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common Jew. For though Christ, according to the flesh, was descended from the Jewish Patriarchs; yet, at the same time, he was over all, God blessed for evermore,' (Rom. ix. 5.) In taking on him the form of a servant, he indeed 'submitted himself to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake ; but according to his Divine nature, he was the Lord and creator not only of Pilate, but of the Roman emperor himself. In consequence of this, Pilate was so far from having any power over him, that he had a full and absolute power over Pilate; and of this he then gave a remarkable proof; for his presence filled Pilate's heart with fear and consternation. This was contrary to the usual course of things: for the prisoner on such occasions generally dreads, and trembles before his judge; whereas the reverse happened here, for the judge is terrified and struck with awe at the presence of the prisoner.
S. Our blessed Lord informs Pilate from whence the extraordinary power, which he now had over his body was derived.
• Thou couldest have no power at all against me, saith the Lord Jesus, unless it were given thee from above,' i. e. from God : For, as St. James observes, (Chap. i. 17.) 'Every good gift and perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.' Thus the design of our blessed Saviour by this expression, is to refer Pilate to the counsel of God; and to direct his thoughts to a higher hand, by which he was brought to the painful death which now approached. For God from the founda tion of the world, had determined that his Son should take the human nature upon him, and die a violent and bloody death, as atonement for the sins of the world. Instead of immediately executing this sen. tence on our Mediator, God was pleased to commit the execution of it to the sword of the magistrate ; whom he has invested with power to punish those malefactors with death, who have forfeited their lives by their crimes, and against whom the word of God
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. Butin 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 is. 2.) Jesus therefore readily owns this, an! by that means, as it were, cuts off Pilate's retréat; 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 Pilate, 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 was sent 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 ser. vile 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 heari ; 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 mar put thousands of bold, licentious Christians to the blush. This heathen was afraid, because he had suf- . ! fered 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
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 ve, 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 heaihen; 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 clue 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 Pi. late ; 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 days presumptuously dispute and pretend to explain the mysteries of religion, before they know the first elements of Christianity, and while they are