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Pilate's Inscription on the Cross of Chrift.
A Communion Sermon.
JOAN 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 Jesus 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 said, " I am the King of the Jews.” Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.
THE Melliah was foretold, in ancient pro. phecy, under the character and title of a king, whose government should extend to all nations, but should be exercised in a peculiar manner over the Jews. His extensive dominion is described in the second Pfalm; “ I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for thy poffefsion.” In the ninth chapter of Ifaiah, he is described as sitting on the throne of David, and reigning over the house of Israel : 6 Unto us a child is born ; unto us a son is given ; and the government shall be on
his shoulder ; his name shall be called the prince of peace ; of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom, to order and establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever.”
As the Messiah was to make his personal appear. ance in Judea, and there first to display the bles. sings of his fpiritual kingdom, he is described as eminently the king of the Jews.
But the glorious things foretold concerning this spiritual king. dom, the Jews understood in a temporal and worldly sense. They imagined, that he would erect his throne in Jerusalem, their capital city ; would deliver them from the oppression of the Roman government, and would reduce all nations into a state of subjection to them. · When Jesus appeared and wrought miracles among them, and proclaimed the near approach of the kingdom of God, many were in high expectation, that they should soon see him at the head of their nation, spreading 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 answered, mortified at their disappointment, they called him a deceiver, and fought his destruction. And, among other accusations, they alledged, that he had called himself a king, and thus had spoken against the authori. ty of Cefar.
If Jesus had actually assumed the regal power in Judea, and had begun to raise an army for the expulsion of the imperial authority, they would have been highly gratified with the defign, and would have resorted by thousands to his standard. But because he disclaimed all temporal dominion,
they refufed to own him as the Messiah, and studi. ed to effect his ruin. With this view they brought him before the Roman governor, and accused him as a seditious man, who had perverted the nation, and forbidden to pay tribute to Cesar.
Jesus explains before Pilate the nature of his kingdom. He says, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, then would my servants figlit, that I should not be delivered to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from hence.” Pilate asks, “ Art thou a king then?” Jesus answered, “ Thou sayeft, that I am, a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness 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 subjects 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 established governments, and gain worldly dominion for a favorite master."
The governor is now fully convinced, that Je. fus is innocent, and that the charge brought a. gainst him is groundless and malicious. From this time he endeavors, in some peaceable way, to effect his release. He proposes every expedient, which he could think of, to pacify the enraged multitude, and save the unoffending prisoner. But they persist in their demand of a sentence against him ; and urge their demand by this argument, “ If thou let this man go, thou art not Cesar's friend. Whosoever maketh himself a king, speaketh against Cesar." The argument prevailed. Though Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, yet he feared, that by discharging him, he should endanger himself. He was impressed with the
idea, that the Jews, in their present state of irritation, would accuse him to the emperor, of having protected a usurper; and therefore to save himself from danger he delivered Jesus to be crucified. But, at the same time, he made an open and publick declaration in favor of the prisoner. “ He took water, and washed his hands in the presence of the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just man : see ye to it.” And he caused to be fixed on the cross an inscription purporting the innocence and dignity of the fufferer.
Crucifixion was a kind of punishment in use among the Romans ; but inflicted only on slaves. The Jews adopted it from the Romans. When a person was to suffer this kind of death, the Romans used to publish his name, and the crime for which he was punilhed. This was done, either by proclamation, or by an inscription fixed over his head. The inscription was made in large black characters on a whitened board nailed to the top of the cross, so as to be conspicuous and legible at a distance. In conformity to this usage, Pilate wrote a title and placed it on the cross of Jesus, in these words, This is JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE Jews.
Pilate seems to have written, as Caiphas proph. efied, concerning Christ, “not of himself,” or by the natural dictates of his own mind, but by a divine overruling influence. For surely the man, who, from a natural timidity, had just before delivered Jesus to be crucified, left he should endanger his head to the emperor, would not now, of himself, proclaim this Jesus the king of the Jews, in his own hand writing on the cross. There muft undoubtedly have been a providential interposition in the case.
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 instead of asserting, “ This is the king of the Jews, to write, “ He said, I am the king of the Jews.” Pilate's anfwer, “ What I have written, I have written,” expresses a resolution in the case, which we should not have ex. pected from a man, who, through fear of being accused to the emperor, had so lately sentenced Jesus 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 Christ ; and it was fo circumstanced, that it tended much to spread his name in the world, and to open the way for the propagation of his gospel. Christ says, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me." His death on the cross, though intended by his enemies to sink his name in darkness, was the occasion of diffusing the knowledge, and establishing the credit of his religion. And the testimony of Pilate undoubtedly had great influence in this matter. For, in the first place, Pilate was a man of high eminence and distinction. He was governor of Judea under the emperor ; and his testimony would be regarded, among both Jews and Romans, much more than that of a private person. The opportunities which he had, and the pains which he took to examine the character and works of Jesus, and to investigate the nature and evidence of the allegations against him, would add much to the weight and credibility of his testimony. and certainly he was under a very powerful temptation to have declared his prisoner guilty, if he had found him