And from thereafter Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If you let this man go, you are not Caesar's friend…
We have here an illustration of —
I. WORLDLY POLICY. The main motive that led to Pilate's final decision was a regard to his safety and his ease. He felt that to take a determined stand on the innocence of our Lord would involve peril to his position; and he was not prepared to incur that danger. It is by such considerations that men are moved and confronted in doing wrong. We live in a time of expediency, in the sense of not doing right lest it should be unprofitable. A high civilization and a large development of the commercial spirit is always in danger of fostering this. In public affairs, the favourite point of view is the economic; the popular inquiries are, what will it cost? Dishonesty is practised in business because it is lucrative, and conscientious conviction is suppressed lest it should lead to social disrepute. Oh! beware of Pilate's sin; learn the grand lesson that we have nothing to do with consequences when truth and right are involved. It will often happen that sincerity and righteousness will entail loss and suffering; and he who would keep a good conscience must lay his account with these. If we be not prepared for them, if we will only cleave to godliness when it is "gain," and to honesty when it is the best policy, there is nothing for us but to go in Pilate's steps, and abandon Christ, though convinced that there is no fault in Him at all.
II. WORLDLY POLICY RESISTING AND EFFECTUALLY SUBDUING THE STRONGEST CONVICTIONS OF DUTY. Pilate wished and tried to deliver Christ, without sacrificing himself, for that purpose. He did not choose to do wrong; he did much to avoid doing it. And this may be the case with us: it often is. We do not fall at once. We set ourselves manfully against the besetting suggestions of interest, pleasure and good opinion. We enter the contest with a sincere desire to be right. It is long, perhaps, before we are prepared to give up; we strive to subordinate circumstances to our convictions; we go on, now under one pretence and now under another, until all pretences are exhausted: but at last an election must be made, Christ must be sacrificed or sin must be resigned, and, like the young man we feel the pressure of his demands to be too strong for us, and depart from him though "sorrowful." And there are times when the case assumes an especially solemn form; that, e.g., of deep spiritual conviction, and that of decision as to the general way and course of life. Then is Christ before us, arraigned and accused by the Sanhedrim of passion, interest, and sophistry, before the Pilate of reason, conscience, and true affection; the conflict may be long and painful; ingenious devices may be used to terminate or to postpone it: but escape and delay are both impossible; a decision must be made; and the soul reluctantly, and with a tearful eye, resigns the Saviour, and gives itself up to sin, and to a lie. And often this decision is final; it cannot be reversed. "If we sin wilfully," &c.
III. WORLDLY POLICY BRINGING A MAN INTO BONDAGE TO THOSE HE SHOULD GOVERN. Pilate was afraid of being accused by the Jews of unfaithfulness to the Roman emperor. He was the governor, and was deterred from doing right by the malice of the people over whom he presided. He was subject to those who were subject to him. Worldly policy often makes us abdicate our proper functions, and serve when we should reign. We are in the world, and in the Church, to do good, and to maintain righteousness. Whatever our superiority over others, and our means of affecting them, it is a faculty intended to resist their evil and advance their welfare; but if we give heed to the suggestions of selfishness; we not only do wrong, but do wrong to those whom we allow thus to influence us. Pilate, the governor, is the instrument of the Jews.
IV. WORLDLY POLICY DERIVING STRENGTH FROM. A MAN'S OWN MISDEEDS. Pilate's rule in Judaea was very far from what it should have been. He could not therefore afford to provoke the nation. He must do wrong again, because he had done wrong already. And how often do we see sin working in this way! We have put ourselves in the power of the world by our transgressions and inconsistencies. Could we bring an unsullied character, human esteem and honour, with us to the task, we might hope to make some impression, but now there will be the mocking surprise, the bitter retort, the hot wrath; and the will to do good, as in Pilate's case, is chained by the memory of past evil. And if past sins may make us subject to men, they are still more likely to make us slaves to ourselves, "When we would do good, evil is present with us." How many are there who, like Pilate, would let Christ go, aye and welcome Him as the Son of God, but for the oppressions of former iniquities! could they but blot them out, what would they not do! but the tyranny of lust and worldliness is strong upon them; and he is sacrificed, and they are sacrificed, to "old sins."
(A. J. Morris.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.