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fo, because the general voice of the people, efpecially of the ruling and influential men among the people, was againft him. But Pilate, under all his advantages to know the truth, and under all his prejudices against the prisoner, repeatedly de clared him innocent. And when fentence of con demnation was extorted from him by the clamours and threats of the people, he washed his hands in their presence, declaring himself pure from the blood of that juft man; and when he delivered him to be crucified, he fixed on the crofs his own tefs timony, that this man, who was now fuffering for having called himself the king of the Jews, was of right their king. This title of fo unufual a kind would naturally attract the attention, and excite the enquiry of the fpectators, and lead many to the knowledge of the extraordinary character of this wonderful fufferer, who otherwife might have been confidered by them merely as a common of fender.
We may obferve farther, fecondly,
This teftimony of Pilate was given in a moft con fpicuous place, and on a moft publick occafion.
There was collected, at this time, a vaft multitude of people. It was the feafon of the paffover, when the males throughout Judea, and many Jews and Profelytes from other parts, affembled at Jerufalem. The execution of a perfon, who had be come fo famous by his doctrines and works, and by the controverfy concerning him, would naturally draw vaft numbers together. As he was put to death under the authority of the emperour, and as the Roman officers and foldiers, who were sta tioned at Jerufalem, were called out to preferve order on the occafion, there must have been many ftrangers, as well as Jews, prefent at the crucifixion. And as the execution was in a place nigh to
the city, we muft fuppofe that almost all the inhabitants of the city, and the ftrangers occafionally there, went out to fee the tranfactions of the day. So that Pilate's teftimony to Chrift's kingly authority must have been generally known. "It was read of many." And it was of fuch fingular tenor, that they who read it, would communicate it to others.
It is alfo remarked, thirdly, by the historians, That the infcription was written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, the three languages then in most common use. The Hebrew language was understood in Judea and the parts adjacent, and by many of the Romans, who had been converfant in Judea, fince it became a province of the empire. The Latin was the native tongue of the Romans. The Greek was very extenfively known. It was the learned language of the day. Moft men of education were acquainted with it. So that this teftimony of Pilate was made as publick as poffible. It was known almost as extensively, as the crucifixion itself.
This circumftance in our Lord's death will fuggeft to us fome profitable reflections.
1. We have reason to admire the divine wisdom in giving such striking evidence of the innocence and dignity of Jefus Chrift, even in the time of his greatest fufferings.
Jefus came into the world to be the Redeemer of our fallen race. "We are not redeemed with corruptible things; but with the precious blood of Chrift himself, who was ordained before the foundation of the world, and was manifested in these laft times for us, who by him do believe in God." The wisdom of God did not fee fit to forgive guilty mortals without fome adequate facrifice made for their fins. And to this grand purpose no fac
rifice was adequate, but that of Jefus the fon of God.
Death naturally indicates weakness; and judi cially it indicates guilt. Mankind in feeing a perfon die, are led to view him as a poor impotent creature, and in feeing one fuffer by the hand of the executioner, they are led to view him as a criminal. Now that the death of Chrift might not be confidered, either as the mere effect of natural weakness, or as the judicial effect of personal guilt, God was pleafed at this time, to give fome remarkable evidences of his innocence and dignity. Hence we are encouraged to truft in his facrifice as fufficient to expiate our guilt, and to commit ourselves to his power as fufficient to fave us from deftruction.
The meekness, ferenity, patience and benevo lence, which he exhibited in his fufferings, were proofs of his fuperior virtue and holiness. The foolish and inconfiftent accufations, which his enemies brought against him, and the contradictory teftimonies, by which they endeavoured to fupport their charges, were proofs of the purity and integrity of his life. The ample, repeated and folemn teftimony, which the Roman governour gave in his favour, muft have gone far to eftablith in the minds of the fpectators a high opinion of his character. Befides all this, God interpofed his own awful teftimony, which nothing, but the moft obftinate and determined incredulity, could refift. The heavens were wrapt in darkness, the frame of nature was convulfed, the rocks were rent in pieces, the monuments of the dead were burft open, the vail of the temple was torn from top to bottom, earth and fky were thrown into agonies, when Jefus bowed his head and gave up the ghoft,
Such a concurrence of circumstances, all fingu lar, and fome ftupendous, in favour of the suffering Saviour, forced conviction on many, and ftruck aftonishment into all. One fays, "Surely this was a righteous man." Another exclaims, "This was the fon of God." "And all the people, who came together to that fight, feeing what was done, fmote their breafts, and returned."
2. We fee that there is a great inconsistency in the conduct of vicious men. They have underftanding to difcern, and confcience to feel their moral obligations, and yet by the interefts, honours and pleasures of the world, they are drawn into actions palpably inconfiftent with these obligations. They know what is right, and practise what is wrong. They fee the good, and choofe the evil.
This inconfiftency appeared in Pilate. Though, as hiftorians fay, he was a man of great cruelty and pride, yet the innocent and amiable character of Jefus ftruck his mind fo powerfully, that he wished to discharge him. Hearing the people importunate to have him crucified, Pilate endeav oured to fave him by propofing a lighter punishment. When this propofal was rejected, the governour offered to releafe him in compliance with the custom of the feast, which required that one prifoner, whom the people demanded, fhould be fet at liberty. When this offer was refused, he next, to move their compaffion, exhibited Jefus, fuffering under the abuses of a brutal foldiery; lacerated with thorns, mangled with ftripes, befmeared with blood, bedaubed with fpittal; and faid, "Behold the man!" Has he not fuffered enough? Finding them ftill pertinacious, he yielded; and rather than hazard his place, he delivered Jefus to be crucified. His confcience dictated
the release of the innocent prifoner; the love of honour urged his condemnation. The latter prevailed. Still Pilate is diffatisfied with himself. He knows, he has done wrong. And what shall he do next?-To pacify his troubled mind, he takes water and washes his hands, afferts his innocence, and cafts the whole guilt of the transaction on the Jews. Then, by a fingular infcription on the cross, he proclaims Jefus the king of the Jews.
See what contradiction-what inconfiftency there is in his conduct-what perplexity and diftraction in his feelings! He chofe to do right; but the fear of lofing his place, and perhaps his life, interpofed. He facrificed a man, whom he knew to be innocent, rather than expofe himself to the danger of an impeachment. And when he has done, ftill he is reftlefs, and contrives one expedient after another to quiet his guilty mind.
How much better it would have been to have acted right in the firft inftance. This would have faved him from much perplexity and embarraffment. Had he not only declared Jefus innocent, but refused alfo to condemn him, he would have been clear from the guilt of his blood. But by deliv ering him into the hands of his enemies, he ftained his own hands with innocent blood; and though he washed them with foap and nitre, the ftain of his guilt remained.
Known wickedness leaves a burden on the mind, which can be removed only by deep repentance, and humble application to the mercy of God. Sinners often feel a ftruggle between virtue and vice-between a right and a wrong conduct. In the conflict the love of pleasure, a regard to intereft, or fome worldly motive steps in, decides the conteft and gives the victory to vice. After the action is past, there is time for cool reflection.