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tlie members of the Sanhedrim assembled together with their proper officers, on a summons from Caiaphas, and were waiting for JESUS when he was brought before them.
Simon Peter had, with the rest of the disciples, at first forsaken his LORD; but he soon recollected himself, and resolved to return; as did another apostle, supposed to be John, being anxious to see the event, and they shortly overtook the multitude. Our LORD was taken into an inner room, in order to be examined. John, by some means with which we are not acquainted, was known to the high-priest, and was admitted into the palace without any objection: but Peter having no interest was obliged to wait without till his companion gained admittance for him. While the council were examining JESUs, Peter sat down among the servants, thinking to remain there undiscovered; but when he found that he was suspected, he suffered his fear to get the better of his gratitude and affection, and meanly denied his LORD and Master, calling God to witness that he did not even know him. Thus did this disciple, who had given the warmest assurances of constant attachment, sink into a degree of baseness next to that of the traitor Judas; for he denied CHRIST before men, when he ought particularly to have confessed him, and to have offered himself as a witness of his innocence. What a striking instance of human frailty and imperfection was this! for there is no doubt but that Peter, when he made his former professions, spake from his heart; as he had the greatest share of natural courage and resolution of any of the Apostles, and the fullest persuasion of faith.
* See Bishop Sherlock's Sermons, from whence these reflections on St. Peter's example are extracted.
But natural courage is not the true source of fortitude. in spiritual trials; and we may learn from Peter's example, that confidence and presumption are very unpromising signs of stedfastness and perseverance in religion. The first principles of true religion are a fear of GOD and mistrust of ourselves, which will not easily insinuate into a mind that is full of self-sufficiency. A sincere trust in GoD, and perfect submission to the divine will, enable men not only to act with zeal, but to bear the disppointments of life with unshaken firmness of mind: but those who set out on their own bottom soon turn back and it is in vain for any to promise themselves a superiority under such trials and temptations, unless they lay a right foundation, by imploring the aid of GOD'S HOLY SPIRIT.
We are also taught by Peter's example, what little reason there is to promise ourselves success against temptations which are of our own seeking. Peter had warning given him, and was told by ONE whose word he might have taken, but he was not able to undergo the trial he seemed so much to despise: but try he would, and he learnt to know his own weakness by his miscarriage.
God knows our strength better than we ourselves do; and as he has warned us to fly the occasions of sin, it is presumptuous to think ourselves able to resist them. When therefore we court the dangers and temptations which the Scriptures warn us to flee from, we have no pretence to expect support from CHRIST in our undertaking. But while we are doing the work of our hea venly Father, we shall assuredly meet with proper encouragement, and we are authorised by GoD's promises to expect the aid of the HOLY SPIRIT.
Peter's example likewise teaches us, how great the
advantages of regular and habitual holiness are. Good Christians, though they may fall like other men through passion or presumption, or other infirmities, yet their way to repentance is more open and easy; their minds not being hardened by sin, are awakened by the gentlest calls, and the sense of virtue revives in them upon the first suggestions of conscience. St. Peter fell, and his fall was very shameful; but his repentance was as re markable as his fall. While he was in the height of his rage for being suspected to be a disciple of CHRIST'S, whilst he was abjuring him with oaths and imprecations, one look of our LORD laid all the storm, and melted him into the tears and sorrows of repentance. The same moment saw him the most audacious sinner, and the most humble penitent. There was no need of terrifying judgments to awaken his mind to a sense of his iniquity; eye of his LORD was a sufficient rebuke; it struck him with a sorrow not to be dissembled; and he went out, and wept bitterly.
How different were the calls to repentance, which the Jews had even in our SAVIOUR's life-time, yet how different their success? Every man may sin, but those only will repent who sincerely endeavour after righteousness. A good man may be mistaken, surprised, misled ; but the first return of thought, the first interval he has of cool reason and reflection, shews him his error, and hastens his return to the obedience of holiness. But the wicked, as they advance in iniquity, do more and more subdue their conscience, till even repentance itself becomes impossible.
JESUS EXAMINED AT THE PALACE OF CAIAPHAS.
From John, Chap. xviii.
THE high-priest then asked JESUS of his disciples, and of his doctrine.
JESUS answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort, and in secret have I said nothing.
Why asketh thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.
And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers who stood by, struck JESUS with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high-priest so?
JESUS answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?
ANNOTATIONS AND REFLECTIONS.
The proceedings against our blessed LORD were contrary to all law and equity. He was seized as a criminal, though guilty of no crime *. He was brought to the tribunal of justice, though no one had any thing to lay to his charge. The judge was his prosecutor, and he was unjustly required to be his own accuser. The high-priest, willing to cover the private malice of himself, and the other members of the Sanhedrim, under a pretence of zeal for the public good, examined our
* See Henry's Annotations.
LORD concerning his disciples and his doctrine, in hopes of finding from his own mouth, cause to represent him as dangerous either to the Jewish church, or the Roman government, and so have him convicted of heresy or sedition. How calm and rational was his reply! Of his doctrine he said nothing, for he knew they were not disposed to edify by it; and if it was right, he had the same privilege with other teachers of communicating it to the world: and though his disciples had forsaken him, he would not expose them to the malice of the Sanhedrim, but referred his persecutors to those who had heard his preaching, as, according to the rules of their own court in capital cases, they ought to have given notice by the public crier, in his presence, for all persons who could bear testimony to his innocence, to appear, before they proceeded to put him to death. This our LORD had a particular right to demand, as he had been candid and open in the publication of the Gospel; but they resolved, agreeably to the prophet's prediction, by oppressive judgment to cut him off, and his manner of life none would declare † ; for all were intimidated by the fear of the power of the council.
The crime which the Sanhedrim by law was to enquire into, was the clandestine spreading of dangerous doctrine, and secretly enticing to the worship of strange gods. From this our LORD fully vindicated himself, shewing, that he did not deliver things ambiguously like the heathen oracles, but explained himself fully; his reproofs were free and bold, and his testimonies express, against the corruptions of the age. He spake to "the world, to all who were willing to hear him; he feared not the censures of a mixed multitude, neither
*See Bishop Lowth's notes to the liiid of Isaiah,
Deut. xiii, 6.
+ Isaiah liii.