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many other things blasphemously spake they against him. Ver. 63-65. How illegal and barbarous a thing was this? When they were but binding Paul with thongs, he thought himself abused contrary to law, and asked the centurion that stood by, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?" Is this legal? What! punish a man first, and judge him afterwards! But Christ was not only bound, but shamefully ill-treated by them all that night, dealing with him as the lords of the Philistines did with Samson, to whom it was sport to abuse him. No rest had Jesus that night; Oh it was a sad night to him: and this under Caiaphas' own roof.
2. He was examined and judged by a court that had no authority to try him: As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, and the chief priests, and the scribes came together and led him into their council." Luke, 22: 66. This was the ecclesiastical court, the great sanhedrim, which, according to its first constitution, should consist of seventy grave, honorable, and learned men; to whom were to be referred all doubtful matters too hard for inferior courts to decide. And these were to judge impartially and uprightly for God, as men in whom was the Spirit of God. Numb. 11: 16, &c. In this court the righteous and innocent might expect relief and protection. But now, contrary to the first constitution, it consisted of malicious scribes and pharisees, men full of revenge, malice, and all unrighteousness and over these Caiaphas (a head fit for such a body) at this time presided. Still, though there remained the form of a court among them, their power was so abridged by the Romans that they could not hear and determine, judge and condemn in capital cases, as formerly. For as Josephus, their own historian, informs us, Herod in the beginning of his reign took away this power from them, (Antiq. lib. 14, cap. 205;) and they
said truly, "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death." John, 18: 31. In these circumstances they bring him to Pilate's bar. But Pilate understanding that he was a Galilean, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and at that time in Jerusalem, Pilate sent him to Herod and by him he was sent back again to Pilate.
3. As he was at first heard and judged by a court that had no authority to judge him; so when he stood at Pilate's bar, he was accused of perverting the nation, and denying tribute to Cesar, than which nothing was more notoriously false. For as all his doctrine was pure and heavenly, and malice itself could not find a flaw in it; so he was always observant of the laws under which he lived, and scrupulous of giving the least just offence to the civil powers. Yea, he not only paid the tribute himself, though he might have pleaded exemption, but charged it upon others as their duty, "Give unto Cesar the things that are Cesar's." Matt. 22:21.
4. To compass their malicious designs, they industriously labor to suborn false witnesses to take away his life, employing the grossest perjury and most manifest injustice that they might destroy him. So you read, "Now the chief priests and elders, and all the council, sought false witnesses against Jesus to put him to death.' Matt. 26 59. Abominable wickedness! for such men, and so many, to join to shed the blood of the innocent, by known and studied perjury! What will not malice against Christ induce men to do.
5. Moreover, the conduct of the court was most insolent and base towards him during the trial; whilst he stood before them as a prisoner, yet uncondemned, sometimes they are angry at him for his silence; and when he speaks, and that properly and to the point, they smite him on the mouth for speaking, and scoff at what he says.
To some of their light, frivolous, and insnaring ques
tions he makes no reply, not for want of an answer, but because he heard nothing worthy of one; and to fulfil what the prophet Isaiah had long before predicted of him, "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth;" Isa. 53:7; as also to leave us an example when to speak, and when to be silent, if we for his name's sake shall be brought before governors. Then they are ready to condemn him for his silence. "Answerest thou nothing? (saith the highpriest,) what is it that these witness against thee?" Matt. 26: 62. "Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee ?" saith Pilate. Matt. 27: 13.
And when he makes his defence in words of truth and soberness, they smite him for speaking: "When he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by, struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high-priest so ?" John, 18:22. And what had he spoken to exasperate them? What he said, when they would have had him insnare himself with his own lips, was but this, "I spake openly to the world, I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort, and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou me ? Ask them that heard me, behold, they know what I said." Oh who but himself could have so patiently borne such abuses! Under all this he stands in perfect innocency and patience, making no other return to the wretch that smote him, but this, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me ?"
6. Not to dwell on other particulars, he is condemned to die by that very mouth which had once and again professed he found no fault in him. He had heard all that could be alleged against him, and saw it was a perfect piece of malice and envy. When they urge Pilate
to proceed to sentence him, "Why, (saith he,) what evil hath he done?" Matt. 27: 23. Nay, in the preface to the very sentence itself, he acknowledges him to be a just person: "When Pilate saw he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, and said, I am innocent of the blood of this just person, see ye to it." Matt. 27: 24. Here the innocency of Christ broke out like the sun from a cloud, convincing the conscience of his judge that he was just; and yet he must give sentence against him to please the people.
INFERENCE 1. From this trial of Christ we learn, that though we are not obliged to answer every captious, idle, or insnaring question, yet we are bound faithfully to own and confess the truth, when we are solemnly called to it. It is true, Christ was sometimes silent, and as a deaf man that heard not; but when the question was solemnly put, "Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? Jesus said, I am." Mark, 14:61, 62. He knew that answer would cost his life. On this account the apostle says, "he witnessed a good confession before Pontius Pilate." 1 Tim. 6:13. Herein Christ hath pointed out the way of our duty, and by his own example, as well as precept, obliged us to a sincere confession of him and his truth, when we are lawfully required so to do; when we cannot be silent without a virtual denial of the truth; and when the glory of God, the honor of his truth, and the edification of others, are more attainable by our open confession, than they can be by our silence. You know what Christ hath said, "Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I deny before my Father which is in heaven." Matt. 10: 33. It was a noble saying of the courageous Zuinglius, "What deaths would not I choose, what punishment would I not undergo; yea, into what vault of hell would I not rather choose to be thrown, than to witness against my conscience?"
Truth can never be bought too dear, nor sold too cheap. The Lord Jesus, you see, owns the truth at the imminent and instant hazard of his life. The whole cloud of witnesses have followed him therein. Rev. 14: 1. We ourselves once openly owned the ways of sin; and shall we not do as much for Christ, as we then did for the devil? Did we then glory in our shame, and shall we now be ashamed of our glory? Do not we hope Christ will own us at the great day? Why, if we confess him, he also will confess us. Oh think on the reasonableness of this duty.
2. To bear the revilings, contradictions, and abuses of men with a meek and quiet spirit, is excellent and Christ-like. He stood before them as a lamb; he rendered not railing for railing; he endured the contradictions of sinners against himself. Imitate Christ in his meekness. He calls you so to do. Matt. 11:29. This will be convincing to your enemies, comfortable to yourselves, and honorable to religion: and as for your innocency, God will clear it up.
The second proposition before us, the ILLEGAL SENTENCE of Christ, may lead us to consider,
I. Who gave the sentence? It was Pilate, who succeeded Valerius Gratus in the presidentship of Judea, (as Josephus tells us,) in which trust he continued about ten years. This was in the eighth year of his government. Two years after, he was removed from his place and office by Vitellius, president of Syria, for his murdering of the innocent Samaritans. This necessitated him to go to Rome to clear himself before Cesar; but before he came to Rome, Tiberius was dead, and Caius in his room. Under him, says Eusebius, Pilate killed himself. "He was not very friendly or benevolent to the Jewish nation, and was suspicious of their rebellions and insurrections, which the priests and scribes ob