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· Timon. He is. I saw him fall asleep ;* and, before sun-set, the sorrowful brotherhood intend to bury him.t
C. Did you hear his trial?
T. I was in court, and heard as much as could be expected in a place of such uncommon tumult and noisé.
C. Who were his accusers ?
T. We have, you know, in this city several colleges, where the sons of those Jews, who live in Asia, Egypt, Greece, and Italy, are sent to be educated. Either the masters, or the students, of four of these houses, pretended some time ago to confute our doctrine, and to that end disputed with Stephen. Unable to resist the force of his reasoning, they hit on the abominable method of rendering him odious to government, and procured men to accuse him of blasphemy.Ş These accusers deposed against him.
C. The cause was tried then in the ecclesiastical court.
The Sanhedrim sat, and the highpriest was judge.
C. The cause certainly belonged to that court: hut, as the law of blasphemy adjudges the blasphemer to be stoned to death; and as the Romans have deprived all our courts of the power of putting a subject to death; the whole business of
T. It was.
* Acts vü. 60. viii. 2. Ivi 9. § vi. 9, 10, 11. || vi. 12. vü. 1,
Lev. xxiv. 10-mi 17.
the ecclesiastical court is to determine the nature of the crime. In order to do this the Sanhedrim can receive an accusation, arrest a subject, place him at the bar, receive the depositions of witnesses against him, give an opinion on the nature of the crime, and declare what punishment our law inflicts on the criminal. But the infliction of the punishment belongs to the temporal courts. This order was observed in the trial of our blessed Master.
T. Far from observing this order now, they had not patience to hear him out; they interrupted him in his defence; they behaved like madmen; the court declared him guilty of blasphemy; and the zealots affecting to fall in with the declaration, hurried him out of the city and stoned him to death, without any authority from the governor. Alas! had we been aware .
C. Aware of what, brother? Had we informed the governor of the tumult; had he resented their encroachment on his office; had he taken Stephen out of their hands, his interposition would have delayed his execution a day or two; but it would not have saved his life. The Sanhedrim have not the power of putting a subject to death; but they have the power of determining when he deserves to die; and the sordid scribes will take care so to explain the word blasphemy as to include the case under consideration, and to expose the accused to the penalty of a law, which he has not broken.
7. How do the scribes define blasphemy?
C. They include in the term a great many misdemeanors, which have no relation, or a very distant one, to that action, which the statute describes by the word blasphemy, the punishment of which is lapidation. According to them, to speak disrespectfully of Moses, of the law, of the temple, of the city, is to be guilty of blasphemy. To do either of these, say they, is to insult God; for the temple is his sanctuary, the city is his holy place, Moses is bis servant, and the law his will. Thus under the shew of a wise and scrupulous piety they abuse the word, and involve the innocent with the guilty, first in the crime, and last in the punishment of blasphemy.
T. How would you define that blasphemy, which Moses in the law condemns ?
C. Blasphemy, in my opinion, is the speaking or writing of any thing knowingly and wilfully, which is injurious to the perfections of Jehovah. Three things, I think, are essential to the crime. 1. God must be the object. 2. The words, which are spoken or written, must be in their nature, and independently on consequences, that others may derive from them, injurious to the object, God. 3. The subject, or he who commits the crime, must commit it knowing it to be injurious to God, and intending to have it understood so. To this blasphemy, and, I believe, to no other, the statute belongs. The blasphemy of him, on whose account the law was made, * that of Pharaoh, |
* Lev. xxiv. 10. + Exod. v. 2. viii. 19. ix, 27.
and that of Rabshakeh* agree to this definition. What I have described I call REAL blasphemy; but there is a "RELATIVE blasphemy, which proceeds from false opinions of religion. A good man may be guilty of this ignorantly, by propagating opinions, which tend to dishonour God; but the tendency of which he does not perceive. A good man may be guilty of this constructively ; for if he speak freely against received errors, which the priests hold sacred, they will construe what he says into blasphemy.
T. Thus they dealt with Stephen. They accused him of speaking blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.f In proof of which the witnesses deposed, that they heard him say, Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place. This is a prophecy, but it is not blasphemy; our rulers should have examined the truth of this prediction.
C. They did not want information. But what followed in court?
T. The holy man, throwing the dispositions of his heart into the features of his face, made his defence. The noise and confusion of the court were so great that we could hear only parts of it, and so violent was the rage of his judges, that they would not suffer him to finish it. He intended to own, I thought, the prediction, and to deny
the blasphemy of it. For these purposes he ran through the history of our nation, and shewed the design of God in instituting ceremonial usages. They were well adapted to prevent idolatry, to which the nation had been formerly addicted; and to represent those substantial benefits, which the Messiah was to procure. It was no blasphemy to say that, when they had answered the end of their institution, they were to be abolished. Perceiving they would not let him go through his defence, he taxed his judges with murdering Jesus Christ, and with violating the law. When they heard these charges they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth: but he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the son of man standing on the right hand of God!
* Isaiah xxxvi.
+ Acts vi. 11.
I vi. 14.
C. Where was he when he exclaimed thus?
T. He was at the bar in the council-chamber in the temple, where the sanhedrim sit to hear causes; the place against which, his accusers said, he had spoken blasphemous words.* This exclamation broke up the court in the utmost confusion, some cried out with a loud voice, Blasphemy ! Blasphemy! others stopped their ears, and the zealots rushing on him with one accord, led him from the temple, and out of the city to his execution.f They stoned him without the gate on the east side of the city, on the steep descent towards the vale of Jehoshaphat.[
C. You followed, I presume; did you get near enough to hear any of his last words?
* Acts vi. 13, 14. + vii. 57, 58. I Pocock's description of the East, vol. ii. chap. 6.