Then the whole council rose and led Jesus away to Pilate.
one then brought forth as a malefactor and now seated on the throne of the world, the other then exalted on the seat of power and now sunk to the depth of universal pity if not of universal scorn. "Art thou a King?" asks the latter, in the tone of lofty superiority. "I am," replies the former, in the tone of calm and profound assurance. W hat, then, was this kingdom of which he spoke? What was that kingdom of God, that kingdom of heaven, that "kingdom of the truth" (John 18:37) which he foretold, which he came to this world and which he laid down his life to establish? It was the sovereignty of God over all human souls. God's claim - which is not founded on prescription, nor upon force, but upon righteousness - is his claim on the reverence, the affection, the obedience, of those whom he has created, preserved, enriched, who owe to him all that he demands of them. With us, who have revolted from his rule, this means nothing less than the restoration of our loyalty, and thus our return to his likeness and to his favor as well as to his sway. We look at -
I. THE ORIGINALITY OF THE CONCEPTION. We plume ourselves upon the originality of our ideas, upon our "creations." But when did the mind of man launch on the sea of human thought such a conception as this kingdom of God? Men had entertained the idea of founding by force a widely extended empire which should command the outward homage and tribute of hundreds of thousands of men, and should last for many generations. But who ever designed a creation like this glorious "kingdom of heaven" - a world-wide sway embracing all living souls whatsoever, exercised by an unseen King, in which the service of the lip, and even that of the life, would be of no account at all without the homage of the heart and the willing subjection of the spirit, characterized by universal righteousness, and crowned by abounding peace and lasting joy?
II. THE IMMENSITY OF THE WORK TO BE ACCOMPLISHED. For what would be involved in the establishment of such a kingdom as this? Not only the formation and maintenance of a new religion that should hold up its head and keep its course amid surrounding faiths, but the utter intolerance and complete subversion of every other creed and cultus; the emptying of all the temples and all the synagogues in every laud; the dissolution of all the venerable religious institutions which were rooted in the prejudice, fixed in the affections, wrought into the habits and the lives of men; it meant the establishment in the convictions and in the conscience of mankind of a faith which came into direct collision with all its intellectual pride, with all its social selfishness, with all its powerful passions.
III. ITS SUBLIMITY AS A PURPOSE AND A HOPE. Not merely to ameliorate the circumstances and conditions of a country, or of the world at large. That would have been a noble purpose; but that would have been slight and small in comparison with the aim of Jesus Christ. His view was to put away the source of all poverty and sorrow and death; to "put away sin by the sacrifice of himself;" to found in the hearts and therefore in the lives of men a kingdom of holiness, and therefore of true and lasting blessedness; to restore to God his rightful heritage in the love of his children, and, at the same time, to restore to men everywhere their high and glorious portion in the favor and friendship, in the likeness and glory, of God. Was ever scheme, was ever hope like this - so divinely new, so magnificently great, so unapproachably sublime? 1. The way into this kingdom is by a humble, living faith. 2. The way on to its higher places is the service of sacrificial love. The path which takes us to the cross is the way to the throne. - C.
I. PILATE WAS WEAK — MORALLY WEAK. He sinned in spite of his better self. He was thoroughly convinced of the innocence of his prisoner. His conscience forbad him to inflict punishment. He made strenuous efforts to save Him. And yet, after all, He gave Him up to death, and furnished the soldiers needed for carrying out the sentence. How many in our day resemble him! Are not some of you as weak as he was? Have you not had convictions of duty as strong as his, and maintained them for a while as stoutly as he did, and yet failed at last to carry them out? Remember that convictions of sin and duty do not keep men from sin; nor do they excuse sin. Beware of substituting religious knowledge or sentiment for religious principle.
Then said Pilate.I. Amongst the philosophers of the heathen world not one can be named, who did not admit some favourite vice into his system of good morals; and who was not more than suspected of some criminal indulgence in his own practice; not one, whose public instructions were without error, and whose private conduct was without reproach. In the character of Jesus Christ no such imperfection can be traced. In His addresses to His followers, He taught virtue unpolluted by impurity: and in His practice He exemplified what He taught.
II. In the most distinguished of our contemporaries, we always find some weakness to pity or lament, or only some single and predominant excellence to admire. In each individual the learning or the activity, the counsel or the courage, only can be praised. We look in vain for consistency or perfection. The conduct of Christ betrays no such inequality. In Him no virtue is shaded by its correspondent infirmity. No pre-eminent quality obscures the rest. Every portion of His character is in harmony with every other. Every point in the picture shines with great and appropriate lustre.
III. In the heroes, which our fables delight to pourtray, we are continually astonished by such exploits as nothing in real life can parallel; by the achievements of sagacity that cannot be deceived, and of courage that cannot be resisted. We are either perplexed by the union of qualities and endowments incompatible with each other, or overpowered by the glare of such excellencies and powers, as nature with all her bounty never bestowed upon man. Jesus Christ has surpassed the heroes of romance. In contemplating His character we are not less surprised by the variety of His merits, than delighted by their consistency. They always preserve their proportion to each other. No duty falls below the occasion that demands it. No virtue is carried to excess.
IV. In the most exalted of our fellow-creatures, and even in the practice of their most distinguished virtues, we can always discover some concern for their personal advantage; some secret hope of fame, of profit, or of power; some prospect of an addition to their present enjoyments. In the conduct of Christ none of the weakness of self-love can be discovered. "He went about doing good," which He did not appear to share, and from which He did not seem to expect either immediate or future advantage. His benevolence, and His alone, was without self-interest, without variation and without alloy.
V. It is a very general and a very just complaint, that every man occasionally neglects the duties of his place and station. The character of Christ is exposed to no such imputation. The great purpose of His mission indeed, appears to have taken, entire possession of his thoughts.
VI. The pretended prophet of Arabia made religion the sanction of his licentiousness, and the cloak of his ambition.
VII. An impostor, of whatever description, though he has but one character to support, seldom supports it with such uniformity as to procure ultimate success to his imposition. Jesus Christ had a great variety of characters to sustain; and He sustained them all without failure and without reproach.
VIII. Men in general are apt to deviate into extremes. The lover of pleasure often pursues it till he becomes its victim or its slave. The lover of God sometimes grow into an enthusiast, and imposes upon himself self-denial without virtue, and mortification without use or value. From such weakness and such censure the character of Christ must be completely exempted. He did not disdain the social intercourse of life, or reject its innocent enjoyments.
IX. While we are displaying the various merits which adorned the personal character of Christ, one excellence more must not be passed in silence; the rare union of active and passive fortitude; the union of courage with patience; of courage without rashness, and patience without insensibility.
X. Such, then, is the unrivalled excellence of the personal character of Jesus Christ. Such is the proof which it affords that He was "a teacher sent from God"; and such is " the example which He has left us, that we should follow His steps.
II. PILATE WAS WORLDLY. This explains his weakness. His feelings were overpowered by a selfish regard to his own interest.
III. PILATE WAS IRRELIGIOUS. Here was the secret of that fatal power which the world exerted upon him. He was worldly because his life was not guided and governed by true religion. "This is the victory that overcometh the world — even your faith."
(R. P. Pratten, B. A.)
I. HE DECLARES THE SAVIOUR TO BE INNOCENT, BUT HE DOES NOT SET HIM FREE.
II. HE DOES NOT SET HIM FREE, BUT ENDEAVOURS TO BE FREE FROM HIM — to get rid of Him.
III. HE ENDEAVOURS TO GET FREE FROM HIM, BUT RECEIVES HIM AGAIN AND AGAIN.
1. "I find no fault in this Man" — Pilate has minutely and thoroughly investigated the case of Him who was so eagerly accused by the people, and the result of this examination was the Lord's acquittal. Well done, Pilate! you have taken the right way; only one step more, and the case will be honourably concluded! As a just judge you are bound to follow up your verdict by release. The little bit of nobleness which Pilate showed on his first appearance was fast declining, as generally happens when it is not founded on the fear of God. When a man has gone as far as to question what truth is, he will soon follow up his questioning with, What is justice? what is faith? what is virtue? The inevitable result of a perverse state of heart is that it must daily beget new perversities. Because Pilate was not moved by love of truth, it was impossible for him to be moved for any length of time by a sense of justice. He declares the Saviour to be free from guilt, but he does not set Him free. Even since the times have become Christian, and since men have become members of the Church of Jesus Christ, it is an universal fact that Pilate's conduct has been repeated. Men have declared the Saviour free, but have not set Him free. Pilate was a Roman, and a Roman maxim it has ever been in Christianity to pay every possible outward respect to the Saviour, but not to set Him free. The Romish Church especially bound what ought especially to be free — the Word of Jesus Christ — the Bible — the gospel. They declare the Word of the Saviour to be free, but do not set it free. In the Middle Ages, under plea of its preciousness, they bound it with iron chains. At present they bind it by the approval of bishops, by episcopal approbation. Even in these days this Church has dared to brand Bible Societies as plague sores. Pontius Pilate was a Roman to whom truth was nothing, justice little, his own interest everything; therefore he did not set the Saviour free, though he declared Him to be entitled to freedom. And a Roman maxim it bus been to this very day to declare the Saviour free, but not to free Him. It is to the glorious Reformation that the honour belongs of having broken the chains by which Rome bound the Saviour. In the Church of the Reformation, our dear evangelical Church, Jesus is not only declared to be free, but is free. Freely He governs our Church; freely He communicates with every believing soul. May we, therefore, say that Pilatism exists no longer in evangelical Christianity? Ah! no, dearly beloved, we must sorrowfully confess that Satan did not fail to find an entrance again through a back door. For, among the numerous Christians who glory in Protestant freedom, many do not allow the Saviour to speak except at church on Sunday. He is not allowed to raise His voice during the week, nor in their own homes. What is this but declaring the Saviour to be free, and keeping Him bound? They bind Him to altar and pulpit; they hear Him every week or fortnight, but further advance is denied their Saviour. He is not permitted to leave the church nor go with them to their home. Mere church attendance is Pilatism; the Saviour is declared to be free, but He is not set free. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." But, my friends, tot us who have given up our heart to the Saviour, to occupy a place in His throne-room, would it not be a subtle Pilatism if we lock the Saviour within the heart, and not set Him free for the whole life? Not only in the heart is the Saviour to have free range, but in the home, in your nursery and drawing-rooms, in your workshop, in your society, in your dally life and conversation, He is to be free, and the free ruler of your life. Oh, my friends, strive against Pilatism! Do not lock your Saviour in your church, nor in your heart, but allow Him to dispose of you how He will and where He will. The more He is allowed to shape a man's life, the more freedom will that man enjoy. Therefore, once again, away with Pilatism! Do not only declare the Saviour to be free, but set Him free indeed!
II. PILATE DOES NOT SET THE SAVIOUR FREE, BUT ENDEAVOURS TO GET FREE FROM Him He does not give Jesus His liberty, for fear of the people. He endeavours to get free from Jesus because he fears Jesus. The quiet dignity of the King of Truth grows more and more painful to him. The whole matter, which at first he thought a great ado about nothing, is taking such a turn that he feels quite uneasy. "Is He a Galilaean?" he asks. The Saviour was no Galilaean. It is from Bethlehem of Judaea that the Messiah of Israel has come! but the people say He is a Galilaean. This is sufficient for Pilate. He had oftentimes trenched upon Galilee, and had thereby become the bitter enemy of Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee. But now it is most opportune to him, that Galilee is a province beyonds his jurisdiction. Let Herod burn his fingers in this affair. At least, he, Pilate, will be rid of a case which is getting more and more troublesome. Do you know those people that practise in our day the most contemptible kind of Pilatism? They cannot explain the powerful impression which the exalted personage of the God-man makes upon man. The pale beauty of His cross appears an unnatural rebuke to the frivolous ideal of life which they have entertained. His stretched-out pierced hands are quivering hints and points of interrogation, and signs of pain and sorrow. His humiliating crucifixion bears so loud an evidence against their pride of ancestry, pride of culture, and pride of riches, that they endeavour to get free from Him at any cost. "He is a Galilaean": thus runs the old Jewish lie, which history confuted long ago. A Galilaean Rabbi could never — no, never — become so potent, that eighteen centuries would circle around him like planets round the sun. But those men who endeavour to get free from the God-man, will always grasp at this straw of a miserable fiction. He is a Galilaean! He is a Galilaean, and they think they have discovered the magic spell by which they can with some show of reason get rid of their belief in the God-man, who has given His life a ransom for a sinful world. "He is a Galilaean," they say, and with that they send the Saviour away. They send Him to sceptical philosophers, urging, "Natural philosophy has explained this, and teaches us that miracles are impossible. Philosophy is a competent judge of the person of Jesus Christ, and of His miracles; and philosophers, not we, have to decide. And we submit to their judgment." It makes them somewhat uneasy to know that there are likewise believing philosophers; that a Copernicus begged from the Crucified no other mercy than was received by yonder malefactor; that a Kepler, a Newton were true followers of Jesus, and believed in His miracles, and had faith in His words. On this point, therefore, they maintain a silence as deep as that of the tomb. Or they send the Saviour to sceptical historians, saying, "It is by history that the authenticity of the Bible is to be tested, and this science has broken a staff over the Scriptures." It is nothing to their purpose that believing historians place a high value on the Bible, that one of them has pronounced Jesus Christ to be the very key of history. This testimony, however, they care. fully overlook. Or they send the Lord Jesus to sceptical theologians, saying, "There are so many theologians who deny the divinity of Jesus, and theologians ought certainly to be possessed of the true knowledge." They overlook the believing divines who exist too, and who ought to know at any rate as well as they. In short, fidelity and justice concerning the Lord Jesus are quite out of the question with those people. They will get free from the Lord Jesus at any hazard; therefore they seek for Herods wherever they may be found.
III. IMPOTENT STRUGGLING! Foolish prudence! After all, they will not get free from the Saviour. Having entered a man's life, Jesus comes again and again, this way or that way, whatever may have been the turnings and windings of that life. Pilate endeavours to get free from the Saviour, but gets Him again and again. Pilate gets Jesus again from Herod, and receives Herod's friendship besides. Pilate, on his part, to be sure would fain have renounced his friendship for Herod, if by so doing he had only got rid of the Lord Jesus. But his new friend had sent back the Saviour, and thus Pilate was obliged, much against his will, to concern himself further with the Saviour, and bring to an end a case which to himself was becoming more and more painful. And in the same condition in which Pilate was will all those who think and act like him ever be. Having once met the Saviour, they never get entirely free from Him, however they may struggle and whatever cunning devices they may make to accomplish this end. In the end they will avail nothing. Jesus comes again. His form assumes a more and more sorrowful aspect. His face becomes more grave and clouded. Jesus comes again. Each sound of the church bell reminds them, each Sunday admonishes them of Him. Jesus comes again. They do not get free from Him. They anxiously debar their home, their family, from His influences. Nevertheless, since the Spirit bloweth where it listeth, they cannot prevent their wives, nor daughters, nor sons from being converted; and every converted one is a living reproach to the unconverted. They cover, as it were, their heart with a coat of mail; they palisade their conscience; they fall into the habit of smiling at holy things; they affect the utmost indifference towards the God-man. Thus they live, thus they die; and when they are dying, again Jesus Christ is there; and in their dying moments His word sounds: Son of man, how often would I have drawn thee unto Me, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldst not!
(Emil Quandt.)one face, of one prisoner, of one execution? Did he remember that day when he tried to wash off guilt with water: Did he remember how the sky blackened on that day, and men said nature itself testified against the wrong which that day saw?
(E. E. Hall, D. D.)
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