired to rest but two hours before break of day; yet were they again assembled before sun-rise, that no time might be neglected for the dispatch of their wicked purposes.
Oh! that the children of light were as careful to redeem the time, as these children of darkness, who sleep not except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall;" (Proverbs iv. 16.) who, being impelled'by the evil Spirit, are so indefatigable in the execution of their sinful projects, that they value neither sleep nor rest, if they can but attain their wicked ends. These members of the Sanhedrim were wretched slaves to the devil; who allowed them no rest that night, but kept their eyes open, that they might not sleep while they were employed in the works of darkness. At the same time, these ought to put many thousands of indolent Christians to the blush, who had rather omit the service of God, than in the least abridge themselves of their natural rest. Oh that we may for the future better employ our morning lours ! Are the slaves of satan so early abroad for the execution of their wicked designs, which they think will not admit of any delay ? Shall not the children of light, who have such important affairs on their hands, and are fighting for a never-fading crown of glory, likewise avail themselves of the morning
hours, when the mind is calm and serene, and is best disposed for spiritual meditations, prayer, and other devout exercises ? Satan is very industrious to gain the first possession of the mind in the early hours of the day, as well as in youth, the morning of our lives, and to fill it with thoughts vain and frivolous, if not manifestly sinful; or crouds it with a groupe of vicious thoughts, earthly cares, and worldly anxieties. For he well knows, that it is a great point gained, if he can but dissipate our thoughts before they are collected, and prepared for praying and praising God. Therefore, it behoves us to be wise and vigilant, and prevent his early incursions. Our blessed Saviour, by appearing so early before the judgment-seat of the Jews, has obtained for us the privilege of early approaching the Throne of Grace. Let us, therefore, henceforth use this precious privilege with more humility, gratitude, and assiduity, than we have hitherto done.
2. The examiners and their assistants are here specified : At this second examination, all the chief Priests, i. e. all those persons, who either were descended from any of the High Priest’s families, or had themselves actually held that office; the Scribes, who studied the law of Moses, and explained the writings of the prophets; and lastly, the elders of the people who, though they were laymen, sat likewise in Moses's chair, and enforced the observance of the political law, which God had given by Moses. Thus, all the members of the Sanhedrim or great council were assembled on this occasion. Possibly, several members of this great assembly might not have been present the night before : But as the sentence of death, of which they had judged our Saviour guilty, was now to be ratified, and the execution of it to come under deliberation ; they were all summoned, lest the absence of some of them should cast a reproach on the others who should be present; or lest it should be said, that Christ was not condemned by the unanimous votes of all the members. However, though the assembly was more numerous than it had been the preceding night, yet it was still the assembly of the wicked; and the sentence it confirmed, was a most unjust and infamous sentence : For what is in itself sinful and iniquitous is not rendered more just or legal by a great number of suffrages. A bad cause is still bad, though it be patronized by thousands, and has the sanction of the most respectable and numerous assemblies.
3. Here is mentioned the drift of these wicked men, and the end of their meeting. “They took counsel against Jesus to put him to death,' (Matth. xxvii. 1.) It was their fixed resolution that he should die ; but the end of this second meeting was to confirm the sentence which had already been passed, and to consult on the readiest and safest means for putting it in execution. It aggravates their guilt, that in their second meeting, they had still the same flagitious and blood-thirsty designs as in the first : For though a good intention cannot make a bad cause good; yet a wicked intention may render it still worse, and more unjustifiable. For instance, two persons may be guilty of telling a lie. One utters a falehood out of fear, and, perhaps to save his life from imminent danger; the other does it with a determinate purpose of bringing his neighbour in danger of his life: Doubtless, the lie which the latter is guilty of becomes more criminal than the lie of the former, because his design is more malignant and pernicious. Again, two persons may bring an ill report on their neighbour. One, perhaps, utters it from weakness of judgment, credulity, or simplicity, as he has heard the calumny from others; whereas, the other spreads it abroad with a view to prejudice his neighbour's reputation, and to render him odious to the world. Now, who will doubt but that the slander of the latter, in this instance, is much worse than that of the former, on account of his ill intention? Thus the Jewish assem
bly, by the execrable design of its members, became an abomination to God, and all men of virtue and probity; since it is evident from hence, that the condemnation of the Messiah was not a sudden thing, but that it was done with mature deliberation and malice propense; which highly aggravated their guilt in the sight of God.
4. Lastly, We proceed to the examination itself, which consisted of two questions, and two answers.
The High Priest's first question was this : 'Art thou the Christ? Tell us. They had already put this question to Jesus; for it is said by St. John, (chap. x. 24.) · Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, “How long dost thou make us to doubt ? If thou be the Christ tell us plainly.?: As if they had said, We can gather nothing from thy words; since at one time thou callest thyself the Bread of Life, and another time the Light of the World, the Door of the sheepfold, the Shepherd, &c. therefore tell us plainly, without any allegory or similitude, whether thou art the Messiah, who was promised to our forefathers. This is what the members of this wicked assembly wanted to be informed of, in order to compass their designs. To this purpose, they had ordered our blessed Saviour from the lower apartments of the palace, where he had hitherto been under the care of the Officers and servants, to be brought before the council. Here they proposed this ques tion to him, “Art thou the Christ or Messiah?' adding this
express command to resolve it, •Tell us.' As if they had said, Whatever scruples thou mayest have about declaring it so plainly to the people, it is thy duty to declare it to us; for we sit in Moses's chair as your lawful judges, and it concerns us greatly to know, whether thou art that great prophet, promised long since by Moses. Thus they were for putting a good gloss upon this question, that Jesus might be under the less apprı lension of frankly declaring the truth to them. Thus the persecutors of