48.If we let him alone thus. What if they do not let him alone ? In that case, as we have already said, they are fully convinced that it lies in their power to block up Christ’ path, so that he shall go no farther, provided that they earnestly strive against him. If Christ had been some impostor, their duty would have been to employ their exertions, that he might not lead away the sheep from the Lord’ flock; but by confessing his miracles, they make it sufficiently evident that they do not care much about God, whose power they so boldly and disdainfully despise.
The Romans will come. They cloak their wickedness by a plausible disguise, their zeal for the public good. The fear that chiefly distressed them was, that their tyranny would be destroyed; but they pretend to be anxious about the temple and worship of God, about the name of the nation, and about the condition of the people. And what is the object of all this? For they do not appear to seek pretences of this nature in order to deceive. They are not haranguing the people, but are holding in secrecy a private consultation among themselves. Being all aware that they are guilty of the same treachery, why do they not openly bring forward their plans and opinions? It is because impiety, though gross and manifest, is almost always accompanied by hypocrisy, and thus wraps itself in indirect evasions or subterfuges, so as to deceive under the semblance of virtue. Their chief design undoubtedly was, to hold out some appearance of gravity, moderation, and prudence, so as to practice imposition upon others; but it may readily be believed that, when they pretended to have just ground for persecuting Christ, they were themselves deceived by that poor disguise. Thus hypocrites, though their conscience reproves them within, are afterwards intoxicated by vain imaginations, so that in sinning they appear to be innocent. Yet they evidently contradict themselves; for at first they confessed that Christ did many miracles, and now they dread the Romans, as if there had not been abundantly sufficient protection in the power of God, which showed itself to be present by those miracles
The Romans will come. The Evangelist means, that the chief object of their consultation was, to guard against imminent danger. “ the Romans, ” they say, “ that any innovation was made in public matters, there is reason to fear that they would send an army to ruin our nation, together with the temple and worship of God.” Now it is wicked to consult about guarding against dangers, which we cannot avoid, unless we choose to depart from the right path. Our first inquiry ought to be, What does God command and choose to be done? By this we ought to abide, whatever may be the consequence to ourselves. Those men, on the other hand, resolve that Christ shall be removed from the midst of them, that no inconvenience may arise by allowing him to proceed, as he has begun. But what if he has been sent by God? Shall they banish a prophet of God from among them, to purchase peace with the Romans ? Such are the schemes of those who do not truly and sincerely fear God. What is right and lawful gives them no concern, for their whole attention is directed to the consequences.
But the only way to deliberate in a proper and holy manner is this. First, we ought to inquire what is the will of God. Next, we ought to follow boldly whatever he enjoins, and not to be discouraged by any fear, though we were besieged by a thousand deaths; for our actions must not be moved by any gust of wind, but must be constantly regulated by the will of God alone. He who boldly despises dangers, or, at least, rising above the fear of them, sincerely obeys God, will at length have a prosperous result; for, contrary to the expectation of all, God blesses that firmness which is founded on obedience to his word. Unbelievers, on the other hand, are so far from deriving any advantage from their precautions, that, the more timorous they are, the more numerous are the snares in which they entangle themselves.
In this narrative the form and character of our own age are strikingly delineated. They who are desirous to be regarded as prudent and cautious have continually this song in their mouth: “ must consult the public tranquillity; the reformation which we attempt is not unaccompanied by many dangers.” After having raised this unfounded dislike against us, they find no better expedient than to bury Christ, for the purpose of obviating every annoyance. As if such wicked contempt of the grace of God could actually have a prosperous issue, when, in order to allay disturbances, they contrive this remedy, that the doctrine of salvation shall be abolished. On the contrary, what wicked men dread will happen; and though they may obtain what they expect, still it is a most unworthy recompense, to appease the world by offending God.
Will take away our place. It is uncertain whether they mean the temple or their country. They thought that their salvation depended on both; for, if the temple was destroyed, there would be no more sacrifices, or public worship of God, or calling on his name. If, therefore, they cared any thing about religion, they must have been anxious about the temple. It was of great importance, on the other hand, for upholding the condition of the Church, that they should not again be led away out of their own land. They still remembered the captivity into Babylon, which was an awfully severe vengeance of God. It was also a common proverb among them — which is frequently to be found in the Law — that it was in some respects a casting them off, if the Lord thrust them out of that land. Hence they conclude that, unless Christ be destroyed, the Church will not be safe.