Page images
PDF
EPUB

SERMON XIII.

Pilate's Infcription on the Cross of Chrift.

A Communion Sermon.

JOHN xix. 19-22.

And Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross; and the writing was, "Je fus of Nazareth the King of the Jews" This title then read many of the Jews, for the place where Jefus was crucified was nigh to the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, "the King of the Jews;" but that he faid, "I am the King of the Jews." Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.

THE Meffiah was foretold, in ancient

pro. phecy, under the character and title of a king, whofe government should extend to all nations, but should be exercised in a peculiar manner over the Jews. His extenfive dominion is described in the fecond Pfalm; "I have fet my king upon my holy hill of Zion. Afk of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for thy poffeffion." In the ninth chapter of Isaiah, he is described as fitting on the throne of David, and reigning over the houfe of Ifrael: "Unto us a child is born; unto us a fon is given; and the government shall be on

his shoulder; his name fhall be called the prince of peace; of the increase of his government and peace there thall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom, to order and establish it with judgment and with juftice from hence

forth even forever."

As the Meffiah was to make his perfonal appearance in Judea, and there first to difplay the bleffings of his fpiritual kingdom, he is described as eminently the king of the Jews. But the glorious things foretold concerning this spiritual kingdom, the Jews understood in a temporal and worldly fenfe. They imagined, that he would erect his throne in Jerufalem, their capital city; would deliver them from the oppreffion of the Roman government, and would reduce all nations into a ftate of fubjection to them.

When Jefus appeared and wrought miracles among them, and proclaimed the near approach of the kingdom of God, many were in high expectation, that they should foon fee him at the head of their nation, fpreading his dominion over the world. And impatient at his delay, they would have taken him by force and made him a king. But when they found, that their worldly expectations were not to be anfwered, mortified at their difappointment, they called him a deceiver, and fought his deftruction. And, among other accufations, they alledged, that he had called himfelf a king, and thus had spoken against the authority of Cefar.

If Jefus had actually affumed the regal power in Judea, and had begun to raise an army for the expulfion of the imperial authority, they would have been highly gratified with the defign, and would have reforted by thousands to his ftandard. But because he difclaimed all temporal dominion,

they refused to own him as the Meffiah, and ftudied to effect his ruin. With this view they brought him before the Roman governor, and accused him as a feditious man, who had perverted the nation, and forbidden to pay tribute to Cefar.

Jefus explains before Pilate the nature of his kingdom. He says, " My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, then would my fervants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from hence." Pilate afks," Art thou a king then?" Jefus answered, "Thou fayeft, that I am, a king. To this end was I born, and for this caufe came I into the world, that I fhould bear witnefs to the truth. Every one, who is of the truth, heareth my voice." "The kingdom which I claim is a kingdom of truth and reason; not of force and arms; and my fubjects are they who learn and love the truth; who hear and obey my voice-not they who take up arms and fight to dethrone monarchs, fubvert eftablished governments, and gain worldly dominion for a favorite mafter."

The governor is now fully convinced, that Jefus is innocent, and that the charge brought a gainst him is groundlefs and malicious. From this time he endeavors, in fome peaceable way, to effect his release. He propofes every expedient, which he could think of, to pacify the enraged multitude, and fave the unoffending prifoner. But they perfift in their demand of a fentcnce against him ; and urge their demand by this argument, "If thou let this man go, thou art not Cefar's friend. Whofoever maketh himself a king, fpeaketh against Cefar." The argument prevailed. Though Pilate knew that Jefus was innocent, yet he feared, that by discharging him, he fhould endanger himself. He was impreffed with the

idea, that the Jews, in their present state of irritation, would accufe him to the emperor, of having protected a ufurper; and therefore to fave himself from danger he delivered Jefus to be crucified. But, at the fame time, he made an open and publick declaration in favor of the prifoner. "He took water, and washed his hands in the prefence of the multitude, faying, I am innocent of the blood of this juft man: fee ye to it." And he caused to be fixed on the cross an infcription purporting the innocence and dignity of the fufferer.

Crucifixion was a kind of punishment in use among the Romans; but inflicted only on flaves. The Jews adopted it from the Romans. When a perfon was to fuffer this kind of death, the Romans used to publish his name, and the crime for which he was punished. This was done, either by proclamation, or by an infcription fixed over his head. The infcription was made in large black characters on a whitened board nailed to the top of the cross, so as to be confpicuous and legible at a distance. In conformity to this ufage, Pilate wrote a title and placed it on the cross of Jefus, in these words, THIS IS JESUS OF NAZAreth, the KING OF THE JEWS.

[ocr errors]

A

Pilate feems to have written, as Caiphas prophefied, concerning Chrift, "not of himself," or by the natural dictates of his own mind, but by a divine overruling influence. For furely the man, who, from a natural timidity, had just before delivered Jefus to be crucified, left he should endanger his head to the emperor, would not now, of himself, proclaim this Jefus the king of the Jews, in his own hand writing on the crofs. muft undoubtedly have been a providential interposition in the cafe.

There

His writing in this form was fo remarkable, as to be noticed by all the evangelists. And no less. remarkable was his peremptory adherence to the form, when the chief priests importuned him to alter it; and inftead of afferting, "This is the king of the Jews, to write, " He faid, I am the king of the Jews." Pilate's anfwer, "What I have written, I have written," expreffes a refolution in the cafe, which we fhould not have expected from a man, who, through fear of being accused to the emperor, had fo lately fentenced Jefus to be crucified, as one who had called himself the king of the Jews.

This declaration of Pilate was of great importance to vindicate the innocence, and proclaim the dignity of Chrift; and it was fo circumftanced, that it tended much to fpread his name in the world, and to open the way for the propagation of his gofpel. Chrift fays, "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me." His death on the crofs, though intended by his enemies to fink his name in darkness, was the occafion of diffusing the knowledge, and establishing the credit of his religion. And the teftimony of Pilate undoubtedly had great influence in this matter. For, in the firft place, Pilate was a man of high eminence and diftinction. He was governor of Judea under the emperor; and his teftimony would be regarded, among both Jews and Romans, much more than that of a private perfon. The opportunities which he had, and the pains which he took to examine the character and works of Jefus, and to investigate the nature and evidence of the allegations against him, would add much to the weight and credibility of his teftimony. and certainly he was under a very powerful temptation to have declared his prifoner guilty, if he had found him

« PreviousContinue »