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MINISTERIAL FIDELITY, &c.
JOHN XVIII. 23.
If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but
if well, why smilest thou me.
All men, of all sects, agree that the treatment of our Lord Jesus Christ, immediately before the close of his course, exhibited the very highest injustice, and the most cool and consummate depravity. When a criminal is arrested and put upon his plea for 'life and death, there is something within a man which involuntarily softens down his feelings into those of tenderness. Nor can there be a greater insult offered to the common sympathies of our nature, nor one which would be more speedily and roughly resented, than any gratuitous indignity: anything which tends to render his situation more painful. In the case, however, of our Lord and Saviour, all the courtesies of life, and all the kindlier attentions of humanity, were denied, with a barbarity which shocks us in the recital. Not one kind action was performed, nor one generous sentiment expressed, during the whole of his trial. He seemed to be interdicted from the common rights, even of those who were destined to public execution. The sanhedrim forgot their majesty, and the high priest his dignity, when Jesus of Nazareth stood before them-forgot themselves so far as to permit vulgar insolence to inflict personal violence upon their prisoner without provocation, and in circumstances which entitled him to protection. On an interrogation about his disciples and his doctrine, Jesus referred the high priest to those who had attended his ministry; and a more fair or respectful reference could not have been required. The only notice taken of it, was a blow from one of the officers who stood by, with a question after the blow, Answerest thou the HIGH PRIEST SO ? Jesus, who knew perfectly well what was due to a court of justice, and those who were arraigned before it, meekly replied, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil : but if well, why smitest thou me ?
because they convey a general instruction, both to the official witnesses for truth, and to those who hear their testimony. The one are taught to deliver their message firmly and courageously; and the other to refrain from hasty and especially from passionate judgments.
I. The duty of official witnesses to the truth. It is to speak well. And my first remark is,
1. That they have a high and responsible duty to perform, which cannot be slighted or evaded.
God is carrying on in our world the most important design that he was ever pleased to unfold to the contemplation of the universe, the manifestation of his own glory in the salvation of sinful men. A salvation in which his only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, acts the principal part, and forms the great point of reunion both to his own infinite perfections, and the adoration of all holy beings in his empire. It is the object of their study, and the theme of their praise. The minutest portion of its development, such as the repentance of one sinner, puts all heaven in commotion, and creates a new allotment of the services of those who are destined to be ministering spirits. The visible execution of
this design he has seen proper to commit to the hands of men-men of like passions with others-involved in the same ruin, redeemed by the same means, and heirs of the same inheritance, with all those who shall see the King in his beauty. The treasure is indeed put into earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God. But though they are earthen vessels, made of dust and returning to the dust, they are raised to the dignity of fellow-workers with God. They have his commission in their hands-his promises to animate, and his Spirit to help them. Who that rightly considers the employment would not tremble to undertake it? Who that undertakes it, with a due sense of his own insufficiency, and an humble trust in the support of that God whose he is and whom he serves, will not feel himself infinitely above the fears, the favors, the frowns, the applauses, of fellow-worms, and all the petty calculations which find a place in the minds of those who can stoop to be the servants of men ?
Commensurate with this mighty trust is the responsibility attached to it. Life for life, blood for blood, in the case of all who perish through carelessness or unfaithfulness, is a terrible alternative; but yet that to which the ministers of God are subjected. Son of man, is