The Suffering Savior
Meditations on the Last Days of Christ
by F. W. Krummacher (1796-1868)
The Traitor's Kiss
We direct our eyes, once more, to the armed multitude who had reached the Garden of Gethsemane in quest of Jesus. They have just risen up from the ground on which they had been thrown by the power of the Lord's word, "I am He!" Among those who had been thus hurled to the dust was Judas. It might have been supposed that this renewed manifestation of the majesty of Jesus would have finally scared the son of perdition, like some fiery sign or signal of danger, from his traitorous path. And who knows what effect servile fear might have produced, if he had not been surrounded by witnesses, and if his imaginary honor had not been at stake! But he had undertaken to act the part of a leader; and what a coward would he have appeared in the eyes of his patrons and superiors had he not resolutely performed his promise! How horrible the delusion, to make a virtue of consistency, even in wickedness! Judas fanned the flame of his hostility to the Lord, which might have received a momentary check, by recalling to mind the anointing in Bethany, and the last supper in Jerusalem. Suffice it to say, he again stands before us at the head of the murderous band, with a carriage certainly more forced than real. His bearing indicates a hypocritical resolution; but something very different is expressed in his averted looks and convulsively contracted lips, as well as in the restless working of the muscles of his pallid countenance. But he has pledged his word and concluded his contract with Satan. The traitorous signal must follow. Hell reckons on him, and would not for the world lose the triumph of seeing the Nazarene betrayed into its hands by one of his own disciples.
We may have read and heard a thousand times of this horrible fact, and yet as often as it is repeated, we are astonished afresh, as if we had never heard it before. Can there be a more appalling or deeply affecting scene than this treacherous betrayal of his Master? Where did ever personified goodness and consummate wickedness, heaven and hell, meet in more open and awful contrast? Scarcely can we support the overpowering impressions, which we here receive, of the superabundance of divine love and meekness on the one hand, and the fullness of Satanic wickedness on the other! We are witnesses of a parting scene—one of the most melancholy and mysterious the world has ever beheld—Jesus and his disciple Judas, separated forever.
Before we view, in the traitor's kiss, the mature infernal fruit of his inward corruptions, let us cast a look at the prophecies respecting him and his course of life. In Psalm 41 we read, "Mine own familiar friend in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, has lifted up his heel against me." In Psalm 109, "Let his days be few; and let another take his office. As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him; as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him. As he clothed himself with cursing like as with a garment, so let it come into his affections like water, and like oil into his bones." And in Psalm 69, "Let his habitation be desolate, and let no one dwell in his tents." But that these and other appalling passages had reference to him, his parents had not the slightest idea. The boy grew up, displaying a diversity of talents, and an inclination for religion. Had he been an ordinary man, how could he have been selected by Christ to become one of his most confidential disciples?
After our Lord had openly come forward, Judas seemed, according to human ideas, to be fitted above others, to aid him in his stupendous object. He offers himself as a disciple, the Savior accepts him, and admits him into the number, assigning to him the administration of their common fund. No one knows anything of him but that he is a true disciple, a devout and highly gifted man, and, in every case, no ordinary character. The Lord Jesus alone soon sees through him, and perceives in him an evil root. This root is covetousness, ambition, and in one word, egotism, that is, the sinful inclination, common to all natural men, for the exclusive gratification, exaltation, and glorifying of self.
That which led Judas into fellowship with Jesus, was probably the hope of acting a prominent part in the kingdom of his wonder-working Master. Finding that he had formed an erroneous idea of that kingdom, which was the reverse of what he expected, he seizes, as we have already seen, the money with which he was entrusted, to compensate him, in a small degree, for his disappointment. The scene at Bethany then occurred, which convinced him that his baseness was discovered; and he then gave way to those feelings of animosity and hatred, which afterward prompted him to betray his master for thirty pieces of silver. We have seen how, after receiving the sop from the latter, the devil entered into him, and from that moment he became the entire property of Satan.
Let us now return to the horrible scene we were contemplating. It is true that the sign of betrayal, which had been agreed upon, had been rendered superfluous by the voluntary approach of Jesus, and his majestic declaration concerning himself. The armed band, however, were unwilling that Judas should forego it, seeing that the thirty pieces of silver had been paid him, and since it might serve as a kind of salve to the consciences of the conspirators. Hence they hinted to him by their looks, to keep his word; and Judas, partly to save the credit of his assumed heroism, and partly to conceal the discouraging impression which the overwhelming words of Jesus had produced upon him, as well as in the furtive hope of disarming the anger of the Holy One of Israel against him by the mark of affection which accompanied his flattering salutation, for he inwardly trembled at his wrath, and his language to the captors—"Seize him and hold him fast!" seems only to emanate from his fear and anxiety, and not, as some would make it appear, as ironically intimating that they would not succeed in doing so—approaches the Lord under the mask of friendly intimacy, welcomes him with the formula of hearty well-wishing, "Hail, Master!" and ventures, like a poisonous viper hissing forth from a rose-bush, to pollute the sacred lips of the Son of Man, amid the plaudits of hell, with his treacherous kiss!
This act is the most profligate and abominable that ever emanated from the dark region of human sinfulness and degeneracy. It grew on the soil, not of devilish, but of human nature, although not without infernal influence, which was voluntarily imbibed; and hence it may be attributed, in all its infamy, to our own race, as such. As the fully expanded flower, it displays the seed of the serpent, which we all of us bear in the center of our being, either developed or in embryo. It condemns our whole race, and at the same time places beyond question the entire necessity of an atonement, mediation, and satisfaction, in order that our souls may be saved. The kiss of Judas continues, in the sphere of morals, to be the shield with Medusa's head, before which the Pelagian, with his theory of the natural goodness of the human heart, must petrify. That kiss is the indelible brandmark on the forehead of mankind, through which their "virtuous pride" receives the stamp of lunacy and absurdity.
Would that the traitor's kiss had remained the only one of its kind! But, in a spiritual sense, Jesus has still to endure it a thousandfold to this hour. For, hypocritically to confess him with the mouth, while the conduct belies him—to exalt the virtues of his humanity to the skies, while divesting him of his divine glory, and tearing the crown of universal majesty from his head—to sing enthusiastic hymns and oratorios to him while, out of the concert-room, men not only blush at his holy name, but trample his Gospel by word and deed under foot—What is all this but a Judas-kiss with which they have the audacity to pollute his face? The Savior does not indeed, die from such kisses; but those who dare to offer him such insults will not escape. The loss of reputation and honor, wealth and property, health and life, are of no lasting importance. There exists a compensation for all these; but to lose and alienate ourselves from Jesus, is death and perdition; for he is life and happiness, and the living epitome of peace, salvation, and blessing.
"Hail, Master!" exclaims the traitor. These words are like two poisonous daggers in the heart of the Holy One. He calmly accepts them, nor does he refuse even the infernal kiss itself. He knows why he is passive here, seeing that this grief of heart was also a drop of the cup which his Father had apportioned him, and that at the bottom of this horrible act lay the determinate counsel of the Almighty. Angelic meekness would not have stood the test of that flagitious crime; but here is more than angelic meekness, forbearance, and patience. It is a testimony to the divine endurance of the Lord Jesus; for the traitor would not have chosen this as the signal for betraying his Master had he not been aware of the latter's boundless long-suffering. Thus, with the very kiss with which he delivered him up to his captors, Judas was compelled to glorify him, and only enhance our ideas of the infinite condescension and love with which he had been favored by the Savior; for he never would have ventured to disguise his villainy under the mask of intimacy, had he not been emboldened by the infinite and often-experienced amiability of his Master. So true it is that in the traitor's daring to approach him thus the Lord manifests it afresh by his passive resignation to the hypocritical salute of the apostate, and by the spirit of compassion and gentleness which pervades the last words he ever addressed to him.
"Friend," says the Lord Jesus, with pathetic seriousness, "wherefore are you come?" Who would have expected such mildness on the present occasion? A "Get you behind me, Satan!" or, "a curse light on you with your Joab's kiss, you whited sepulcher!" would have been more appropriate in the eyes of many. Instead of which, we hear a sound like the voice of a parent tenderly concerned for the soul of his deeply seduced child. And certainly, an outburst of flaming passion would not have been so annihilating to the traitor as was this exhalation of compassionate charity. The word "friend," or, as it might be more correctly rendered, "companion," recalled to his mind the privileged position with which, as having been received into the circle of the Lord's most intimate associates, he had been favored. This address reminded him also of the many manifestations of unspeakable kindness and grace with which he had been loaded for three whole years, in the immediate society and faithful superintendence of the most amiable among men. And if one unobdurate place had been left in his heart, how would this remembrance have affected and overpowered him!
But in the Lord's pointed reference to the social connection in which Judas had stood with him, there lay, at the same time, an overwhelming condemnation of the conspirators, who did not blush to commit themselves to the guidance of a man whom, in their hearts, they must have despised as a reprobate that had not his equal. An infamous renegade, who was not ashamed thus knavishly and detestably to deliver up and tread upon a faithful friend and master, from whom he had received nothing but benefits, bore the banner before them, and gave them the parole of the day. What a humiliation for them! How shameful and disgraceful! But the hardened band cared at the moment only for the Savior's fall, and that they might give the death-blow to his hated cause; and this murderous desire took such possession of their souls, as to leave no room for the interests of their own reputation.
"Companion," says the Lord, "wherefore are you come?" or, "why stands you here?" The dreadful inquisitorial interrogatory rolls like terrific thunder through the traitor's heart. His conscience awakes in a moment from its deadly sleep, and feels itself carried away, as by an Almighty hand, to the bar of divine judgment. But Judas, prepared for this entrance of truth into his soul, forcibly resists his own conscience, stifles the confession on the lips of his inward monitor, presents the latter the poisonous draught of self-deception, and with the rapidity of one well practiced and experienced in the wicked are, succeeds in again compelling it to silence and apathy. Hence the Lord has nothing left but to let the stroke fall upon the door of his heart, which, if it does not succeed in breaking it open, acts as the knell of eternal reprobation to the traitor.
The Lord now calls him by his name, as men hope to awake a lunatic sleep-walker, who is seen treading on the edge of a precipice, before casting himself down, by a similar procedure. "Judas," says the Lord, with emphasis, as if he would leave nothing unattempted for his rescue, and as if he intended by it to say, "Does not the mention of your name remind you of its signification—a glorifier of God, and that you are called after the noble and princely tribe of which you are a scion, and yet do you come to me in this manner?" After thus mentioning his name, our Lord plainly characterizes his deed. Yet even then we hear him giving a turn to his speech, as if he disbelieved the possibility of the traitor's purpose. As if still questioning it, he says, "Betray you the Son of Man with a kiss?" But Judas, under the influence of Satan, answers the question by the commission of that crime which has branded his name as proverbially characteristic of all that is reprobate and flagitious, and which places him in the pillory of the world's history, marked with the curse of God on his forehead, as a terrific example to mankind for endless ages.
"Betray you the Son of Man with a kiss?" This is therefore, the eternal farewell to the miserable apostate from the lips of the Savior of sinners. Woe to the unhappy man! Hell triumphs over him, heaven forsakes him, and the hollow thunder of that question still rolls over the head of Judas. Eventually, however, the words will be divested of their interrogatory form, and will be changed into a naked judicial declaration, "You betray the Son of Man with a kiss."
Deeply affected, we close our meditation. Let what has been brought before us have its full effect upon us. Let no pharisaical thanking God that we are not like that man, weaken the impression. The germ of what he was, lies in each of us, and may develop itself before we are aware, unless we place ourselves betimes under the protection of Divine grace. Satan has not yet ceased "Going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour;" and the distance between the first step in the ways of sin, and the last is often quickly accomplished, as long as we are left to ourselves. Let us, therefore, hasten to save our souls and guard our hearts, like a city besieged by the enemy. But our arms of defense must be sought where alone they can be found—beneath the wings of Christ. He is our rock and our fortress, our refuge and strength, and our very present help in every time of need.
The Sword and the Cup
A singular occurrence interrupts the regular course of the sacred narrative of our Lord's passion, and serves as an additional proof how difficult it is for human thought to elevate itself to God's thoughts, especially as displayed in the work of redemption. In the scene we are about to contemplate, a disciple smites with the sword, an action, which, however well meant, is, nevertheless, directed against the very ground and basis of the world's salvation. Let us rejoice that eternal love pursues its even path, and does not require our help in the accomplishment of its object.
After the mild but overwhelming words addressed to the traitor, our Lord opens the barriers to the banditti, and voluntarily offers them his hands, while they press upon him with an artificial courage. How horrible to see the Lord of Glory fallen upon and surrounded like a robber and a murderer! The disciples witness it; but the sight renders them beside themselves. If, at the traitor's kiss, their blood congealed with horror, it now begins to boil in their veins. They cannot bear that it should come to such a pass. "Lord," say they, as with one voice, "shall we smite with the sword?" They do well first to ask, but the question is a mere matter of form, and unconsciously uttered from the force of habit. For, while speaking, they themselves give the answer; and before their Master has time to say a word, Peter's sword is unsheathed, and the first blow in defense is struck.
We understand what was passing in Simon's heart. The words our Lord had uttered on the road to Gethsemane, respecting his denying his Master and his own reply, still fermented within him; and he was anxious to show the latter that, in accordance with his own assertion, he would rather die than forsake him. Full of these ideas, and, doubtless, with a confused remembrance of what the Lord had said respecting the purchase of swords, he blindly attacks the troop with his blade of steel, and smites Malchus, one of the high priest's servants on the right ear, so that it hangs down on his cheek, only by a slender shred.
"Well done, Simon!" we are ready to exclaim, "only proceed as you have begun. These sons of Belial deserve bleeding heads! If you, who are his intimate associates, could have coldly witnessed this abominable crime against your Master, we should never be able to believe in your love to him." But here again we must take occasion to observe how apparently the noblest ebullitions of the natural heart of man are opposed to the will and order of God. That which appears to us as such an amiable trait in Peter, is only a confused mixture of self-love, arrogance, and folly; while the fire of our natural enthusiasm for Simon's act, proceeds likewise only from short-sightedness and blindness.
It is undeniable that an ardent and sincere affection had its essential part in this act of Peter's; but certainly, it was not love alone which nerved his arm on this occasion; at least he was equally as anxious to save his own honor as the person of his Master; while the publicity of the affair was assuredly no mean stimulus to his bravery. Had Peter been in earnest with his question, "Lord, shall we smite with the sword?" the Lord would certainly have answered him by saying, "Simon, will you pollute the glory of my submission? Is it your intention to expose us to the suspicion that we are only a company of political demagogues? Do you propose affording our opponents a ground of justification for coming against us armed? And will you again offer the hand to Satan for the frustration of the entire work of redemption?"
In this, or a similar manner, would the Lord have spoken; for certainly, if Simon and the rest of the disciples, who were also ready for the combat, had succeeded in their attempt, the plan of the world's salvation would have been obstructed, since the Lamb of God would then not have been led to the slaughter. The great truth that the salvation of sinners could only be accomplished by the offering up of the God-man, was still a profound mystery to the disciples, and continued so until the day of Pentecost broke the seals and disclosed to them its sacred depths. And to this day it is the Spirit only that opens the understanding and solves the difficulty. Without him, we may listen to the article of reconciliation by the blood of the Lamb, and perhaps even know how to preach it. But it is only possessed as a barren idea, a dogmatic formula, a dead thing of thought, and will be of no benefit to us. It is only thoroughly understood, seriously believed, and vitally apprehended as the basis of hope and salvation, when the Spirit of Grace brings it near, and expounds it to the contrite heart.
The confusion caused by Simon's thoughtless assault is indescribable. The whole scene suddenly changes. The troop, drawing their swords, now prepare also for the conflict, and the sacred soil of Gethsemane is on the point of being transformed into a battle-field. A shriller discord could not have interrupted the entire purpose of Jesus, than arose out of that inconsiderate attempt. To all appearance, Peter had for the moment, drawn his Master entirely out of his path; and in what danger had the thoughtless disciple, by his foolish act, involved the Eleven, who formed the tender germ of the Lord's future Church! They would doubtless have been together overthrown and slain without mercy, had not the Lord again interfered at the right moment. But it is easy for him to unloose the most complicated knots. The repairing what we have injured has ever been his vocation, and is so still.
Scarcely had the lamentable blow been struck, when the Savior stepped forward, and while turning to the armed band, rebuked the storm in some measure, by these words—"Suffer you thus far"—that is, "Grant me a short time, until I have done what I intend." It is a request for a truce, in order that the wounded man may be healed. Be astonished, here again, at the humility, calmness, and self-possession which the Lord exhibits even in the most complicated situations and confusing circumstances, never forgetting what is becoming, and what belongs to his office and calling. Even in the reckless troops, he honors the magistracy they represent; and does not order and command, but only requests them for a moment to delay seizing his person. And how willingly does he again, in this instance, bow to his heavenly Father's counsels, according to which, he was to be deprived of his liberty and subjected to the power of his adversaries! What silent admiration must his meek and tranquil submission have produced in the minds of his foes!
By a significant silence, they gave their assent to his wish. But how they are astonished on seeing the Lord kindly inclining to Malchus, and touching his wounded ear with his healing hand, when the blood instantaneously ceases to flow, and the ear is restored uninjured to its place! We are also astonished at this miracle—the last and not the smallest, by which the Savior manifested himself on earth, as the God-man. And we admire in it, not merely his power, which shines forth so gloriously, but likewise his love, which did not exclude even his enemies from its beneficial operation, as well as his care of his disciples, whom, by the healing of Malchus, he secured from the sanguinary revenge of the murderous troop. Nor must we overlook the wise forethought with which the Lord, by this charitable act, defends his kingdom for the future from all misunderstanding as to its real nature. It is not a kingdom of this world, but one in which revenge is silent, meekness heaps coals of fire on the adversary's head, and where evil is recompensed with good.
While the Lord was stretching out his healing hand to the wounded man, he opens his mouth to Peter, and utters, for the instruction of every future age, the highly important words respecting the use of the sword, his voluntary abasement for sinners, and his unconditional submission to his Father's will.
He begins by saying, "Put up your sword again into its place, for all those who take the sword, shall perish with the sword." A serious warning, which must have rolled like thunder over Simon's head. Few are aware that according to the views of some parties in the Christian Church, this passage altogether prohibits the use of the sword. But Scripture must be compared with Scripture, and what is termed "the analogy of faith," is the first principle of biblical exposition. In the words above mentioned, our Lord gives us a hint that the sword has also "its place," where it may justly leave the scabbard; and hence "the powers that be" are described in Rom. 13:4, as "not bearing the sword in vain," seeing that they are "the ministers of God, and revengers to execute wrath upon him that does evil." Now, if they commit the sword to any one—whether to the executioner, the soldier, or to a private individual for his own defense: it is then drawn in a proper manner; while in the two first-mentioned instances, the responsibility attaches solely to them; but the sword is unconditionally and in every case withdrawn from private revenge, which is something essentially different from self-defense.
Least of all is the sword in its place, with reference to the interests of the kingdom of God. There, on the contrary, the words are applicable, "Not by might, nor by power; but by my Spirit, says the Lord! The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds." There the victory is gained by the power of the testimony, by the blood of the Lamb, and by the patience of the saints. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, and not the blood of "heretics." The Church of Rome, alas! has selected the worst thing out of the legacy of her patron, Peter, namely his sword—not, however, in accordance with our Lord's impressive command, to return the sword to its place, but in the strongest contradiction to it, having drawn and brandished it in order to smite. The weapons of Popish warfare have always been "carnal"—bulls of excommunication, interdicts, tortures, Auto-da-fes, and scaffolds. Hence they have established only a worldly church, which resembles the kingdom of Christ as little as a natural man does one that is born of the Spirit; it being more an institution of the State than a Church, more like Hagar than Sarah, bringing forth only bond-servants and not children; and worse than the Galatians, it has not only begun in the flesh, but seems willing to end in it also. The words of our Lord, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it," do not at least refer to her, but to the true Church, the members of which are born of water and the Spirit. The latter conquer while succumbing, and endure hardness, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. The true Church has indeed to do with "coals of fire," but heaps them on the head of her opponents only by the exercise of love. Her laurel wreath is the crown of thorns, and meekness is her weapon. If reviled, she blesses; if persecuted, she suffers it; if defamed, she entreats (1 Cor. 4:12, 13). She takes to heart the saying of Peter (1 Epis. 4:14): "If you be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are you; for the Spirit of Glory and of God rests upon you." Thus she overcomes by submission, and prepares a triumph for Christ by her triumph over herself; and either fights her battles like the sun, which dispels the mists, and causes them to descend in fructifying dew-drops, or like the anvil, which does not strike itself, but cannot prevent the hammers, which fall upon it, from being split to pieces.
In this mode of passive overcoming, by which alone the world is conquered and brought into subjection to the Prince of Peace, the latter himself is our forerunner and leader. Hear what he says, "Put up your sword again into its place; for all those who take the sword, shall perish with the sword. The cup, which my Father path gives me, shall I not drink it? Or think you that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?"
O what a profound and comprehensive view is here afforded us into our Lord's sublime knowledge of his Divine Sonship! How the veil of his abject form is here drawn aside, and how does the whole majesty of the only-begotten Son of the Father again display itself before us like a flash of lightning in the darkness of the night! He continues the same in the obscurest depths of humiliation; and in the consciousness of his Divine dignity, always rises superior to the opposite appearance in which he is enveloped. He is sure of nothing so much as this, that if he would, he had only to ask, and the Father would send twelve legions of angels for his protection (consequently a legion for each of the little company). How must Peter, on hearing these words from his Master, have felt ashamed for imagining that, if he did not interfere, the latter would be left helpless and forsaken. How severely is this foolish thought reproved by the words, "Think you not." For Simon knows that his Lord is not accustomed to use empty phrases, and that he must, therefore, take the words concerning the celestial powers that stood at his command, in their literal sense; and yet the idea could occur to him that he must deliver such a Master from a handful of armed mortals, as though he were utterly defenseless! What unbelief! What delusion!
But was it really in the Lord's power to withdraw himself from his sufferings by angelic aid? Without the shadow of a doubt. Having voluntarily resolved upon the great undertaking, he could, at any moment, have freely and without obstruction, withdrawn from it. Every idea of compulsion from without must be banished far from the doing and suffering of our Redeemer. Hence, there is scarcely a moment in his whole life, in which his love for our fallen race is more gloriously manifested than in that on which we are now meditating. A heavenly host, powerful enough to stretch a world of adversaries in the dust, stands behind the screen of clouds, waiting at his beck, and burning with desire to be permitted to interfere for him and triumphantly liberate him from the hands of the wicked while he, though ill-treated and oppressed, refuses their aid, and again repeats, more emphatically by the action than by words, "Father, your will; and not mine, be done!" "Thus it must be," says he. Carefully observe also this renewed testimony to the indispensable necessity of his passion. "How, then, shall the Scriptures be fulfilled," he adds. The words of Moses and the prophets are "a lamp unto his feet, and a light unto his path." His language still is, "The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?" Great and momentous words! Let us spend a few moments in meditating on them.
A cup is a vessel which has its appointed measure, and is limited by its rim. The Savior several times refers to the cup that was appointed for him. In Matt. 20:22, he asks his disciples, "Are you able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?" By the cup, he understood the bitter draught of his passion which had been assigned him. We heard him ask in Gethsemane, at the commencement, if it were not possible that the cup might pass from him; and here we find him mentioning, with the most unmoved self-possession, "the cup which his Father had given him." We know what was in the cup. All its contents would have been otherwise measured out to us by divine justice on account of sin. In the cup was the entire curse of the inviolable law, all the horrors of conscious guilt, all the terrors of Satan's fiercest temptations, and all the sufferings which can befall both body and soul. It contained likewise the dreadful ingredients of abandonment by God, infernal agony, and a bloody death, to which the curse was attached—all which was to be endured while surrounded by the powers of darkness.
Here we learn to understand what is implied in the words, "Who spared not his own Son, but freely gave him up for us all." "The Lord laid on Him the iniquities of us all." "I will smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered." "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." "God made him to be sin for us who knew no sin." All that mankind have heaped up to themselves against the day of God's holy and righteous wrath—their forgetfulness of God—their selfish conduct—their disobedience, pride, worldly-mindedness—their filthy lusts, hypocrisy, falsehood, hard-heartedness, and deceit—all are united and mingled in this cup, and ferment together into a horrible potion. "Shall I not drink this cup?" asks the Savior. "Yes," we reply, "Empty it, beloved Immanuel! we will kiss your feet, and offer up ourselves to you upon your holy altar!" He has emptied it, and not a drop remains for his people. The satisfaction he rendered was complete, the reconciliation effected. "There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit." The curse no longer falls upon them. "The chastisement of our peace lay upon him, and by his stripes we are healed," and nothing now remains for us but to sing Hallelujah!
Offering and Sacrifice
We shall confine our present meditation to the state of resignation in which we left our great High Priest, at the close of the last chapter. He yields himself up to his adversaries, and suffers them to act with him as they please; and this very circumstance is for us of the greatest and most beneficial importance. His situation is deeply affecting. Imagine, as might actually have been the case, that immediately after the occurrences at Gethsemane a messenger had hastened to Jerusalem to inform his mother Mary of what had just befallen her son, outside the gates of the city. What must have been the feelings of the distressed woman! "What?" she would doubtless have exclaimed, "Has this happened to my child—is he in such a situation who was the best of sons—the Holy One, who is love itself, assaulted like a criminal?—the benefactor of mankind, their tenderly susceptible and gracious Savior, covered with such undeserved disgrace, and in the hands, and even in the fetters of jailors?" It would certainly have seemed to his grieved parent as if she had only dreamed of such horrible things; and on receiving a confirmation of the painful intelligence, can you suppose anything else than that she would entirely lose all command over herself; and burst into loud lamentations and floods of bitter tears?
It is from such a point of view that we ought to contemplate the occurrence at Gethsemane, in order to feel and comprehend it fully. And that you may view it in a still more lively manner, imagine to yourselves with what feelings the holy angel must have witnessed their Lord being thus taken prisoner—they whom the Savior's humiliation never for a moment prevented from being conscious of his real character and dignity; and who, wherever he went, perceived in him the Lord of Glory and the King of kings, before whose throne they only ventured to approach with veiled faces. Let us realize, if possible, what they must have felt at that moment, when, looking down from the clouds, they saw the High and Lofty One surrounded by the officers, as if he had been the vilest of criminals; the Prince of heaven taken captive with swords and staves; the Judge of the world fettered like a murderer, and then dragged away under the escort of a crowd of ruthless men amid blasphemies and curses, to be put upon his trial! May not a cry of horror have rung through heaven, and the idea have occurred to those holy beings that the measure of human wickedness was now full, and that the day of vengeance on the ungodly earth had arrived? We can so easily forget, in his appearance as a man, whom it is that we have before us in the humbled individual of Nazareth; and it is only now and then that it flashes through our minds who he really is. But then our hearts become petrified with amazement, and we can only fold our hands in silent astonishment.
But however dreadful his position may be, the Savior bears with composure these outrageous proceedings. He delivers himself up, and to whom?—to the armed band, the officers and servants. But we are witnesses here of another yielding up of himself, and one that is veiled and invisible; and the latter is of incomparably greater importance to us than that which is apparent to the outward senses. Christ here gives himself up to his Father, first, as "an offering" (Ephes. 5:2), and such a one as will doubtless satisfy the Father. How shall we sufficiently appreciate the excellency of this offering? Behold him, then, as One against whom all hell may be let loose without being able to cast the slightest blemish on his innocence; as One who endured the fiercest ordeal without the smallest trace of dross; who boldly withstood the storm of temptation, which only served the more rapidly to perfect his obedience; who, in a state of the most painful inward privations, preserved, unshaken, his love to his Father; and although his Father's heart seemed turned away from him, yet regarded it, as before, as his meat and drink to do the will of Him who sent him; who, in a situation in which acute agony forced him to sweat blood, could nevertheless pray from the bottom of his heart, that not what he desired, but what the Eternal Father wished and had determined respecting him, might take place. Such is the dazzlingly pure, immutably holy, and severely tested offering, which Christ in his own person presents to the Father.
Regard him now as submitting himself, not only to the disgrace of a public arrest, but also to the fate of a common delinquent, in obedience to his Father's will. But how willingly does this conviction cause him to descend to such a depth, and unhesitatingly to resign himself into the hands of sinners! Hear him address his enemies. With the majesty, freedom, and sublime composure of One who, far from being overwhelmed by that which befalls him, marks out himself the path on which he is to walk, and who, in accordance with his Father's counsel, ordains his fate himself; he says to the multitude, and especially to their leaders, the chief priests, and the captains of the Jewish temple-guard, and to the elders, the assessors of the Sanhedrin, who, in the heat of their enmity to Jesus, had come out with the intention of encouraging the captors by their presence, "Are you come out as against a thief, with swords and staves to take me? I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you laid no hold on me, nor stretched forth your hands against me."
Our Lord, by these words, intends, first, that they shall serve as a testimony, not merely to those that heard them, but also to the whole world, that he was led guiltless to the slaughter, and that the shadow, which Peter's smiting with the sword might have cast upon him and his adherents, was entirely dispelled; and next, that no power on earth would have been able to overcome him, had he not, when his hour was come, voluntarily yielded up himself in free submission to his Father's will. Until he had completed his ministerial office, no enemy dared to touch him. Nor had they been able to discover anything in him which might have enabled them to prosecute him. The invisible barrier is now removed. "This," continues the Savior, to the profound confusion of his adversaries, "this is your hour and the power of darkness." His meaning is, "By an act of the Divine government the chain of Satan has been lengthened, the bridle of hell, whose armor-bearers you manifest yourselves to be, has been removed, that it may do with me as it pleases." What self-possession and divine composure are in these words! With such unreserved willingness does he yield himself up to the most disgraceful treatment. Not even the slightest feeling of a disturbed or revengeful affection rises up within him against the reprobates. His soul continues in a state of equanimity and serenity, just as if they were not jailers' assistants, who bound him with cords, but followers and friends, who were winding chaplets for him.
But what benefit do we derive from the fact of Christ's giving himself up so completely and devotedly to the Father? The greatest and most beatifying of which thought is capable. Listen! Jehovah says in his law, "You shall not appear before me empty." Consider, that if we wish to inherit heaven, we cannot do without that, to which salvation is promised as the reward. We now possess it, and the days of our grief and shame are at an end. We may now boldly appear before the Father, and need no longer apprehend anything discouraging from him when we express our desire that he should love us, and open the gates of his palace to us. "But what have we to exhibit to him that is meritorious?" Sufficient, my readers—yes, more than the angels possess. We have, indeed, nothing of our own. In the records of our lives we perceive only transgression and guilt. But God be thanked that we need nothing of our own, and are even interdicted from trusting and depending upon anything of the kind. We are instructed to appeal to the righteousness of another, and this is the living "offering" of which we speak—Christ, with the entire fullness of his obedience in our stead. If he was accepted so are we, since all that he did and suffered is placed to our account. For, "as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." Those who are in Christ are no longer transgressors in the sight of God, but pure, blameless, and spotless. What a blissful mystery! If you are unable to believe it, grant it, at least, a place in your memory. The hour may come in which you will be able to use it; for we have often had occasion to witness how it has fared at the last with those who supposed themselves among the most pious and holy of mankind. Whatever of a meritorious and approved character they imagined they possessed, nothing remained when the light of eternity and approaching judgment threw its penetrating rays upon their past lives. The splendor of their virtues expired, their gold became dim, and that which they had preserved as real worth, proved only tinsel and valueless. What is to be done in such a case? How weave together, in haste, such a righteousness as God requires, and without which no man can enter heaven? What answer are we to make to the accusers that open their mouths against us—Satan, the law, and our own consciences, which say to us, "You are the man?" Really, if we are not to give ourselves up to despair, something which is not ours must be bestowed upon us, which we may offer unto God as the ground of our claim to salvation. The living offering which Christ made of himself can then alone suffice, and that abundantly, to recommend us to God. Possessing this, we no longer need be mute in the presence of our accusers. In Christ, as our Surety, we fulfilled the conditions to which the heavenly inheritance is attached. Henceforth, who will accuse us, who will condemn us? We rejoice with Paul, and say, "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
The Lord Jesus appears in our narrative, not only as an "offering," but also as a "sacrifice." Our sins are imputed to him, and in his sacred humanity he endured what they deserved. Let us, therefore, now consider him in the character of our representative, and the sufferings he endured, and the wrongs he sustained, will then appear in their proper light.
A horrible scene presents itself to my mind, in which every one ought to recognize his own likeness. I see a murderer; for it is written, "He who hates his brother is a murderer." I perceive a robber; one who is guilty in two respects; toward God, in depriving him; by unbelief and pride, of his glory; and toward his neighbor, whom he has injured by envy or evil-speaking. Thus the curse of the law impends over him, and the divine denunciations attend his steps. A dreadful fate awaits the unhappy mortal—first, an assault in an hour of darkness, and then a dreadful arrest and captivity. He proceeds for a while freely and securely upon his path, and yields obedience to his fleshly lusts fearing no evil. But before he is aware, the sentence is pronounced over him, "Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe!" Horrible beings, the one more dreadful than the other, put themselves in motion. The day has disappeared, the night has overtaken the man. The gloom of his dying hour envelops him. What occurs? In what situation does the miserable being find himself? Are they ministers of vengeance which surround him? Are they demons and spirits from the pit? He hears the clashing of irons and the clanking of chains and fetters. He finds himself in the power of another, surrounded, seized, and apprehended. He can no longer go where he likes. A horrible guard take him between them, and an iron necessity indicates to him the way that he must take. As long as he sojourned on earth, it was, perhaps, only the flattering voice of applause and commendation that reached his ears. The hour of his accusers now arrives, and he hears on every side the thundering accusation, "You are the man!" Hitherto he had experienced so little annoyance from the powers of darkness that he thought himself at liberty to doubt their existence. They now emerge from their hiding-places, and he learns to believe in the devil, now that he finds himself in his power. For it is he, and his infernal bands, who have fallen upon him, in the midst of his fancied security, in order that they may bind him in chains of darkness, and drag the resisting criminal, with yells of execration, there, where he will be reserved for that burning day, when the Judge of the world will pronounce the final sentence, even the dreadful words, "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels!" Such is the horrible future which presents itself to my mind. It is no empty product of a heated imagination, but contains in it real truth and substance; for in this representation we each behold ourselves, as in our natural state, and are conscious of the curse, which, as long as we remain in it, impends over us, and the gloomy fate that awaits us.
But to return to our narrative. What does it present to us but a picture resembling in every feature that which we have just been contemplating? How wonderful and striking is this circumstance! We see at the entrance to Gethsemane one who would seem to be nothing better than a robber and a murderer. In the dead of night he is set upon by order of the public authorities with swords and spears, surrounded by an armed band, and taken prisoner. And what is the language of the captive? "This," he exclaims, "is your hour;" by which he means to say, "You, my adversaries, have full liberty to deal with me as you please. Fall upon me, accuse me, disgrace me, and drag me to the scaffold; I am at your mercy." And then he says further, "This is the power of darkness"—the meaning of which is, "Hell is now granted free access to me, and can do with me as it likes; for by a judicial decision I am given up to its power." And lo, the man is actually seized, bound like a dangerous malefactor, dragged with crude threats before the bar of judgment, and before long we shall hear him cry, in the deepest distress, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
We here see the same situation and fate as we saw before was the deserved lot of every individual simmer. And who is the man on whom those horrors are poured out? One who is ignorant of it would say "Who can he be but a criminal of the worst description?" And this would be relatively correct. He who is arrested is such a one, and yet, at the same time, "the Holy and the Just." How this can agree together is intimated by Paul, in the well-known words, "God made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteous ness of God in him."
A blissful and heart-cheering mystery is here presented before us. If I possess saving faith, I find myself in a peculiar relation to the sufferer at Gethsemane. For know that the horrors he there experienced are not his curse but mine. The Holy and the Just submits himself, representatively, to the fate of the guilty and the damnable; while the latter are forever liberated, and inherit the lot of the holy Son of God. Wonderful and incomparably blissful truth! Our only shield and comfort in life and death!
O you blessed, who belong to Christ, who can worthily describe the glory of your state! We hail the wondrous exchange which the eternal Son of God has made with you. We glorify the Surety and the Liquidator of your debts. Never forget the nocturnal arrest of your High Priest. Paint it, in bright and vivid colors, on the walls of your chambers. If you are again reminded of the curse which your sins had brought upon you, accustom yourselves to regard it only in this sacred picture, where you no longer behold it lying upon you, but upon him, in whose agonies it eternally perished.
Therefore, let not shadows any longer disturb you. There will never be a period in eternity when you will be compelled to say to your enemies and accusers, "Now is your hour and the power of darkness." Your representative uttered it, once for all, for you; and henceforward only the hour of triumph and delight, which shall never end, awaits you. Peace be with you, therefore, you who are justified by his righteousness, and forever perfected by his one offering! No longer dream of imaginary burdens, but know and never forget that your suit is gained to all eternity. Behold Christ yonder bears your fetters; and nothing more is required of you than to love him with all your heart, and embrace him more and more closely who took your entire anathema upon himself, that you might be able eternally to rejoice and exclaim, "Jehovah Zidkenu—the Lord our Righteousness."
Christ Before Annas
The armed band have executed their object, with regard to Christ, and the Eleven, perceiving it, have fled to the right and left. A young man who also belonged to the little flock, and resided near, having heard the tumult, in holy indignation against the banditti, had hastened from his couch to the revolting scene, in his night-dress. But no sooner was he observed by the mercenaries, than he was laid hold of, and only escaped from bonds and probably even death, by leaving in their hands his linen covering, and fleeing away naked. This little circumstance is related by one of the Evangelists, doubtless in order to point out and excuse the flight of the disciples, as rendered imperative by the most imminent danger.
Surrounded by a bristling forest of swords and spears, the Lord Jesus suffered his hands to be bound, like a captive robber, by a troop of crude mercenaries, in the name of public justice. Think of those hands being bound which were never extended except to heal and aid, to benefit and save, and never to injure, except it be considered as a crime to uncover to mankind their wounds, in order to heal and bind them up; to destroy the Babels of delusion, and in their place to erect the temple of truth; and to pull down the altars of false gods, in order to make room for that of the only true God.
Jesus bound! What a spectacle! How many a prophetic type of the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in this fact! If you inquire for the antitype of Isaac, when bound by his father as a lamb for a burnt offering; or for that of the ram on Mount Moriah, which was caught in the thicket because God had destined it for the sacrifice; or of the sacred ark of the covenant, when it had fallen into the hands of the Philistine, only, however, to cast down the idols of the latter; or of that of Jacob's son, arrested and imprisoned in Egypt, whose path lay through the company of criminals, to almost regal dignity and crowns of honor; or for that of the paschal lambs, which, before being slaughtered for the sins of the people, were accustomed to be tied up to the threshold of the temple; or finally, for that of the captive Samson, who derided Delilah's band, and came forth victoriously from the conflict with the Philistines—all these types and shadows found their entire fulfillment in Jesus, thus bound, as their embodied original and antitype.
Jesus bound! Can we trust our eyes? Omnipotence in fetters, the Creator bound by the creature; the Lord of the world, the captive of his mortal subjects! How much easier would it have been for him to have burst those bonds than Manoah's son of old! However, he rends them not; but yields himself up to them as one who is powerless and overcome. This his passive deportment must have for its basis a great and sublime intention. And such is really the case, as we have already seen.
Behold them marching off in triumph with their captive. They conduct him first to Annas, the previous high priest, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, a sinner of a hundred years old. But why first to him? Perhaps out of compliment to the old man, who probably wished to see the fanatic of Nazareth. His being brought before him, however, seems to have been the result of a secret arrangement between him and his son-in-law; and he, the old Sadducee, was perhaps more deeply interested in the whole affair with Jesus than outwardly appears to be the case. The preliminary hearing, which now commenced, was doubtless instituted by him, and not by Caiaphas. Even the irregular course which it takes, places this beyond a doubt. What appears in the Gospels to contradict this assumption, loses all its importance, as soon as we suppose—for which there is sufficient reason—that Annas was residing in the high priestly palace with his son-in-law.
Thus, the Lord stands at the bar of his first judge—one of those miserable men, of whom, alas! not a few are to be found among us, and who, "twice dead," estranged from the truth of God, and satisfied with the most common-place occurrences of life, think of nothing better, but treat the most sublime things at least only as a spectacle; and in their perfect unsusceptibility for everything that is divine, visibly bear on their fore heads the brandmark of the curse. Certainly, it was not one of the least of the sufferings of the Holy One of Israel to see himself delivered into the hands of such a man, so destitute of every noble feeling. And only look how the hoary-headed sinner domineers over and puffs himself up against the Lord of Glory, although he is not even the actual high priest, and while he was so, presented only an airy shadow of the true High Priest, who, Priest and King at the same time, stands now before him, in the person of the captive Nazarene! Jesus, however, endures with resignation all the indignities to which he is subjected, and we know for what reason he does so. We are acquainted with the mysterious position he occupies, in which, he not only shows us, by his own example, that his kingdom is not of this world, and that honor is something different from what the world is accustomed to characterize by that name, but also that he fills it as our Surety, whom it became to present, to the Eternal Father, the sublime virtues of a perfect self-denial and resignation in our stead, and in opposition to our ungodly self-exaltation.
Annas proceeds with the hearing of the case, and interrogates our Lord respecting his disciples and his doctrine. He hopes that the statements of Jesus may enable him to bring an accusation against the former as a politically dangerous association, and against the latter as being a wicked and blasphemous heresy. In his questions, he is presumptuous enough to treat our Lord as the disguised head of a party, and a secret plotter, notwithstanding that he brought forward his cause in the most public manner, and walked every where in broad daylight. But the world still acts like Annas. Because it will not acknowledge that we possess the real and eternal truth of God: it stamps the latter as heretical, and brands us as a sect. The world cannot bear that believers should call themselves "true Christians," and never fails to attach some opprobrious epithet to them. However boldly we may preach our doctrine, and however completely we may prove that we confess and believe nothing else than what the whole Christian Church has believed and professed before us, and for which the noblest and most excellent of men in every age have blissfully lived and died—yet the world persists in maintaining that our faith is only the religion of conventicles, and we ourselves only narrow-minded fanatics. It strives, by these artful suspicions, to keep the truth, with its goads and nails, far from it, and thus to give its ungodly and carnal proceedings at least a semblance of correctness.
The Lord answers the old priest's questions regarding his doctrine; for it was less requisite here to defend the honor of his person than that of his cause, which was, at the same time, the cause of God, and which he, therefore, felt called upon to vindicate. He also wished to make it clearly known throughout all ages, that he was condemned and crucified solely because of his asserting his Divine Sonship. "I spoke," says he, "openly to the world"—that is, "I opened my mouth boldly." Yes, in all that he spoke, the profound assurance and powerful conviction of being the Lord from heaven, who revealed that which he had himself seen and handled, was perceptible; not like the wise men after the flesh, who defend their propositions with many proofs and arguments against possible objections; but as knowing that he who was of the truth would hear his voice, and acknowledge his word to be the word of the living God. Nor did he deceive himself with reference to this. To this day, when any one is delivered from the snare of the devil, and attains to the knowledge of his necessities, he needs no other proof of the truth of the words of Jesus; since his heart hears them as if spoken direct from heaven, and discovers between the language of Jesus and the most intellectual discourses of mere mortals, a gulf of difference so immense, that it is incomprehensible to him that he did not long before perceive it.
The Lord Jesus continues: "I ever taught in the synagogue and in the temple, where the Jews always resort." He had done so, and no one had ever been able to prove that he had taught anything which was not in strict accordance with the Old Testament Scriptures, and did not most beautifully harmonize with the nature and being of a holy God. The Masters in Israel were compelled, by his discourses, mutely to lay down their arms. Why then does Annas inquire respecting his doctrine? An expositor well observes here, that "We may discern in Jesus all the marks of a true teacher—confidence, which delivers its testimony before the whole world; persevering continuance in that testimony at all times; and a siding with existing divine and human ordinances."
"In secret have I said nothing," says the Lord Jesus further. No, not even that which was enigmatical, obscure, and mysterious, much of which was explained only in the course of centuries, while other things remain, to this hour, partially closed and sealed to us, and await their elucidation. He knew that these things would long be inexplicable to his people; but this did not hinder him from uttering them. This is another proof that he was clearly conscious that his doctrine was divine, and would therefore continue to the end of time.
"Why ask you me?"—says our Lord in conclusion—"Ask them which heard me what I have said unto them; behold, they know what I have said." How could the Lord testify more strongly to the purity and divinity of his doctrine, than by calling upon his judge to summon before him all those, either friends or foes, who had ever heard him speak, and ask them if they were able to say anything against him which might furnish ground for accusation. Nor to the present day does he show any witnesses, but appeals as before, on behalf of his cause, to all who hear and receive his word; and these unanimously, from their own conviction, confirm it, and will ever do so, that the doctrine of Jesus is of God, and that he has not spoken of himself.
While the Lord is speaking, one of the servants of the high priest rises up and smites him on the face, while saying, "Answer you the high priest so?" From this circumstance, we may perceive what is intended with respect to Jesus. This first maltreatment gave the signal for all that followed. It did not escape the servant how completely his master was embarrassed by the simple reply of the accused; and this crude blow was the only and final means which presented itself of rescuing him from his painful and disgraceful dilemma. The fellow well knew that it would be allowed him—no, that he would only rise by it in the favor of his master; and thus the feeling of the family reflected itself, as is often the case, in the soul of the menial who wore its livery.
It was horrible to act thus toward the Lord from heaven. For this very crime alone, which must not be placed to the account of a single individual, but to our corrupt human nature, to the guilty race of Adam, it was fit that hell should open its mouth and swallow it up, as the pit formerly did Korah and his company. But Jesus came not to hasten our perdition, but to prevent it. We therefore do not behold the wicked man scathed by lightning from heaven, nor his hand withered, like that of Jeroboam, on his stretching it out to smite; nor that the deeply insulted Jesus threatens or reviles, but resignedly endures the injury, which his holy soul must have felt more painfully than his body, while gently reproving the worthless man, and thus again fulfilling that which had long before been predicted of him, "Then I restored what I took not away."
"Answer you the high priest so?" As if the Lord, who knew better than any one else what was becoming in his converse with mankind, had infringed upon reverence due to the sacerdotal dignity. But how often are we treated in a similar manner, when the truth which we proclaim to the men of the world can no longer be assailed. We are then called bold, presumptuous, obstinate, etc. And woe to us completely, when we presume to abide firmly by our belief before dignitaries and superiors, and refuse to deviate from the truth! How does hypocritical zeal for the preservation of the honor of authority start up against us, and how pompously it calls out to us, "Answer you the high priest so?" while it would also gladly smite us on the cheek. But what is left for us, in such situations, except to make use of our Master's own words, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smite you me?"
How overpowering was this speech to both master and servant! It was like the stroke of a hammer, driving the sting of their evil conscience still deeper into the marrow. The blow on the cheek, with its accompanying brutal language, was only a clear proof that the miserable men felt themselves unable to bring anything of a culpable nature against the Lord. By acting thus, they only smote themselves in the face, since by their conduct they made it evident how deeply and painfully they had felt the truth.
Thus our Lord and Master came forth perfectly justified from this first examination, and the high priest and his satellites were covered with disgrace. In their fate we see reflected that of all those who dare to lift the shield against the Lord's cause, which, through the power of inward truth, victoriously repels every attack. Whatever may be planned and undertaken against it, it invariably comes forth like the sun shining in the mists of the valley, and calmly looks down on all opposition and gainsaying as upon vanquished enemies.
The Judicial Procedure
Christ at the bar of the ecclesiastical tribunal is the subject to which our meditations are now to be directed. The apparent contradictions in the life of Jesus increase, and become the more striking, the nearer it approaches its close. Think of the Holy One of God arraigned as a criminal; the Judge of the world judged by sinners! Where was there ever a more outrageous contrast exhibited! And that which thus displays itself on the stage of the world's history is not the most astonishing or the strangest part of that which here occurs. The exterior of the event, occupies, as we have already seen, the place of a screen, interwoven with symbolical figures, behind which the real judicial act is accomplished, which is typified by the former, and only obvious to the eye of faith—an act which, in a higher degree, concerns us all, and which is carried on before an infinitely higher tribunal than that of the Jewish Sanhedrin.
Night still reigns. The city of Jerusalem lies for the most part in profound slumber, and has no presentiment of the awful events which are occurring within its walls. Occasionally, isolated footsteps are heard along the streets, in the direction of the high priest's palace, the windows of which, now glaring at an unwonted hour with the light of lamps and torches, cause events of an extraordinary nature to be inferred. Let us also repair there. An assembly of high rank, collected together in the spacious hall of audience, receives us. It is the council of the seventy rulers of Israel, with the high priest as its president. A venerable assembly, as regards its appointment; the most illustrious and awe-inspiring in the whole world; since, sitting in the seat of Moses, in the midst of the chosen people, its office is to administer justice according to the book of the law, and in the name of the Most High God. Next to the president we perceive the men who had previously filled the office of high priest. Behind these, we observe the representatives of the four and twenty classes of the priesthood. Then follow the elders or rulers of the synagogues, while the rest of the assembly is composed of the most eminent doctors of the law, men well versed in the Mosaic statutes and the traditions and ordinances of the Rabbis.
It was the primary duty of these men, as keepers of the sanctuary, to maintain the observance of the ordinances of Jehovah among the people; to settle the legal differences of the various tribes; to watch over the purity of doctrine and of divine service; and to examine and judge any heresies that might spring up. It certainly belonged to the privileges and even duties of the authority thus constituted, to bring before them a man who gave himself out for the Messiah; and to examine him in the strictest manner. And that it did not occur to the Holy One of Israel to dispute their right to this, is clearly manifest from the reverence, which, apart from the moral qualities of its individual members, did not fail to show itself in his deportment during the whole course of the proceedings. In the Sanhedrin he sees the tribunal of the Divine judge—but in a superior manner; that is, while hearing the voice of God through its medium, even when the counselors, as respects their own persons, speak from the suggestions of Satan; and while regarding the unrighteous judgments of the latter as changed, with reference to himself, into well-founded and just decisions of the court of judicature above.
Before this supreme tribunal the Savior of mankind stands bound; for we must not limit the great judicial procedure to that which is visible, but must seek it especially in the invisible world. The Lord does not stand at the bar as a Holy One, but as the representative of sinners. Our catalogue of crimes is displayed before him, as if they were his own. Our sins are charged upon him, for he bears them. He is laid in the scales of justice with our transgressions, for they are imputed to him. What may then have passed between him and the Majesty upon the throne, is concealed from us by the veil of eternity. One thing, however, we know, that he stood there in our place. Had he not appeared, that position would have been ours; and woe unto us, had we been made responsible for our sins! Such a thought need no longer terrify us, if we belong to Christ's flock. What was due from us, he has paid. We come no more into condemnation, since he has taken our place. We know no longer any judge; for the Judge is our friend. How blissful is this consciousness! Eternal praise to him to whom we owe it all.
But we return to the hall of judgment. The council seek for witnesses against Jesus. They seek, because unsought, nothing of the kind presents itself. That which is unsought is all in his favor. But they have already decided to put him to death. Why? Because he spoils the game of the proud men, who have him in their power, and every where comes in the way of their selfish practices. Their heads are less at variance with him than their hearts. But generally this is not the case with his enemies. They dislike him because he disturbs them in their sinful haunts; because he disapproves of the ways of vanity in which they walk, judges their ungodly and carnal deeds, and pronounces them deficient in that righteousness which avails before God. And because, for these reasons, they dislike him, they seek for witnesses against him, denying above all things his divinity; for if he were God, who would absolve them from the duty of reverencing him and believing his word, which condemns them? And what kind of witnesses do they bring against him? O the miserable authorities to which they appeal, who not only contradict one another incessantly, but themselves every moment! while the witnesses which we bring forward in behalf of our faith, are the devout seers and prophets, the holy evangelists and apostles, the thousands of martyrs, who, in his strength, have sung their psalms to him in the midst of the flames—yes, we appeal to the entire history of his Church, as well as to the daily experience of all believers, as to a continuous testimony in favor of him who is the object of our love, and of the truth of his cause.
The council of the Sanhedrin, who are anxious for the people's sake, and probably also for the sake of their own consciences, to clothe their legal murder, with at least an appearance of justice, take great pains to find witnesses against Jesus. But a more fruitless undertaking was perhaps never attempted. They long to meet, in the garden of his life, with a single poisonous plant, from which they may weave for him a fatal wreath. They find, indeed, an abundance of flowers for a crown of honor, but not the vestige of a weed. Desperation then advises an extreme course. A number of bribed witnesses are suborned—fellows well experienced in all the arts of rendering another suspected—who strive to fasten one or other false accusation on the Holy One. But what is the result? They expose themselves, with those who hired them, in the most barefaced manner, and serve only as a new foil to the innocence of the accused. What they adduce, condemns itself as an absurdity, and not even that is attained which was indispensably required by the Mosaic law, that their testimony should correspond. They become more and more confused, refute one another against their will, and remind us of the word of the Lord by the mouth of Zechariah, "I will smite every horse with astonishment, and his rider with madness."
The venerable assembly now finds itself in the most painful dilemma. At length, two witnesses come forward, and hope, by means of an expression which the Lord had once uttered a year before, and which they now charge him with—naturally in a malicious and perverted form, to make amends for the deficiencies in their accusation. The words adduced are those in John 2:19, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Even at the time, this expression, which he doubtless divested of any serious misapprehension by pointing to himself, was most maliciously misinterpreted by the Jews who were present. "Forty and six years," said they, "was this temple in building, and will you rear it up in three days? But he spoke," says the Evangelist, "of the temple of his body." The two hirelings were aware of this. It seemed to them, however, a very suitable expression to make use of for casting upon Jesus the appearance not only of an ungodly boaster, but also of a crime against the Divine Majesty, by blaspheming the temple. Thus we hear them say, "He boasted that he was able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it again in three days." But they, too, fall into the most glaring contradictions on the outset, as partly appears from the Gospel narratives. The one maintaining that Jesus had said, "I will," the other, "I can;" the one, "I will destroy the temple of God, and build it in three days;" the other, "This temple that is made with hands, I will destroy, and within three days I will build another without hands."
Suffice it to say, the opposing statements of the two complete the scene of confusion; and even the high priest is not yet base and inconsiderate enough to pronounce his judicial decision upon such miserable and suspicious evidence. His conscience was still sufficiently susceptible to make him sensibly feel the pitifulness and worthlessness of these last testimonies; and if it were not the voice of his inward monitor which raised itself against it, yet the secret apprehension that such a judicial inquiry might not satisfy the people, as well as the impressive, sublime, and commanding tranquility which the accused opposed to the wretched fabrication of the two witnesses, restrained him from it. Thus in the end, the whole inquisitorial proceeding of the judge, although so well versed in scraping together the moral weaknesses and defects of offenders against the law, only tended to our Lord's glorification, since by it his spotless innocence was placed in the clearest light. Yes, my readers, he is the Lamb without spot, which it was necessary he should be in order to take away our guilt.
But how does the accused conduct himself during the judicial procedure? His whole conduct is extremely significant and remarkable. With a judicial mien, which only partially covers his perplexity, the high priest says to him, in an imperious tone, "Answer you nothing to what these witness against you?" "But Jesus," as we are told by the narrative, "held his peace." How eloquent was this silence—more overwhelming for the children of the father of lies than the severest reproofs would have been! And why make many words on this occasion? since his enemies, though against their will, witnessed so powerfully in his favor that he needed no further justification. He was silent. How easy would it have been for him, by a few words, to have most painfully exposed the august assembly! But he honors in it, as before, the powers ordained of God, of whatever injustice they may be guilty; and, viewing the matter thus, he deems it becoming him to hold his peace. He does so, remarks an expositor, like an ill-treated child, who is silent before his unjust father. The essential meaning of his silence, however, lies still deeper. It is not merely the silence of a good conscience, but rightly understood, the reverse. His holding his peace is the reflection of a more mysterious silence before another and higher than any human tribunal; and regarded from this point of view, it may be considered as a silence of confession and assent.
When a criminal makes no reply to the accusations brought against him before a human tribunal, it is regarded as an admission of his guilt. Thus we must also regard the silence of Jesus, who, having taken upon him, before God, the sins of his people by a mysterious imputation, deems himself worthy of death and the curse. By mutely listening to the accusations of his judges, without attempting to exculpate himself, he wishes outwardly to intimate the actual offering up of himself as a culprit in our stead. Thus he is silent, not only as a lamb, but also as the Lamb which takes away the sin of the world. His silence enables us to speak in judgment, and gives us power and liberty to lift up our heads boldly against every accusation, while trusting to the justification wrought out for us by the Redeemer.
May the Lord instruct us all when to speak and when to be silent; the former, by enlightening the darkness of our natural state; and the latter, by an application to our hearts and consciences, of the consolatory mystery of the sufferings of Jesus for us! There is only one way of escaping the horrors of future judgment, and that is, the believing apprehension of all that our Surety has accomplished in our stead. May God strengthen our faith for this purpose more and more, and enable each of us from the heart to exclaim, in the words of the apostle, "Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!"
The Fall of Peter
In addition to all his other sufferings, our blessed Lord had also to endure that of being denied by one of the little company of his confidential disciples, on whose fidelity he ought to have been able to reckon under all circumstances. His heart was not to be a stranger to any grief or pain, in order that he might be to us in all things a compassionate High Priest. But how would the Scriptures have been fulfilled, had he not also experienced the fate of his living prototypes—Joseph, delivered up by his brethren, and David forsaken in the season of his calamities—or how verified the prophetic language of the Psalmist, "Lover and friend have you put far from me, and my acquaintance into darkness?" At the same time it was to be made manifest, for our consolation, that "he had received gifts even for the rebellious;" and where is this more evident than in the grievous event which we are about to contemplate?
Let us join ourselves in spirit to Simon Peter. If any one was ever ardently attached to the Savior, it was he; but he was only partially conscious of what it was that he loved in Jesus. The mystery in his vicarious character, and the consequent necessity for the offering up of himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, was still concealed from him. He had only a kind of general perception that his salvation in some way depended upon fellowship with Jesus, and that without him he would infallibly perish. In Peter, as in many churches where the Gospel is not preached in all its fullness, faith and love preceded religious knowledge and discernment. More the subject of feeling than of a divinely enlightened understanding, which regulates the whole life, Peter reminds us of that class of our brethren, of whom we are accustomed to say that though they possess the burning heart, yet they are still in want of the light of the Holy Spirit. The new life is implanted in its germ, and the ability to develop itself to the aim of its heavenly calling exists: but the development itself is still far behind, and much remains for the Holy Spirit to enlarge and complete.
The cause of Peter's ignorance of the chief intention of Christ's coming into the world, was his deficiency in the knowledge of himself. He knew, indeed, that as a poor sinner, he stood in need of mercy: but he had no idea of the boundless extent of man's moral depravity and inability. Over this a veil was thrown by the sparkling and deceptive brilliancy of his sentimental state. He felt himself animated by such an ardent love and enthusiasm for Jesus, that the smallest suspicion, in this respect, wounded him deeply. Alas! he did not yet know how much the noblest human feelings depend upon the change of circumstances, situations, and seasons. The declaration of Jeremiah, that "the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked," was not obvious to his understanding. He was ignorant that one who could be enthusiastic for Jesus transfigured on Mount Tabor, possessed no pledge, from this feeling, that he would be equally zealous for Jesus ignominiously crucified on Mount Calvary. Just as little did he imagine that what pervaded his mind under the sound of his Master's affectionate parting address, in the solemn stillness of the midnight hour, by no means necessarily enabled him still to cleave to him when arrested and disgracefully dragged before a judicial tribunal.
We read of Gideon, that the Lord said to him, "Go in this your might;" and to this day, it is only the Lord's gracious inspiration which produces true heroism. But of this Peter was ignorant. Instead of despairing of all his own courage and leaning solely on the strength of the Lord, he trusted to his own valor, which he lamentably over-estimated; and instead of applying for spiritual weapons to him who said, "Without me, you can do nothing:" the simple disciple, in the armor of his own feeling of affection for his Master, thought himself sufficiently able to cope with Satan and his crafty devices.
Peter was like the man in the Gospel, who went to war without first sitting down and counting the cost. He might have already perceived that he was acting foolishly, when after his rash assault on the servant of the high priest and the Lord's subsequent resignation of himself to the hands of his enemies, his zeal was instantly extinguished, so that he was cowardly enough to take to a disgraceful flight with the rest. True, he again bethought himself after a time; but that which induced him to follow his captive Lord at a distance, was, in reality, more the spur of a despicable pride, than the noble impulse of a "love strong as death." He had spoken so openly and loudly of never denying his Master, and even of going to death with him; and what would be thought of him if he were now to break his vows and vanish from the field? No, he was resolved never to be regarded as a coward. Where his Master is, there he must be. Like a vessel steering against the wind, he follows in due distance the march of the armed band. He goes forward with feeble knees and inward reluctance. What would he give if some unavoidable and obvious hindrance were to block up his way and prevent his further advance! In fact, such a wished-for obstacle seems to present itself, in the gates being closed as soon as the band, with their captive, have entered into the court-yard of the high priest's palace. Peter would now have felt himself excused, had he gone away, since however willing he might be, he could proceed no further. If we mistake not, he is already preparing to depart; but just as if everything conspired to promote his fall, it happened accidentally, as people say, that before the entrance, he meets with a friend and fellow-believer, who was known to the high priest; and who, being on amicable terms with him, went freely in and out of his house. The latter addresses a few words to the door-keeper, and Peter, whether willingly or unwillingly, is admitted.
We are not informed who the disciple was that procured his admission. If, as many suppose, it was the Evangelist John himself, to whom we owe the mention of this unimportant event, it is pleasing and truly affecting to see him taking, in this statement, part of the blame from his friend Peter, and putting it upon himself. But whoever he may have been, the question still urges itself upon us, why God in his providence did not so order it that Peter should arrive only a few minutes earlier at the gate of the court-yard; since that eventful meeting would have then been avoided, and the whole of the subsequent mischief prevented? The answer is easy. Although it remains a truth that God tempts no one, much less causes him to stumble and fall: yet he not infrequently visits with severe trials those whom he loves, and even does not prevent their falling, when they do not attend to his word and disbelieve his warnings; thus refusing to be healed of their presumptuous reliance on their own ability in any other way than by bitter experience. Even Peter's fall, which, as regards its guilt, must be placed solely to his own account, and is fully explained by the self-dependence of the disciple, was intended by God as a medicine for his soul, which aimed at its thorough healing of its foolish and blind self-confidence. The Lord Jesus had already clearly hinted at this, and also at the salutary results of his lamentable fall, when he addressed to Peter the encouraging words, "When you are converted, strengthen your brethren."
Simon passes with tottering steps over the threshold of the opened gate, and thus sets foot on the scene of his trial. O that he had now cast himself down in prayer before God! But instead of this, he still depends upon himself; and upon the chance of accidents and circumstances. Satan and the world already stand armed against him on the field. He had no need to fear them, if he had only put on the breastplate of faith. We can now do nothing but tremble for the poor man, and should be compelled to give him up for lost, were we not aware of the admirable protection afforded him, but of which he is unconscious. The solemnity with which the Lord, on the way to Gethsemane, foretold what awaited him, hangs in his memory, though silent for a while—like a bell which, at the proper time, will give the signal for his restoration. The cock, the divinely appointed alarmist already stands at his post, and his crowing wail not fail of its due effect. The Savior's intercession, that Peter's faith might not fail, hovers, like a protecting shield, over his head; and he who never quenches the smoking flax, nor breaks the bruised reed, continues near the endangered disciple, and in the hour of distress will afford him seasonable aid.
Let us now consider the melancholy event which took place in the court-yard of the high priest. At the moment when Simon is admitted, at the intercession of his friend, the damsel that kept the door, holding up her lantern to his face, regarded him with a look as if she knew him, but is not quite sure of it. Peter, seeing this, turns away his face, and hastens as quickly as possible past the woman, lest she should recognize him. In the center of the court-yard the soldiers had kindled a fire, to protect themselves against the raw, cold, morning air, and, crowding round it, pass the time in talking and joking; while inside the house the proceedings against Jesus are going on.
Peter, who feels uncomfortable enough in such an atmosphere, approaches the noisy group, and with a careless mien, as if only anxious to warm himself, takes his place among them. In fact, his denial had now commenced, for his intention was evidently to appear to the mercenaries as if he belonged to their party, and shared their sentiments with regard to the Nazarene. Not a little pleased at having thus attained a twofold object—the safety of his person, and the being able to say that he had manifested his courage in thus mingling with the adversaries, and fulfilling his promise not to forsake his Master—the pitiable hero sits there and expects that he will be able to witness the future course of events without danger to himself. On a sudden, a painful stop is put to these calculations. The porteress, who wished to assure herself whether or not she had mistaken the stranger whom she had admitted, steals there unobserved, and mingling among the soldiery, discovers, by the light of the flickering flame, the lurking guest; and looking over his shoulder in his face, she asks him, with a triumphant and malicious leer, "Were you not also with Jesus of Nazareth? Are you not one of his disciples?"
Who can describe Peter's confusion at this question? At the moment when he thought himself so safe, to be so suddenly assailed! However, he recollects himself, and thinks, "What does the woman mean? What right has she to put such a question? It is too much to be obliged to answer every idle inquirer. I would have told Caiaphas, or one of the chief priests, who I am, but who is this busy-body, that I should give an answer to her?" Thinking thus, he replies, with the emphasis of one whose honor is assailed, "Woman, I know him not. I know not what you say."
Alas! Alas! He who offered to take up the gauntlet for Jesus, even if thrown down by the king of terrors, succumbs at the first idea of danger, suggested by the question of a menial servant! Who does not perceive from his language the tempest of accusing and excusing thoughts which rages within? "I am not; I know him not," is first uttered with tolerable decision. But then, condemned by conscience, he seeks to bear out this denial in some measure, while passing by the necessity of a direct answer, by adopting another mode of speech, and adding, "I know not what you say. What do you mean? I do not understand you." But this no longer suffices to expunge the unambiguous words, "I know him not."
While stammering out this lamentable prevarication, he rises from his seat, under the influence of alarm and inward rebuke, and attempts to retire unobserved from his dangerous position, in which he succeeds without being again attacked. He bends his steps toward the gate, in the hope of finding it open and being able to make his escape. The cock now crows for the first time, but the state of excitement which he is in, does not suffer him, this time, to hear the warning sound, the more so, since the way is unexpectedly blocked up by another maidservant, who, calling to the soldiers who assemble round her, says, in a more definite manner than the former, "This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth!" The mercenaries are gratified by the stripping off of Peter's disguise, since it affords them the desired materials for additional joke and pastime. "Are you not also one of his disciples?" they ask, in a crude and threatening tone—"You belong also to the sect!"
What is the poor man to do now? After his foot has once slipped, we see him fall into a state of complete vacillation. The way to the second transgression is always rapidly traversed after the commission of the first. Some dark spirit then whispers in our ear that the repetition cannot make us more culpable, since God is accustomed not to number but to weigh our sins; or else, that by persisting in the commission of any particular sin, we only manifest that we do not exactly regard it as sin, and have, therefore, in some measure, sinned ignorantly. Suffice it to say that Peter now denies his Lord again, and this time at least, according to the sound of the words, more boldly than before, "Man," says he, "I am not," and then adds an asseveration; no, even so far forgets himself as to speak of his Master in a contemptuous tone while saying, "I know not the man!" They must now be forced to believe him, since no one would speak thus of his friend, if he were not the refuse of faithlessness and falsehood. They do not imagine Peter to be capable of such baseness, and therefore they let him go. O what a disgrace for the disciple, morally to have convinced the troop that he could not be Jesus' friend, but had sworn fealty to the banner of his adversaries.
Restless and fugitive, like a stricken and chased deer, the unhappy disciple wanders about the remote parts of the courtyard, but to his horror finds every outlet of escape closed against him. For a while he succeeds in withdrawing himself from the view—and further molestation both of the spearmen and domestics; but the danger of his situation takes such possession of his thoughts and senses that we must give up the hope of his taking to heart the extreme point to which the wind of temptation has carried him. He staggers about like one who is no longer master of himself, when, after the lapse of about another hour, a fresh crowd surrounds him, who, after carefully weighing all the circumstances, have at length come to the conclusion that the stranger must certainly belong to the disciples of Jesus. "Surely," say they, with greater confidence than before, "you are also one of them;" and when he again begins to defend himself, they convict him of falsehood by his own words, and exclaim, "Your speech betrays you; you are a Galilean." Another soldier, attracted by the noise, looks him full in the face, and adds his confirmation to their assertion, by saying, "Of a truth this fellow also was with him." Last of all, a servant of the High Priest approaches, a kinsman of him whose ear Peter had cut off at Gethsemane, and says, "Did not I see you in the garden with him?"
Peter now finds himself completely entrapped. How is he to act? Two ways are open to him, either to reveal his disgraceful denials by a candid acknowledgment, and present his bare bosom to his enemies for Jesus' sake, or else to act his lamentable part completely through, in which case he must carry his barefaced falsehoods to the utmost. In a state bordering on desperation he decides upon the latter. In the confusion of the moment, I know not what he may, half unconsciously, have summoned up to soothe his conscience, at least for a time. Whether he took refuge in the subterfuge that such degraded characters were not worthy of having the name of Jesus confessed before them, which would be like casting pearls before swine, or whether he sought to deceive himself with the idea that he would spare his blood until the desired opportunity arrived of shedding it publicly before all the people in testimony of his faith, who shall decide? Suffice it to say, he is quite the old fisherman, the rough sailor again—no, even much worse than he had ever been before, and heaps oath upon oath, and curse upon curse, to confirm his assertion that he knew not the man. While calling down upon his head all that is dreadful, and abjuring his salvation, he exclaims, "I am no Christian; I know not the man of whom you speak." And he gives them this assurance with a gesture and in a tone as if no one under heaven was more despicable in his esteem than "that man," and as if a more outrageous injury could not have been inflicted upon him than by such a supposition. He is apparently beside himself at the grievous wrong which he is enduring. But the more violently he protests and cries out, the more obvious is his Galilean dialect; and the more this is the case, the more certain at length are the mercenaries that they have not been mistaken in him. The measure of his sin is now full. The soldiers leave him to himself without giving him any further trouble, and turn their back upon him, either out of contempt, as deeming such a renegade unworthy of being stamped as a martyr, or else because, by the opening of the doors of the judgment hall, a new spectacle attracts their attention in a higher degree.
We break off, for the present, with painful feelings. "Is it, then, possible for the children of God to fall so far back into their former state?" Yes, my readers, if, instead of commending themselves, in true humiliation of spirit, to the grace of God, they enter the lists in presumptuous self-confidence, and rush of themselves into danger. In this case, there is no security against their experiencing similar defeats. The new man, in those who are regenerate, does not attain to such an unlimited superiority over the old, as no longer to require, on all occasions, the continuance of divine influence for the overcoming and restraining of the latter. It is true that the former will never yield the field to the flesh for long together, but in due time will again trample it under foot. It may, however, be the case, as it was with Peter, that the old Adam, under the pressure of seductive and darkening influences, may again burst his fetters, and, manifesting his depravity before God and man, may obtain a considerable advantage over the new man. Hence the Lord's pointed admonition to his disciples to watch and pray lest they fall into temptation. Simon Peter vowed and promised, certainly with the purest intentions, but neglected to watch and pray. What was the consequence? The first blast of temptation miserably overthrew him, and all his vows and promises were scattered to the winds.
"Let him, therefore, that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall." In the kingdom of God, indeed, a defeat may bring more blessings than a victory; and more costly fruits often spring from stumblings than from the most apparently successful strivings after holiness. But woe unto him whom this truth would render reckless! Such a one would be in danger of being never raised up from his fall by the hand of divine grace. And though he might rise again, yet no one can calculate how far a relapse into sin might affect, at least the present life, by its destructive consequences. Therefore, let us ever bear in mind the apostolic exhortation, "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil;" as well as those other words of the same apostle, "Endure hardness, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ."
The Great Confession
We return to the judgment hall of the Sanhedrin at a moment when profound and gloomy silence reigns. But even this pause has its import. The Spirit of Truth does his office in the assembly. Shame and embarrassment take possession of every mind. The false witnesses have acted their part most wretchedly, and stand unmasked. Their contradictory evidence only tends to their own disgrace. The sublime bearing of the accused, expressive only of innocence, completely paralyzes his adversaries. Every eye is now fixed on the presiding head of the Church. Every look seems to ask with amazement, "What are you about, you Priest of the Most High? Where is your wisdom; what is become of your dignity?" He, meanwhile, finds himself in the most painful situation in the world. Anxiety, both for the preservation of his official dignity, and for the result of the whole affair, torments his soul. There the proud hierarch sits, and his thoughts take tumultuous counsel how the difficulty may be overcome, and how he may escape from the pressure. Such is the end of the judicial procedure against the Holy One of Israel. I ask, who has lost the cause?—Jesus or his judges? Be assured that the world's great process against Christ will eventually end in a similar manner. It will terminate in the utter confusion and despair of all who oppose him. Therefore let not his adversaries imagine that they have brought the case against him to a close.
The perplexity of the high priest is great. How can he conceal his embarrassment? He must give the affair another turn. But of what kind? His ideas whirl round like a fiery wheel. All at once a thought occurs to him, which he deems fortunate. But it is not by mere accident that it presents itself to him. A greater than he overrules and controls the scene. The hierarch convulsively snatches up his falling dignity from the dust, and, with visible effort, while enveloping himself in the gravity of his office, he solemnly steps forward a few paces, and makes known his intention to cite the accused before the throne of the Almighty, and to call upon him to testify on oath, and under invocation of the name of the Most High God, who he is; whether he is really the person whom he is regarded as being and lets himself be taken for by his followers, or whether he is a false prophet and a deceiver? We rejoice at this measure, though evidently more the result of desperation than of calm consideration. The affair will now be decided. Think of a testimony on oath by Jesus respecting himself! There was nothing else wanting to satisfy our utmost wishes.
Now, give heed. The greatest and most solemn moment of the whole process has arrived. The high priest, re-assuming all his dignity, opens his mouth to utter the most sublime of all questions: "I adjure you," says he, "by the living God, that you tell us whether you be the Christ, the Son of the Blessed." He makes use of the legal form of adjuration which was customary in Israel. It was in this form that the oath was administered and taken. The person sworn answered without repeating the form itself, with a single," Yes" or "No;" being conscious at the same time, that the answer he gave, if it deviated from the truth, would be punished by the High and Lofty One, who had been invoked as a witness, with his righteous displeasure and the loss of eternal salvation. The high priest thus solemnly calls upon Jesus, as it were, for his credentials, while making the basis of the entire Christian religion as the object of his inquiry, and in so doing, he is perfectly justified by his official position.
What is it, therefore, to which Jesus is to swear? Let us above all things be clear upon this point. He is, in the first place, to testify whether he is the Christ—that is, the Messiah. Caiaphas, the steward of the divine mysteries, indicates by that name, the object of prophecy, and comprehends in it all the promises and types of the Old Testament, out of which as from mysterious coverings and swaddling-clothes, a sublime form ascends, who, as Prophet, is to bring down the light of eternity to the earth; as High Priest, to give his own life as an atonement for the sins of the world; and as King, to establish an everlasting kingdom of grace and peace. This dignified Being is called the "Lord's Anointed," or "Christ." But Caiaphas knows that this "Christ" will be a man, and yet at the same time "the Lord Most High:" such as David and Daniel saw in vision; and Micah, as one "whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting." He knows that the Messiah will be the Son of God, in a manner such as no one else in heaven or on earth is entitled to be called. He will not only be like Jehovah, but Jehovah's equal, and thus really God. From this sublime point of view, Caiaphas asks, "Are you he?" and believes that in the event of Jesus affirming it, he would be perfectly justified in pronouncing him a blasphemer, and as such, in condemning him to death.
What greater or more momentous question was ever put than this? What would have been the consequences, had an answer in the negative ensued? What mercy would then have been the portion of the sinful race of man? Jesus might then have been whatever he pleased—the wisest philosopher, the chief of the prophets, the most perfect model of virtue—no, an angel and seraph of the first rank—all would not have availed us, and hell would have been the termination of our pilgrimage. If a negative had followed upon the high priest's question, it would have extinguished all our hopes; it would have fallen like a lighted torch into the citadel of our consolation; the whole edifice of our salvation would have been overthrown, and we should have been hurled into the open jaws of despair. For think of what is included in this one question. "Are you Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" In it Caiaphas inquires if the hour of our redemption has arrived; if there is a possibility of a sinner being saved; if an atoning power can be ascribed to the obedience of Jesus; and if the Suretyship of Christ can in reality be of any avail to transgressors? All these questions and many more are answered in the negative, if a simple negation had issued from the lips of Jesus to the interrogatory, "Are you the Son of God?" But if it be answered in the affirmative then they are affirmed to all eternity. And who is there that is not anxious for the reply? Well, then, give me your attention, and open your hearts to the truth.
The all-important question is propounded. Deep silence reigns in the assembly. Every heart beats audibly, and every eye is fixed on the accused. Nor do our hearts remain unmoved. We also stand, trembling with expectation, before the high-priestly tribunal. We are aware of the astonishing miracles by which Jesus has magnified himself. We were witnesses how he displayed his superhuman glory at the coffin of the young man of Nain and at the grave of Lazarus. We have seen him in the endangered vessel, when the rage of the elements ceased at his beck, and on the stormy lake, where the wild waves became firm beneath his feet, and spread a crystal carpet for the King of Nature. But all these might have been the acts of a prophet sent from God, and the marvelous performances of a human possessor of divine power. Such a person, however, could not have coped with our misery. We heard him say, "He who has seen me, has seen the Father also," for "I and the Father are one," and "before Abraham was, I am;" with other expressions of a similar kind. But still, with reference to these expressions, the Tempter might suggest to us that they must not be apprehended literally, but are only to be understood of the moral glory of Jesus. And thus an assertion was still requisite, which should put to shame all the arts of infernal perverters of language; a testimony was still desirable concerning the person of Jesus, the undoubted nature of which would be able to annihilate all the objections of skepticism; and how could this be done in a more satisfactory manner than by a solemn declaration on oath? It is this, which is about to take place. Jesus is asked if he is the true God and Eternal Life?—for this is all comprised in the appellation, "Christ, the Son of the Blessed," in the mouth of a believing Israelite. He therefore that has ears, let him hear what the person at the bar of Caiaphas testifies of himself, before the face of the Almighty, the man in whose mouth, even according to the confession of his murderers, was found no deceit.
There he stands in the presence of the council of the nation, to all appearance "a worm and no man." Greatness and dignity appear to rest only on those who surround him. In himself you perceive nothing but lowliness and poverty. There he stands, with his head bowed down, his countenance pale, his hands bound, and surrounded by armed men like a robber. He stands there, ready to sink with weariness from the sufferings he has already endured, forsaken of his friends, inveighed against by his enemies, apparently the offscouring of the earth, and incomparably wretched. To this deeply abased and severely stricken man, the question is solemnly put by the first and principal person in the nation, whether he will swear by the living God that he is the Son of the Blessed? He is therefore now constrained to lay aside all disguise; and for our sakes he gladly lifts the veil. As long as the investigation was confined to wretched accusations of personal reference, Jesus was silent; but after the affair had taken such a different and much more serious turn, it was requisite to bear testimony to the truth, and declare himself definitely with regard to his person. He knows that his answer will cause his death, but he dares no longer refrain. He is constrained to speak by the reverence which fills his heart for the sacred name by which he is adjured. He is constrained to it by the submission, which he thinks he owes to the dignity of him who calls upon him to answer on oath. He is constrained to it by his love and holy zeal for the truth, and especially by his tender solicitude for us, poor sinners, on whose behalf he appears at the bar of judgment. It is not the Sanhedrin alone, before which he feels himself placed; he sees, in spirit, his whole Church assembled around him; he sees a whole world in breathless excitement, and all the kindreds of the earth, grouped around him, full of expectation. The ear of his whole Church to the end of time hangs upon his lips; and he knows that the moment has arrived when he must place a firm and immutable support beneath its faith, for thousands of years to come. He therefore opens his mouth, and testifies before the throne of the living God, with clear consciousness, considerately, formally, and solemnly, "You have said it. I am."
Here you have the great confession. What an affirmation is this! It lifts us up above all doubt and apprehension. It places our faith on an everlasting foundation. It establishes and seals our entire redemption, and is the grave of every scruple. But that no shadow of obscurity might rest on the real meaning of his testimony, he makes an addition to his affirmation. He unveils the future, and says, "Hereafter shall you see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." This is in part already accomplished. It commenced with his resurrection and ascension. Its fulfillment proceeded with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the founding of his Church; and it is hastening toward its completion in an uninterrupted series of victories, while it will experience its consummation amid the song of millions, chanting, "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ!"
It was impossible that it could be more clearly testified who Jesus was than was now done. If his testimony is true, it is then also true that all are lost who will not believe on him, and that nothing remains for those who refuse to bend the knee to him, but "a fearful looking-for of judgment and of fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." It is true that "whoever is not born of water and of the Spirit, cannot enter into the kingdom of God, and that he who believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." For this likewise is testified by him, who answered, "I am," before the council; and if the latter is true, so is also the former. Hasten, therefore, to commit yourselves to the hands of him, beside whom there is none to help you, either in heaven or on earth; nor be such enemies to yourselves as to choose death and the curse, now that life and immortality are brought to light, and offered to you freely in the Gospel. In reliance on the sacred oath of the Savior, turn your backs upon the world, and cast yourselves into the arms and upon the heart of the only Mediator.
"I am!"—answered Jesus; and if he had not been, at the same time, the sacrificial lamb destined to disgrace and suffering for the human race, millions of voices would have sealed his testimony with their "Amen!" The seraphim with their golden harps would have hovered over him and have exclaimed, "Jesus, you are he!" From the foundations of the earth, which were laid by him, would have resounded the same testimony; and the Eternal Father, with that voice which causes the mountains to tremble, would have called down from heaven, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." But silence reigns above, below, and around him. The priest of God is in the sanctuary, engaged in offering up his sacrifice. There all is silent. His enemies only are permitted to rage.
When Caiaphas hears the unequivocal confession, in order to manifest his hypocritical indignation at this supposed piece of impiety, he rends his clothes, by which act he unconsciously intimates symbolically the approaching dissolution of the typical priesthood, now that in the person of Christ, the true priest had appeared. In a few hours the temple will close; the offering up of lambs and of goats will have reached its termination in the sight of God. The Lord of heaven and earth will then retire forever from the Holy of holies, made with hands, in order in future to take up his abode in those who are of a humble and contrite heart.
The high priest, by this sign of grief, gives us also a lesson which is worthy of our attention. It becomes us spiritually to do the same, in the presence of Jesus, as he did. We must appear before him with our garments rent, otherwise he will not regard us. We must tear in pieces the dress of our own imaginary righteousness, virtue, power, and wisdom. We must not conceal our nakedness, nor seek to hide our shame. We must come before him as poor sinners and poverty-stricken mendicants, if we wish to recommend ourselves to him. All self-exaltation is an abomination in his sight. Away, then, with all our tinsel! He will adorn us with his own robe. He does not desire artificial flowers. He plucks only lilies, which he himself has clothed with purity and beauty.
The high priest rends his clothes and says, "What further need have we of witnesses?" The man is in the right. Had Jesus unwarrantably presumed to declare himself to be the Son of God and the Judge of the world, he could not have been guilty of a more heinous blasphemy than by so doing. But why, you judges of Israel, must that necessarily be false which he had just testified of himself? Why should it be utterly inconceivable that he was the promised Lord from heaven? Was there anything in his life to contradict the assertion? In spite of all your efforts, what did you find that was disreputable in it? You can accuse him of nothing, except that, in the declaration just made, he had unduly exalted himself—which you must first prove—and in an unauthorized manner had appropriated Divine honor to himself. You were compelled to confess that he came forth from your examination pure as the light of heaven. And tell me, is the testimony to his Sonship which he has just given, wholly isolated and unsupported? On the contrary, is not his entire manifestation on earth a confirmation of it? Was it not established by voices from on high? Did not numbers of unheard-of signs and wonders surround it, like so many proofs of its truth? And has it not, as powerful witnesses in its favor, the whole choir of prophetic announcements which were most literally fulfilled in him? Such are the questions we might put to you, you judges of Jerusalem. But you would not that this man should reign over you; and, therefore, you refused to acknowledge him as that which he declared himself on oath to be. Woe unto you, you models of all judicial injustice! What will become of you when the day draws near in which you will be brought up for judgment, and when everything shall be brought to light that was hidden in obscurity!
"What think you?" asks the high priest. The whole assembly, then, as with one voice, taking the word from his lips, exclaim aloud, "He is guilty of death." Just so—as standing in our room and stead, it is really the case. Other and more exalted voices than those of the council mingle in the verdict. But what kind of death is it of which he is declared to be guilty? Not that of which Balaam spoke, saying, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" Not that which the preacher commends in the words, "The day of death is better than the day of one's birth." Nor that of which Paul writes, "O death, where is your sting?" The death to which Jesus was condemned, he endured as the representative of our guilty race. By his death he took from ours its sting, which is sin. All fear of death in the children of God is henceforth needless and groundless; and his saying remains forever true, that "Whoever believes on him shall never see death."
We close our present meditation. You see the alternative, which is placed before you—either forever to break with Jesus, as the most disreputable enthusiast the world ever saw, and approve of the bloodthirsty sentence of the Sanhedrin, or to cry "Hosanna" to the lowly Nazarene, and fall in humble adoration at his feet, as God manifest in the flesh. There is here no middle path. The idea of his being merely an "excellent man," only manifests great levity; and regarded in the light, conceals within it the traitor's kiss. How, therefore, do you decide? Even sound reason advises you to take part with us. In Jesus' affirmation on oath before the high priest, behold the immutable rock which bears and sustains our belief in him! Build the house of your hopes for eternity thereon, and you shall never be confounded; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it!
Our present meditation will console us for the grief we experienced when considering the depth of Peter's fall. The star of divine grace rises on that gloomy scene with benignant radiance. We here witness the shedding of tears, which, next to those that flowed from our Lord himself at the grave of Lazarus, over ungodly Jerusalem, and in Gethsemane, may be regarded as the most remarkable that were ever shed upon earth. They have dropped, like soothing balm, into many a wounded heart. May they not fail to produce a blessed effect on many of my readers, and be renewed in their experience!
We again meet with Peter at the horrible moment when completing his denial of Jesus, he formally abjures his discipleship with heavy curses. Observe, this is done by the very individual from whose lips the great confession had previously proceeded—"We have known and believed that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God;" and the ardent and sincere declaration—"Though all men should forsake you, yet will not I." But what are even the best of men when left for a moment to themselves? And what would become of the most faithful of Christ's followers, if the Lord were only for a short time to remove the restraints of his grace? O the folly of trusting to the finest feelings, seeing that we are not sure of them for a single second! What childish presumption to rely for success on the airy weapons of what men call good-will, or noble resolutions! We might indeed do so, if the "weak flesh" did not always accompany the "willing spirit," and if Satan did not always go about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
Peter has first to learn, in the school of experience, like us all, that we presume too much if we rely upon ourselves, even in the most trifling temptation. The love of Christ constrains us to venture everything for him; but it is only the belief in Christ's love for us, and the trusting to his gracious power and strength, that enables us to overcome. He who trembles at himself, as being capable above others of denying his Master, will gain greater victories than he who deems himself sufficiently strong to be able to say, "Though all men forsake you, yet will not I." "You stands by faith," writes Paul to the Romans, "Be not high-minded, but fear." "Therefore," says the same apostle, "I will rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
Peter is vanquished. Hell triumphs. And why should she not? Had ever a soul become hers which had drawn down upon itself the curse so deservedly as that of this apostate disciple? and did the cause of Christianity, so hated by her, ever receive such a painful shock as in this instance, where one of its apostles basely succumbs under the first danger which menaces a candid confession of his discipleship, and is unable to find language strong enough for his affirmation that "he knows not the man?" Nevertheless, hell begins to cry "victory" too soon. There is no such hurry with regard to the curse which is to light upon Peter. Listen to what is passing in the judgment hall of the palace. The appalling sentence has just been uttered in the midst of a tumultuous uproar, "What further need have we of witnesses! He has blasphemed God, and is guilty of death." "Who?" we ask, astonished. "Simon Peter?" No, another—a Holy One: even he who once exclaimed, "I lay down my life for the sheep." He is now ready to do so, and Peter belongs also to his flock, from whom the curse is transferred to him, the Surety, and with respect to whom the words are henceforth applicable, "They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." As regards the shock which the cause of the Gospel endured through Peter's denial, it will survive this also. Yet a little while, and there is One who will be able to give such a turn to the whole affair that it must tend rather to the advancement than the injury of the Gospel.
Just as Peter has filled up the measure of his sin by a formal repudiation of his Master, the cock crows. What is the result? A return to sober-mindedness, repentance, and tears. God only knows with what clamor Satan deafened the disciple's ears so that the first cry of the feathered watchman did not penetrate into them. Peter sank only still more deeply into the snare, and midnight darkness, enlightened only by solitary flashes of his accusing conscience, enveloped his mind.
An awakener of some kind or other is appointed to every one. Wherever we may be, there are voices which call us to repentance. Nature, as well as our whole life, is full of them, only our ears are heavy and will not hear. There is an awakening call in the rolling thunder, which is a herald of infinite majesty—in the lightning, which darts down before you, carrying with it destruction—in the stars, which look down upon you from such remote regions, as if they would say, "How far, O man! are you cast out from your home!"—in the flower of the field, which, in its transient blooming and fading, depicts your own brief existence upon earth—in the midnight hour, when the church-bell strikes upon your ear, like the pulse of time, which rapidly hasten sway, and calls out to you to hasten to save your soul. No, where are we not surrounded by awakening voices of this nature? They sit upon the tombstones of our church-yards, and their language is, "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment." Their warning voice resounds from every funeral car that rolls past you. It may be heard on every birthday which you celebrate; in every fit of illness by which you are attacked; in every danger that threatens your life; as well as in that secret uneasiness which incessantly steals through your soul.
And besides these general calls to repentance, do we not find something similar in every family circle and in each individual? Some unrepented sin lies upon your soul. When will this awakening call fill your eyes with tears? One misfortune after another has lately crossed your threshold. O how many alarming voices have been contained in these strokes of the Almighty's rod! You feel your strength decaying, and that the sun of your life is declining. Do you not hear in this fact the crowing of the cock? On every side we may be conscious of it—in visions of the night, in the events of the day, in serious thoughts, which we are unable to prevent, in sermons and admonitions which are addressed to us. But to what purpose? Something must be added to this warning cry—something superior and more powerful than itself, or it will never succeed in awakening us, who are by nature so "uncircumcised in heart and ears," from our deadly sleep.
The cock in the court-yard of the high priest crows a second time, and this call enters and finds a response. Day begins to dawn upon Peter, awakened by the remembrance of his Master's warning, and while reflecting on the abyss into which he has plunged himself. But if he shudders with horror, hell may share his terror, since the second crowing of the cock is to her what the trumpets of Joshua were of old to the walls of Jericho, casting down, on a sudden, all the proud trophies of victory she had already erected.
Let us, however, return for a few moments, to see what occurred in the council hall just before this second warning. Something of importance has just taken place. The accused has declared upon oath that he is the Son of the living God. The high priest, in dissembled indignation, rends his clothes. Amid wild uproar sentence of death is pronounced upon the Holy One of Israel, and the minions of justice seize him to lead him away into the court-yard, and there vent upon him their unlicenced fury. The divine sufferer has just passed through the doorway into the court-yard when the crowing of the cock reaches his ear. "And the Lord turned himself;" we know toward whom. That sound announced to him his disciple's fall, and his eye and his compassionate heart go in search of him. Such is Jesus the Savior. He embraces his followers with more than maternal tenderness, and their want of fidelity does not prevent his being faithful. What waves of sorrow beat over his head, and yet he can forget everything in his anxiety for his fallen disciple! Sooner than one of them should be forgotten, he would forget the government of the world; and would suffer the nations to take their course, rather than lose sight of one of his little ones. As long as a rose of his planting blooms on the earth, this desert is to him a delightful garden, and he leaves heaven to tend and nourish this plant. And happy are you who are the weak of the flock, the poor and needy above others! It would seem that you lie the nearest to his heart.
Deeply was Peter immersed in the mire of sin, yet the Lord turned toward him. Who among us would have troubled himself further about such a faithless deserter from the ranks? If such characters were referred to us, it would go ill with them. How ready we are to stamp and reject such stumbling brethren as hypocrites! Instead of moving a finger to restore them, we not infrequently plunge them deeper into the mire, and persecute them worse than the world does. If Jerusalem is besieged, Judah assists in the blockade. The Lord, on the contrary, whose right alone it is to judge in such cases, is not ashamed to deign to act the part of the woman in the Gospel, who having lost one of her pieces of silver, strikes a light, seizes the broom, and ceases not to stir up the dust until it is discovered; and when found, she calls her neighbors together, and says, "Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece of silver, which I had lost." His children are dearer to him than the brethren often are to us. Tell me, you that are parents, do your erring sons and disobedient daughters cease to be your children because of their aberrations? Do you not rather still more deeply feel that they are bone of your bone, and flesh of your flesh? Does not your love to them increase with the danger to which you see them exposed? And are you not more fully conscious, when compelled to weep over them, that your life is bound up with theirs, than when they merely caused you joy? If you then, being evil, cannot reject your own seed, how should He be able to forget those who are of his flesh and blood, who said, "As my Father loves me, so have I loved you;" and by the mouth of his prophet, "Can a woman forget her nursing child that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, she may forget, yet will I not forget you. Lo, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands." Peter, though fallen, still belonged to him. Though he had acted so wickedly, yet his Master's love for him remains unchanged. See how carefully he looks round after him! For the second time it might be said, with reference to Peter, "When I passed by you, and saw you polluted in your own blood, I said unto you, when you were cast out into the open field, and lying in your blood, yes, I said unto you, when you were in your blood, live!" Certainly, had it not been the Lord's will that we should believe that the covenant of grace, on his side, stood inviolably fast, he would have hesitated to have set before us such examples as those of David and Peter. "And Jesus turned and looked upon him." Yes, "though we believe not, yet he abides faithful; he cannot deny himself;" for "the foundation of God stands sure; having this seal, the Lord knows them that are his."
The Lord turned himself. The conversion of every sinner begins with that for which David prays, "Look upon me!" By nature we are like dry bones in a huge church-yard, and cannot come to him. But as soon as the Lord begins to look upon us, its effect is soon felt. Before we are aware we enter into closer connection with him, and feel that he is near us. We are conscious of being deeply and wondrously affected by things, which, otherwise, we scarcely noticed. The idea occurs to us, in a variety of circumstances, that God intends by them to call us to repentance, and we are often inclined to say with Jacob, "Surely the Lord was in this place." The Almighty is then no longer distant from us on some far-off height, but pervades our chamber, and meets us in the daily occurrences of life. Not a day passes without something happening which compels us to say, "It is the Lord!" Yet this state of things may continue long without our attaining to real conversion of heart. But when the Faithful Shepherd begins to follow after us, he does not leave us without accomplishing his purpose.
It was not simply the crowing of the cock that raised the disciple from his fall. Nor did the turning of the Lord toward him produce the desired effect. A third and more powerful means was added. What was it? A word, a call, an exhortation?—No; a look which the eye of the Keeper of Israel cast upon his disciple, who was staggering on the brink of destruction. This look did wonders. "The Lord turned, and looked upon Peter." What a look must that have been! What divine sorrow and love must it have expressed! and how accompanied by the effulgence of the Spirit and the radiance of divine grace! It acted both as a sword to wound, and as a balm to heal. It struck like destroying lightning, and at the same time expanded itself like refreshing dew. O there is inexpressible power in the look of the Lord! With a look of majesty he beholds the earth, and it trembles. With a judicial look he overtakes the sinner, who exclaims, "I perish at his presence." His dying look on the cross melts stony hearts, and transforms lions into lambs. With a look of forgiving mercy, he makes a contrite soul forget heaven and earth in its happiness; and by means of a grieved and loving look, he restores lambs to his fold, which had long gone astray in the wilderness. To this day his people feel that his eyes are upon them, and according to what they read in them, their peace or joy rises or falls.
The Lord's look did not fail of its effect upon Peter. No sooner did the disciple's eyes meet his, than the magic band which held him is dissolved, the infernal intoxication dispelled, his ear opened, and reflection returns—no, sin is acknowledged—his heart is melted—the snare is broken, and the bird has escaped. "Gracious God," is now his language, "how deeply have I fallen! Wretch that I am, was not all this foretold me? Said he not on the way, 'Before the cock crows twice, you shall deny me thrice?' Woe is me, that in foolish presumption I repelled the warning, and only remember it now, when it is too late! I vowed to go with him to prison and to death; and yet I am the first to deny and abjure him! How is it that the earth still bears me, and that heaven's lightnings do not blast me! Instead of which, he who so kindly forewarned me, and whom I nevertheless abjured and ignored, deigns me still a look of pity and compassion!"
Such may have been the language of Peter's soul, when, as the narrative informs us, "he remembered the word of the Lord, which he had spoken to him." He would now have infallibly become a prey to despair, had not the Savior's loving-kindness, by means of the conversation on the way to Gethsemane, made every arrangement for preventing Satan from sifting the poor disciple too severely. His Master's prayer, that "his faith might not fail, had surrounded the abyss, as it were, with a balustrade, and by his injunction, that "after his conversion, he should strengthen his brethren," had made preparation for wiping away his tears long before they fell. O how did the soothing influence of all the words which the gracious friend of sinners had spoken to him, shed itself upon his heart, when to them was added that look so full of mercy and compassion! Certainly, no one ever felt himself more unhappy than Peter; but what would have been his misery had not the gracious wings of divine pity been extended over him. Peter, by the look of his Master, is wholly dissolved in grief and humiliation. He covers his head with his mantle, as if he was unworthy to appear before God or man, and begins to "weep bitterly." These are the tears, of which it is written, "Put them into your bottle; are they not in your book?" and from the sowing of which a harvest of joy is promised. Like the pearly drops which burst, in spring, from the branches of the vine, they testify of the existence of life; and in the eye of the sinner, announce to Satan the loss of his suit, and the end of his triumph. O how much is reflected in these tears! What thorough contrition before God, what holy indignation against sin, what an ardent thirst for grace, and what fullness of fervent love to the Lord beam forth from their pure light! "Be not dreadful to me, you who are my refuge in distress! Cast me not away from your presence! Whom have I in heaven but you?" such are the aspirations which issue from his heart. All his desire and longing center in this, that he may again rejoice in the favor of the Lord. Though he were to become an outcast from the world all the days of his life, and as regards his body, were compelled to follow in the steps of Job and Lazarus, yet he would gladly submit to all this, if he might only again hope for mercy. His tears announce the birth of a new man. The old, presumptuous, self-seeking, self-trusting Adam is dead, and a man of humility, filial resignation to God, and sincere desire that the name of the Lord may alone be glorified, rises, phoenix-like, from his ashes.
It is said that a tear glistened in Peter's eye as long as he lived. If this is anything but a legend, it was not a tear of sorrow only, but of joy at the mercy experienced, tempered only by a permanent melancholy. The remembrance of his fall never left him for a moment; and in the degree in which it kept him low, it sharpened his spiritual vision for the mystery of the cross and of salvation by grace. This is abundantly evident, especially in his first epistle. He there comforts believers with the cheering assurance that they are "kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation." He calls upon them to "hope to the end for the grace that shall be revealed." He impressively reminds them of the weakness and evanescent nature of everything human, while calling to their recollection the words of the prophet: "All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower thereof falls away." He speaks of "the precious blood of Christ as of a Lamb without spot," with a fervor which immediately indicates him as one who had deeply experienced its healing power. It is he who addresses the warning to us, "Be sober, be vigilant; for your adversary the devil goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." And when he quotes the psalm in which it is said, "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous; and his ears are open to their cry; but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil"—does it not seem as if he intentionally referred to that look from his Master, which had once so overwhelmed him and cast him to the ground?
In conclusion: are there any of my readers who, with reference to Peter, are presumptuous enough to say with the Pharisee of old, "God, I thank you that I am not as that man!" O how much of the guilt of denying Christ, either in a gross or subtle manner, rests upon us all! How much reason have we also to be alarmed at the words, "He who denies me; him will I also deny before my Father in heaven." Let us therefore cover our heads with our mantles, and with Peter, go out and weep bitterly; that a day of grace may also dawn upon us, and that the words of the apostle may be also applicable to us, "Such were some of you, but you are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."
"Prophesy to Us, You Christ"
We have now to proceed to the contemplation of a scene which, with regard to its horrible nature, is scarcely paralleled in the whole history of our Savior's passion. We scarcely know, at first sight, what to say of such a spectacle. We shudder, are horrified, tremble, and look away from such ill-treatment, and, covering our heads, would gladly hasten from the mournful sight, exclaiming, "O my God, who can bear to witness such barbarity!" Let us not, however, hurry away from, but endure it, and throw light upon the revolting scene, which at first appears to us so incomprehensible, by referring to the "sure word of prophecy." The seemingly impenetrable darkness will then be illumined, and that which is obscure find a consolatory solution.
The sentence is passed upon Jesus. Its import is nothing less than death to the Accused. The judicial assembly, after its first sitting, which began during the night, has been adjourned for a short time, amid wild and triumphant uproar. Meanwhile the Divine Sufferer is given up to the reckless band of officers and spearmen, who shamefully ill-treat him, and they do so the more boldly, because it is done with the assent and for the account of their superiors, aware that they thereby cause the latter satisfaction.
Jesus is now in their power, and he must dearly pay the penalty of his conduct. "But why must he suffer? What has he ever done to offend them?" O how much, notwithstanding his best intentions! Did he not, in his own sacred person, hold up to them a mirror, which presented to them the dark image of their own ungodliness?—and such treatment did not please them. Was not an evident proof afforded, by his brilliant example, that they were going the wrong road?—and convictions of this kind cut them to the heart. By his calling upon them to be reconciled unto God, had he not plainly told them to their face that they had hitherto lived estranged from God?—and such disclosures offend and cause pain, especially when the man's own conscience unites in the accusation. Did he not repeatedly tell them that a new birth was an indispensable condition attached to the entering into the kingdom of heaven?—and what else were they to understand from this than that in their present state they were in danger of perishing?—but who likes to hear of such things?
It was thus that a mass of rage and vexation had by degrees accumulated within them. A horrible state, it is true, but one which only testifies for Jesus. Believe me, my readers, that the adversaries of the Lord and his word among us are, for the most part, like a wounded stag flying from the hunters. They feel that the teachings of Christ destroy their false peace, condemn their carnality, and demand the sacrifice of their idols; and hence they are averse to and incensed against him even to blasphemy. They joyfully greet every attempt which tends to degrade Jesus to a mere human Rabbi; for all their efforts are directed solely to escape from the obligations they lie under to him. Almost in every case where enmity against Christ is manifested, it may be traced to these corrupt motives. The Christian religion disturbs the hornet's nest, tears away the plasters and coverings from secret wounds, and awakens the conscience, which had been rendered lethargic by a variety of magic potions; and hence their hatred and animosity to it.
Before we approach the revolting scene in the court-yard of the high priest's palace, let us again call to mind who it is we have before us in the individual thus ill-treated. We are about to witness unheard-of outrages, at which the rocks might rend with horror. When, toward the close of the last century, the ruthless mob put the red revolutionary cap on the head of the unfortunate king of France, amid shouts of derisive laughter, and then cut their infernal jokes on his royal dignity—a cry of horror and indignation ran through the world; and he in whose heart there glimmered only a spark of piety and right feeling, turned away with disgust from such a revolting spectacle. But what was that, or any other event of the kind which the world's history records, compared with the scene which we are now called to behold? If the person to whom our eyes are directed had been only an earthly dignitary, even then the contrast of his dreadful fate with his exalted position would greatly horrify us, and we should be unable to refrain from calling out, "You go too far; cease your ill-treatment; men whom the Lord places in such high positions ought not to be treated in so disgraceful a manner!" But here, as you know, is a greater than any human potentate. He who is maltreated yonder is the same who spoke to the storm and the waves, saying, "Be still," and they obeyed; who, with a word, called forth the dead from the coffin and the tomb; at whose bidding stand the angelic hosts of heaven; no, through whom, and to whom are all things that were created, and who could justly say, "I and my Father are one." "He who sees me, sees the Father." "My Father works hitherto, and I work." "All men shall honor the Son, even as they honor the Father." It is upon him, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, that the recreants trample with their dirty feet. It is in the face of Eternal Love that they spit. It is the Source of Life whom they smite with their fists, and it is him whom the heavens adore that they insult with their venomous tongues, which are set on fire of hell. Yes, it was upon him that all this was inflicted, who had just before affirmed on oath, in the full consciousness of his divine dignity, that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God, and who had afterward added, "I say unto you that hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven."
It is, therefore, a monstrous spectacle which is presented to our view. The world never afterward beheld anything similar. What we call compassion does not seem here to correspond with the subject; nor is there any room for the idea of an unfortunate and pitiable mortal, such as is the case in other instances. Every one feels that here is an occurrence entirely isolated from the rank of similar events in the world's history, and that it must necessarily be of an extraordinary nature. Every one must be conscious that the individual freely and voluntarily gave himself up to the horrible treatment he experienced; and that the idea of One who was overcome, and yielded to superior power, must be wholly excluded. He who was thus covered with insult was neither weaker nor less powerful than at the moment when, with a single word, he overthrew the whole company of his adversaries. In the nameless wretchedness in which we now find him, he was not less the "stronger" than "the strong armed man," than at the moment when the legion of foul fiends, entreating to be spared, fled before his face. Though he may seem to be nothing but a broken reed and a worm trodden under foot, yet the sword of Omnipotence is not the less girded upon him, nor the bow of his strength broken. What but a single word from him was requisite, and the murderous band would have lain annihilated at his feet? But he did not make use of his power. He suffered voluntarily. It is with his own consent that he is plunged into these depths of horror. Imagine, therefore, the magnitude of the purposes which lie at the basis of this resignation of the Holy One of Israel. The sufferings of Jesus as such, compel us to admit their atoning signification.
Let us come nearer to the scene. Imagine a Holy One appearing again in this sinful world. Scarcely does he show himself than mankind act toward him as if they were hyenas and devils. To such a degree is heavenly purity become odious to them, and that which is divinely reverent, abominable! Alas! what is done to you, you who are fairer than the children of men! How is your benignant countenance disfigured! One would gladly close one's eyes to such a spectacle. Have you merited this at our hands, O Eternal Love? Is this the due reward for your loving-kindness? And yet, however much you are insulted, you will not forsake us, until you have rescued us from the curse, even though it should cost you your life. O what is left for us but to sink down in the dust, to cover our faces, and to melt into glowing tears of penitence and thankfulness!
Look what occurs! When sentence is pronounced upon a malefactor, and the judicial decision is read, a solemn silence usually pervades the auditory, and a feeling of solemnity takes possession of them. Every one feels the majesty of the law, which, whenever transgressed, justly demands satisfaction. It is as if Eternal Justice in person had come down and established its throne upon earth. And the condemned criminal is not merely an object of compassion, but he is regarded with a kind of reverence, because the moral government of the world demands him as an atonement. In the condemnation of Jesus however, no feelings of this nature appear to have been excited in the reprobate host of his adversaries. Scarcely has the word "Guilty" been uttered, when they fall upon him; and, O, what revolting scenes are now unfolded to our view! The world had never before witnessed anything so horrible. Cain's fratricide—Manasseh's blood-guiltiness—what were they, compared with these flagitious acts? Alas! what will become of our Lord and Master! Ought we not to feel petrified with horror and astonishment? They have now got him among them, and they load him, first of all, with the vilest execrations and insults. But they are not satisfied with thus heaping ridicule upon him. They smite him with their hands. But even this does not satisfy their thirst for revenge. He must feel more painfully still how utterly he is despised. They open their mouths against him, and, horrible to relate! they spit upon his sacred face, with gestures and grimaces of the rudest kind. Nor is their rage yet cooled, nor their satanic inventions exhausted. "The wicked," as the prophet says, "are like the troubled sea, whose waters cast up mire and dirt." The reprobates seek for some new outrage, and it soon occurs to them. They have heard how the object of their ill usage had just before solemnly asserted in the council-chamber, that he was Christ, the Son of the living God, and for this he must now be especially punished. The arrows of their bitterest ridicule are therefore directed against his Messiahship, and particularly against his prophetical office. They bind the eyes of the patient sufferer with a cloth, then smite him with their fists; and exclaim, amid peals of sneering laughter, "Prophesy to us, you Christ, who it is that smites you!"
But I will let the curtain drop. Who can longer contemplate such a scene? O, it is too appalling! What infernal wickedness meets our view! And from whence does it proceed? From the human heart. But how could a race that is capable of such things be received into the favor of God, without an atonement and a mediator? What would have become of the glory of his justice and holiness, if he had suffered such degenerate beings to be spared without a satisfaction? Nor ought you to regard the perpetrators of the outrages we have been describing, as depraved above all others. Believe me, that according to its inmost being, every natural human heart is alike. Even those who refuse to hear of redemption and atonement, do not fail, unconsciously and involuntarily, to condemn human nature, every moment, in the most grievous manner. Hear their language, "Egotism rules the world." "Every one seeks his own." "Woe to him that falls into the hands of man!" "Friendship lasts only during prosperity." "Every man has his price." "Let no one be surety for another's virtue." "Opportunity is the ruler of mankind." "In the misfortunes of our best friends we find something that does not displease us." Such are the expressions which are constantly flowing from the lips of the men of the world. How completely do they thereby pronounce the human heart to be depraved and corrupt! Have they not therefore, sufficient cause to welcome a Deliverer with rejoicing, instead of coldly, or even sneeringly turning their backs upon him?
But to return to the question—"Prophesy unto us, you Christ, who it was that smote you?" From the lips, by which these words were uttered, they were only blasphemous ridicule and a burst of depravity. But in themselves, and apart from the feeling which accompanied them, they appear in the form of a question of the first importance; and he who has found the right answer to it, is acquainted with the groundwork of our salvation and entire redemption.
Many have impiously repeated the inquiry of the reprobate troop, and have thought within themselves, "How does he know whether we honor him, or trample upon him? Where is he to be found? Eighteen centuries ago, he went the way of all flesh, and the dead rest in their graves." By acting thus, they have, as far as they are concerned, again bound his eyes, and sneeringly said to him, "Prophesy, if you are still alive, and hear, and see, who it is that smote you!" I could relate to my readers, how he has, in part at least, replied to them. One he answered by reducing him to extreme poverty. Another, by disgracing his name before the world. A third, by striking him with madness; and others, again, by giving them up to the paths of the destroyer, and permitting them to sink into the lowest depths of depravity, and suffering despair to seize upon them on their death-beds, and rendering their descent into the regions of darkness palpable to the horror-stricken bystanders. And how many of those who now say, "Who is Jesus, that I should be afraid of him, or even humble myself before him?" when once he replies to them, will call upon the rocks to fall upon them, and the hills to cover them, that they may be hidden from the face of him that sits upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb! O let no one suppose that the Judge of the world will suffer himself to be mocked with impunity. Rather let them "kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and they perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little."
"Prophesy to us, you Christ, who it is that smote you!" The mockers received no reply to this question. Jesus was silent. But we may give a different turn to the inquiry, and the answer will prove consolatory. Let those who are earnestly seeking salvation, and the contrite in heart, humbly inquire, "Who it was that smote the Lord?" and they will receive a satisfactory reply. At first, indeed, it will alarm them; for it will be, "not those miscreants; but it is you who have made me to serve with your sins, and wearied me with your iniquities. For your transgressions was I smitten." And when he himself prophesies this to you by his Spirit—how evident it will then become to you; how will you humble yourselves in the dust before him; how the wish will then depart to lay the blame upon Caiaphas, Annas, and the spearmen; how vitally are you persuaded that they were only your representatives, and how will you hang down your heads, and learn to smite upon your breasts with the tax-collector! How will you tremble for your souls, and earnestly seek for salvation and a Mediator!
But know that this is only half the answer to your question. Continue to ask, and it will not be long before a gracious message will be delivered you. This will be its import: "The hand that smote me would have crushed you. The curse fell upon me which was destined for you. I drank the cup of wrath which your sins had filled. I drank it, that it might be replenished for you with everlasting mercy." And when this conviction pervades you, do not doubt that it is really from him. As the Lord lives, it is his own communication; and if you are still unwilling to believe, listen to the cheering words of the apostles and evangelists, who assure you that "God made him to be sin for us;" and that "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having been made a curse for us."
You now know who it is that smote the Savior, and that it was the sin of each of us. Does not this clearly appear from the circumstances of our Lord's passion themselves? Does it not seem strange to you that Jesus acted so patiently, meekly, and resignedly, under such barbarous treatment? Is it not wonderful that his tormentors were suffered to go unpunished? Are you not in the highest degree astonished that the ruthless band were not crushed by lightning from heaven; and that on the contrary, the Almighty observed silence, as if nothing had happened which was not in the regular course of things? Korah and his company had no sooner rebelliously attacked only Aaron's priestly dignity, than the Lord rent the ground beneath their feet, and sent them down quick into the pit. Uzzah was guilty of a seemingly slight irreverence toward the ark, and the anger of the Lord was kindled against him, and smote him, so that he fell dead on the ground. But how much more is there here than the ark and Aaron the priest! Here they trample the Son of God in the mire, and the Judge of quick and dead is mute, as if all was right. Tell me, does not all this amaze you? Does it not excite in you the most fearful and yet the most stupendous expectations? Give room to the latter, and you will find them not unfounded. Rightly understood, it is God himself, who smites the sufferer, on whom the chastisement of our peace was laid; and what he endures are the strokes of that sword, to which Jehovah said, "Awake, against my Shepherd and the man that is my fellow." They fall upon him, that we sinners might be forever exonerated.
Such, my readers, is the solution of this great mystery,
and the complete answer to the question, "Who smote you, you Christ?" No
sooner does the light of a propitiation shine upon the obscurity of the
events of the passion than all is cleared up, and the deepest mysteries are
Christ before the Sanhedrin
After a horrible night, the morning breaks, and announces the dawn of the most important and momentous of all earthly days. It is Good Friday, that most dreadful accuser of the sinful world, but at the same time, the birthday of its salvation, and the dawn of its eternal redemption. It is the day typified by the deliverance of the chosen race out of Egypt, and annually announced to the believing Israelites for upward of a thousand years, in the great day of atonement, which was the chief object of their hopes and desires. All the radiations of grace, which had ever beamed upon them, were only preliminary emanations of this day, which still slept in the lap of a far distant future; and whenever God favorably regarded a sinner, it was solely on the ground of the propitiation by the blood of Christ, which was actually made upon this day.
Notwithstanding the very early hour, the members of the council at Jerusalem are up and in full activity. They are preparing a second examination of Jesus, "that they might put him to death." But have they not already established his guilt, and pronounced sentence against him? Certainly they have.
But yet they are not satisfied, and would gladly find out other and more decisive proofs against him, than those on which their judgment was founded. It is evident that our Lord's whole demeanor, during the first hearing, and especially his great confession, which was uttered with such majestic decision and confidence, had left a powerful impression upon them; and what remains of conscience they still possessed, awoke from its slumbers and stung them. The irresolution we perceive in them, as well as the hope they betray of obtaining fresh and more substantial grounds of justification with reference to their murderous purpose, places this beyond a doubt.
They now meet in their hall of session, which was in one of the buildings of the temple, in the character of a regular plenary assembly, because their first meeting in the high priest's palace—apart from the absence of several of its members—bore the aspect of being accidental and tumultuous. The council or Sanhedrin, was, as you know, the supreme court of judicature of the later Jews, and consisted of seventy-one members, including the chief priests, elders, and doctors of the law, or scribes, under the presidency of the high priest, which, formed on the model of the seventy elders, whom Moses joined with him for the administration of justice, during the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness, had to judge and decide in all national Jewish, and particularly in ecclesiastical affairs. Christ, according to Matt. 23:2, regarded this authority as being divinely sanctioned, and submitted without objection to its citation. Before this tribunal, Peter subsequently stood, as a pretended wonder-worker, and again, in company with John, as a deceiver of the people; further, Stephen, as a blasphemer, and Paul, accused of being a false prophet. After the Romans had possession of the country, this court of judicature was deprived of the right of carrying its sentences of death into execution by its own authority, which required, as appears from John, 18:31, the sanction of the Roman procurator. The stoning of Stephen without it, was a transgression of the rule, for which the Jews might have found an excuse in the fact that the governor, who usually resided at Caesarea, was at that time absent from Jerusalem.
We now see our Lord brought a second time before this court. He is conducted up the hill on which the temple stands by an armed escort. It is his last passage along that road, and by a remarkable coincidence, it occurs at the same time with the paschal lambs, which are on that day brought to the priests for sacrifice. What may have been his feelings on this occasion! He certainly thought of the typical journey of Abraham to Mount Moriah, which was now so visibly fulfilled in him. For Christ, as the antitype of Isaac, is now proceeding to the altar of God upon the same path which once his human type, led by his father, had trodden for the same purpose. Christ, indeed, does not say like Abraham's son, "My father, behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?" He knows what the lamb is which God has provided, and willingly bows to the divine decree. He is also aware that in his case it will not be merely a sacrifice of the will, and that after he has ascended the altar, an angel from heaven will cry, saying, "Lay not your hand upon the lad," but that he has to recognize his type not only in Isaac, but also in the ram whose horns were caught in the thicket, and which Abraham, at Jehovah's command, took, in order to slay it in the place of his son.
The sitting of the Sanhedrin commences. The accused stands at the bar. He is again asked by the judge, "Are you the Christ? tell us!" as if he had not already plainly told them that he was. But it would seem as if they hesitated to deliver him up to death, as a deceiver and a blasphemer, on this account, without anything further—no, as if they involuntarily sought to prolong the affair, because a slight echo of the voice of conscience told them—not, indeed, that he really was what he gave himself out to be—but that it possibly might be the case. The Lord opens his mouth; and now mark how the tables are turned, and the accused becomes judge, and his judges the delinquents. "If I tell you," says he, "you will not believe; and if I also ask you (that is, if I were to attempt to convince you by proofs), you will not answer me, nor let me go."
O how many there are in the present day, to whom these words are applicable! I do not now refer to people who are entirely indifferent to religion. I mean such as are continually inquiring who Christ is, and would seem to have no rest until they were convinced. But although he is brought before them, first in one form and then in another, still they do not believe. The Church tells them, in the second article of its Confession of Faith, but they say, "The Church may err. What do the contemporaries of Jesus say?" The apostles tell them, as with one voice, "He is the Word that was with God from the beginning, and was God; the brightness of the Father's glory, in whom dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." But to this they reply with a gesture of dissent, "Love is blind, and enthusiasm is visionary." They will only receive what Jesus says of himself. And Jesus comes forward and announces himself, not only as the light of the world, the truth and the life, but as greater than all this—as one with the Father, as being before Abraham, and to whom all power in heaven and earth is given. Do they now believe? They start; but before we are aware, they again slip out by means of a variety of questions, such as, "Did the historians rightly understand Jesus? Are his expressions to be taken literally? Is it possible, generally speaking, for Deity to become incarnate?" etc. And when the Lord condescends, in a convincing manner to these skeptics, and by a direct influence on their minds, or by means of his ministers, begins to ask them who else he could be, if he were not the One whom he gave himself out to be, after the predictions of two thousand years had reached their fulfillment in him to an iota—after his resurrection from the dead had been established even by his enemies—after having been subsequently seen by a host of disciples who joyfully hazarded their blood and their lives for him—after the Holy Spirit, according to his promise, had really visited the earth with his regenerating influences—after the best of the human race, for eighteen centuries, had honored and adored him—and seeing that his Church testifies for him more loudly than any word or single act can do—they are silenced, and have reached the end of their objections, but still do not believe, and yet do not let the Lord go, since they cease not to doubt of his superhuman dignity, and to render it suspected by others. They will not believe. This is the solution of the problem. They are horrified at the thought of being obliged to crucify the idols of their own wisdom and righteousness, as well as the honors and pleasures of the world, for the sake of Christ. They see an abyss open between them and the Lord, which threatens to swallow up nothing less than their entire glory and self-sufficiency, and they start back from such a death. They are still too conscientious to part with him decidedly, like the Gadarenes, and to say, "What have we to do with you?" but not conscientious enough to give admission to the truth. They rather let the matter rest, and come to no decision.
The Lord renews his declaration. The constituted authorities demand it, and he obeys. Besides, it is of importance to him that the world should know, with certainty, who he was, and whom they crucified. From the summit of the eminence on which the temple stood, he surveys in spirit the human race and the ages to come. He once more raises the veil from his humble guise, and baring the regal star upon his bosom, he says, "Hereafter shall the Son of Man sit on the right hand of the power of God." A sublime expression, evidently having reference to the remarkable passage in Daniel, 7:13: "One like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven." The priests and scribes could not for a moment doubt that by this he declared himself to be the Messiah promised by the inspired prophet, and thus claimed divine nature and essentiality. He intimated, even by the name by which he usually designated himself, that his humanity was only something attached to his person in an extraordinary way. For had he been conscious of being a mere man, what kind of meaning would attach to that striking appellation? His prediction concerning his approaching sitting at the right hand of power, or of the Divine Majesty, is nothing less than a decided declaration that he would divide the throne of glory with his heavenly Father, and with him rule the world in equal perfection of power. The Sanhedrin, conversant with the language of the prophets, understood the words in this sense. "Are you then the Son of God?" cried they all, as with one voice. "You say that which I am," replied he, with majestic firmness and composure.
The Lord has repeated his great confession The whole assembly rise in real or dissembled indignation and astonishment. One exclaims louder than the other, "What need we any further witness; for we ourselves have heard it from his own lips?" True, they have heard it from his own mouth. This their confession has been recorded in heaven, and will, without fail, be brought against them at the day of judgment. With which, then, will they justify their refusing to pay homage to the Lord, seeing that in reality they needed no further witness? On account of this testimony they condemned Jesus to death, and by so doing, for the confirmation of our faith, only established the fact of the testimony having proceeded from his own lips. Even to this hour, the tradition exists among the Jews, that Christ was crucified because he made himself equal with God, and therefore was guilty of blasphemy. Hence, nothing in the world is so beyond a doubt as that Jesus actually made that judicial confession of his divine Sonship. He who seeks to view him as anything less than the Eternal Son, brands him as a blasphemer, and convicts him, with the Jewish council, as being worthy of death.
After sentence of death on the divine sufferer had thus been confirmed, the officers approach, in order again to put on his fetters, which had been for the time removed. He willingly offers his hand, that the words of Isaiah might be fulfilled (chap.53:7), "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 mute, so he opened not his mouth." He who had just before solemnly asserted his equality with God, with the consent of the whole heavenly world, appears now in fetters like a rebel. How monstrous the contrast, how great the contradiction! But how obvious it is that it is a voluntary act on the Lord's part; and how clearly do we again read in the soul of the holy sufferer the words, "Then I restored that which I took not away!" His fetters have contributed to procure our redemption; for Satan would have held us eternally captive had Jesus preferred liberty to bonds. Horrible and heart-affecting it is to see, that those hands, which were only employed in offices of mercy, are bound with cords, like the hands of a felon, by the very world to which they were extended only in blessing. But God be thanked that he restrained the lightning of his wrath from destroying the rebels, when they thus laid hands upon his Holy One! For in those cords which bound the limbs of Jesus, were hidden the fetters which would have forever bound sinners in hell.
The officers have done their task. The whole assembly then breaks up, in order, contrary to custom and etiquette, personally to bring the accused before the governor, and by their appearing in a body, to force from him the confirmation of their sentence of death. Herein was fulfilled the Savior's prediction, that he should be delivered unto the Gentiles. This feature in the proceedings belonged to that which was symbolical in the history of his passion. The whole world was to have occasion, in its representatives, to manifest its real position with reference to the Holy One of Israel, and its participation in the guilt, and the need of redemption. As regards sin and the curse, we have all fellowship with Israel; as well as in the vocation of grace.
He whom we have seen proceeding bound to the second court of justice, sits now, having long since accomplished his work, at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as keeper of the heavenly blessings which he purchased for us. Let us bow, in humble adoration, before him, and not let him go until he has granted us all the blessed results of his passion. Let us beware of again binding his hands by our unbelief, and be cautious lest by our improper conduct, we should again deliver him up to the baptized and unbaptized heathen. Rather let us bind him to us by the cords of grateful love, and by a joyful confession of him, recommend him to those who are still ignorant of him. Let us bring our peaceful disposition, holiness of life, and fidelity in his service, as witnesses which justify him before the world, and learn to devote ourselves unceasingly to him who loved us and gave himself for us.
The End of the Traitor
My readers are aware how much depended upon our High Priest accomplishing the work of atonement in the robes of purity. If a blemish was found in the lamb, it was deemed unfit for sacrifice. "Such a High Priest became us," says the Scripture, "who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." And such a one do we possess. The moral capability of Immanuel for his mediatorial work is unquestionable. God has spared nothing, in order to dispel every doubt on this subject. To this end, he gave up the Surety to the scrutiny of the acutest investigators in the world. But to their no small vexation, they tried in vain to find a single spot in him, and are compelled, either in plain words or by their conduct, to testify concerning him, "We find no fault in this man."
It was of great importance that the Argus eyes of the scribes and Pharisees discovered nothing culpable in him. But it adds much to the weight of this fact, that nothing of the kind could be traced in the Lord Jesus by the man whom we shall now see descending into the pit. It was of much greater importance to him than to them, to be able to convict the Lord of a single sin, since he could not, like those men, whose consciences were asleep, aid himself by the invention of a fictitious culpability, if he found no real guilt in him. Had he been desirous of having recourse to such means, the judge in his bosom would have scoffed at such an artifice, like the leviathan at the quivering lance. Could Judas have been able to say to himself; even with a shadow of truth, "He whom I am betraying, deserves being delivered into the hands of justice," what would he not have given? He was compelled ardently to wish, for the sake of his peace of mind and his present and eternal salvation, that he might discover Jesus to be in some respects a transgressor. A single sin found out in Jesus would have been a great comfort and a sweet solace to him in the torment which he felt within. But however diligently he sought, however much he exerted his ingenuity, and recalled to mind all the acts of his Master's life, virtues presented themselves in abundance, a luminous sea of holiness shone upon him from it; but not one dark point could he discover, nor did the slightest spot meet his scrutinizing eye. How annihilating the result! Judas is compelled to justify his conscience, which accuses him as being the betrayer of the Holy One, and condemns him as the murderer of innocence. He finds nothing to assist him in weakening the sentence, and is forced to endure the most horrible curse that ever made a human soul to tremble.
It is remarkable that Judas sought for sin in Jesus in order to derive from it some alleviation to his agonized spirit, while he shrunk back from Jesus' holiness. Had the light of the Gospel shone upon him, he would, on the contrary, have rejoiced at the spotlessness of Jesus, and would have shuddered and trembled at being able to discover the smallest blemish in him. It is strange, however, that we again make common cause with Judas, though in a different sense, since we seek sin in Jesus to pacify our consciences. And we really find it, but only as attaching to him in the way of imputation and transfer; and this enables us to go on our way in peace.
Judas finds himself in a dreadful condition. Consoling himself with the wonder-working power of Jesus as a cloak for his wickedness, and holding up to his awakening conscience the delusive idea that his Master needed only to exert his will, in case of necessity, in order to escape from the hands of his enemies; when he saw his Master actually condemned, and dragged bound and escorted by the whole Sanhedrin to the residence of the governor, the last anchor breaks which had hitherto held the man secure against the storm of despair. The incorruptible judge in his bosom has now free scope for his accusations, and thunders in his ears, "Your villainy has succeeded—your Master is going the way to death, and you are the means of it. On your head rests the entire guilt of the bloody end of this Just One. You, who did eat of his bread, are the viper which has given him the deadly bite. It is a wonder that the earth still bears you, and that the sun shines upon such a scum of humanity. Woe, woe unto you, traitor, murderer, and accursed!" O the fearful agony which takes possession of his bosom at these arrows of conscience, the boundless distress which falls upon him like an armed man! O the horror and dismay which thrill through every nerve and limb! It seems to him as if he heard the footsteps of the Avenger of blood approaching him; as if the sentence of death was already thundered down from heaven upon his devoted head; and as if he saw the flaming abyss of hell yawning at his feet. The darkness of despair weighs heavily on his soul. O how the accursed blood-money sears his conscience! How horribly sounds the silver in his purse! It seems to him as if it were the pay of Satan and the wages of hell that he carries about with him; no, as if he had bartered for it the salvation of his soul. And this was what he had really done. See him hurrying along, urged forward by the raven wings of mental agony. God has forsaken him, and the devil has ceased to trouble himself about the comfort of his soul. The pitiable wretch rushes to the temple. "For what purpose? In order to pray?" No, he can pray no longer. He must rid himself of the accursed wages of sin. He seeks for the chief priests and elders, and having found them, he approaches them, pale as a corpse, and filled with rage and hatred against these instruments of his fall, and confesses boldly and openly, saying, "I have sinned, in that I have betrayed innocent blood."
Hear these words, they are of great importance. "Why? Has Judas become Jesus' friend?" By no means; his heart was still embittered against him. "Was his testimony to the innocence of Jesus of advantage to him?" On the contrary, by it he only drew down upon him the displeasure of his superiors, and increased the dreadful nature of his crime. It would have been to his advantage to have reasoned himself into the falsehood that Jesus was unworthy of any other treatment than that which he experienced. How strongly and triumphantly, therefore, must the heavenly radiance of Jesus' innocence have been reflected, even by the darkened mirror of his treacherous soul, that, in spite of the injury just mentioned which he thereby occasioned himself, he could not refrain from honoring Jesus by such a confession! Truly, scarcely ever has a more powerful hymn of praise to the holiness of the Lamb of God been heard, than sounds in our ears in the despairing outcry of his betrayer; and where has the innocence of Jesus been more powerfully attested, than by the testimony which the unhappy murderer is compelled by conscience to give against himself? Thus, the Lord Jesus, as already observed, celebrated a brilliant triumph in the midst of the deepest gloom of his humiliation. He triumphs as One whom no one could convince of sin—as the Lamb without spot—as the Holy One of Israel. We congratulate ourselves on this new confirmation of the truth, that there is no blemish in our righteousness; for the righteousness of the Surety is the righteousness of his people. Those who praise the glorified Head, praise us also, who are his members. Even the enemies of Christ, who deny his divinity, but enthusiastically honor him as the model of every virtue, are "helpers of our joy." Their laudatory effusions in reality praise our excellence. They refuse, indeed, to hear of this; but when at length God shall take us to his arms before the whole world, and present us with the inheritance of his Son, they will be made aware that Immanuel's garment has descended to us, and that we are clothed with it.
The Lord celebrates his second triumph in the event we are about to contemplate, as the only salvation which is prepared for sinners. Singularly enough, he is glorified by his betrayer even in this quality. Judas here performs apostolic service—not intentionally on his part, although on God's part. He serves as a fearful example, how a man may undertake everything, in order to free himself from sin and its attendant curse, and yet not succeed, as long as the Lord Jesus is not his, and as long as he does not belong to the Lord Jesus.
Behold the miserable man! The horrible deed is done, and he already acknowledges it as a crime. In him we have not to do with an entirely hardened villain. He feels the greatness of his guilt, confesses it, and bitterly repents of it. What would he give, could he undo the wicked deed! He attempts many things for this purpose, to which the moralists of the present day would doubtless also have advised him. He hastily returns to the men in whose service he had sinned, brings them back the accursed bribe; prefers enduring shame, disgrace, and much more besides, rather than let the blood-money remain in his hands; confesses freely and openly the impious act he has committed; does not seek to alleviate it, but directly says, "I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood!" and sufficiently shows that the abhorrence he displays at the crime he has committed is earnest and sincere. And when the priests refuse to take back their pieces of silver, and haughtily turn their backs upon him with the cold and cutting words, "What is that to us? See you to that!" he casts the money down in the temple, and thereby gives them to understand that he destines it for the poor, or other sacred purposes. In this scene, we perceive something dreadfully retributive, when we call to mind the hypocritical words, "Why was not this ointment sold, and the money given to the poor?" with which the unhappy disciple once presumed to deprecate Mary's laudable work of love. He is now compelled, although with other money, to verify, in a dreadful manner, what he then uttered in dissimulation.
But what more could be desired than what the sinner did here? Here was self-condemnation, resolutions of amendment, and even earnest endeavors to repair the evil he had done. And yet of what use was it all? Sin remained; heaven continued closed against him; the heart of the Eternal Judge was turned from him, and Satan's chain was unbroken. The trembling of the wretched man is in vain, as well as his repentance, confession, and his moral resolutions and vows. All this was insufficient to purge him from his sin. All these laudable acts do not procure him mercy. Judas perishes horribly. "Why? Is it because his sins exceeded the measure of divine forgiveness?" O, not so! "Is it because he was a thief and a cheat?" Such was the thief on the cross in a much higher degree, yet he found the way to Paradise. "Is it because he betrayed the Holy One of Israel?" Thousands did the same, and yet were saved. "Was it because he laid hands on himself?" I tell you, that even if he had not done this, but had lived for years together, and spent them in serious attempts at amendment, he would still have perished, for this one single reason—that Jesus was not on his side nor atoned for him by his blood. Thus the perdition of Judas must serve, like no other event, to show, in striking colors, how impossible it is to do without Jesus; and the latter triumphs in this, as in almost nothing else, as the only and exclusive Savior of sinners.
Nothing can avail or save, if Jesus is not ours. If you, my readers, had any commensurate idea, how much you need him, you would throw open every avenue to admit him. Gladly would you divest yourselves of that which is the dearest and most precious to you, in order that you might possess him. No, you would risk your very lives, much more the vain delights and empty honors of this world, in order to gain him. There exists no compensation for the want of Jesus and the cleansing efficacy of his blood. The most specious tissue of austerities, morality, and devotional exercises, cannot supply his place. It is only a more handsome dress for a delinquent, and not the wedding garment for the invited guest.
Jesus alone enables us to obtain mercy, and to reach heaven. If he be not gracious to you, it is in vain for you to rise early and to sit up late, in order by such means to work out your salvation. You labor and accomplish nothing; you gather and put it into a bag with holes, you wove spider's webs, which are unfit for clothing. You pour into a vessel, the bottom of which is knocked out, and condemn yourself to roll a stone up a hill, which, just as you think to reach the summit, again escapes you, and rolls down, unimpeded, into the abyss below. But if Jesus is your, you have already gained your cause; fruits of peace fall into your lap from a tree, which is not of your planting; you can boast of your Savior's righteousness, while you are still striving against sin; and are reconciled unto God, without an atonement being required at your hand. Why then do you delay to embrace him, and make him your all in all? Say with the apostle, "The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me;" and when these words are verified in you, you are safe to all eternity.
Judas is exhibited to us in the history of the Passion, in order that sin, with all its horrors, may appear in the full blaze of day, and that redemption may appear in all its splendor, and Jesus be visibly glorified, not only as the Holy One, and the only way of salvation, but also as the Savior of mankind. If ever the dreadful nature of sin was manifested in any one, it was so in the traitor. Here, it first of all, presents to us its entire hatefulness and darkness, which appears only the more striking when contrasted with the heavenly light, which beams forth from the person of Christ. Here it makes itself known as the great deceiver, which promises its servants mountains of gold, but rewards them with horror and terror. Here it comes forward as an emanation from hell, whose fruit brings death, and which has never borne any other children than fear, despair, and condemnation. Here it reveals itself as the worst enemy of our race, which cuts asunder the bonds that connected us with God, inflames the wrath of the Almighty against us, opens to us the gates of the eternal desert, and establishes a gulf between us and the heavenly city of God, over which no bridge can be thrown. Besides, it is here manifestly shown how it scoffs at every human attempt to extract its sting; how no penitence can banish it, no tears wash it away, and no good resolutions annihilate it; but it obstinately remains in defiance of all this; hands over its subjects to Satan, and after embittering their life on this side the grave, transfers them finally to an eternal night of death, and gives them up to endless perdition.
Look at the traitor in his state of despair, and behold how sin sits upon his shoulders, like a hideous specter! See how he shades himself and plunges under his burden, but the monster refuses to leave him. Observe how he hurries along, restless and fugitive, but the specter accompanies him and becomes increasingly frightful as he proceeds. He expects to get rid of his horrible burden by returning the thirty pieces of silver; but in vain are the attempts to settle accounts with sin at such a rate. Judas has recourse to the chief priest and elders, but they know of no remedy against sin. Driven at length to desperation, he casts himself into the arms of death; but even the latter does not relieve the soul from the fiend. Judas may divest himself of his body, but he does not thereby, lay aside his guilt. He may part with his life; but sin does not, on this account, depart from him. He can leave the world, but his impious act follows him across its boundaries. He may strangle himself, but his iniquity is not destroyed by so doing: on the contrary, greater scope is thus afforded it to unfold its whole power and dominion. It does not prevent his body from bursting asunder, but carries away the soul with it to everlasting fire. Approach the grave of Judas. No angels are watching there, nor does the guardian eye of God stand open over it. No rose of hope blooms on its grassy mound. Night-shade and thistle alone vegetate there. And what is the inscription on his tombstone? It is short and horrifying—"And Judas went to his place"—and indicates in a dreadful manner how far the desolating, destructive, and fatal power of sin extends.
Who was there that was able to cope with this monster? He, who is being dragged yonder in chains before the judgment-seat of a heathen, and at the sight of whom, Judas despairs, instead of breaking out into exclamations of joy—he it is who enters the lists against it. Christ, by imputation, was the Lamb which took upon himself the sin of the world, in order by the representative endurance of the curse due to it, he might deprive it of its sting, in behalf of all those, who should believe on him. He has done so; and when we asserted that he triumphed in the event under consideration as a Savior, we meant to say, first, that the redemption accomplished by him, appears in such adorable splendor, because the monster sin here reveals more variously than elsewhere, its real nature, and exhibits its horrors in broad daylight. But Christ is also glorified here as the Savior, since every one must feel convinced that the son of perdition suffers shipwreck here solely because he disdains to cast himself patiently and believingly into the arms of him whom he has betrayed. However dreadful the storm, which sinks the whole fleet of human aid—a barque still remained, in which he might have taken refuge. Had he done so, it would have infallibly brought him safely into the haven of eternal peace. "But why did he not ascend its sides?" Partly because he was still too proud to honor him, by suing for his mercy, who had torn away his hypocritical mask, and against whom his soul was still deeply embittered. Partly, also, because he had given way to despair; for Satan did not cease, as a reward for the services which Judas had rendered him, to suggest to him that there was no longer any hope for him. In addition to which, by filling his imagination with all kinds of infernal imagery, he deprived him of the power of calm and lucid reflection. Could Judas have summoned up sufficient humility and courage to turn his tearful eye to Jesus, as did afterward the dying thief, he would have met only the look of forgiving mercy; and O what different sounds would have saluted his ear, than the horrifying language of the chief priests and elders, who said to him, "What is that to us? See you to that." There was no want of grace, even for a man in his desperate condition; and although his sin was "red like crimson," yet the blood of atonement would have sufficed to wash it white as snow. But the devil carried him away in the whirlwind, like the vulture the lamb it has seized upon; nor did he rest until he had completed his triumph over him, and had gotten secure possession of the soul of him, who had thus become his rare booty.
The world has never beheld a more tragic spectacle than the one we are now contemplating. One who was ordained and fitted to become a distinguished vessel of salvation and blessing to mankind, gives himself up to despair in the presence of the world's deliverer, and plunges into the gulf of eternal perdition, instead of laying hold of the hand extended for his rescue, under the unhappy delusion that, by so doing, he should experience deliverance from the agony of his conscience. It would seem as if even death and hell disowned this son of perdition, just as the world had previously done in the person of the chief priests and elders, and were compelled, with God, to execute judgment upon him. The rope with which the miserable man had hung himself snaps asunder. The tree which he had selected as the instrument of his death, shakes him off again with horror. The strangled wretch falls down, bursts asunder, and his affections, gushing out, lie scattered on the ground.
While these horrible things are enacting, the chief priests and elders are consulting together, what should be done with the thirty pieces of silver, which Judas, in his state of desperation, had thrown back again. "It is not lawful," say the hypocrites, unconsciously stigmatizing themselves, "to put them into the treasury, for it is the price of blood." They say right; for according to Deut. 23:18, the treasury of the Lord was not to be defiled by blood-money, or the price of a dog. But how well do the words of our Lord in Matt. 23:23, apply to these whited sepulchers, "Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law judgment, mercy, and faith. You blind guides, who strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel!" Were not these men equally guilty of the heinous crime with the traitor himself, to whom they had paid the thirty pieces of silver? And though they were in equal condemnation with him, yet they assume to themselves not only the place of his judges, but with a haughty mien, contrast themselves with him as keepers of the law and the holy places. Who does not feel almost more sympathy with the despairing disciple than with these proficients in falsehood and dissimulation? Who can say that it may not be more tolerable in the day of judgment for the former, than for these arrogant and heartless hypocrites!
They agree together to purchase, with the wages of iniquity, the potter's field—a piece of ground belonging to a potter; and destine it for the burial-place of those pilgrims who might die in Jerusalem without having any tomb or place of sepulture of their own. Thus, even the money, for which our Lord was bartered, must be productive of good. And is there not in this transaction, a distant hint that Christ yielded up himself, that we, poor pilgrims in the valley of death, might rest in peace? The purchased field was thenceforward known by the semi-Syrian name of "Aceldama," or "the field of blood." A melancholy monument was thus erected to the lost disciple and his crime; which still speaks to the traveler and says, "There is no more offering for sin unto him, who treads under foot the blood of the Son of God."
The evangelist, after narrating the purchase we have just been considering, observes, that "Then was fulfilled, that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, 'And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value, and gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me.'" Matthew combines here, as respects their chief import, two prophetic passages; the first of which belongs to Jeremiah, but the other to Zechariah, whose name is not mentioned. We read the words of Jeremiah, in chap. 19:11-13 as follows: "Thus says the Lord of Hosts, even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter's vessel, that cannot be made whole again, and they shall bury them in Tophet, until there shall be no place to bury. Thus will I do unto this place, says the Lord, and to the inhabitants thereof, and even make this city as Tophet. And the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses of the kings of Judah shall be defiled, as the place of Tophet, because of all the houses, on whose roofs they have burned incense to all the host of heaven, and have poured out drink-offerings unto other gods." The words of Zechariah we find in the eleventh chapter of his prophecies, where we read in verse 13, "And the Lord said unto me, 'Cast it unto the potter; a goodly price that I was prized at of them.' And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter, in the house of the Lord."
Let us endeavor, first, to penetrate to the bottom of the words of Jeremiah. The prophet announces heavy judgments upon the people of Israel and the city of Jerusalem; and according to divine direction, he had taken his stand near the tile—or potter's gate, at the place called Tophet, which belongs to the valley of Benhinnom, and is the same where the Israelites, in the days of dreadful apostasy, had sacrificed their children to the idol Moloch. In the presence of the priests and elders, accompanied by whom he had gone out by divine command, he takes an earthen vessel, which he had brought with him, and dashes it in pieces on the ground, accompanying this symbolical act with the prediction that thus should the city and people be broken, and that the latter would be buried in the defiled and accursed Tophet, from want of room to inter the corpses, and the city itself should be as Tophet, and its houses unclean.
Tophet, where once the image of Moloch stood, was, at the same time, the piece of ground where the potters of Jerusalem procured the clay for their handicraft. When the prophet broke in pieces the earthen vessel in this very place, and thus changed it into its original material, he very significantly and affectingly pointed out the fate which would, in like manner, befall the holy city and the chosen race. This Tophet was the potter's field, which, as stated above, was bought by the elders for thirty pieces of silver. But when Matthew says, "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet," the meaning of the Holy Spirit, who guided the evangelist's pen, is this—"Seeing that God so ordered it that the elders of Israel purchased with the wages of iniquity, the field on which the curse of Jeremiah rested, thus making it the property of the Jewish state, and by so doing, transferred, as it were, that curse to themselves and the people: thus testifying, and again symbolically, that the visitation, then threatened, would break in, a second time, upon Israel in so much the more dreadful form, the more grievous the murder of the Son of God himself was than the service of Moloch, and the abominations connected with it. It was not therefore the purchase of the field itself, but rather the symbolic appropriation, by it, of the divine curse upon Tophet, which received its final accomplishment in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, that is here described as the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy.
The passage from Zechariah serves only to enlarge the meaning of Jeremiah's prediction. The latter being, in the opinion of the evangelist, the more important of the two, he does not even mention the name of the former. Jeremiah points out the piece of ground purchased; Zechariah the price which the Jewish authorities paid for it. Let us look a little more closely at the words of the latter. The Lord is there speaking to his ungrateful people, and represents himself as their Shepherd, who had tended them at one time with the staff "Beauty" (gentleness), and at another, with the staff "Bands" (severity). But they had disregarded his pastoral care, and had continually strayed from his paths, and despised his under-shepherds, the prophets, and among them, Zechariah himself, who complains that he, and in him the Lord who sent him, was no more valued by them than the lowest slave; thirty pieces of silver being the price at which they estimated him. Jehovah threatens them with his judgments in consequence of this impious conduct. "Cast it unto the potter"—that is, throw it, as the wages of sin, into the mire of that accursed field, where the potter carries on his work—the field of Tophet. And then the Lord adds, in sacred irony, "A goodly price, that I was prized at of them," "and I," continues the prophet, now speaking in his own person, "took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter, in the house of the Lord." Thus the temple was treated, by divine command, as if it were the field of Tophet itself; a dreadful emblematical prediction of the fact that even the temple, in process of time, should crumble into dust under the curse of God.
The hour of the threatened judgment was at hand, when he, who was the perfection of God's pastoral faithfulness, was valued, on the part of Israel, at the trifling price of thirty pieces of silver. For this small sum, Judas, as representing his nation, disposed of his part in the Savior, and the children of Israel, by their rulers, bargained for the Holy One to slay him. But by the fact of the traitor, in despair, hurling the murderer's reward from him, and casting it down in the temple, the blood-money (a bad omen) was returned to the congregation of Israel. This act, which was not without divine intervention, called fearfully and significantly to mind the thirty pieces of silver mentioned by Zechariah, and could only be explained to mean that the Almighty now renewed, more impressively than before, the threatening he had pronounced against Jerusalem and its sanctuary, in the symbolical act of his prophet. And the circumstance that the Jewish rulers hit upon the idea of purchasing the accursed spot, called Tophet, with the wages of iniquity, completely impresses the seal of truth on that explanation.
Hence it is evident that the spirit of prophecy both uttered and apprehended the words of Zechariah and Jeremiah with a conscious reference to the event which occurred in Jerusalem after the lapse of centuries; and that God permitted the transaction between Judas and the rulers of Israel to assume, in so striking a manner, a form corresponding with those ancient prophetic sayings, only because he would give the ungrateful flock of his people, a new and tangible sign that the time of maturity for destruction, and the long announced and terrible judgments of his hand had now arrived. Matthew therefore says, with perfect justice, "Then was fulfilled, that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet." Actual predictions found their final accomplishment. Even as the Holy Spirit had distinctly pointed, in Zechariah, to the thirty pieces of silver—so in Jeremiah, he had pointed to the purchase of the potter's field by the priests and elders. The accusation of a merely arbitrary and allegorical application of Old Testament sayings and events to New Testament occurrences, nowhere applies to the evangelists and apostles.
Deeply affected, we take our leave of the most horrible passage in the whole history of the passion of our Lord. How near we may be to him, and yet become the prey of Satan, if we do not carefully watch over our hearts! How many gifts and favors we may have received from him, and yet may suffer the most dreadful loss of them by an unfaithful use of them! Let him who gives himself to Christ, do so without reserve; and whoever is desirous of holding communion with him, let him always walk before him without disguise. Let him who is overtaken by a fault seek the throne of grace without delay; and he who is conscious of being under the dominion of a single sin, let him not cease to watch and pray, until its power is broken by the mercy of him who bruised the serpent's head. The germ from which a Judas may spring, when fructified by hell, lies concealed in all of us. Let us therefore make room for the Holy Spirit in our hearts, that he may destroy it, and make all within us new!
Christ before Pilate
The day has just dawned—the most momentous, decisive, and eventful in the world. It greets our Lord with dreadful insignia. It approaches in a blood-stained robe, a crown of thorns to encircle his brow, in the one hand, and in the other, the scourge, the fatal cup, and the accursed tree; while it rises upon us with the olive-branch of peace, the divine acquittal, and the crown of life. O sacred Friday, day of divine compassion, birth-day of our eternal redemption, we bless you, we greet you on our knees!
We find the holy city in unwonted commotion. Masses of men move along the streets. A spectacle like that which now presents itself, had never before been witnessed. The whole Sanhedrin has risen up to conduct a delinquent, whom they have condemned to death, in solemn procession to the Roman authorities, in order to wrest from the latter the confirmation of their sentence. And who is it they are dragging there? The very man who was recently received in the same city, by the same crowd of people, with loud hosannas, and was exalted and celebrated as no one had been before. It is Jesus of Nazareth, respecting whom they cried exultingly, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" and of whom, even his enemies could not refrain from testifying that a great prophet had arisen among them. He now meets us as the offscouring and refuse of the same people, who shortly before strewed palms and wreathed chaplets for him! Such is the world's favor, and so little truth is there in the saying, "The voice of the people is the voice of God."
The procession moves on to the palace of Herod. For it was there that the governor usually resided, when his duties called him to Jerusalem from Caesarea, where he regularly abode. It is well known that the Roman emperors committed the several provinces, of which their extensive dominions were composed to the government of pro-consuls or viceroys. To these, procurators or governors were added for each province, whose office it was to collect the revenues, and to give the final decision in all judicial affairs. In the smaller districts, the latter not infrequently exercised the sole power, as was the case in Judea, which, with Samaria, had been incorporated into the province of Syria. It was generally said of these individuals, that they were in the habit of making their influential position the means of promoting their avaricious views; and hence they were characterized as being unjust and severe. Wherever they appeared, they were received only with mistrust and secret bitterness by their subjects; and it was only by the application of military force that they succeeded in giving effect to their commands, and in restraining the people from revolt, with which they were continually menaced.
After the deposition and removal of the Tetrarch Archelaus, Pontius Pilate, six years after the birth of Christ, was made the sixth governor of Judea. From Luke, 3:1, it appears that he was in office when John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness, and he therefore spent in Palestine the whole period of our Lord's ministry. For ten years together he was able to maintain his position under the Emperor Tiberius, a fact which does honor to his knowledge of the are of governing, since there was probably not a more difficult post of the kind in the whole Roman empire. For apart from his having to deal with the Jews, the most cunning and intriguing of all the nations around, there was no other people upon earth to whom the government of foreigners was a greater abomination than to them. However far the Jews might be from their former glory, they were still, in spite of their degradation, as much aware as ever of their nobility as the chosen people of God; and thought themselves called, under the sanction of divine promises, which however they grossly misunderstood, eventually to bear rule over the whole earth; and yet these free-born children of Abraham were now living under a foreign yoke, and that a heathen one! Where was the wonder, then, that they bore it with stifled rage, like a captive lion in its iron collar; and that he who exercised a direct power over them, was, from the first, an object of their bitterest hatred!
It is equally comprehensible that Pilate also, on his part, could not entertain any particular liking for such a nation, and gladly made them feel his superior authority when opportunity offered. Nor could it appear strange to any one that Pilate preferred fixing his residence at Caesarea, which was chiefly inhabited by Gentiles, and by means of its harbor carried on an animated communion with the rest of the empire, rather than in the metropolis of the proud and rebellious Hebrews. There were several serious revolts in Jerusalem during his regency, which could only be quelled by calling out the Roman garrison quartered in Fort Antonia. But these repeated suppressions of the rebellious spirit of the people were accustomed to be followed by stricter measures on the part of the government, which only embittered the Jews the more. In other respects Pilate was not very severe or strict; and when he sometimes executed summary justice, as in the instance recorded in Luke 13:1, he had probably sufficient cause for so doing.
Were we able to look into the hearts of the Jews, and especially into those of their chief priests and rulers, during their procession to the Roman praetorium, we should see in them a glowing furnace of rage and vexation. It was dreadful to them to see themselves compelled to this open exhibition of their subjugation to a foreign yoke. But the bloodthirstiness under which they languished for the extirpation of the hated Nazarene, this time outweighed their boundless ambition and national pride. Foaming with indignation, like fettered hyenas raging in their chains, they proceed forward with their victim, and are compelled, by this procession, to testify, against their will, that the scepter has departed from Judah, and that the time so definitely pointed out by the dying Jacob for the appearance of the Shiloh, to whom the gathering of the people should be, had now arrived. Yes, they are compelled to acknowledge even more than this, and by means of their wickedness to place the necessity of an atonement beyond a doubt, such as the fettered captive who walked at their head, was about to accomplish.
It will doubtless be, in some measure, the conviction of every one of my readers that God must necessarily have pronounced an eternal curse on such ruthless reprobates as the characters just described, if no mediating surety interposed to take their curse upon himself, and render satisfaction to divine justice in their stead. To suppose that the Most High could pardon such sons of Belial, without anything further, would be to demand the overthrow of the whole moral government of the world, and to require nothing less than that God should act in opposition to himself, and cease to be God. Reason cannot believe in the possibility of salvation for a race like that of Adam, irrespective of an atonement; and scarcely anything in the world appears more rational than the scriptural doctrine of the redemption of sinners by the mediating intervention of the Son of God. I confess that all that is within me would rise up in the greatest excitement and astonishment, were I to behold the thrice holy God embracing, without such an intervention, the worthless assemblage at Jerusalem in the arms of his love. In this case, nothing would be left me but to feel mistaken in God, or to disbelieve my own eyes. But when I see in the midst of those transgressors, the Lamb which takes away the sin of the world, I then see that God could open the gates of paradise even to the most degraded of that generation of vipers; and in this I should perceive nothing either enigmatical or objectionable. The Lamb is, therefore, the light in the economy and government of God, and the cross the key to the deepest mysteries of his ways and guidance.
Behold the adorable Prince of Peace bound like a criminal, and covered with ignominy! Who could be able to form a correct idea of this spectacle, and yet believe that divine justice rules the world, if we were permitted to behold the Savior only in his own person, and not at the same time as Mediator and High Priest! But now that we are aware of his Suretyship, although we may feel deeply affected at his infinite humiliation, we are no longer struck and astonished. We can even bear to be told that the visible sufferings he endured were only the faint reflection of the incomparably more horrible torments which he secretly suffered; and that the host which surrounds him with swords and spears, forms only a part of the escort which accompanies him, since another part, which is invisible and behind the curtain, is commanded by Satan himself. For when Christ experienced what was due to us, we know that the latter included all these horrors. Nothing more nor less befell him than what was destined to be endured by us on account of our sins. What an unspeakable gift do we therefore possess in the bleeding Lamb! Would too much honor be done him if our whole lives were one continued adoration of his name; and would our love exceed its measure if nothing any longer sounded sweet or lovely to us except what was interwoven with his name?
They bring the Lord Jesus to Pilate the Roman governor. The Almighty permits circumstances so to connect themselves together that the whole world, in its representatives, must participate in the condemnation of the Just One. Hence his death becomes the common crime of our race, and every mouth is stopped before the judgment-seat of God. They conduct the Lord to Pilate; and thus, what the Savior had before so distinctly predicted, when announcing his passion, was literally fulfilled: "Behold," said he, "we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man shall be delivered unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles." We now see the accomplishment of this prediction. By so doing Israel filled up the measure of its guilt. For the second time they hand over their brother Joseph to the uncircumcised and to strangers. By this transfer they typified, at the same time, their own fate. The world's salvation, intended for them in the first instance, was by them most ungratefully given up to the Gentiles; while they themselves were thenceforward left to languish in darkness and the shadow of death.
The procession arrives at the governor's palace. They lay hold of their prisoner, and rudely push him into the open portal of the house. Why do they act thus? The narrative informs us, that "they themselves went not into the judgment hall lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the passover." Their idea was not in accordance with a right understanding of the divine law; but they obeyed the arbitrarily invented ordinance of their Rabbis, which stated that they exposed themselves to defilement by entering a house, and especially a Gentile one, in which leaven might be found. But they had no objection that their captive should be thus defiled. They even purposely push him into the house they deemed unclean, and thus tangibly and symbolically expel him, as a tax-collector and a sinner, from the commonwealth of Israel. But all this was to happen thus, in order that Christ's character as the sinner's Surety might become increasingly apparent, and every one perceive in the man who, by virtue of a mysterious transfer, had taken himself everything that was condemnatory in us.
There is no feature in the history of the passion which is devoid of significance. Throughout there is a manifestation of superior arrangement and divine depth of purpose. This forcible urging of the Holy One of Israel into the house of a heathen is something horrible. It exhibits a degree of wickedness worthy of Beelzebub himself. If the redemption of the world had not been at stake, how could heaven have been silent or have restrained the vials of God's wrath? But the salvation of the world was to be accomplished, and hence it was that the Lamb of God patiently and silently endured even the most unworthy and disgraceful treatment. We could weep bloody tears to see him, who was love itself, pushed forward by the crude hands of the brutish multitude. But we will not weep over him, but over ourselves and our race, which is capable of such depravity and devilishness. Let us not overlook, however, the evangelical emblem that meets our view even in this trait of the narrative. Christ entered for us alone, not only where apparent, but where real and serious danger menaced us, even into the horrible abyss of the curse of the law, the prison of death, and the regions of darkness, in order to exhaust upon his own sacred person the force of the terrors which were prepared for us, and leave us nothing but peace, salvation, freedom, and blessing.
But what shall we say to the conduct of the Jews, who, full of the leaven of all ungodliness, while making no conscience of laying their murderous hands on the Holy One of God, act as if they were too conscientious to enter the house of an impure heathen, lest they should come in contact with the leaven which could not defile them? What a striking example do these "whited sepulchers" prove of the truth of our Lord's words, Matt. 23:27, and what a complete commentary do they yield us on the words that follow: "You blind guides which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel!" Would to God these wretched people were the only ones of their kind! But they meet us in every form and color, even among these who call themselves Christians. Who is not acquainted with individuals who scrupulously abstain from worldly amusements, and carefully avoid coming into social contact with the worldly-minded, who not only vie with the world in all the arts of dissimulation, uncharitable judgment of others, and hateful scandal, but even go beyond it? Who does not know those who believe that they would be committing a great crime if they performed the slightest labor on the Sunday, or if they were not the first at every performance of divine service; while it never occurs to them to regard as sin the secret service of mammon to which they are devoted—who on no account would suffer themselves to be seen at a theater or a ball—in which they do well—but forgive themselves, without hesitation, for compensating themselves for that privation, by taking part, in imagination, in all the enjoyments and pleasures of the world, and bloat with vanity, in their way, not less than the most frivolous characters of the age—who never fail to appear at the institution of beneficent establishments and associations, and head the list of the contributors, while they make no scruple of secretly practicing deceit and imposition in their trade and business, or of acting unjustly or severely toward those who are under them, or of their avarice and greediness for transitory honor?
One of the crafty devices by which men pass by the moral claims which God makes on our conduct is, that instead of bowing to the divine yoke, they form and impose another more pleasing to the flesh; thus trying to make it appear as if they performed more than God's commands enjoined upon them. Thus arose the traditions of the Talmudistic Rabbis, which, although they are nothing but exercises easy to be performed, afforded to those who practiced them the semblance of a special piety, conscientiousness, and faithfulness in the discharge of duty. In this way also, arose the shallow and sentimental morality of our modern sophists—that tissue of unobjectionable rules of life, which it likewise derived solely from the surface of moral consciousness, and which may be practiced just as conveniently as their performance aids us in the obtainment of a virtuous appearance at an easy rate. But he is mistaken who supposes that by such counterfeit holiness he shall be able to settle accounts with the Most High; and he dishonors and insults him, who hopes to bribe him with "cups and platters," outwardly clean, but inwardly full of "ravening wickedness." He who reigns on high is just as little satisfied with mere deductions from the amount of obedience due to him as with the counters of our self-chosen works, instead of the pure gold of righteousness required by his law. "The eyes of the Lord," said the prophet Hanani to King Asa, "run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of those whose heart is perfect toward him." He desires the whole man and not mere fractional parts. He who cannot resolve to devote himself to his service without reserve, loses nothing by withdrawing himself entirely, and placing himself at the disposal of the world and his own lusts. There is no medium between belief and unbelief. In the exercise of the former, we give ourselves entirely to God; and where this is not done, there faith does not exist, however specious the man may be in his outward profession. True conversion is a new birth, and not a patching up of the old garment. The life of godliness is a harmonious organization, and not a sticking together of single acts of piety.
Pilate soon begins to suspect why the Jews pushed their culprit toward him through the gate, but feels so little offended at this, that he pretends ignorance, and magnanimously steps out to them to ascertain the object of their coming. He considers that he has only to do with contracted and narrow-minded Jews, and deems that it comports both with his refinement and his dignity to tolerate their limited prejudices. But with these prejudices, he overlooks the fact of the divine records being in their possession. There is no want, my readers, of people among us who assume, but not without culpability, a position with reference to real Christians, similar to that of this proud Roman toward the children of Abraham. It cannot be denied that there are believing Christians who suffer from a certain partiality and contracted judgment with reference to the things of science, are, or life. But, however, those of a more refined intellect may look down with a degree of compassion on these simple people and their narrow sphere of vision, and though it may be no crime to do so, for it is often difficult to bear with such limited and contracted characters, yet, though you may appear to yourselves to be elevated above such people, and suppose that it becomes you to tolerate, with their narrow-mindedness, the truths which they profess; yet you act improperly by so doing, and will one day smart severely for your self-esteem. If you are really in every respect far beyond these "poor in spirit," there is nothing left for you, if you are desirous of attaining to the highest aim of your existence, but to descend from your proud elevation, and place yourselves on the same level with them. Yes, you must come down to their humble position, and, with them, learn to hunger and thirst after a righteousness which is not your own; and to the position of Lazarus at the rich man's door, which is Christ, where you see them also lying. You must even be brought to acknowledge that they are far beyond you in all that is of real value; and that you are on the way to midnight darkness, if the faith, love, and heavenly-mindedness of these humble followers of the Lamb do not become yours. You are not restrained from being in advance of them in refinement, extensive benevolence, and maturity of judgment, or from moving more freely and unfettered, as far as the Spirit from above gives you liberty. But you must be grafted into the same stock with these inferior people, and flourish from the same root, or you will continue, on the height of your intellectual superiority, to be the children of death, while they will eventually soar toward heaven as glorified spirits from the dark chrysalis state of their defective education. Therefore beware that you do not throw away the kernel with the shell, nor be found preferring external polish to that meek and humble spirit which, in the sight of God, is of great price.
"Pilate then went out unto the people, and said, What accusation bring you against this man?" He assumes the appearance of unbelief and indifference, but he was able to take a more unprejudiced view of the matter than the Jews, and cannot think, after all he has hitherto heard of the Nazarene, and feels at that moment that they would be able to bring any serious charge against him. Like as with Pilate, so it is still with every one who looks unprejudicedly into the sacred volume. Such a one will not be able to rid himself of the impression of the spotlessness of Jesus, which nothing can shake or neutralize. But ought it not to be regarded as a matter of astonishment that a Holy One, in the full sense of the words, has really appeared in the world? Does it not indisputably follow that the sayings of this Just One are much more worthy of credence than the doctrines of all the wise men after the flesh? Does it not constrain us to the conviction that a person so illustrious and superior to all other mortals, must have been sent by God for some very particular object? And does not this idea necessarily lead to another, that there must be something extraordinary and mysterious attached to the sufferings which were poured upon this Holy One? And do we not, finally, perceive, without any positive revelation respecting it, that we are compelled to come to the conclusion, that this incomparable personage must have been selected to be the deliverer and savior of a sinful world? It is impossible to avoid such reflections, after an unprejudiced and logical consideration of the subject. But we may well ask, where do we meet with such sound and liberal minded reasoners? The indocility and stupidity of the natural man, with regard to supernatural and divine thongs, has no bounds.
To the governor's question, of what Jesus is accused, the following haughty and insane reply is returned by his accusers, "If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto you." In this impudent speech, their entire refractoriness toward the hated Romans is made apparent. It is the rebelliousness of fettered slaves, the fury of encaged wolves. Here again we perceive also, the furious pharisaism of the priests and the people; for though they are endeavoring to murder innocence and do the devil's work, yet because they do it, it must be right and blameless. Can pride go beyond this? Do not let us overlook the circumstance, however, that by their arrogant language they hope to disguise the embarrassment in which, despite of all appearance to the contrary, they have involved themselves. They know of nothing from which they can form a well-grounded charge against their delinquent, and think that the bold front they put on the affair will compensate for what is deficient in proof and testimony against Jesus.
Alas! they do not entirely fail in their object. Pilate suffers himself to be overawed by their determined appearance, and places the first foot on that slippery path on which we shall afterward see him carried forward, from one crime to another, against his will, and finally ending in the abyss of perdition, amid the derisive laughter of infernal spirits. "Then said Pilate unto them, Take you him, and judge him according to your law." What worthless behavior in a judge who ought to administer law and justice in the land! We already see how little he cares whether Jesus lives or dies, only he would not willingly have the blood of a man upon his soul whom his conscience absolves as innocent.
More reckless than the Roman are those of our contemporaries, who, like Pilate, would not personally lay hands on Jesus, because they cannot divest themselves of a certain degree of reverence for him, but secretly suggest to bolder rebels than themselves, that which Pilate did openly, when he said, "Take him and judge him according to your law," and feel a malicious pleasure when the emissaries of Satan drag down the Holy One into the dust, pollute his Gospel with their infernal blasphemies, and reward his believing followers with the appellation of fools, or brand them as hypocrites. Compared with those who view with silent delight the anti-Christian proceedings and rebellious movements of the age, Pilate was an honorable man, while they are worthy of a double curse, and already bear the mark of it on their foreheads.
"Take you him, and judge him according to your law." The heathen governor would gladly have escaped from sharing the guilt of murdering the Righteous One, whom the Jews had delivered up to him. But he will not succeed in his object on the path he is now pursuing. He must either decide for or against Jesus. He is compelled either to take the part of the Holy One, to the setting aside of all private considerations, or to afford his sanction to the most cruel and bloody deed the world ever witnessed. But, my readers, the case is similar with us. There is just as little room left us for a neutral position as was left him. The Holy One of Israel comes into too close a contact with us to be quietly passed by. If we refuse to do him homage, we are compelled to aid in crucifying him. We cannot escape the alternative of rejecting him, if we will not decidedly devote ourselves to him. He testifies too loudly to our consciences that He is the Lord, to suffer us quietly to part with him with a mere passing compliment. If we wish to separate ourselves from him, nothing is left for us but to say, in positive opposition, "We will not have you to reign over us; get you behind us!" God grant that this may not be the case with any of us, but enable us to exclaim, with the apostle Thomas, "My Lord and my God!"
The Jews close the outlet before Pilate's face by which he hoped to escape from any participation in the dreadful crime of the murder of Jesus, by giving him a reply which ought to have made him feel deeply ashamed, "It is not lawful for us," say they, "to put any man to death." Pilate knew this, and what confusion of ideas and increasing perplexity does the man betray, who, though he was the supreme judge, could recommend to the Jews themselves the execution of an act of justice to which they had no right, according to the existing laws. Or was Pilate induced to express himself thus foolishly, from having no idea that the accusers of Jesus were bent upon his death? This is also conceivable. But his miserable attempt at an escape is wholly frustrated, as it deserved. There is something really tragical in the fact that circumstances should so concur and be interwoven with each other that it would seem as if Pilate was to be drawn into the blood-guiltiness of the Jews. And this will assuredly be the case if he cannot resolve to give his heart, and pay homage to Jesus, even as every one who obstinately resists the call to conversion must increasingly fill up the measure of his sins, and accelerate his ripeness for destruction.
"It is not lawful for us to put any one to death." They were not permitted to do so. If, on one occasion, they tumultuously stoned a supposed heretic to death, the Roman authorities probably leniently overlooked it. But in order to a formal accusation, and death by crucifixion in particular, they could not do without superior consent. Hence they openly, though with stifled rage, confess their dependence on the Roman tribunal. Their thirst for revenge upon the Nazarene, however, this time outweighs their national pride. The man they hate is doomed to be crucified and to perish ignominiously. Such are their thoughts. But the Lord in heaven also exercises an influence in the affair. The evangelist remarks, "That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which he spoke, signifying what death he should die." John has reference here to the words recorded in ch. 12:32, of his Gospel, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me," adding the explanatory remark, "This he said, signifying what death he should die."
In the tumultuous assemblage before the governor's palace at Jerusalem, we are, therefore, unexpectedly aware of a divine intimation respecting the Savior. The counsel of the Eternal Father displays itself, and in its depths a cross is descried for his only-begotten Son, even as it was also in the plans of Satan. For the sake of the symbolical meaning included in it, the accursed tree was selected in the counsels of eternity, as the instrument of the Savior's death. The brazen serpent in the wilderness, as well as the wave-offering of the tabernacle, early shadowed it forth to the people of God. The crowd which had assembled round Gabbatha, unconsciously aided in realizing it. It now stands erected in history, in the ministry of the Gospel, and in the minds of men, and manifests its wonder-working and attractive influence in an increasing measure, to this hour.
We conclude our meditation, strengthened afresh, as I hope, in the twofold conviction, that our forgiveness unconditionally demanded a vicarious sacrifice, and that the whole of our Lord's passion can only be properly understood when regarded from such a point of view. We are reasonably astonished at the wisdom of the Almighty, who has so wonderfully solved the greatest of all problems—that of the restoration of a race which had fallen under the curse, to the divine right of sonship, without thereby denying his holiness. This solution is found in the Savior's obedience and death. Let us adoringly bow the knee to him, and join with thankful hearts in the song of the Church triumphant, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and has redeemed us to God by his blood, out of every kindred and tongue, and people, and nation!"
After the Jews had gained their first victory over the governor, for as such they might account it, in having succeeded by their imposing attitude, in wresting from him the reply, "Take you him and, judge him according to your law," they proceed with increasing courage, and bring forward accusations against their prisoner, by which they hope completely to influence the Roman, and induce him to favor their murderous project. They are acquainted with his weak side—his pride of office, his ambition, and, in particular, his dependence on the favor of his imperial master; and toward this point they direct their assault. They abstain from repeating, before a heathen tribunal, accusations against Jesus which they could successfully bring forward against him in their Jewish Sanhedrin. Instead of an ecclesiastical, they make before Pilate a political charge. They accuse the Lord of a threefold crime, which, because it is imputed to him, in a certain sense, by his opponents and the enemies of his kingdom, even in the present day, is worthy of particular investigation.
"We have found this fellow perverting the nation." This is the first of the three charges brought against him. They intend by it to say, "This man seeks to lessen the respect due to the constituted authorities." The worthless beings, who were themselves puffed up with revolutionary feelings, and incessantly intent upon inciting the people against the Roman sovereignty! But to bring forward against Jesus a charge like the one just mentioned, some shadow of truth was requisite, and this they found in the position which the Lord had taken up with reference to the priests and scribes. For as regards the priests, our Lord certainly did not instruct his disciples to place their trust in them, as their real mediators with God, or to seek in their sacrifices the cause of their justification in his sight. If, by this, he detracted from the authority of the sons of Aaron, he did nothing more than reduce this authority to the correct measure intended by God, and thus purified the veneration which the people showed them, from the elements of a dangerous delusion and superstition, which had occasionally been attached to them in contradiction to the Word of God. But where had he denied to the priesthood of Israel the authority of a divine institution, and refused it the reverence and submission which belonged to it as such? His position as regards the priesthood was certainly peculiar and unique. The latter, as a prophetic shadow, had pointed to him, and in him, as its essential antitype, it was intended to reach its aim, and termination. This was not to be accomplished by means of a violent overthrow of existing institutions, but on the even and hallowed path of a gradual development. Of itself, and in consequence of an internal necessity, the priesthood of the old tabernacle was to give way to that which is true and real, just as the blossom makes room for the fruit, or like the butterfly bursting from the chrysalis. Therefore, as long as Jesus had not fulfilled the entire requirements of his high-priestly calling, and as long as the great atoning sacrifice had not been offered on the cross, he gave all honor to the Levitical priesthood, for the sake of their divine appointment. Not only did he visit the temple as the house of God, and celebrate the festivals of Israel as sanctified by him, but he obediently submitted also to all the Levitical statutes enjoined by Moses, from the circumcision and presentation in the temple, to the eating of the paschal lamb. And not only so, but he did not fail to enjoin upon others the punctual fulfillment of their ecclesiastical duties; so that he did not even absolve a leper, whom he had healed, from presenting himself to the priests, and offering the sacrifices appointed by Moses in such a case. So little did the reproach apply to him of degrading what was divinely authorized, that the latter found in him a powerful support; and so far was he from loosening the bond between the people and their superiors, that he was accustomed to enjoin upon all who came to him the most unconditional submission to them—of course after divesting it of all superstitious intermixture.
The Lord acted toward the elders of the people, whether they were Pharisees or Sadducees, as he did toward the priests. It is true that as the Master of all, he reproved their errors and sins, as appears from Mark, 7:13, and refused in any manner to justify their human invented ordinances and traditions, by which the word of God was only weakened and rendered void. He, nevertheless, unhesitatingly recognized their divine appointment, as, you will remember, is evident from Matt. 23:2, 3, where he says, "The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses's seat. All, therefore, whatever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not you after their works, for they say and do not." Could this be called weakening the respect due to the constituted authorities, or was it not rather the contrary?
In the present day, the Christ of the Protestant Church, who, as the Scriptural Christ, is certainly a somewhat different Christ from that of the Church of Rome, is reproached in a similar manner by the latter as he was formerly by the Jews. This arises from the universal priesthood of all believers, instituted by Christ himself, and realized in our Church, in virtue of which they are called to immediate fellowship with Christ, and no longer need any further mediators between him and them. A priesthood with mediating rights, finds just as little room in the Protestant Church, as there exists any cause or motive for invoking the glorified saints for their intercession. Now, if a warning against the delusion, that for the laity, absolution, forgiveness, and every favor and answer to prayer is only attainable by a human hierarchical intervention, may be called a weakening of authority—then certainly it may be said of Christ, that he perverted the people. This, however, is no longer a reproach, but a commendation, because he turned the people aside from authorities which do not deserve the name, not being divinely instituted and appointed. But this does not exclude the fact that he most expressly, though in the spirit of Christian liberty, claims the submission of believers to the official ordinances of the Church, which he has himself instituted and sanctified. The pastoral office, with its various spheres of operation, is established by him. He says to those who preach his word, "He who despises you, despises me." He points them out to us as stewards of the divine mysteries, and says to the members of the Churches, by the mouth of his apostle, "Let the elders that rule well, be counted worthy of double honor." "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls." It is thus the Lord supports the authorities of the Church which rest on divine institution, and only properly rejects, with all earnestness and emphasis, those unjustifiable assumptions which are contrary to the word of God.
The second accusation which is brought against the Lord Jesus by the Jews, is that of "forbidding to give tribute to Caesar." Truly, a more unjust accusation than this they could not have invented against him. It is devoid of the slightest foundation; and we are compelled to believe that it occurred to them only because they were still smarting under the disgrace of the defeat they had experienced at his hands, when they endeavored to draw from him a disloyal expression. Luke mentions this affair in the twentieth chapter of his Gospel. The chief priests and scribes sought, even at that time, how they might lay hands upon him; but their evil conscience made them afraid of the people, in whose esteem they had already begun to sink considerably. That which they did not venture to execute by force, they sought to attain by craftiness, and under the assumed appearance of what was just and right. For this purpose they induced some worthless individuals of their party, disguised in the mask of piety, and pretending to be secretly his disciples, to attempt to take hold of his words, so that they might have an ostensible ground for delivering him up to the civil power. The bribed emissaries approach the Savior, in the garb of reverential submission, and ask, with the innocent mien of those who seek instruction, "Master, we know that you say and teach rightly, neither accept you the person of any, but teach the way of God truly. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or no?" The net was cunningly spread, but in such a manner that they were caught in it themselves. The Lord immediately saw through the snare, and tore away the hypocritical mask from them, by the simple question, "Why tempt you me?" He then asked them to show him a penny, which being done, he takes the coin, holds it up to them, and asks, "Whose image and superscription has it? They answer, 'Caesar's.'" And he said unto them, "Render, therefore, to Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's." The narrative informs us that they could not take hold of his words before the people, and they marveled at his answer, and held their peace.
This single expression of our Lord's perfectly suffices to show us what was his political principle, if I may so call it. A heathen emperor then reigned over Judea, an enemy to God and his cause. But still he ruled, and wielded the scepter. The coin which bore his image testified of this. The Lord commanded that it should be returned to him to whom it belonged. What else did he intimate by so doing, than that which was subsequently enjoined upon us by his apostle in his name, in Rom. 13:1-3, where we read, "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whoever, therefore, resists the power, resists the ordinance of God; and those who resist shall receive to themselves condemnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Will you, then, not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and you shall have praise of the same." Christ, therefore, is so far from favoring revolt, that he threatens with judgment all resistance to the existing authorities, whatever they may be, as though it were a rebellion against the majesty of God himself. He enjoins us, in his word, to be "subject to our masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward." If a tyrant rules over us, there is no question as to what is our duty, according to our magna charta, the Holy Scriptures. In the autocrat and the despot we have to recognize a chastening rod raised against us by the hand of God, and quietly endure it, while calling to mind our sins. Even the most crying injustice, inflicted upon us by legitimate authority, does not absolve us from the duty of obedience to it. If the government commands anything contrary to our consciences and the word of God, we may then offer passive resistance, but nothing more. We refuse obedience with all reverence, and patiently endure the consequences of so doing for the Lord's sake. These principles stand immutably firm, as being those of the religion of Christ. The Lord has proclaimed them, and, by his own example, has set his seal upon them.
The third and last accusation brought against Jesus is, that he had said of himself that he was "Christ, a king." They wish Pilate to understand this in a political sense. But how far the Lord was from causing or fostering such an idea of the object of his coming into the world, my readers well know. The Jews often attempted by force to make him act the part of a king; and would have borne him on their hands, and loaded him with homage and crowns of honor, as the liberator of his people from the disgraceful yoke of foreigners. But as often as he perceived any movement of the kind, he escaped from the multitude, and hid himself. And when his own disciples expressed similar sentiments respecting the kingdom he came to establish, he never failed to reprove them severely, to rectify their mistakes, and to impress upon them, again and again, the fact that his kingdom came not with outward observation, but was within them.
The Jews also were well aware how far it had always been from his intention to found a kingdom according to their views; and this was the very thing which irritated them above everything else, and kindled their animosity against him. Nevertheless their effrontery and mendacity extend so far, that they now impute to him, as his desire and aim, what they had fruitlessly labored to induce him to attempt. They thus open out to us a new view into the treachery and craftiness of the human heart, and give evidence that they are well-schooled and tutored children of the father of lies.
You know that the endeavor to stamp Christ as an earthly king did not expire with the Jewish scribes and Pharisees. A Church exists, which ascribes it to the Lord, not in the way of accusation, but of commendation, that his intention was to found "a kingdom of this world." It represents Christ as handing over to Peter two swords, emblematical of spiritual and temporal power; and that from him they pass to his pretended successors the popes, as the head of the Church, and as far as kings and princes reign in the world, they bear the sword of authority only by commission from the Church, and as a fief of the latter. The Church is authorized, in case of their refusing the service claimed, to withdraw their power and authority from them, and to absolve the people from their oath of allegiance. This Church does not say with the apostle, "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal;" but deems itself called upon, by means of both swords, to protect and enlarge its territories. It has excommunications and interdicts for its disobedient children, and the prison, and the scaffold for heretics. For its own interests, it declares war and institutes crusades. To celebrate the bloody eve of St. Bartholomew, it orders medals to be struck; and the history of Otaheite tells us of a mission by the mouths of cannon. A single glance into the Gospels will deprive us of every doubt whether it was the intention of the Savior that his Church, the Bride of heaven, should be clothed in such attire. The Lord gives his messengers the salutation of peace on their way, and not the word of arbitrary power or excommunication. He girds them with meekness and with ministering love, and not with severity and inquisitorial rigor. He points out their work to them as that of the good Samaritan, and not as oppressors and inquisitors. He certainly requires "coals of fire" for his opponents, but only such as are heaped on their heads by patience and unwearied kindness. It is also his will that those who are without should be compelled to come in, but he will have them quietly sought for in the highways and hedges, and be greeted with the peaceful salutation, "Come, for all things are now ready!" He also desires that the fallen, and such as are going astray, should be restored from the error of their ways; but that it be done in the spirit of meekness. Besides this, he requires from his followers that they should forgive those who sin against them, seventy times seven times, and says in particular to those who bear the pastoral office, "You know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and those who are great, exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever will be great among you, let him be your servant."
But as certainly as Christ did not come to establish an earthly kingdom; so surely will his dominion eventually swallow up all the kingdoms of the world, and become itself an earthly empire. Yet will this not be accomplished by means of any powerful overthrow or assault from without: but by the inward operation and creative energy of the Holy Spirit. The potentates of this world will deposit their crowns and scepters in homage at Jesus' feet, in order to receive them back consecrated, and as a fief from the hand of the King of kings. The people, enlightened and returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls, will submit with delight and affection to a government in which the gentle guidance of their Prince of Peace is alone perceptible. The legislation will have, as its basis, the word of the living God, and the economy of the state will rest upon the foundation of the Gospel. The offerings, which the common weal may require, will be tendered by the impulse of voluntary affection, and the "swords will be turned into plowshares and the spears into pruning hooks." Daniel looked forward to this jubilee-period of the kingdom of Christ, when he exclaimed, "But the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominion shall serve and obey him." In the same manner, Zechariah refers to this subjugation of all worldly empire to Christ, when he significantly predicts that "In that day, shall there be upon the bells of the horses, 'holiness unto the Lord,' and the pots in the Lord's house shall be like the bowls before the altar." The song of praise for this period of triumph and fulfillment, lies already in the archives of divine revelation, and is as follows: "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ! and our Lord comforts us with the anticipation of this period, while teaching us daily to pray, in blissful hope, "Your kingdom come!"
We have now been convinced, my readers, that nothing could be more groundless than were the accusations brought against our Lord before Pilate. Every investigation which took place terminated only in his greater glorification. We rejoice at this result; for you know how much we are personally interested in his coming forth justified from every tribunal. "Just and right is he." No deceit was ever found in his mouth, and he was the personification of every moral virtue, and in this respect, he has left us an example, that we should follow his steps.
Christ a King
Let us now return to the Mighty Captive. He suffers himself to be judged, in order that he may subsequently interfere, both legally and effectually, on our behalf, who had become amenable to divine justice. In every step of his path of suffering, he proves himself to be the man who "restored what he took not away." But he would not have been such a mediator if, even in his form of humiliation, he had not been at the same time, "higher than the heavens." This his superhuman glory breaks forth victoriously on every occasion, through the obscurity of his lowliness, like the sun through the veil of clouds. Nor can he so entirely restrain it as to prevent at least a few glimmerings of it from constantly shining forth. Those who are the blindest, are aware of its reflection, and feel surprised. But the sun's rays produce one effect upon a morass, and another on the slumbering germs of a well-tilled field.
To form a correct idea, however, of Pilate's state of mind, a different figure must be found to either of those just mentioned. For we still find in him a degree of humanity and of susceptibility for something better. He is not the cold, shallow, worn-out man of the world, to which many would degrade him. God, indeed, will judge him, but not with the lukewarm, who disgust him, and whom, like the Laodiceans, he will spue out of his mouth.
The governor after listening to the accusations of the priests and rulers, returns thoughtfully into his palace, and commands Jesus to be again brought before him. The sacred sufferer appears in silence in the chamber of his judge. It is evident that the Roman cannot avoid feeling a degree of veneration for the wonderful man; and who is there can do otherwise? Even the rudest scoffers feel, in their consciences, the sting of their attacks upon the Lord Jesus, and endeavor, by means of ridicule, to drown the reproving voice within them for their enmity to him.
Pilate begins his examination by asking, "Are you the king of the Jews?" This he seems to have uttered in a mollified tone, in the full expectation of his saying in reply, "God forbid, that I should seek after such high things!" Much would he have given to have heard such a declaration from his lips, partly, that he might have a legal ground for officially rejecting the accusation of the malignant Jews, and partly in order, in an easy manner, to get rid of the Nazarene, of whose innocence he is fully persuaded. Jesus, however, does not give the desired answer in the negative; but, on the contrary, he affirms it, after rectifying the false views of his kingdom, with which the governor was imbued. He begins his reply to Pilate's question, by asking in return, "Say you this thing of yourself, or did others tell it you of me?" These words were calculated to remind the judge of his duty, not to enter further upon things merely of a suspicious nature, which, like the charge brought forward by the Jews, bore the stamp of falsehood upon its front. "Of yourself," the Savior intended to say, "you do not surely speak thus, since, being in possession of intelligence respecting my conduct, you are doubtless sufficiently convinced of the absurdity of the Jewish accusation. But how does it consist with the dignity of your office, that you condescend to treat such a groundless charge, in such a serious manner?"
There is also a profounder meaning in our Lord's words, which may be expressed as follows: "Is it of importance to you—and such it ought to be—to inquire, whether, and in what sense I am a king; or was the impulse to your question given you by the language of others?" Had Pilate been able to answer the first in the affirmative, that hour would have been to him a time of eternal salvation. But his answer was not of a kind to induce the Savior to initiate him more deeply into the mysteries of his kingdom.
Our Lord's question is still put in a certain sense to all. It is of the highest importance, whether as inquirers, we approach the kingdom of truth by impulse from without, or from a feeling of inward necessity. Thousands ask, "Who is Christ?" only because they wish to know whether this or that divine teaches correctly and scripturally respecting him and his cause. People of this description may attain to a degree of mastery in the knowledge of divine things; but this kind of wisdom, however comprehensive it may be, will never produce peace and salvation. Those, on the contrary, who approach the Lord and his word from an inward impulse, and for the sake of their soul's welfare, will behold "the King in his Beauty," and find unsealed the mystery of godliness.
The governor has not wholly misunderstood the Lord's words, even in their profounder meaning, and clearly perceives that Jesus seeks to make an impression upon him, and to incite him to be serious with regard to the question concerning his kingdom. But scarcely does he perceive our Lord's intention than he adroitly evades it, and says, with a degree of harshness, which makes it clearly appear that he is struggling against the idea of coming into closer contact with the mysterious personage before him, "Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you unto me. What has you done?" We see how purposely he tries to liberate himself from him, as though he feared lest the awe-inspiring influence which the deportment of Jesus exercised over him, might become stronger, and in the end overpowering. "Am I a Jew?" he asks, and thereby means to say, "Can you expect me to have any regard to the question whether you are really the promised Messiah or not? What have we citizens of Rome to do with the hopes of the Jews?"
Observe here how Pilate is the inventor of the often-repeated artifice of infidels—that of regarding both the Old and New Testament only as Oriental literature. They are anxious to discuss their estrangement from Christianity on the ground which Pilate takes, of not being a Jew. It is a current saying with such people, "Every nation has its own sphere of religious ideas; and hence what responds to the peculiarity of one nation, is not, on that account, for all." The prophets—no, even the Lord himself and his apostles, are treated just like the sages of Grecian antiquity, or the Saphis of Persia, and the Brahmins of India. There, as here, men investigate under the pretense of retaining what is good. But the idea of belonging to any particular religion, like that of Palestine, as if it were the universal religion, they reject. What blindness! Is the sun a particular light, and of no use to the north, because it rises in the east?
Our Lord easily perceives how little inclined the governor is to lend his ear to deeper explanations, and, therefore, he confines himself to the placing the charge made by the Jews in its proper light. "My kingdom," says he, "is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is my kingdom not from hence." How simple, and yet how striking are these words! How they overthrow the absurd accusation that his intention was to subvert the government! But do not leave unobserved how carefully he selects his words, while thus defending himself, lest he should infringe upon the truth even by a mere omission. He does not deny that he came to establish a kingdom, and expressly calls it his kingdom; he only repels the groundless suspicion of his having intended to overturn the existing authorities, and to establish a new political state. "Had this been my intention," says he, "then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews." He does not, however, say that his kingdom makes no claim eventually to the government of the whole world, or he would have denied more than was consistent with truth. He only asserts that his kingdom was not of this world, and clearly intimates, by laying the emphasis on the word "this," that another aeon than the present would certainly see his delegates seated on the thrones, and his word and Gospel the magna charta of all nations. It is particularly to be observed that in the sentence, "Now is my kingdom not from hence," the word "now," evidently refers to a period in which his kingdom should occupy a very different position than it did at that time.
Pilate listens with astonishment and with a degree of uneasiness to our Lord's speech, and then affected by a reverential impression respecting the person of the accused, he says, "Are you a king then?" One might have thought he would have said, "I clearly see that you are not a king." But it would appear that the idea became increasingly strong in him that this Jesus was really a king, although in a different sense from what the Jews declared he pretended to be. But the case is similar with regard to many in the present day. These people are still capable of a slight consciousness of a superior nature, and of an elevation of spirit into the regions above the senses, although they continue in their unbelief, and are never clear in their own minds about the person of Christ. Though they were to say a hundred times, with apparent conviction, that Jesus was nothing more than a man, yet it only requires that the Gospel, with its sacred imagery, be once expanded before them, and they are no longer able to utter the words with the same confidence. An obscure feeling which pervades their minds objects to it; and in the bottom of their soul the question of Pilate again is heard, "Are you a king then?" And when, notwithstanding, they try to defend the bulwark of their unbelief, nothing is left them but by constraint to belie the voice of truth within them, which thousands, alas! do, because a recognition of Christ as a king would cost them the delight they experience in the service of the world and sin.
I here call to mind a well-known learned man of Saxony, who after having all his life long attacked Jesus and his Gospel with all the weapons of sophistry, was in his old days partially deprived of his reason, chiefly through the fear of death, and frequently fell into religious paroxysms of a peculiar nature. He was almost daily observed conversing with himself while pacing to and fro in his chamber, on one of the walls of which, between other pictures, hung one of the Savior. Repeatedly he halted before the latter, and said to it, in a horrifying tone of voice, "After all, you were only a man!" Then, after a short pause, he would continue, "What, were you more than a man? Ought I to worship you? No, I will not worship you, for you are only Rabbi Jesus, Joseph's son of Nazareth." Uttering these words, he would turn his back upon the picture; but immediately afterward he would return with a deeply affected countenance, and exclaim, "What do you say?—That you come from above? How terribly you eye me! O you are dreadful! But—you are only a man after all." Then he would again rush away, but soon return with faltering step, crying out, "What, are you in reality the Son of God?" In this way the same scenes were daily renewed, until the unhappy man, struck by paralysis, dropped down dead, and then really stood before his Judge, who, even in his picture, had so strikingly and overpoweringly judged him. Tradition relates also, respecting the man whom we have heard asking, under such peculiar excitement, "Are you a king then?" that, being exiled, he died as a lunatic at Lyons. Be that as it may, it remains true that there is nothing more dangerous than obstinately to resist the Spirit of Truth when he performs his witnessing, warning, and reproving office in us.
What answer does the Lord Jesus make to Pilate's question? "You say it, I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth hears my voice." He is, therefore, a king. He boldly asserts it himself. Not for a moment did the shame and suffering he was enduring succeed in obscuring in him the consciousness of his superhuman dignity and majesty. May you who are our brethren in the Lord, in the midst of the weakness of the flesh, and the various afflictions through which you have to pass, never wholly lose the divine consciousness of your adoption. Christ is a king; you are, therefore, not in error who wear his uniform, and have trusted your life and destiny to his hands. You are perfectly justified, not only in speaking of Christ's kingdom, but also in bidding adieu to the last doubt of its final victory and eventual sway over the world, although his kingdom is not of this world, or, as he majestically expresses himself, like one looking down from the heights of heaven upon the earth, "Now is my kingdom not from hence"—that is, has no earthy origin.
Christ is a king. "To this end," says he, "was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness of the truth." Two objects are mentioned here; the first has reference to his royalty, by which he asserts that he was no adventurer, but was born a king, such as the wise men from the east correctly honored when they hailed him as the new-born king of the Jews. The second has reference to his bearing witness. In the words, "I was born," he indicates his incarnation. But, lest Pilate, or any one else, should erroneously suppose that Jesus included his whole origin in these words, he adds, "I came into the world;" thereby intimating his heavenly descent, and his existence before he appeared in the flesh—yes, before the world was. We ought highly to esteem such testimonies of his eternal and divine nature from his own lips. Their value is increased in an age like the present which is so full of skepticism, and which so boldly dares to stamp the Lord Christ as a mere man. Had this really been the case, there would at once be an end of the Christian religion, and nothing would be left us but to close our churches and bury all our hopes; because the latter rest wholly on the divinity of Jesus Christ as upon their essential basis. Let us, therefore, cleave firmly to this doctrine, seeing that it is clearly and fully asserted in the sacred Scriptures, especially at a time when, to use the language of the apostle Peter, there are many "false teachers who privily bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction."
It is pleasing to observe how the Lord, out of consideration for the governor, imperceptibly leads him from his kingly office to the circumstance of his bearing witness, and to the truth as its object. He hopes, by so doing, to touch the string which would be the first to reverberate at the sound of the Gospel. The perverted Roman was also an inquirer after truth, for this question belonged to the Grecian subjects of study which the Romans had also taken up, although in other respects more intent upon war than any other pursuit. A seeking after truth belongs to human nature, and is accustomed to be the last feature of it that perishes. Some one well observes here, that "Jesus lays hold of Plate by the only topic by which he could make an impression on him." Thus carefully does the Lord proceed in the exercise of his pastoral office, while taking into account the particular inward state of every individual whom he strives to save.
Christ, however, did not come into the world to join himself to the seekers after truth as their confederate, but rather to lead them on to the aim they were in search of, and thus bring them to the Sabbath of repose. He did not come, as some think, to bring down truth from heaven to earth, but, as he himself says, "to bear witness of the truth." Truth already existed, interwoven in the history of Israel, and clothed in the inspired language of Moses and the Prophets. Christ only bore witness to it, and confirmed it in the most comprehensive manner, accomplishing prophecy in himself, and presenting, in his own person, the realization of the law's fulfillment. In his whole conduct he exhibits to the world the divine origin of the law, and, in the events of his life, that of prophecy. He bore witness of the truth, inasmuch as in his own person, while casting down all that is false, he was able to display it, in all its splendor, in the face of heaven, earth, and hell. He who looked upon Jesus, if the eye of his mind were not entirely blinded, saw in him the actual solution of the most important questions which can arise in the mind of man. He no longer needed to be told what was to be regarded, held, and believed of God and the world, heaven and earth, virtue and sin, and of man's vocation and his future state. He knew it all, and that with the utmost certainty.
But how was it that the Lord, who never abruptly passed from one idea to another, connected his witnessing for the truth with his kingdom and dominion? Did he mean to say that his kingdom was only a sphere of tuition, and he in so far only a king, as he was able to reign over the minds of men by his teaching? By no means. We have already observed that he was far from placing his regal power and dignity in the fact of his bearing witness to the truth. He does not bear such witness as a king, but as a prophet; and points out the way in which he will establish his kingdom, which he intimates in the words, "He who is of the truth hears my voice." Yes, those who hear his voice are the citizens of his kingdom.
The expression, "every one that is of the truth," betokens an inward preparation for conversion, which no one, however, experiences without the operation of "preventing grace." No one is by nature of the truth; but all men, as the Scriptures say, are liars, since they love darkness, rather than light, because the light reproves them for their sins, and disturbs their repose; and because they press error to their bosoms, and shut themselves up against the entrance of truth, which menaces their sensual pleasures with danger, and urges them to a life of self-denial. Thus, as St Paul once expressed it, they "hold the truth in unrighteousness." But as soon as the Spirit, which, like the wind, blows where it wills, gains room, the love of delusion gives way to the ardent desire to be freed from it, and studious self-deception to the willingness to "prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good." Before the honest, serious inquiry after truth and peace, the visionary forms of those false ideas vanish, to which the poor soul had been previously attached. But when, by the operation of the Spirit of God, we have attained to this simplicity of heart, we become joined to those who are of the truth. Then, if the Divine Teacher utters his voice, how does our inmost soul echo to the sound of his light and life-giving words. If he then says, "Come unto me, you that are weary and heavy laden," how gladly do we accept the gracious invitation! If he then unveils his glory and beauty, how do our longing souls rush into his arms rejoicing! If he then displays the standard of his cross, how do we not hasten to it, to build tabernacles under its peaceful shadow!
O my dear readers, were you all of the truth, what a blessed thing it would be to write to and address you, and what an increase would the kingdom of God among us have to rejoice over! Then could I say with his beloved disciple, in writing to "the elect lady," "I rejoiced greatly when I found certain of your children walking in the truth;" and to his beloved Gaius, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth." But it happens to thousands as it did to poor Pilate, whose ear was beginning to open to divine truth, but was soon closed again by the objections of carnal reason and the predominating influence of temporal things. Therefore, let us not cease, dear readers, to call upon the King of Truth to do violence to us, and not leave us until he has attuned the chords of our soul in such a manner that his word may find a full and abiding echo in us. Let us entreat, above all things, the hearing ear, the understanding, believing, child-like, and simple heart, and plead his gracious promise to guide the meek in judgment, and to teach the humble his way.
"What is Truth?"
In the whole of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, with the exception of the words prefixed to our present meditation, we do not find a single passage which sounds anything like the complaining inquiry which so often reaches our ears: "Who will give us light, and solve the dark problem of human life?" On the contrary we every where meet with the presupposed fact that truth has not first to be sought, but has long since been bestowed upon man. The different relations in which the pious and the impious stand to it are not those of belief and doubt, but of a willing submission and a wicked resistance to it. The words in Deut. 29:29—"The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever,"—stand immutably firm for all. He who would render it dubious whether God had ever spoken to the sojourners upon the earth, would have seemed to the Israelites like one who should doubt at noon-day whether the sun stood in the skies. The complaint of a want of certainty with respect to that which is above the senses is a folly of modern date, and a relic of heathenism. It is a question long since infallibly answered, both as regards the origin and object of created things, and the calling and destiny of the human race; and the cheering fact that it is so is testified by the words of Moses we quoted above. Those things which are revealed belong unto us and our children forever. But when, by the Holy Spirit, he states, that "the secret things belong unto the Lord our God," he intends we should understand that the truth is only revealed to us to the extent of our capacities, and as far as is necessary for our salvation. This conviction greatly tranquilizes us, in the face of so many unsolved enigmas which meet us in the doctrines of faith which are preached to us. When, for instance, our attention is directed to the doctrine of God's eternal existence, of the Trinity, the creation of the world, the fall of the angels and of man, the twofold nature in Christ, the final consummation of all things, etc., we rack our reason in vain, and our hearts and minds are distressed by their incomprehensibility, we ought then to say, in the words of revelation, "Secret things belong to the Lord our God." He has only partially revealed these things to us, but that which we do know abundantly suffices for the attainment of the great object of our salvation. We know now in part what we shall hereafter know perfectly. For that period we patiently wait, and feel assured, that when it shall have dawned upon us with its all-pervading and enlightening radiance, doubt and darkness will be forever dispelled, and give place to never-ending and admiring adoration.
These brief observations may serve as an introduction to our present meditation, by which may the Lord be pleased to establish us in the conviction that He himself is the Truth, as well as the Way and the Life!
"He who is of the truth," said our Lord at the conclusion of his reply, "hears my voice." Pilate then said unto him, "What is truth?" Some have found in these words a gentle sneer; others the expression of a complete indifference to religion. But neither of these explanations fully accord with the man's character. The words are more profound and important. They shed light upon an entire age, and upon the inmost state of mind of thousands of its children.
We have already observed that Pilate lived in days which might be designated as those of the mature education of mankind, so far as we understand by that expression, intellectual and moral culture, to which the children of Adam, left to themselves and by the exercise of their own natural powers and abilities are able to attain. Not only had are reached its highest perfection, but philosophy was also at the summit of its boldest investigations; and even to the present day we admire the systems which, by the effort of highly gifted reasoning powers, they called into existence. But still there was no satisfactory basis for them to rest upon. Although the human mind had brought to light much that was probable, yet anything certain and infallible was sought for in vain. Even the greatest of all the sages of antiquity confessed that only if a God were to descend from heaven would it be possible for men to attain to that which was sure. No, the saying became common-place, that only one thing was certain, which was, that we could know nothing of things above the reach of the senses, and even this was not entirely certain.
Such were the views which first gave rise in Greece to that frivolous philosophy of life which, renouncing everything of a superior and super-sensible nature, placed the whole destiny of man in the enjoyment of this world and its pleasures, and which, in a short time, with all its attendant excesses and vices, became the religion of the great mass of the population. In the Roman empire, a certain moral discipline was preserved somewhat longer than in Greece. But after the Romans had subjugated the latter to their sway, those who had thus become their subjects, soared above their conquerors in an intellectual and social point of view, and bequeathed to them, along with their unbelief, their frivolity and their sins. In the higher circles, the traditional belief in a number of deities was not only laid aside, but ridiculed as worthless and visionary; and thus the celebrated Roman orator, Cicero, made himself sure of the applause of his hearers, when, addressing an assembly of the people, he alluded to the punishments of the lower world only in an ironical manner. Scarcely any one any longer believed in Orcus, and its shades and horrors; and just as little faith did they place in the systems of the philosophers. In short, they believed nothing; yet still the negation of the head was by no means able to silence the cry for light and peace from the hearts of thousands.
Pilate stands before us as the true representative of the social culture of his age. Though we must not take it for granted that he ever deeply studied the various systems of philosophy, yet, like others of his own rank, he was doubtless acquainted with the essential results of philosophical investigation, while to the literature of his age he was doubtless no stranger. This man's path through life brought him into contact with the Lord from heaven, and thus placed him in a spiritual atmosphere, in which feelings and presentiments again awoke in him which seemed to have been long stifled by the breath of the frivolous culture of the age, which he had imbibed with his mother's milk. Christ, whose very appearance produced a strange effect upon this heathen, speaks to him of another world, of a heavenly kingdom, and finally of a truth which had appeared, and which, therefore, might be really found and known. Pilate then breaks out into the remarkable words, "What is truth?" The polished heathen of that age, and one of the better kind of them, displays to us by this question his inward state. Something of free-thinking frivolity certainly strikes us in this question on the outset, which causes the inquirer to smile, not only at the popular belief in idols, but, generally speaking, in everything which had reference to the sphere of religious ideas, as nothing but childish dreams and fantastic delusions. "What is truth?" was at that time the language of thousands: "That which we see with our eyes, and feel with our hands, is the only thing that is certain under heaven. No mortal eye sees beyond the limits of the region of the senses; and though the plea of a poetic imagination may be able to satisfy those upon one stage of life and culture, it cannot satisfy all."
In Pilate's question, we may further perceive the skeptical philosopher of rank, who is not only aware that the researches of human thought lead to the most diversified and opposite results; but who also cherishes the idea that he has himself reflected and ruminated upon the labors of the wise of this world, and that by his own reasoning upon them, he has arrived at the conviction that nothing can be known or ascertained of things which lie beyond the bounds of visibility. "What is truth?" he exclaims—"One man calls this truth, another that, which is perhaps even something quite the opposite. Systems rise and fall. The man who seeks for truth, sails upon a sea without a haven or a landing-place."
In Pilate's question is also apparent the boundless pride of the Roman citizen, who, as respects enlightenment and culture, thinks himself far above all the other nations of the earth, and the Jews in particular. Pilate utters his inquiry with a degree of inward, though transient excitement, as if he would say, "You, a Hebrew rabbi, will surely not think that I, a Roman patrician, am going to seek instruction from you?" The pervading tone of Pilate's question is, however, of a better kind, and is only slightly tinged with the discords hitherto mentioned. It breathes of melancholy, dejection, and even the silent despair of a heart, which, with the belief in the existence of a world above the stars, cannot throw away the wish and the feeling of necessity for such a world. The soul of Pilate finds itself unhappy and desolate in the dreary waste of absolute unbelief, into which it is banished.
Were we to elucidate the governor's question, and explain it as proceeding from the inmost recesses of his soul, it would probably imply what follows: "You speak of truth, alas! Truth was never given to a poor mortal to be the companion of his steps. We inquire after it, but echo, as if in ridicule of our anxious desire, only returns our question back to us. We plant the ladder of investigating cogitation, but its steps only lead us into impenetrable mists. Not a single truth has rewarded the many thousand years' research of philosophic thought, and yet you, Man of Nazareth, speak of truth, as of a resident on the gloomy earth! Death has been silent from the first; the grave below is silent, as well as the stars above; and do you wish to be regarded as having loosed their tongues and unsealed their mysteries?" In Pilate there was doubtless something of the proud philosopher, something of worn-out indifference, something of the professed skeptic, something of the frivolous free-thinker and scoffer, and something of the hasty, jealous, and haughty blusterer, who, with his inquiry, "What is truth?" also meant to say, "How could you venture to trouble me with your Jewish matter of faith, who have things of greater importance to think of?" But still there is something beside this—something better and nobler—an unperverted inquiring mind—a longing for deliverance, but bound down, alas! by the impure and gloomy elements, which enthrall him, so that he cannot act at liberty.
As often as this question of Pilate's occurs to me, it appears to me as if it had not been asked eighteen centuries ago, but as if uttered in the present day—no, it even seems to sound in my ears as proceeding from my immediate vicinity. It strikingly indicates many philosophers of our own times, and the so-called "height," which modern intellectual refinement has reached; only that the question, in the mouths of our contemporaries, sounds infinitely more culpable than from the lips of the Roman, whose eyes had not seen what we have; for at that time Jesus was not glorified, nor his Spirit poured out from on high, nor the world subdued by the preaching of the Gospel, nor the wondrous edifice of the Church of Christ established. But after all this has taken place, for a man to step back again to the position of Pilate, a mere heathen, is something no longer human but devilish. An infernal spark now burns in skepticism; and the dubiousness of the Roman, compared with the unbelief of our baptized heathens, is almost like an innocent lamb contrasted with a wily serpent. Unbelief is now no longer the blind bantling of a heart ensnared, and deluded by the spirit of this world; but the light-shunning offspring of a wicked and rebellious will. We feel a degree of pity and compassion for Pilate, but for infidels of the present day, nothing is left them but the fate of those who refuse to come to Christ, that they may have life, to whom is reserved "the blackness of darkness forever."
"What is truth?" It is soon found, when earnestly sought. There are many, who inquire respecting certain truths, but studiously turn their backs upon the truth of the Gospel, wherever it meets them. They would be glad to see solved a number of problems in nature and in human life; but all their research is a mere effort of the imagination, and the interest they take in it only vain curiosity. They take part in discussions respecting the creation of the world, existence after death, and the kind of life beyond the grave. But they shun the truth as it is in Jesus, and seek in a variety of ways to avoid and evade it. Do you still ask if truth really exists? I tell you, it is in your heart and in your mouth, and your hands lay hold of it. Are not these truths, that you exist, that you bear indelibly in your bosom a consciousness of a higher destiny, but that you are a sinful being, removed far from your legitimate aim, and find, in your soul, no peace which can stand the test? Further, that eighteen hundred years ago, a man appeared upon earth, whom no one could convict of any other crime than that of calling himself "the Truth;" and of having announced himself as the Messiah, who should eventually subdue the whole world to his spiritual scepter; and that you, with all your boasted liberty and independence, are now experiencing the consequences of the fact that a long time ago, at a great distance, in a despicable corner of the earth, yonder despised rabbi of an inconsiderable nation, was executed like a slave; and that on his account, your destinies, in all their relations, are entirely changed from what they would otherwise have been—all this is beyond a doubt; and is not this, therefore, the truth?
Follow the clue of what you now acknowledge as so irrefutable; and you will soon become conscious that mankind is guided by an all-overruling power, and will then be able to swear that a God, who is love itself, must inevitably have revealed himself to his poor dying creatures. And it will not be long before you will behold these revelations beaming in a clear light from the writings of Moses and the prophets. Truth meets you in the nomadic tents of the patriarchs of Israel, as well as in the encampments of the people of God, when wandering in the wilderness. It speaks to you in a voice of thunder from Mount Sinai, and in gentler tones, from the hills and valleys of Canaan. You hear her voice on Bethlehem's plains, in the harmonious psalms of the "sweet singer of Israel;" and it greets you in the halls of the temple, in significant types and mysterious hieroglyphics. You approach Jehovah's seers, and your astonished eye looks up to a brilliant starry skies. They are thoughts of truth, which shine upon you with such supernatural radiance. Led by the hand of these holy seers, you go forward, and are greeted at length by the Truth in person. "I am the Truth," says one, everything about whom, points him out as more than human; and all who long for the light, are heard exclaiming, "You are He!" That above the clouds there reigns a supreme governor of the world—who this God is—what is his will with respect to his creatures—for what purpose man was created—what is his high calling and true destiny—all this is revealed to you, beyond contradiction, in Jesus Christ. In his manifestation, the depths of Deity, the counsels of eternal love, the abyss of divine mercy, the secrets of life and death, of heaven and hell are unfolded. To every question—be it respecting the essence and marrow of the divine law, the nature of true virtue and holiness, the model of human nature, or whatever it may be—he is himself the decisive and personal reply. And when he speaks and acts, the spirits of doubt, delusion, and falsehood flee away, and light, certainty, and confidence approach us with their heavenly salutation of "Peace be with you!"
Then let the question of Pilate, "What is truth?" no longer be heard upon earth. It can now only be asked by imbecility or obstinate self-deception and diabolical hatred of the light. Truth has made its entry into the world, and dwells confidingly among us, accessible to all who sincerely seek it. A philosophy that acts as if it must first bring up truth from the deep, or fetch it down from heaven, will be punished for its base ingratitude toward the God of grace, by being left to grope eternally in the dark, to grasp at shadows, and never to reach the end of its fruitless investigations. The true object of philosophy now would be to fathom and exhaust the inmost consciousness of the human spirit, and, free from prejudice, to try the effect upon its indelible necessities of the truth which has appeared in Christ. If this were done, it would soon moor its bark, after its long aberrations, on the shores of Mount Zion, and joyfully exclaim, "I have found what I sought, I have reached my goal." All who seriously and sincerely inquire for truth will inevitably land, at last, in the haven of the Gospel. Hence the Savior was able, with the greatest confidence to say "He who is of the truth, hears my voice."
Let us thank and praise the all-sufficient God for the unspeakable gift he has bestowed upon us. "Behold, the night is far spent, and the day is at hand." The prophetic call to "Arise and shine for your light is come," has long been fulfilled. May the admonition which that call includes be responded to by us, and its promise be experienced! Let us cheerfully make room, in our hearts and minds, for the Truth, which stands at our door, and let us walk as children of the light. He is the Truth, who is at the same time the Way and the Life. Let us cast the viperous brood of doubts beneath his feet, that he may trample upon them, and make him our all in all, for life, death, and eternity.