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before Pilate's hall of judgment. Pilate laid hold of this opportunity, and put the Jews in mind of the custom which, according to St. John's account, had hitherto been observed: You have, says he, a custom that I should release one to you at the Passover, As to the nature of this custom and its origin, I have just touched upon it in the preceding Consideration. Pilate was no stranger to the zealous adherence of the Jews to the ordinances and customs transmitted down to them from their ancestors, and well knew that they would rather suffer death, than be deprived of their ancient privileges. Therefore, he thought of throwing a bait among the people, who looked upon this custom as an essential part of their liberty, and by that means gaining their hearts; so that they might make use of that favourable opportunity, and release Jesus.
2. Hereupon followed what St. Mark relates of the people, in these words, according to some copies: And the multitude went up,' i. e. they drew nearer to Pilate's house, in order to have a distinct view of the two persons exhibited together. In other copies of the Greek text the words are, The multitude cried aloud, and began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them.' The minds of the people seem to have been so taken up with the proceedings against Jesus of Nazareth, that they never thought of this their customary privilege; nor had they claimed it of the Roman governor. But when they were put in mind of it by Pilate himself, their desire that this ancient custom should be observed, revived and grew to such a head, that it broke out into tumultuous outcries, demanding that Pilate would immediately proceed to business; so that their customs and privileges might not suffer any prejudice. From these circumstances we shall deduce the following doc
1. Our deliverance from the tyranny of evil customs cost our blessed Lord very dear.
St. Peter observes, that Christ hath redeemed us from our vain converstion, received by tradition, [i. e. directed and governed by ancient maxims and customs] not with silver and gold, but with his precious blood, (1 Peter i. 18.) Therefore he now stood before Pilate, because he was to feel the tyrannical power of ancient customs, and how the god of this world holds weak men so fastly bound with these fetters. Now in order to deprive these evil worldly maxims and customs of their power and dominion, and to procure for us absolute deliverance from them, the innocent and spotless Lamb of God suffered the tyrannical violence of such customs to rage against his person; and at last permitted that, through the observance of such an ancient privilege, he should be rejected and sentenced to death. Since therefore, the Son of God, for our deliverance from worldly customs, thus shed his precious blood, far be it from us, by our levity and irresolution, to forfeit again that privilege which he so dearly purchased, by giving ourselves up as slaves to sinful customs and ill habits. Some sins, indeed, by long custom are grown into a fashion, to which few are so scrupulous as not to conform; yet far be it from us, that we should suffer ourselves to be carried away by that overflowing stream. And though our singularity should expose us to the laughter of the world, let us not hesitate to suffer ourselves to be ridiculed with the Son of God, rather than tread under foot that precious ransom, by which he has redeemed us from the customs of our fathers.
Men usually shew most zeal for, and attachment to those things which concern their carnal libertv.
This custom of the Jews had some shadow of lib. erty; and the people were extremely fond of a privilege, by which they had a right annually to claim the releasment of a malefactor at the passover. Therefore, on the first intimation from Pilate, that they
might now make use of this privilege, their desire of it declared itself with great vehemence, and broke out into tumultuous clamours. This is always the case when men take it into their heads, that the unwarrantable liberty, or rather licentiousness, which they have assumed contrary to the Word of God, is likely to be restrained by wholesome laws. Nothing can equal their violence to oppose all such necessary restrictions. Oh, that men would shew such a zealous attachment for true liberty! such an inflamed desire of being released from the bonds of satan! Oh, that this desire would prompt them to prostrate themselves before God, to lift up their voice, and with tears implore him, that he would deliver them from the thraldom of their sins and pernicious lusts, and 'make them free by the Son, that they may be free indeed, (John viii. 36.)
II. We come, in the next place, to consider how Pilate conducted this affair. The people having claimed the observance of this old custom, he immediately sent for Barabbas from the prison, where he had hitherto been kept, and ordered him to be exhibited to public view, placing him near Jesus. Then Pilate put this question to the people, 'Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus who' is called Christ? Will ye that I release unto you the king of the Jews?' Never were two persons of characters so different placed on the same footing; one being the eternal Son of God, who was a pattern of the most perfect innocence and holiness, and the other a notorious robber, murderer, and rebel.
At first sight, this scheme of Pilate seems very well concerted. For,
First, He confines the choice to two persons, namely, Jesus whom he knew to be innocent, and who, by healing the sick, raising the dead, &c. had endeared himself to the people; and an infamous malefactor who had committed murder, shed innocent blood, and had been taken in the very act of rebellion.
Secondly, By this contrivance he got the whole affair out of the hands of the chief Priests, who had delivered Jesus for envy, into those of the people, among whom he knew that our blessed Lord had not a few disciples and adherents.
Thirdly, In his address to the people he gave our Saviour such names or titles, as might most effectually recommend him to their favour. His words are, JESUS, of whom it is said he is, or who is called, CHRIST,' i. e. the Messiah whom ye have so long expected. He likewise entitles him the King of the Jews.' By this, he puts them in mind how the Jewish people, but a few days before, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, by their shouts and acclamations had, as it were proclaimed him king of Israel; so that they ought to consider, what a disgrace it would be to the Jews to suffer their King to be thus undeservedly crucified.
Fourthly, By putting a rebel in competition with Christ; Pilate was in hopes that the chief Priests, out of caution and prudence, would not interfere in the matter. For they themselves had accused Jesus of rebellion; and strongly insisted on his being put to death, because he perverted the people, and disuaded them from paying the tribute due to the emperor. Now as they had not been able to produce one legal proof of any seditious action against Jesus; whereas, Barabbas, on the contrary, had been taken in the very fact, heading a party of men in a tumult; Pilate thought the chief Priests and Elders would never declare for a rebel, nor advise the people to procure his release; since it would render them suspected by the Romans of favouring sedition, which was a capital crime, and seldom or never pardoned by the governor. Thus he thought he had disposed every thing in the best manner by his political sagacity, and, in his heart, congratulated himself on the suc cess of his contrivance.
But in all these human schemes there was a great mixture of injustice. For,
1. Pilate exposes to the chance of being crucified a person of whose innocence he was convinced; and delivers Jesus up, and with him justice itself, to the caprice of the populace. Thus he departed from the plain direct path of justice, as laid down by the laws, and turned aside into a very slippery way, which was full of stumbling blocks. He knew that the High Priests had delivered him for envy.' Should hot this have, induced him to consider the great influence, which the rank and authority of the chief Priests and Elders gave them over the people? Ought he not, as a wise statesman, to have reflected on the lengths, which envy is known to run on its restlessness and rancour, and what infamous actions it causes men to perpetrate?
2. Pilate by this action obscures the innocence of Christ, after having borne a public testimony of it, in the displaying of which Divine Providence, at this time more especially, was concerned. For had this artifice of Pilate succeeded, and the people demanded that Jesus might be released, it might have been said by the chief Priests, &c. that popular clamours had prevailed, and that it was not because of his inno-cence that Jesus had been released, but because he was favoured by the people; who had before opposed his being carried to prison, and consequently obstructed the course of justice. Thus Pilate, in this affair, seems to have been an engine of satan, who, above all things, wanted to fix a blemish on the innocence of his conqueror.
3. By this unjust expedient, he precludes himself from all opportunity of urging any thing further in behalf of our Saviour's innocence, with proper vigour and efficacy. For after the Jews, had once desired Barabbas to be released to them, Jesus stood actually condemned, and rejected by the majority of the people.
4. He acted contrary to the true interest of the common realth; for by the hopes of escaping pu