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served, and turned to account in their design against Christ." Therefore they tell him so often of Christ's sedition, and stirring up the people; and that if he let him go, he is not Cesar's friend, which consideration prevailed with him to do what he did. But though he had stood ill in the opinion of Cesar, how durst he attempt such a wickedness as this? What! give judgment against the Son of God? for it is evident, by many circumstances in this trial, that he had strong fears and convictions that he was the Son of God, which induced him to desire his release. John, 19:8-12. His mind was greatly perplexed, and in doubt, about this prisoner, whether he was a God or a man. And yet the fear of Cesar prevailed more than the fear of a Deity; he proceeds to give sentence. See in this predominancy of self-interest, what man will attempt and perpetrate, to secure and accommodate self.
II. Against whom doth Pilate give sentence? against a malefactor? No, his own mouth once and again acknowledged him innocent. Against a common prisoner? No, but one whose fame no doubt had often reached Pilate's ears, even the wonderful things wrought by him, which none but God could do: one that stood before him as the picture, or rather as the body of innocency and meekness. "Ye have condemned and killed the Just, and he resisteth you not." James, 5:6. Now was that word made good, "They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the innocent blood." Psalm 94: 21.
III. But what was the sentence that Pilate gave? We have it not in the form in which it was delivered; but the sum of it was that it should be as they required. Now what did they require? Crucify him, crucify him. So that in what formalities soever it was delivered, this was the substance and effect of it, I adjudge Jesus of Nazareth to be nailed to the cross, and there to hang
till he be dead." Which sentence against Christ was, 1. A most unjust and unrighteous sentence; the greatest perversion of judgment and equity that was ever known to the civilized world since seats of judicature were first set up. What! to condemn him before one accusation was proved against him? And if what they accused him of (that he said he was the Son of God) had been proved, it had been no crime, for he really was so; and therefore it was no blasphemy in him to say he was. Pilate should rather have come down from his seat of judgment and adored him, than sat there to judge him.
2. It was a cruel sentence, delivering up Christ to their wills. This was that misery which David so earnestly deprecated, "O deliver me not over to the will of mine enemies." Psalm 27: 12. But Pilate delivers Christ over to the will of his enemies, men full of enmity, rage, and malice. As soon as these wolves had griped their prey, they were not satisfied with the cursed, cruel, and ignominious death of the cross, to which Pilate had adjudged him, but they are resolved he shall die over and over; they will contrive many deaths in one: to this end they presently strip him; scourge him cruelly; array him in scarlet, and mock him; crown him with a bush of platted thorns; fasten that crown upon his head by a blow, which sets them deep into his sacred temples; put a reed into his hand for a sceptre, spit in his face, strip off his mock-robes again; put the cross upon his back, and compel him to bear it. By all this, and much more, they express their cruelty, as soon as they had him delivered over to their will.
3. It was also a rash and hasty sentence. The Jews are all in haste; consulting all night, and up by the break of day in the morning, to get him to his trial. They spur on Pilate with all arguments they can to give
sentence. His trial took up but one morning, and a great part of that was spent in sending him from Caiaphas to Pilate, and from Pilate to Herod, and then back again to Pilate; so that it was a hasty and headlong sentence that Pilate gave. He did not sift and examine the matter, but handled it very slightly. The trial of many a mean man hath engrossed ten times more time and debate than this trial of Christ.
4. It was an extorted sentence. They wring it from Pilate by mere clamor, importunity, and suggestions of danger. In courts of judicature, such arguments should signify but little; not importunity, but proof, should prevail: but timorous Pilate bends like a willow at the breath of the people; he had neither such a sense of justice, nor courage, as to withstand it.
5. It was a hypocritical sentence, masking horrid murder under the pretence and formality of law. Loth he was to condemn him, lest innocent blood should clamor in his conscience; but since he must do it, he will transfer the guilt upon them, and they take it; "His blood be on us, and on our children for ever," say they. Pilate calls for water, washes his hands before them, and declares, "I am free from the blood of this just person." But stay; free from his blood, and yet condemn a known innocent person! Free from his blood, because he washed his hands in water! Oh the hypocrisy of Pilate! Such juggling as this will not serve his turn, when he shall stand as a prisoner before him who now stood arraigned at his bar.
IV. In what manner did Christ receive this cruel and unrighteous sentence? He received it like himself, with admirable meekness and patience. He doth as it were wrap himself up in his own innocency and obedience to his Father's will, and stands at the bar with invincible patience and meek submission. He doth not once desire the judge to defer the sentence, much less fall down and
beg for his life, as other prisoners use to do at such times. No, but as a sheep he goes to the slaughter, not opening his mouth. From the time that Pilate gave sentence, till he was nailed to the cross, we do not read that he said any thing, save only to the women that followed him out of the city to Golgotha: and what he said there, rather manifested his pity to them, than any discontent at what was now come upon him; "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children." Luke, 23: 28, &c. Oh the perfect patience and meekness of Christ!
INFERENCE 1. Do you see what was here done against Christ, under pretence of law? What cause have we to pray for good laws and righteous rulers? Oh! it is a singular mercy to live under good laws, which protect the innocent from injury. Laws are hedges about our lives, liberties, estates, and all the comforts we enjoy in this world. Times will be evil enough, when iniquity is not discountenanced and punished by law; but how evil are those times like to prove when iniquity is established by law! as the psalmist complains. Ps. 94: 20. How much therefore is it our concern to pray that "judgment may run down as a mighty stream!" Amos, 5: 24. "That our officers may be peace, and our exactors righteousness!" Isa. 60: 17. It was not therefore without great reason that the apostle exhorted that "supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men; for kings, and all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." 1 Tim. 2 : 1, 2. Great is the interest of the church of God in them; they are instruments of much good or much evil.
2. Was Christ condemned in a court of judicature? How evident then is it that there is a judgment to çome? Surely things will not be always carried as they are in this world. When you see Jesus condemned, and
Barabbas released, conclude that a time will come when innocency shall be vindicated, and wickedness shamed. On this ground, Solomon concludes, and very rationally, that God will bring things hereafter to a more righteous tribunal: "And moreover, I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there. I said in my heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked." Eccl. 3: 16, 17. Some indeed, on this ground, have denied the Divine providence; but Solomon draws a quite contrary conclusion, God shall judge: surely he will take the matter into his own hand, he will bring forth the righteousness of his people as the light, and their just dealing as the noon-day. It is a mercy, if we be wronged in one court, that we can appeal to another, where we shall be sure to be relieved by a just, impartial Judge. "Be patient therefore, my brethren, until the coming of the Lord." James, 5:7.
3. Again, here you see how conscience may be overborne by a fleshly interest. Pilate's conscience bid him beware, and forbear: his interest bid him act; his fear of Cesar was greater than his fear of God. But Oh! what a dreadful thing is it for conscience to be insnared by the fear of man! Prov. 29:25. To guard thy soul, reader, against this mischief, let such considerations as these be ever with thee.
Consider how dear those profits or pleasures cost, which are purchased with the loss of inward peace! There is nothing in this world good enough to recompense such a loss, or balance the misery of a tormenting conscience. If you violate it for the sake of a fleshly lust, it will remember the injury many years after. Gen. 42:21; Job, 13:26. It will not only retain the memory of what you did, but it will accuse you for it. Matt. 27:4. It will not fear to tell you that plainly, which others dare not whisper. It will not only accuse, but it will also