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has denounced sentence of death. As Pilate at that time bore the sword of justice in Judea, God, in an extraordinary manner, permitted that it should be used for executing that sentence, which he had long ago passed by an eternal decree on our surety. But in this transaction, the work of God, and the proceedings of Pilate are carefully to be distinguished. God, as the Supreme Judge of the world, made use of the judicial power of Pilate, in order to punish our sins which were imputed to Christ. But in the injustice of Pilate, and his cruel behaviour towards Jesus, God had no share; nor did the author of all good prompt him to those unjust proceedings, which he was guilty of in this trial: On the contrary, they were the workings of his own corrupt heart fomented by the suggestions of satan. Thus our blessed Lord acknowledges Pilate to be his judge; who indeed, according to the ordinary course of things, could have no power over him; but at this time, by an extraordinary dispensation of Providence, he had acquired power and authority over the Son of God.
4. Jesus remonstrates to Pilate, that he greatly sinned by abusing the civil power, which he had received from God. At the same time, our blessed Lord owns that the chief Priests and Scribes, by delivering him to Pilate, were guilty of the greater sin, and had the more to answer for. Indeed they had before condemned him to die, and only wanted to employ the civil judge as the instrument to put their unjust sentence in execution. The sin which these men were guilty of was of a much deeper dye than that committed by Pilate on this occasion; since they ought to have known from the writings of the prophets, who Jesus was. Nay, they must have been convinced in their hearts, that he was come from God, and that no man could do those miracles that Jesus had done, except God was with him, as Nicodemus acknowledges in the name of them all, (John iii. 2.) Jesus therefore readily owns this, ant!
by that means, as it were, cuts off Pilate's retreat; who would have laid the whole fault at the door of the Jews. Thus he said before, Am I a Jew? thine own nation, and the chief Priests have delivered thee unto me.'
Our blessed Lord does by no means exculpate Pi-late, by making this acknowledgment; on the contrary, his design is rather to work on his conscience, and convince him of his heinous guilt. Pilate was very sensible that Jesus was innocent, and that the chief Priests had delivered him purely out of envy and malice; yet he did great violence, and acted quite contrary to this conviction. For he not only, as it were, staked the life of this innocent person against that of a notorious murderer, and caused him to be very inhumanly scourged; but permitted his soldiers to revile, insult, and commit all manner of outrages against him. Notwithstanding all this, Pilate could still presumptuously boast of his power, and insult the blessed Jesus, by saying, 'Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?' This assertion at the same time implied a great absurdity: For if Christ was innocent, Pilate had no legal power to order him to be crucified; and if, on the other hand, he was guilty, he had no right to release him. But the righteous God did not leave this injustice of Pilate unpunished; for, on a complaint of the Samaritans against him, he wassent prisoner to Rome by Vitellius; and was deprived of his post by the emperor Caligula, and then banished. At length, according to some historians, he put an end to his wretched life with his own hands in his exile. Thus the Divine vengeance pursued this unjust judge, and punished him for the abuse of his power in condemning the innocent Son of God. From this last discourse of Pilate with our blessed Saviour, we may learn the following truths:
1. Servile fear and terror may, indeed, cause great. emotions in the human heart, but can never work a thorough change and amendment of it.
Pilate, who naturally did not want courage and resolution, was yet struck with a secret fear by the rays of the divinity which beamed forth in Jesus Christ. He was greatly afraid when he understood, that he had proceeded so far against a person who affirmed that he was a son of God, and his conscience forboded him no good for having suffered his soldiers to use Jesus in so contemptuous and inhuman a manner. But Pilate was only actuated by a base and servile fear. He was not much concerned because he had committed these acts of injustice and cruelty; but his fear proceeded from the apprehension, that the gods would not fail of punishing him in due time for the indignities he had offered to that divine person, who was the son of a deity. This servile fear had not in the least cured the malignity of Pilate's heart; for we find all his natural pride breaking forth soon after, in these words: Speakest thou not unto me?' However, Pilate by his fear on this occasion may put thousands of bold, licentious Christians to the blush. This heathen was afraid, because he had suffered a son of the gods to be scourged. But who among us is afraid, when he is informed by the apostle that by his sins he has, as it were, crucified the Son of God afresh, (Heb. vi. 6.) But granting that it might occasion in such persons a servile fear; yet this is not sufficient to convert the heart. On the contrary, fatal experience shews that those, whom a base and servile fear, as the first fruits of repentance, had thrown into extreme dejection and agonies of mind, have generally on their recovery from such a state become more bold, licentious, and secure than they were before. But, if the sinner lets this servile. fear get the dominion over him, it will only lead him to despair. A sinner who is accused by his own conscience must at first be awakened by a servile fear; which causes him to be afraid of God as a righteous judge, and of his temporal and eternal punishments. This fear, as it were, compels him to VOL. II.
abstain from many outward sins. But this servile fear of the divine Justice must afterwards be gradually purified, and refined into a filial awe and reverence, by the glorious gospel of God in Christ Jesus; and must be tempered with the love of God, which alone mends the heart, and produces in it a willing propensity to good.
Reflect all ye, who by the convictions of your consciences are awakened to a servile fear, that you are yet advanced no farther than Pilate who was a heathen; and that, if you break off here, or intend to proceed no farther in the work of conversion to God, you will be as little benefited by such convictions of your guilt, as he was by his conviction of our Saviour's innocence Come therefore to God by Christ, the Son of his love, who will fill your hearts with perfect love, which casteth out flavish fear, (1 John iv. 18.)
O faithful Saviour! do thou fill our hearts with a filial love and fear of God, that we may not only avoid the punishments due to sin, but have an inward abhorrence of sin itself; especially as it brought so many. sufferings on thy sacred person, and caused thy death on the cross.
2. There are many in our days who resemble Pilate; who out of vain curiosity are starting questions on the sublimest mysteries of religion, but at the same time shew a contempt of its fundamental truths.
· Pilate, as we have observed above, had paid no regard to the confession, which Christ had made before him concerning his kingdom; and had made a jest of that important truth, which Christ came into the world to promulgate. But now he is for scaling the third heaven at once, and with his profane heathenish understanding, would fain penetrate into the most exalted mystery of Faith, namely, the eternal generation of the Son from the Father. But how many are there, who in our day's presumptuously dispute and pretend to explain the mysteries of religion, before they know the first elements of Christianity, and while they are
slaves to their lusts and passion. Young students in divinity, by the conceit they entertain of their proud reason, are most in danger of this presumption. But too many of those, who vainly dispute about these awful mysteries of our religion, are but babes in the practice of Christianity; are strangers to repentance, self-denial, taking up the cross, and carrying it after Christ; and indeed, to learn and practice such things is generally the least of their desires. God reveals his secrets, as far as it concerns us to know, to babes and to the humble, but not to those proud spirits who are for unfolding every thing by the natural dint of their genius, and arrogantly soar above the native simplicity of God's word.
Blessed Jesus! preserve us from all presumption and vain curiosity in spiritual things. Grant that we may know ourselves, and from whence we are, namely, of sinful origin, before we take upon us presumptuously to explain thy mysterious generation, and say, Whence art thou? Let us first examine our own sinful genealogy, before we presume to trace that of heaven. May we rather, after the example of thine elect angels, as often as we look into the mysteries of thy sacred person and office, bow down our heads in token of our devout humility and reverence.
3. The wisdom of speaking and being silent at proper seasons, must be learned in the school of Christ. Here we find remarkable instances of both. Here our wise Redeemer gave sufficient proof that he knew when to speak, and when to be silent. This consummate wisdom no man is naturally possessed of. The natural man often speaks when he should be silent, and is silent when he should open his mouth. He speaks whenever his own honour is called in question, and launches out into diffuse apologies; on the other hand, he has not a word to say when he should stand up for God's honour, and vindicate the character of his neighbour when he is wrongfully accused. But this wise lesson of speaking and being silent on pro