The Suffering Savior
Meditations on the Last Days of Christ
by F. W. Krummacher (1796-1868)
The Lamb of God
After his first conversation with Jesus, Pilate again comes forward into the open court before the people, bringing the accused with him. The governor's inward state is no longer unknown to us. We are acquainted with him as a man in whom all susceptibility for true greatness of soul was by no means extinguished. A silent admiration of the extraordinary personage who stood before him, pervaded the whole of the procedure respecting him. The words he uttered, the silence he observed, his look, and his whole bearing, his humility, and then again his sublime composure, his lamb-like patience, and undisturbed self-possession—all this made a powerful impression upon Pilate; and if he had given vent to that which passed fleetingly through his mind, he would, at least momentarily, have expressed something similar to the testimony given by the apostle John, "We beheld his glory, a glory as of the only-begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth." Yes, even Pilate bore within his bosom a mirror for the beauty of the Lord from heaven, only it was, alas! an icy mirror, over which the warm tears of penitence had never flowed. Where the latter are wanting, the mirror of the soul does not retain the rays of the Divine Morning Star, and receives its image at least but partially. Still, the dignity of Immanuel shone too powerfully into the soul of the Roman to leave him at liberty to act toward him as he pleased. To a certain extent, he had been inwardly overcome by him. He is compelled to absolve him from all criminality. He cannot avoid feeling a secret reverence for him, and as often as he is inclined to give way to selfish suggestions with regard to Jesus, he is condemned and warned by the voice of truth, which speaks within him, and is even constrained to act as the intercessor and advocate of the Just One. What majesty must have shone around the Lamb of God, even while suffering and ignominy rolled over his head, like the billows of the ocean, and with what wondrous radiance must the Son of Righteousness have broken through the clouds of such deep humiliation, as to be able to constrain even a worldly-minded epicurean to such a feeling of respect!
As was the case with Pilate, so would it be with many of like sentiments in the present day, if they were to come into similar contact with Jesus. I have those in view who have long forsaken the word and the Church of God, and intoxicated with the inebriating draught of the spirit of the age, have given up Christianity as no longer tenable, and have renounced Christ himself without previous examination, as though he were merely a Jewish rabbi, fallible like all other mortals. Far be it from me unconditionally to cast such people away. They are not all of them so wholly immersed in worldliness as to be entirely incapable of a nobler elevation of mind and feeling. They are only partially acquainted with him whom they have renounced, and in him condemn a personage entirely a stranger to them. O, if they could only once resolve to approach nearer to him by an impartial study of the Gospel history, and that of his Church in its victorious progress through the world, I am persuaded that they would soon find it impossible to continue indifferent to him in future, no, that before they were aware, they would feel constrained either to do homage to Jesus, and to give themselves up to him with all their hearts, or else that they would hate him, as One whose claim to rule over us we cannot gainsay, but to whose scepter we refuse to bow.
Pilate frankly says to the chief priests and all the people, "I find no fault in this man;" thereby confirming the words of the apostle Peter, according to which we "are not redeemed with corruptible things, such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot." It certainly manifests great shallowness of thought and deficiency of judgment to say, that he only finds no fault in Jesus. When the latter testified that he was the Son of the living God, and the King of the kingdom of heaven, he was guilty of a great crime, if his assertions were false, and these lofty titles only assumed. But if he was correct in uttering such exalted things respecting himself, how was it that the governor had nothing better to say for him than the meager testimony that he acknowledged him only to be guiltless? But even this assurance we gladly receive, and regard with emotion the man who is so favorably inclined toward the accused, and so powerfully affected by his innocence and moral unblameableness. Doubtless, after this testimony in his favor, Pilate would gladly have liberated him; but the Jews, the emperor, his position, and many other causes, prevent him from doing so. Oh, when it is only the conviction of the understanding, or even a natural presentiment, in place of a heart burdened with the guilt of sin, which connects us with Jesus—the Lord, when it comes to the point, will never find an advocate or intercessor who can be relied on. Such an one does not count all things but loss for Christ. For conscience' sake he would willingly stand in the breach for him with all boldness; but worldly honor, human favor, domestic and social peace, and the like, exercise over him a much more potent and overpowering influence. Far be it from me to act the part of a judge; but I am seriously afraid that among the number of believers in the present day, many may be found whose faith is only like that of Pilate. But this species of reverence for Jesus, however much of what is true and beautiful it may contain, will be found on the great sifting day only among the chaff which the wind drives away.
Pilate having uttered his inmost conviction of the innocence of Jesus, the chief priests, not a little enraged at their defeats foam out fresh accusations against the Righteous One. "They are the more fierce," says the narrative. They pour out a flood of rage and fury upon him, and now the saying of the prophet Isaiah was fulfilled: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet, like a lamb, he opened not his mouth."
The most significant and remarkable type introduced into the divine ordinances, as well as into Israel's history and ritual, was the lamb. It even meets us at the threshold of paradise in the sacrifice of Abel, as an object peculiarly acceptable in the sight of God. Later on, the lamb with its blood consecrates the commencement of the history of the Israelites. The sprinkling of the door-posts with the blood of lambs was the means of Israel's preservation in Egypt from the sword of the destroying angel, and the departure of the people from Pharaoh's house of bondage. From that time, the lamb continued to be the most prominent figure by which God typified the future Messiah to the children of Abraham. Thenceforward it acquired an abiding footing in Israel's sacrificial rights in general, and in the yearly passover in particular. In the latter, each household was enjoined by the Mosaic law to bring a male lamb, without blemish or infirmity to the sanctuary, there solemnly confess their transgressions over it, then bring it, typically burdened with their sins, to the court of the temple to be slain; and after it was roasted, consume it entirely, in festive communion, with joy and thanksgiving to Jehovah. That which was prophetically typical in this ceremony was so apparent that even the most simple mind could not mistake it. Every one who was only partially susceptible of that which was divinely symbolical, felt immediately impressed with the idea that this divine ordinance could have no other aim than to keep alive in Israel, along with the remembrance of the promised Deliverer, the confidence and hope in him.
John the Baptist appears in the wilderness; and the first greeting with which he welcomes Jesus, which was renewed whenever he saw him, is, "Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sins of the world!" thereby directing the attention of the whole world to Jesus, as if there were thenceforward nothing else worth seeing in heaven or on earth than this Lamb of God; and by so doing, he certainly directs us to the greatest and most beatifying of all mysteries, and to the pith and marrow of the entire Gospel. For if Christ had been only the "Lion of the tribe of Judah," and not at the same time "the Lamb," what would it have availed us? As "the Lamb," he is the desire of all nations, the star of hope to the exiles from Eden, the sun of righteousness in the night of sorrow to those whom the law condemns, and the heavenly lamp to the wanderer in the gloomy valley of death.
He is all this as "the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world." But this expression implies, not only that the sin of the world grieves his sacred heart, or that he endured the contradiction of sinners against himself, and that he patiently bore the pain inflicted on him by their sins, and by his life and doctrine aimed at removing sin. The words have a meaning which cannot be properly fathomed. Christ bore the sin of the world in a much mere peculiar and literal sense than that just mentioned. He bore it by letting it be imputed to him by his Father, in a manner incomprehensible to us, so that it became no longer ours but his. For we read in 2 Cor. 5:19, that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." What can this mean, but that God did not leave the world to suffer for its trespasses, nor even for its sins. And if it be asked, "Who then did suffer if the world escaped?" We find the answer in the 21st verse, where it is said, "God made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." This being made sin, must mean the same thing as was signified by imputing sin. Now, if any one objects and says that sin is something personal, and though it may be transferred by infection and seduction, it cannot be so by the imputation of the guilt of others to an innocent person: we reply, "Who are you, O man, that dare to call the word of God to account, which not only declares it possible, but also places it before us as something which has become a historical fact?"
Here we must not pass, unnoticed, the wonderful union and amalgamation into which Christ entered with the human race, the mysterious depths of which we shall never fathom here below. Eventually, we shall be astonished in what a profound and comprehensive sense Christ became our head; and how literally the title belonged to him of the representative of our race. But then we shall also learn to know and comprehend how, without infringing upon the moral order of the world, the guilt of others could be transferred to him, and how he could thus become "the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world."
Keeping this position of our Lord in view as Mediator and Surety, the accusations, which were heaped upon Christ by the Jews, acquire a deep symbolical signification. Although in the abstract, as far as they have reference to our Lord in his moral capacity, they were the most abominable slanders and falsehoods; yet in another respect, they have much of truth at their basis. The world, according to God's counsel and will, discharges on its representative, Jesus Christ, the transgressions of which itself is guilty; and the groundless accusations of the Jews serve only to place in the brightest and most brilliant light, the Lamb-like character of our great Redeemer.
Still more clearly does "the Lamb of God" manifest itself in Christ, in the conduct which he observes, amid the furious accusations of his adversaries. Jesus is silent, as if actually guilty of all that they charge upon him. Pilate, unable to cope with the storm which roars around him from the crowd below, almost entreats the Lord to say something in his own defense. But Jesus is silent. Pilate, occupied solely with him, says to him, "Answer you nothing? Behold how many things they witness against you! Hear you not?" "But Jesus," as the narrative informs us, "answered nothing, not even a word, insomuch that the governor marveled greatly." How could he do otherwise, seeing that he only measured the Lord's conduct by a human standard? Every one else, at a moment when life was at stake, would have hastily brought together everything that could have overthrown the charges brought against him, especially, if so much had stood at his command, as in the case of Jesus; but he is silent. Every one else would at least have demanded proofs of the truth of the shameless denunciations of his opponents; but not a syllable proceeds from Jesus' lips. Every one else, in his situation, would have appealed from the mendacious priesthood to the consciences of the people, and have roused the feeling of what is just and right in those who were not entirely hardened, of whom, in the moving mass of men, there were doubtless many; but Jesus appealed to no one, either in heaven or on earth. Ah! had Pilate known who he was that stood thus meekly before him, how would he have marveled! It was he, before whose judgment-seat all the millions that have ever breathed upon earth, will be summoned, that he may pronounce upon them their final and eternal sentence. It was he before whom the sons of Belial, who now heap their lying accusations upon him, will at length appear bound in the fetters of his curse, and who, under the thunder of his sentence, will call upon the rocks to fall upon them, and the hills to cover them, and hide them from the face of him that sits upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. And he now stands before their bar, and is mute, like one who thinks he must give up all hope of gaining his cause. But he is silent also, because in the consciousness of his innocence, he deems it beneath his dignity to waste one word in reply to such accusations. He is silent, that the sting of conscience may penetrate still deeper into the marrow of the reckless mob, who do not themselves believe in the falsehoods they foam out. Pilate assuredly feels something of the dignity and majesty which manifested itself in our Lord's silence; and it is this which is chiefly the object of the governor's astonishment and admiration.
But the Lord also observes silence with regard to those who blaspheme him in the present day. It is a silence of forbearance, but also partly of contempt; for they likewise blaspheme him against light and knowledge. Eventually he will speak to them, and then they will be constrained tremblingly to acknowledge that they would not have him to reign over them. Christ is silent, when his people murmur against him, and complain of his ways and guidance. He is mute, in this case also, from the profoundest feeling of innocence, well knowing, that while supplicating his forgiveness, they will kiss his hands for having led them just so, and not otherwise.
In other respects, Christ is not silent upon earth. He who has an ear for his voice, hears it in a variety of ways in every place. Witnessing for himself and his cause, he speaks at one time in obvious judgments, which he inflicts upon his foes; and at another, in tangible blessings and answers to prayer, with which he favors his friends. He speaks in the Sabbatic rest of soul, which those enjoy, who trust in him, as well as by the want of peace, the distressing care and fear of death, which are the lot of the ungodly. He speaks by the surprising confirmations which science, in its progress, is often involuntarily obliged to afford his word; as well as by the manifold signs of the times, which manifest nothing but a literal fulfillment of his prophesies. By fresh revivals of his Church, in spite of his enemies, who already begin to cry "Ichabod!" over her, he speaks within the bounds of Christendom, and bears witness in the heathen world, by new spiritual creations, which he wondrously calls into being, as of old, from apparently hopeless and worthless materials. Hence what we read in Psalm 19, literally becomes true: "There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their sound is gone forth through all the earth, and their words unto the end of the world."
But the chief cause of Jesus' silence amid the stormy accusations of his adversaries, has not yet been touched upon. It lies in his mediatorial position. In our Lord, the Lamb of God, the High Priest, the heavenly Surety, is silent, for he takes upon himself, without gainsaying, before the face of God, all that of which he is accused, because he is willing to suffer and repay, as the mediating and universal debtor, all that we have incurred. It is with peculiar reference to this that John the Baptist exclaimed, "Behold!" for here beams our Morning Star, here shines our Sun of Peace. His blood, when viewed in the true light, appeases every storm, heals every wound, blots out every sin, and removes the curse pronounced against it. The believing view of the Lamb of God harmoniously dissolves all our inward discords, restrains every passion, makes the commandment, which is otherwise a heavy chain, into a gentle yoke, beneath which, led by the paternal hand of Deity, we joyfully pursue our way. In this looking to the Lamb consists "the victory that overcomes the world," and with the latter, every distress in life and death. But when our eyes open in the heavenly world, we shall behold the Lamb without a veil. No cloud will then conceal him from us any more. We sink low at his feet in humble adoration, and join with the hosts of the just made perfect, in the never-ending hymn, "Worthy is the lamb that was slain to receive honor, and glory, and blessing, forever and ever." Amen.
Christ before Herod
Pilate's clear and decided testimony that he found no fault in Jesus, did not fail of its effect on his accusers. They stand aghast, and perceive the danger which threatens the result of their whole proceedings. Had Pilate manfully maintained throughout the tone of judicial decision with which he commenced, it would doubtless have burst the fetters imposed on the better feelings of a great part of the assembled multitude, and Christ have been set at liberty, and even saluted with new hosannas; while the tumult thus occasioned might have been attended with serious consequences to the chief priests and rulers. They were, therefore, compelled to oppose such a change in the state of things by every means in their power. They consequently again raise their voices with fresh complaints. But however great the clamor they make, they do not entirely succeed in concealing the embarrassment in which they are involved. Their accusations, though uttered more noisily than before, bear evident marks of their failing courage. Instead of denouncing the Lord, as before, as a rebel and a traitor—well aware that such a barefaced charge would no longer be responded to, and convinced of the necessity of supporting it by actual proof, they bring their accusation down to the unimportant assertion, that "he stirred up the people by his teaching, which he began in Galilee, and continued throughout all Jewry."
How easy would it have been for Pilate, by a rapid and prudent use of this favorable moment, to have triumphantly rescued his prisoner, and with him, himself and his own conscience! In order entirely to confuse and disarm his more than half subdued foes, he only needed, in a few energetic words, to have pointed out the baseness of their conduct. But fear had taken possession of the poor man to such a degree as to deprive him of the free use of his reasoning faculties, and compel him to have recourse to the most foolish measures. In the uproar, which, however, only showed the weakness of the adverse party, he imagines he hears some new storm rolling over his head, and how does he rejoice when the mention of Galilee seems to him to open a new way of escape. He hastily inquires "whether the man were a Galilean?" and on being answered in the affirmative, he exclaims with the delight of a seaman, who, after a long and stormy voyage at length discovers land, "He belongs, then, to Herod's jurisdiction!" and immediately gives orders for Jesus to be conducted bound to the latter, who happened fortunately to be at that time in Jerusalem, on account of the festival; and he feels as if a mountain were removed from his bosom, on seeing the troublesome captive withdraw, under the escort of the chief priests, soldiers, and the crowd that followed.
We already know something of Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee. He is the same wretched libertine who, after repudiating his consort, a daughter of Aretas, an Arabian king, and commencing an incestuous connection with Herodias, his half-brother's wife, at the instigation of the latter, caused John the Baptist, who had reproved him, in God's name, for his criminal conduct, to be beheaded in prison. For this crime his conscience severely smote him; and when he heard of Jesus and his doings, he could not be persuaded but that the wonder-worker was John whom he had murdered, but who had risen from the dead. A Sadducee according to his mental bias, more a heathen than an Israelite, and entirely devoted to licentiousness, he was nevertheless, as is often the case with such characters, not disinclined to base acts of violence, and capable of the most refined cruelties. Luke states respecting him that he had done much evil; and the only ironical expression that ever proceeded from the lips of the "Sinner's Friend," had reference to this miserable man, who was so well versed in all the arts of dissimulation and hypocrisy. For, on one occasion, when a number of Pharisees came to Jesus, and said, "Get you out and depart hence, for Herod will kill you," the Lord immediately perceived that in these apparently kind advisers he saw before him only emissaries from Herod himself, who, because he had not the courage to lay violent hands upon him, hoped, by empty threats, to banish him from his territory. He, therefore, said in reply to the hypocrites, unmasking them, to their profound disgrace, as well as that of their royal master, "Go you, and tell that fox, Behold I cast out devils and do cures today and to-morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Nevertheless, I must walk today and tomorrow and the day following."
To this degraded libertine, therefore, in whom every better feeling had been gradually extinguished, our Lord is brought, in order that he may not be spared from anything that is ignominious and repulsive, and that there might be no judicial tribunal before which he did not stand. The envenomed hosts of priests and Pharisees, with wild uproar, arrive with their prey before the residence of the Galilean king, who, on hearing what was the cause of the appearing of the unwonted crowd, orders the heads of the people, with their delinquent, to be brought before him. Jesus silently and gravely approaches his sovereign. The latter, as the narrative informs us, "when he saw Jesus, was exceeding glad; for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him, and he hoped to have seen some miracles done by him."
It may seem strange that Herod had never before seen the face of Jesus, although he so often abode in Galilee. But the Lord had never honored Tiberias, where Herod resided, with a visit, although he had frequently been near it; and for Herod to take a single step, in order to make the acquaintance of the Nazarene, who was so much spoken of, naturally never crossed the mind of one so destitute of all religious interest, and at the same time, so proud and overbearing as his Galilean majesty. It afforded him, however, no little pleasure, so conveniently and without risk, to see his long-cherished wish fulfilled. "At all events," thought he within himself, "it will afford an interesting pastime, an amusing spectacle. And if he will let himself be induced to unveil somewhat of the future to us, or perform a miracle, what a delightful hour might be spent!"
Herod, therefore, hoped to draw the Savior of the world into the circle of the objects of his amusement, even as he had dared to draw the head of John the Baptist into the sphere of his licentiousness. The king promised himself a recreation from the presence of Jesus, such as is expected from that of a juggler or a charlatan. In this respect, he represents those frivolous people who, according to the apostolic expression, "have not the Spirit," and to whom even the most sublime things are only a comedy. People of this description venture to intrude even into the sanctuary, and are apparently desirous of seeing Christ, at least as set forth in sermons, books, figures, or history, but only because of the aesthetic feeling thereby excited. Suffice it to say, that to such characters, even the church becomes a theater, the sermon a pastime, the Gospel a romance, and the history of conversions a novel. O how dangerous is the position of those, in whom all seriousness degenerates into empty jocularity, and everything that ought deeply to affect them, into jest and amusement! Before they are aware, this their volatility may end in an entire obtuseness to the more affecting descriptions of the last judgment, so that no more effect is produced upon them than is caused by the success of a scene in the drama; and the representation of the horrors of hell passes before them only like the exhibition of a magnificent firework, and causes them the same kind of feeling as the latter.
Herod regards our Lord, on his approach, with an inquisitive look, and after eyeing him from head to foot, presumes to put a number of foolish questions to him. Our Lord deigns him no answer, but observes complete silence. The king continues to question him, but the Savior is mute. Herod even suggests that he ought to perform some miracle. Jesus cannot comply with his wish, and gives him to know this by his continued silence more impressively than could have been done by words. The chief priests and scribes, indignant at his passive behavior, again begin their blasphemies, and accuse him vehemently. He regards them as unworthy of a reply, and continues to observe a silence, which is distressing and almost horrifying.
The Lord having refused to do the will of Herod and his satellites, the miserable men infer from his behavior that he is unable to do anything, and begin to despise him, and even to mock him. Painful are the mortifications that Jesus has here to endure. Even the hurrying him about, here and there,—Pilate's sending him to Herod, to show the latter a piece of civility—Herod's returning the compliment by sending him back to the Roman governor, that the latter may have the honor of pronouncing the final sentence upon him—what degradation is inflicted on the Lord of glory in all this! But this is only the beginning of disgrace and humiliation. How much has he to endure in the presence of Herod and his courtiers, who treat him as a juggler and a conjuror! He is urged to amuse the company by a display of his are. His ear is offended by impertinent questions; and on his making no reply to them all, the measure of insult and mockery overflows. He is treated as a simpleton, unworthy of the attention he has excited, who, after having acted his part, and proved himself to be merely a ridiculous enthusiast, is only deserving of universal contempt. Herod deems it unnecessary to take any serious notice of the accusations which the chief priests vent against Jesus. He thinks that no great weight ought to be attached to the senseless things which such a foolish fellow might presume to say of himself. He is sufficiently punished for his folly by his helplessness being now made known to the whole world, and by his thus becoming the object of pity and public ridicule. He carries out these sentiments, by causing, in his jocular mood, a white robe to be put upon the Lord, in order to point him out as a mock king and the caricature of a philosopher, or, perhaps even to stamp him as a lunatic, since it was customary in Israel to clothe these unfortunate people in white upper garments.
Such, my readers, is the sacrificial fire which burns in the narrative we are now considering. And tell me how the Most Holy One, who inhabits eternity, could quietly have borne to see such degradation of the Son of his good pleasure, without casting forth the lightnings of his wrath upon the perpetrators of such indignities, if the Lord Jesus had endured this scandalous treatment only for his own person, and not at the same time as standing in an extraordinary position, and exercising a mysterious mediation? But you know that he stood there in our stead, and as the second Adam, laden with our guilt. He there heard the Father's exclamation, "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow!" Here also was fulfilled the ancient prophetic saying, "The Lord laid upon him the iniquities of us all." "The chastisement of our peace was upon him." Thank God that such was the case; for I should never have been able, even if an angel from heaven had brought me the intelligence, to make room for the conviction that my sins would not be imputed to me, had I not, at the same time, been told what had become of the sins thus taken from me, since I know nothing more surely than this, that my blood-red sins cannot be arbitrarily pardoned and overlooked, or even pass unnoticed as trifles of no account. Were this the case, how would it be possible for me to believe any longer in a just and holy God? But the Gospel now comes in, and tells me most clearly the history of my misdeeds, how they were transferred to him who appeared in my place; and in his intervention, I now sensibly grasp the legal ground of my absolution. The Lord stands before Herod, as he did before Annas, Caiaphas, and Pilate, not merely to be judged by men, but by God at the same time; and it is my sin for which he atones, and my debt which he liquidates.
No wonder, therefore, that he resigns himself to the poisoned arrows which here pierce his heart in its most vulnerable part—that without gainsaying he listens to the most wicked imputations, and with lamb-like patience lets himself be branded both as a blasphemer and a fanatic, a rebel and a conspirator—that he even bears with equanimity the circumstance that Herod's expectations respecting him are gradually changed into contempt for his person—that the Lord of Glory suffers himself to be degraded so low as to become the butt of the miserable jokes of a contemptible and adulterous court. What he endures is horrible to think of; and yet it lay in his power, with a wave of his hand, to dash the reckless company to the ground. But he does not move a finger, and remains silent, for he knows that here is God's altar, and the fire, and the wood; and that he was the Lamb for the burnt-offering.
But however deep the humiliation in which we behold the Son of God; it is nevertheless interwoven throughout with traits which are glorifying to him, and tend to establish our faith.
Even in the childish joy which Pilate evinces at the prospect of transferring the process against Jesus to another, his deep conviction of the innocence and unblameableness of the accused is more clearly reflected than in all his oral assertions. His soul exults at the accidental information given him that Jesus belonged to the Galilean tetrarchate, which teaches us how fortunate the Roman esteemed his being thus able to escape from sharing in the guilt of condemning the Righteous One.
Of Herod it was said that he was "exceeding glad when he saw Jesus." This uncommon joy of the Galilean prince, that at last an opportunity was afforded him of seeing Jesus, face to face, is not less important in an apologetic point of view, and tends no less to the Lord's glorification than the joy of Pilate in being happily rid of him. The Savior must have excited a great sensation in the country, and not have displayed his marvelous powers in remote corners, but in places of public resort, that Herod thus burned with desire to make his personal acquaintance. And how uncommon and unique must the Lord's acts have been, that a man so totally dead to every better feeling, as that adulterer in a royal crown, should have such a desire!
Herod hoped, besides, that he would have seen some miracle performed by the Savior. This expectation is again a proof that Jesus had really sealed his divine mission by miraculous acts, and that the wonders he performed were universally acknowledged to be such. Herod does not intend first to try whether Jesus can work miracles, but takes his power and ability to do so for granted. But what a depth of inward corruption is betrayed in the fact that this man, in spite of his conviction of the Savior's ability to perform divine acts, not only refuses him belief and homage, but even degrades him to the state of an object of his scorn!
The tetrarch asks the Lord a variety of questions surpassing the bounds of human knowledge. He had therefore heard of the wisdom with which the Lord knew how to reply to questions of this kind, and to solve every difficulty. Hence he involuntarily does honor to Christ's prophetical office. And even in the circumstance that Herod did not venture to go further in his ridicule than the clothing Jesus in a white toga, when the latter observed a profound silence to his questions—he manifests a secret reverence for him, and thus proves anew that Christ must have actually spoken in an ambiguous manner of his kingdom, and of a dominion which he came to establish.
Finally, that the deep-rooted disagreement, which had so long prevailed between Pilate and Herod, was suddenly terminated and changed into a friendly feeling by the civility shown to the latter in transferring over to him the accused Rabbi, serves again as a proof how highly these men in power thought of the delinquent brought before them. The transfer of a common criminal, or even of a notorious fanatic and swindler, would probably have been attended by no such effect. But that Jesus of Nazareth was selected to mediate the renewed approximation of the two potentates, works favorably, and puts an end to all former ill-will and mistrust. Who does not perceive that this circumstance, however revolting in itself, again tends to glorify Christ in a high degree?
Something similar to that which occurred between Pilate and Herod, happens not seldom, even in the present day. Parties who most violently oppose each other in other fields of research become reconciled, and even confederates and friends, if only for a while, as soon as they join in the contest against Christ and his adorers. But what else do they evince thereby than that Christ stands in their way as an imposing power? An inconsiderable personage, whose claims on their submission they knew not to be well-founded, would never exercise such an influence over them; and finally, an individual whom they regarded as merely mythological, they would certainly put aside, as unworthy of their attention.
Whatever may be planned or executed against Jesus, he comes forth more than justified from it all. Hatred must glorify him as well as love. Persecution crowns him as well as devotedness to his cause. But if mutual opposition to him is able to transmute bitter enemies into friends; what bonds ought the mutual homage of the glorified Redeemer to cement! "I believe in the communion of saints," is a part of our creed. I not merely believe it, but thank God! I also see it. May the Lord however preserve it; for at this present time it suffers. Those who are united in Christ, fall out with each other, because they blindly embrace some school-formula as their Savior, instead of Christ, as if they were tired of him. This is a lamentable and deplorable circumstance. May the Lord overrule it, and awaken in the hearts of his children, sentiments of real brotherly affection toward each other!
Pilate Our Advocate
Pilate again finds himself in a great dilemma. By transferring the proceedings to Herod, he hoped to have escaped from his painful situation. But, contrary to his expectation, the Galilean prince sends the accused back to him again, leaving it to him to terminate the affair he had once begun. The governor, not a little disturbed at this mistake in his calculations, turns again to the accusers of the Savior, and renews his attempt to rescue Jesus, and with him his own peace of mind. He makes a speech to the priests, rulers, and the assembled populace, which, though it contains nothing but what we have already heard him state, is nevertheless worthy of our serious consideration, because in it, Pilate unconsciously and involuntarily appears as our advocate.
However strangely it may sound, Pilate becomes our advocate. He takes Christ, our head, under his protection, and us with him. He legally absolves him from all criminality, and in him his followers also. He begins his address by saying, "You have brought this man unto me, as one that perverts the people." In a certain sense, something of this kind may be asserted of the Savior with truth. For even as he testifies to his believing followers, that they are not of the world; so he also enjoins upon them not to be conformed to the world. He calls upon his people to "come out from among them; for the friendship of the world is enmity with God." In some degree, Christians will always be separatists. God has so organized them, that an union of fire with water is sooner to be thought of than of them with the multitude. Their convictions, principles, tastes, opinions, and views of things in the world, as well as their wishes, hopes, and desires, all are directly opposed to the world's mode of thinking and acting. They are by nature and kind separated from the unregenerate world, although the hearts of the children of God never detach themselves from the children of the world, but are incessantly inclined toward them in compassion and charity. But the latter refuse to be regarded as those who ought to undergo a change; and hence the conflict upon earth, with reference to which the Savior said, "Do not think that I am come to send peace upon earth, but a sword."
When the rulers of Israel charged Jesus with perverting the people, they wished it to be understood in a political sense. They declared him to be the ringleader of a band of conspirators, who strove to stir up the people against the emperor and the authorities, and was therefore guilty of high treason. Nor was our Lord either the first or the last of God's servants, on whom such suspicions have been cast. Even Elijah was obliged to hear from Ahab the angry salutation, "You are he who troubles Israel;" to which he calmly replied, "I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father's house in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and you have followed Baal." In the same manner it was said to the king concerning Jeremiah, "We beseech you, let this man be put to death, for he weakens the hands of the men of war, and seeks not the welfare of this people, but their hurt." Later on, we find Paul accused before Felix, much in the same manner: "We have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes." And all the subsequent persecutions of the Christians under the Roman emperors took place under the pretext that the followers of Jesus were dangerous to the State, their views being directed to the weakening of allegiance, and even to the subversion of the existing government.
This false accusation has been handed down from age to age, although even Pilate most earnestly took us under his protection against such calumnies. We hear him loudly declare before the assembled multitude, that neither the throne nor the state had anything to fear from Jesus and his disciples. "Behold," says he, "I have examined him before you, and find no fault in this man touching those things whereof you accuse him; no, nor yet Herod; for I sent you to him, and lo! nothing worthy of death is done unto him." Indeed, how was it possible to convict him of a tendency to revolt, who established the universal principle, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's;" who seriously reproved Peter for assaulting, in his defense, one of the lowest officers of the civil authorities, by saying to him, "Put up again your sword into its place, for all those who take the sword, shall perish with the sword;" and who enjoins upon us to "be subject to the higher powers, since there is no power but of God," and when we are required to do that which is contrary to God's word, exhorts us to a passive behavior in obeying God rather than man.
But events have recently occurred, which render needless any advocate on behalf of believing Christians, with reference to their political sentiments. The world now knows that the billows of rebellion find in them a rock against which they break, but not a bay into which they may pour themselves. Attempts to render their loyalty suspected will not in future succeed. The revolutionary party has repeatedly been obliged to confess that nothing interferes so much with their plans as the Christian religion. States, which only a few years ago persecuted their religious subjects, now invite them into their territories, as supporters of the throne and guarantees of public order. Laban speaks kindly to Jacob. Belshazzar clothes Daniel in purple. "When a man's ways please the Lord," says Solomon, "he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him." There is something astonishing in the sudden annihilation of a charge which has been brought against the followers of the Lamb for more than a thousand years, such as has recently occurred. Let us rejoice at this revolution in public opinion with respect to the soldiers of Christ in the world, as indicative, in some small degree, of that triumphant period of Christ's kingdom, which is drawing near.
But all the charges brought against us are not refuted by our being exculpated from the single accusation of entertaining disloyal sentiments. It is further alleged against us that we adhere strictly to irrational doctrines, especially that of Christ's vicarious atonement; which, we certainly confess is the marrow of the Gospel, and the ground of all our hopes. If it is not true that the Son of God made the great exchange, in causing our transgressions to be divinely imputed to him, taking our debts to his own account, giving himself up to the sword of divine justice for us, atoning for sin in our stead, enduring the curse and condemnation, and emptying, as our Surety and Representative, the cup of horrors to its very dregs—if, I say, all this is not founded in truth, our sins then continue to lie as a heavy burden upon us; we are still under the curse, and must remain so to all eternity; then, no soul could be saved; and every passage of Scripture in which it is said to the sinner, "Your sins are forgiven you," is a falsehood, and every promise of mercy in God's name to the rebellious and transgressors is blasphemous. Everything of a consolatory nature for fallen man, which the Bible contains, cannot then be of divine origin, but must proceed from Satan; for it is impossible that God, who can never abate anything, either from his law—the reflection of his unchangeable will—or from his threatenings—the emanations of his holiness—could arbitrarily, and without anything further, bless and beatify guilty sinners. If he were to do so, he would cease to be holy, just and true; that is, to be God. Such is our belief and confession. But what appears to us so glorious, acceptable, and rational in the highest sense of the word, the world calls an absurd and foolish doctrine, and an antiquated delusion. But here again, singularly enough, Pilate appears for us, and takes us under his protection.
The Lord Jesus has passed through every examination; he has been put to one test after another, weighed in every scale, measured by every standard, and narrowly inspected by the light of a threefold law—the Levitical, civil, and moral. The veil has now to be removed from the result of the proceedings against him. The judge, who has called the chief priests and rulers to be present at the solemn, and, as he supposes, decisive act, stands surrounded by a vast multitude; and when all are silent with expectation, he opens his mouth to pronounce the final sentence. He declares aloud to the assembled crowd, "You have brought this man unto me, as one that perverts the people, and behold"—this is said to the world at large,—"I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man, touching the things whereof you accuse him; no, nor yet Herod, for I sent you to him, and lo! nothing worthy of death is done to him." He concludes, and all are silent, because they feel that Pilate has spoken the truth.
Now, although he, who was free from sin, was in no wise guilty of death, either judicial or natural, which latter is called the "wages of sin," yet still, he dies. He dies, who, according to justice as well as the promise of God, ought not to die, but live; and dies a death which bears scarcely the remotest resemblance to a martyrdom. If, by his death, he had only designed to confirm the truth of his doctrine, he would have failed in his object; since we cannot possibly think highly of a doctrine, whose teacher, at the gates of eternity, is compelled to make the dreadful confession that God has forsaken him.
But, tell us now, why did Jesus die? "It is appointed unto sinners once to die, and after that the judgment;" but he was not a sinner. Even the redeemed have no other way to the heavenly world than through death, because their flesh is corrupted by sin. But in Christ's corporeality this is not the case; and yet he dies, and that in such a dreadful manner! Explain how this is. You take time to reflect. But however long and deeply you may study the subject, we tell you decidedly before-hand, that you will not bring forward any rational, convincing, and satisfactory solution of this mystery. Hear, therefore, how we view the subject, and consider whether there is room for any other. The monstrous fact that the just and spotless Jesus, notwithstanding his holiness, was condemned to death, would compel us to the conclusion that the doctrine of a righteous God, who rules over all, is a delusion—that the will of man or chance, alone governs the world—that there exists no divine retribution upon earth, and that it will not fare the worse with the impious than with the just—that no order exists, according to which he who perfectly keeps the law has to expect the crown of life, and that the Scriptures speak falsely, when they say that death is only the result of transgression—I say, we should be necessarily compelled to inferences of this kind, if we were not permitted to assume that the immaculate Son of God suffered death in our stead. This view of the subject furnishes the only key to the mystery of the ignominious end of the just and holy Jesus.
But if we presuppose an atonement made by Christ for sin—and we not only may do so, but are constrained to it by the clear evidence of Holy Writ—then all is plain; all is solved and deciphered, and a sublime meaning and a glorious connection pervades the whole. God threatened Adam in paradise, saying, "In the day that you eat of the fruit of this tree, you shall surely die." We did eat of that fruit, and incurred the horrible penalty. But the Eternal Son now appears, removes the latter from us to himself, and we live. On Sinai it was said, "Cursed be every one who continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them." We did not continue in them, and our fate was decided. But our Surety presents himself, endures the curse for us, and we are justly delivered and absolved. God has resolved to save sinners; notwithstanding he has said; "I will blot the name of him that sins out of my book." We believe in our salvation, for he inflicted upon Christ the punishment due to us. God promised the crown of life only to the obedient; but after Christ, as our representative, obeyed in our name, God can bestow the crown on sinners and yet continue holy. Thus all becomes clear, and the most striking opposites harmoniously agree. And yet men dare to call our doctrine of the atonement made by Christ irrational and even absurd! Look how Pilate unconsciously stands in the breach for us, by testifying to the truth that Jesus was not guilty of death. Attempt, in a satisfactory and rational manner, if you can, to explain it, otherwise than by the atonement made by Christ, how it was that even the holy and immaculate Son of God paid the wages of sin.
Pilate takes our part once more. He clears us of a new cause of reproach. He does not, indeed, do this directly, but he gives occasion for our being freed from it. We are accused of dispensing Scripture consolation too lavishly. We are reproved for extending the grace purchased for us by Christ to the greatest sinners and most depraved criminals. We are told that we are not justified in so doing, and that such conduct is dangerous and injurious to morality. But there is something intimated in that part of the narrative under consideration which fully repels the narrow-minded reproof, and justifies our procedure as being quite evangelical.
After Pilate has solemnly declared that no guilt attaches to the accused, he continues, "I will therefore"—release him? not so, but "chastise him (that is, with rods) and let him go." Only think, what injustice! We are ready to say, "O Pilate, how is it possible that you should have recourse to such an expedient! Will you scourge him as a malefactor, who said to you, with the clearest expression of truth, 'I am a King and to this end was I born, that I should bear witness of the truth,' and from the whole of whose deportment shone the radiance, not only of spotless holiness, but also of supernatural descent? O to what length does the miserable fear of man mislead you, and the pitiful anxiety for a little worldly honor and temporal comfort!"
But let us be silent. Pilate's speech, "I will chastise him and then release him," is still the language of numbers of this world's children. He is chastised when men tear the crown of deity from his brow, and when they silently brand him as a deceiver and blasphemer; but then begin to commend his excellences and virtues, and thus release him after having maltreated him. They deny that he is the only way to heaven, although he himself has said so, and in this way he is chastised; but then again, they applaud him as the most eminent of teachers; and thus he is let go. Men chastise him by insulting his members upon earth, and vilifying those who boast of his meritorious sufferings as the sole ground of their salvation; but again release him by making an outward obeisance at his communion-table, or by confessing that he was more than Socrates or Solon. Alas! we all carry about with us, by nature, a secret scourge for the Lord Jesus, and never omit to use it in one way or other. But if our conscience asks, after such a chastising, why we are so averse and opposed to this Just One, who never injured us, we are accustomed, instead of feeling penitent, to hide our own naughtiness behind the traitorous kisses we bestow upon him, and again release the ill-treated Savior by dubious marks of respect.
But to return. It was customary in Israel to chastise those with rods, who, after trial, were convicted only of slight transgressions, and then to release them. Pilate was anxious to treat Jesus as a delinquent of this kind. One might have expected after all that had passed, by which the innocence of Jesus was placed in so clear a light, that his mediating proposition would have been responded to. But no! God had determined otherwise. It was intended that Christ should suffer as a criminal of the worst description, and that the lot of a murderer and an outcast of the human race, should be his, and that not until then, should the hour of redemption arrive. But why was this? For what other reason than that, according to God's counsel and will, sinners and criminals, like Manasseh and Rahab, might have reason to believe that the great Surety suffered for them also. Jesus was obliged to descend into the regions of darkness, into the being abandoned by God, and into the extreme of ignominy and suffering, that the vilest transgressors might not despair of mercy.
If this doctrine is dangerous, why do the apostles proclaim it as from the housetops? If it is contrary to God, why has he confirmed it in the case of David, Saul, Mary Magdalen, and even in that of greater sinners than these? If it is pernicious, why do those who in themselves experience the truth of it, exceed all others in their hatred to sin, and their zeal for God and his glory? Does it make them negligent and unfruitful in good works? The very reverse; for he who participates in the merits of Christ, becomes also by Christ's Spirit, a noble tree in the garden of God, which brings forth its fruit in its season. O it is well for us that the case is as we have described it! If Christ had not endured the fate of the chief of sinners, who, even among the enlightened, could glory in Christ, since the Holy Spirit teaches all such to testify with Paul, "Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief!"
Pilate has done us a good office. Not only has he cleared us from a grievous accusation, but, by the testimony he bore to the innocence of Jesus, he has also justified our view of the Lord's death and its import; and by his fruitless attempts to treat the Redeemer as a petty offender, he gave occasion to the Judge on the throne of majesty to frustrate his project, and by so doing, to make it known that Christ was to bear the curse even of the greatest sinner, according to the will and counsel of the Almighty. We feel ourselves deeply indebted to the Roman for the two last pieces of service which he has rendered us, for we confess that, with the atonement and satisfaction made by Immanuel, our peace as well as our hope stands or falls.
Jesus or Barabbas
We resume our place amid the wild and tumultuous assemblage before Gabbatha, the open court, where justice was accustomed to be administered. Pilate, who, the more he has to do with the dignified Man of Nazareth, is the more convinced of his perfect innocence, and whose reverence for the mysterious personage increases, continues his attempts to give the affair a favorable turn, both for the accused and himself. His very soul revolts at the idea of such a person dying the death of a criminal. Not a few of our contemporaries resemble him in this respect. They are those who, like Pilate, speak of the moral glory of Christ with a degree of enthusiasm, but the more they regard him from this point of view, the more they are offended at his cross. They feel a repugnance to the doctrine of the atonement made by him for our sins, simply because they wish sin to be regarded as an inconsiderable and trifling object, which they would be constrained to view as something important and horrible, if they were compelled to believe that it could only be forgiven through the condemnation of the Son of God, and atoned for by his blood. Those who are unable to absolve themselves, as entirely free from sin, would then be forced either to take refuge with us in the wounds of Jesus, and to sue for pardon with the vilest malefactors, of which they have a horror, or carry about with them a smitten and uneasy conscience, to which they are equally averse. Hence it is altogether their interest to oppose the doctrine that the sufferings and death of Christ must be apprehended as vicarious. No, I do not hesitate to affirm that all the doctrinal systems which seek to neutralize or evade the view of Christ's sufferings as an atonement, proceed from a conscious or unconscious effort to weaken and lessen the enormity of sin. Those who are still satisfied with such systems, are not aware of the exceeding sinfulness of sin. But those who have become acquainted with its abominable nature in the sight of God, see the necessity of Christ's sufferings, and being justified by faith, have peace with God, through the atonement made for us by his Son.
The governor is lost in thought; his forehead burns; his mind is distressed. What would he not give for wise counsel in this painful emergency? All at once the horizon of his soul clears up. He has hit upon a happy expedient, the idea of which did not occur to him without superior intervention. Pilate calls to mind a custom which, though it was not founded on any divine ordinance, the Lord indulgently overlooked and bore with, from being willing to make use of it as the symbol of something of a superior nature. According to this custom it was permitted the people—as a figurative realization of the deliverance of their forefathers out of Egypt, and to increase the general joy at the festival—to ask for the liberation of some grievous offender from prison. Pilate grasps at this custom, like a shipwrecked mariner the floating plank, as the only means of deliverance which is left him. He hastily passes through his mind the various receptacles of crime, in order to discover in them some malefactor whom he may confidently hope the people will never prefer to the Nazarene. He soon thinks he has found such a one, or rather, God found him for him; for this was the very sinner whom the Lord deemed fit for the spectacle which was then to be presented to the world. The man thus selected is Barabbas, a vile miscreant, a rebel, and a murderer. Who, thinks the governor, would grant life and liberty to such an outcast of mankind, in preference to the just Man of Nazareth? Pilate reckons upon the humanity and right-feeling of the multitude; but it is much to be feared that he has dreadfully miscalculated, particularly as he has chosen a political offender as the means of escaping from his painful situation, with reference to whom the morality of the people is generally accustomed to be much more indulgent than to any other kind of criminals.
Already secretly triumphing in the expected success of his plan, Pilate proceeds to the Proscenium, and in a tone of the fullest assurance of success, calls out to the crowd, "Whom will you that I release unto you? Jesus Barabbas (for such was the man's whole name, according to an ancient tradition) or Jesus the King of the Jews, which is called Christ. For," adds the Gospel narrative, "he knew that the chief priests had delivered him from envy." And such was actually the case; for that which vexed them the most was, that the people followed him. But how foolishly did the governor act, though otherwise so prudent, in reminding the proud men, by calling him "The King of the Jews," how his way had but recently been strewn with palm-branches and garments, amid the hosannas of the people; and how did he thus ruin him without intending it! But his speculation would have been a failure without that; for "God takes the wise in their own craftiness" who, disdaining the restraint of his word and will, seek success by their own inventions. The Savior's fate is now no longer in Pilate's hands. The majority of the multitude decides, and he is obliged to abide by its decision. Had he been bold enough to follow the dictate of his own conscience, and to have said with calm discrimination, "Justice shall be done, even though the world should perish; the guiltless Nazarene is free, and these cohorts here will know how to give effect to my decision;" his opponents, inwardly rebuked, would, doubtless, have shrunk back thunderstruck, and the people, roused from their delusion, would have loudly applauded the energetic judge. But Pilate now stands forever as a warning example of the consequence of endeavoring to satisfy both God, who speaks within us, and the world.
We meet with Pilate under various forms on the stage of the world in the present day. Many a one, in recent times, has placed himself, like him, in a situation in which he must either set Barabbas free, or give up the Savior, because he was deficient in courage to brave every danger for the sake of Christ. Many, reckoning, like Pilate, on the instinctive moral feeling of the multitude, with whom they do not wish to be at variance, have cowardly asked, "Which will you choose, right or wrong, loyalty or treason? God's order or its overthrow?" and the unexpected reply has been thundered back to them, "We choose rebellion and treason!" and before they were aware, they had miserably stumbled, to their own dismay, on the slippery path of wishing to please men, and looked about in vain for the possibility of escape. Let us, therefore, hold fast, my readers, to what we know to be right. We thus become masters of our position and of the multitude, instead of being their servants. For degeneracy invariably yields to sacred courage, however outrageously it may be acting. We are sure to overcome when we act resolutely, although we seem to succumb; for God is always with those who are decidedly with him, while he suffers those to fall who endeavor "to serve two masters."
"Whom will you that I release unto you?" exclaims Pilate, seating himself on the marble judgment-seat to await the decision of the people. The latter waver and hesitate, which is no sooner perceived by the priests and elders than they rush into the crowd and exert all their eloquence to stifle the germ of right feeling which begins to awake in their minds, and to blow into a flame the dying spark of animosity to Jesus. Meanwhile, a remarkable episode takes place. A messenger, out of breath appears before the governor, sent by his wife, who is commissioned to say to him, "Have you nothing to do with that just man, for I have suffered many things this night in a dream because of him." What a remarkable circumstance! The brightness of the purity and glory of the fairest of the children of men was such as to penetrate into the heathen woman's world of dreams. We thus see how the life and actions of Jesus must have affected the hearts of those who were indifferent and even opposed to him, and compelled them to respect him. Yes, by night, when the bustle of the day is silent, and deep sleep falls upon men, the Spirit of Truth visits their tabernacles, and approaches the couches even of those who, careless about higher objects, revel in the intoxication of worldly delusions. With the arrows of his judicial decision, he pierces by night into chambers, where all that has reference to things of a higher nature otherwise finds no response. By night, ill-treated conscience assumes its right, and makes itself again heard, even in the breasts of the most ungodly; and many are obliged to confess with the Psalmist, "You search my heart, and visit me in the night season." God had also evidently his hand in the distressing night-vision of Pilate's consort, and often exercises control over the airy region of the world of dreams, and when he pleases makes the imagination of the unfettered spirit subservient to his purpose. But though Pilate received a fresh divine warning and monition by the message from his wife, yet the man had already laid down his arms, and was no longer his own master. His wife's communication affected him deeply. His excited conscience, whispered to him, "Pilate, listen to the voice from another world, which warns you against the horrible crime of a legal murder." He hears it, indeed, and is dreadfully disturbed, but hopes the people will act justly. The people? Poor man! Is this your last despicable hope?
Pilate impatiently rises from his seat, and again calls out to the crowd with the mien of a suppliant, "Which of the twain will you that I release unto you?" We may easily infer that he added in his own mind, "You will surely decide for Jesus." But it is in vain to come with requests, where we have not the courage, in God's name, to order and command. The priests and elders have succeeded in instigating the people to side with them, and the unfortunate governor hears a thousand voices unanimously and daringly reply, "Not this man, but Barabbas."
Such are the two individuals presented to the people to choose from at their Easter festival. The man in chains and the Prince of life; the former a vile wretch, who in a sanguinary revolt, had been seized in the act of committing murder. He had probably acted the part of a false Messiah; and had exhibited one of those caricatures of Christ, by means of which Satan had so often attempted to render the true Messiah suspected, and an object of public ridicule. But Barabbas does not stand before us merely as an individual. He represents, at the same time, allegorically, the human race in its present condition—as fallen from God—in a state of rebellion against the Divine Majesty—bound in the fetters of the curse of the law until the day of judgment; but nevertheless dignifying itself with pompous titles, without any real nobility of soul, and boasting of honorable distinctions without internal worth.
Before Barabbas was presented with Jesus to the people's choice, every prospect of his escape from the fate that awaited him had been cut off: and such is also our case. There was no idea of a ransom, nor of any liberation from the well-guarded dungeon, much less of a merciful sentence, which every one else might have anticipated sooner than this murderer. And believe me, that our case was not less critical than his. For what had we to give to redeem our souls? how escape the vigilance of those eyes, which "run to and fro through all the earth?" and how could a judge acquit us unconditionally, of whom it is said, "Justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne?" Barabbas's situation was desperate, and ours no less. But what occurs? Without his own co-operation, and against all his calculation, a dawn of escape suddenly flashes through his prison. From Gabbatha resounds the governor's question to the people, "Whom will you that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus, which is called Christ."
How important the moment! How mysterious the change in the state of things! Barabbas thought that he should certainly be put to death. It is, now Barabbas or Jesus. The deliverance of the former has at least become possible; and by what means? Solely because the rebel and the murderer is offered to the choice of the people equally with Jesus, the Lord from heaven. The lot must fall on one or the other. One will be released; the other sent to the place of execution. There is nothing to justify a demand for the liberation of both. Which of the two will be chosen—which rejected? If Jesus of Nazareth is set at liberty, Barabbas is inevitably lost. If the former is rejected, then, hail to you, Barabbas, you are saved! His ruin is your redemption; from his death springs your life.
What say you, my readers, to this state of things? Viewed solely in a historical light, it is certainly of minor importance, except that it serves as a renewed proof that the Son of God was spared no disgrace nor humiliation—not even that of being placed on the same footing with a murderer, like Barabbas. But regarded in a superior light, that historical fact becomes of great importance. In the position in which Barabbas stood to Jesus, we all of us stood to Him. With respect to us, it might also have been said, "Who shall die—the transgressor or the Just One?" It was impossible that both should be spared. The sword of divine justice must strike, either to the right or the left. The curse, which we had incurred, must be inflicted. The sentence of condemnation pronounced upon us, impatiently waited its execution, that God might continue holy, just, and true. Here was the great alternative: these guilty creatures, or the Son of God in their stead, for he alone was able to atone for our sins. Thus we were quite in Barabbas's position. If Jesus was sent to execution, the hour of our redemption had arrived; but if he was spared we were irrevocably lost.
You already know the result. The affair takes the most favorable turn for Barabbas, and in him, for us. To Pilate's utter amazement, the voice of the multitude decides in favor of the rebel. "Release Barabbas!" cried the uproarious crowd, "and crucify Jesus." However wicked this decision may appear, compared with that of Pilate, who was anxious that Jesus should live, and not be put to death; still it was more in accordance with God's plan, and the method of salvation that it should be so. For if the people had effectually demanded Jesus to be liberated, and Barabbas to be executed, as Pilate wished, that demand would have been the funeral-knell of the human race, and the signal for our eternal perdition. But God so ordered it that the affair took a different turn; for the outcry of the people to crucify Jesus was the trumpet-sound announcing the day of our redemption.
Observe now the result of the decision. Barabbas and Jesus change places. The murderer's bonds, curse, disgrace, and mortal agony are transferred to the righteous Jesus; while the liberty, innocence, safety, and well-being of the immaculate Nazarene, become the lot of the murderer. Jesus Barabbas is installed in all the rights and privileges of Jesus Christ; while the latter enters upon all the infamy and horror of the rebel's position. Both mutually inherit each other's situation and what they possess: the delinquent's guilt and cross become the lot of the Just One, and all the civil rights and immunities of the latter are the property of the delinquent.
You now understand the amazing scene we have been contemplating. We find the key to it in the words, "God made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." It places before us, in a strong light, the mystery of our justification before God, through the mediation of Christ. In Barabbas's deliverance, we see our own. Left to ourselves, we should have been eternally lost. When Christ exchanged positions with us, our redemption was decided. Truly, he must be blind who does not perceive that in this Barabbas scene, a light was divinely enkindled, which should illumine the whole of the passion of God's only-begotten Son. This light would alone suffice to dispel every objection to the scriptural nature of our view of the doctrine of the atonement, if this were not also done by a whole series of striking passages from the apostolic writings. We certainly will not entirely deny that our idea of Christ's atonement may not include in it much that is human and gross, which will eventually be swallowed up by the pure and perfect apprehension of it, but there is nothing false or erroneous in it. The pith and substance of our judicial view of the suretyship of Jesus is most undoubtedly divine truth.
Let us then rejoice that such is the case, and indelibly impress upon our memories the striking features of the scene we have been contemplating. Let those of my readers who are humbled under a sense of their sin and guilt, behold their image in Barabbas; and one consolatory idea after another will occur to you from the sight. How comfortable the reflection that the man is wholly freed at the expense of Jesus; that however heinous his crimes, not one of them attaches to him any longer; that henceforward, no judicial procedure can be instituted against him for what he has done; and that nothing now prevents him from boldly appearing in the presence of his judge.
You also possess all these privileges in Christ, only in a more glorious form and a more abundant fullness. Since he became the criminal in your stead, you are accounted as righteous for his sake; since he was rejected in your stead, you are admitted into favor with God; since he bore your curse, you are the heirs of his blessing; since he suffered your punishment, you are destined to share his happiness. Such being the case, how ought you, by faith, to rise into the blissful position assigned you, and to learn in the school of the Holy Spirit, boldly to say with the apostle, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect, seeing that it is God that justifies? Who is he who condemns, since Christ has died—yes rather is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us?"
The most horrible and momentous cry that was ever heard under heaven has been uttered. To the governor's question, "Whom will you that I release unto you, Jesus or Barabbas?" the dreadful answer has been returned by the tumultuous crowd, "Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas!" More than an echo of this cry resounds through the world to this day for all who daringly reject Christ as the Savior of sinners, and are eager on the contrary for the upholding of the honor, independence, and liberty of their "Old Man," likewise say, in fact, "Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas!" "But is not this the language we have inherited from our corrupt nature, as such?" Undoubtedly it is. Yet even from the lips of faith we hear the same; only that in the latter case, the exclamation has an opposite meaning, with the nature of which we are already acquainted, and shall hear of it again on the present occasion. The release of Barabbas is the subject of our meditation, which, may the Lord accompany with his blessing, that so we may retire from it laden with a valuable store, like the bee from the flowery meadow or the fragrant heath!
The people, instigated by their rulers, have boldly and plainly expressed their will. They desire the pardon of the murderer, and the death of the righteous Jesus. From that moment, it is pitiable to see how the judge, entirely thrown out of his course, sinks deeper at every step, and writhes in the dust, like a helpless worm that has been trodden upon. Scarcely aware any longer of what he was saying, he cries, out, "What shall I do then with Jesus, which is called Christ?" Only think of his asking the raging multitude what he must do with Jesus, who, before he put the question to them, had already answered him in the most convincing manner. His conscience, his inward feeling of justice, the letter of the law by which he is bound, and even the warning voice contained in the dream of his wife—all tell him, clearly and definitely, what he ought to do with Jesus. He ought to pronounce him free, and then with all the power that stood at his command, take him under his protection against the uproarious multitude. But where is he to find courage for this? "What shall I do then with Jesus?" Truly these words are an eternal shame and disgrace to him.
But how many of our contemporaries share this disgrace with him, since they make what they ought to do with Jesus depend on the popular voice, the prevailing tone of society, and what is called public opinion! I have even often thought I heard preachers in their pulpits imitate Pilate in asking, "What am I to do with Jesus?" and I cannot tell you how discordantly the question sounded in my ears. They did not appear to know whether they ought to pray to Jesus or not—whether to confess him before the congregation to be God, or only man—whether to recommend him to them as redeemer or teacher; and nothing seemed more disagreeable to them than to be compelled officially to have to do with Jesus. But woe unto him who can still ask, "What shall I do with Jesus?" Such a one's mind is beclouded, and he is still very far from salvation. He who knows not what to make of Jesus must be a self-deceiving Pharisee, or his soul must resemble the mole that grubs in the earth. What has the blind man to do with his guide who offers him his arm? the sick man with the medicine presented to him? the drowning man with the rope that is thrown to him?—if we know how to answer these questions, how is it that we can be perplexed at replying to the other?
Pilate asks, "What shall I do with Jesus?" The people will not leave him long in suspense. The more they see their rulers timidly give way, and enter upon the path of concessions, the stronger grows their audacity. "Crucify him!" they cry, briefly and decisively. The governor, beside himself with amazement at seeing the fabric of his calculations so suddenly overthrown, comes again before them with the unavailing question, "Why, what evil has he done?" But the people, scarcely deigning an answer to the miserable judge, repeat, with still greater insolence, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" The increasing weakness and irresolution of the governor necessarily made the crowd believe that he himself did not regard it as any monstrous crime that Christ should be crucified.
Pilate appears as if he wished to say something more; but the people have now the upper hand, and they refuse to hear him. Wild uproar drowns his voice. In spite of every effort, he can no longer make himself heard. The heartless succumbing man has then recourse to a symbolical act. He calls for a vessel with water; and, on its being presented to him, washes his hands before all the people, and cries out, as loudly as he can, to the tumultuous mob, "I am innocent of the blood of this just person; see you to it!"
An exciting scene! This renewed judicial testimony to the innocence of our great High Priest, is to us very satisfactory. Pilate's urgent desire and earnest endeavor to rid himself of the crime of condemning the righteous Jesus can only aid in strengthening our faith. But we are deeply affected at the sight of the poor depressed man—how he writhes under the scourge of his own conscience, and ineffectually strives to wash away from his hands the bloody spots, however much he may object to acknowledge them. "I am innocent!" he exclaims. But what avails such an assertion? The monitor in his bosom does not confirm it; and though he were to do so, yet the minutes of the proceedings are referred to a higher tribunal, where the decision will sound very differently. He washes his hands. O why this ceremony? Where is the fountain which yields water able to cleanse from spots like those that adhere to him? There is indeed a stream which would have produced the desired effect, but Pilate is ignorant of it. O that he had directed to himself the words he addressed to the Jews in addition to his testimony, and had said, "See you to it," instead of "See you to it!" If, in lieu of his innocence he had professed his guilt, and instead of the unavailing washing, had resorted to the blood of atonement—then he would have been safe for time and eternity, and his name have secured a place, not merely as now, in the Church's creed, but also in the list of the citizens of Christ's kingdom. But Pilate, under the influence of beggarly pride, will not acknowledge himself as overcome, although hell and the world never set their feet more triumphantly on the neck of a more discomfited man than he. But man is by nature so constituted that he would rather give himself up to Satan in the snare of the most idiotic self-delusion than do honor to the truth, which humbles him for his good.
"See you to it!" exclaims Pilate, hurling the entire impious act on the heads of the Jews; thereby returning upon the priests and scribes—not without God's permission "to whom vengeance belongs"—with increased horrors, the very words with which they erst, with cruel and unpitying coldness, repelled the despairing Judas. They feel indeed the sting of those words, but know how to conceal their embarrassment and shame behind a horrible outburst of impiety. "His blood be upon us and our children!" they cry, in Satanic defiance, and all the people join with them.
Dreadful indeed! As long as the world stands, a more horrifying, self-anathematizing speech has never been heard. But listen! Does it not seem to you as if a voice of thunder sounded down from the throne of Deity, crying out, "Be it unto you according to your wish! Let his blood come upon you as you desire!" And oh! only cast a glance at the history of Israel from the moment when that unhappy demand was made upon Him who does not suffer himself to be mocked, to the present hour, and it will prove that you heard correctly. How did the blood of that Righteous One come upon his murderers, when the proud city of Jerusalem was laid in ashes by the torches of the Romans, and scarcely so much wood could be procured as sufficed to prepare crosses for the children of Abraham! How did it come upon them, when, having slain the Prince of Peace, they were driven out, like useless chaff, to the four winds of heaven, and condemned thenceforward to roam about in inhospitable regions, without a home, the scorn of all the world! How did it come upon them, when, as the offscouring of all nations, and as if they were unworthy to tread the ground, they yielded up their lives by thousands and tens of thousands, under heathen, Mohammedan, and even Christian swords and daggers! And when we now look at them, as being still a proscribed people, according to Hosea's prophecy, "Without a king and without a prince, and without sacrifice, and without an image, without an Ephod, and without Teraphim"—is it not as if we read the cause of their miserable banishment on their foreheads, in the words, "His blood be upon us and upon our children?" But the mercy of God is great. He has still thoughts of peace toward his ancient people, who, however degenerate, are not yet given up. In due time he will cause the horrible language of the curse they invoked upon themselves to have the validity of a prayer in his sight, and the blood of his Son, as already experienced by individuals of that race, to come upon all Israel as an atonement. The prophet Hosea adds the joyful promise to the threatening so dreadfully verified. "Afterward, they shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king." And Zechariah opens to us the prospect of a time, "when ten men shall take hold, out of all languages of the nations, of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you." The Lord himself says, in the most significant manner, referring to the termination of their wretchedness, "You shall not see me henceforth, until you shall say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" And what is the language of the apostle Paul, with reference to them. "God," says he, "is able to graft in again the branches which were broken off. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance."—Rom. 11.
The people, with diabolical determination, have declared their will, and sealed their fate with an imprecation, than which a more impious one has scarcely ever been heard in the world. The governor is no longer able to cope with this manifestation of firmness on the part of the people. He sees himself robbed of the last particle of his moral armor, and compelled to lay down his arms, and surrender in the most disgraceful manner. How do we read? "And so Pilate, willing to content the people, gave sentence that it should be as they required, and released unto them Barabbas, who for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired, but he delivered Jesus to their will that he should be scourged."
This is, therefore, the result of all the serious and powerful warnings which had been given to Pilate. He had received such decided impressions of Jesus' moral purity and innocence, and had even been admonished by a voice from the other world, as well as by his own conscience; and yet this disgraceful defeat—this cowardly retreat—this shameful yielding to the will of the crowd! O what is man with all his propriety of feeling and will, so long as he stands in his own strength, and has not yielded himself up, with his whole confidence, to God and his grace! The Lord says, "My strength is perfected in weakness;" and hence we find St. Paul saying, "I can do all things through Christ strengthening me."
Barabbas is free, although still ignorant of the decision made in his favor outside his prison, and of the fortunate lot which is fallen to him. Dejected, and even despairing of deliverance, he continues lying in his gloomy dungeon; and in every noise that reaches him from a distance, he imagines he hears the tread of the executioner coming to lead him away to the scaffold. At length he plainly hears the massive bolts of his prison door drawn back, and the rusty hinges creak on its being thrown open—but—dare he trust his own eyes? What a sight! Instead of the executioner, a messenger from the civil authorities rushes in with a smiling countenance, and brings him the amazing and almost incredible intelligence that he is free—that his life is saved. Scarcely are the words out of his mouth, before he begins to loosen the fetters from the astonished delinquent, and urges him to rise up and leave the prison. You may suppose that the criminal for a long time imagined that it was all a dream. Perhaps he thought it was only some horrible joke played off upon him, or that it was intended he should breathe the fresh air for a few moments, in order afterward to be replaced in his horrible dungeon. But the messenger repeats still more emphatically the assurance that he is safe, and then explains to him what has caused his liberation. Barabbas now learns that the sentence of death has been removed from him forever, and that he has no longer to do with courts of justice, judges, or jailers; that no accusation will be listened to against him; that he is restored to the full possession of the rights and privileges of citizenship, and so situated as if he had never committed a crime; but that the sole cause of this happy change in his circumstances lies in the fact, that One who was perfectly guiltless had taken his place, and trodden the path to the cross in his stead. The people, at their Easter election, had decided on the death of this righteous man, and for his liberation.
All this is told to Barabbas. In the herald who informs him of it, we see the image of a true evangelist. Yes, know you spiritually poor—you who are bending under the weight of your transgressions, and are crying for mercy—that we have to bring you a similar message to that which Barabbas received, only of a far greater, more glorious, and incomparably more blissful nature than his. Nor are we permitted to withhold or diminish it in any degree. After Christ has made the mysterious exchange with you, we are commissioned of God to inform you, in plain terms, that from the moment in which the holy Jesus took your place, you assumed his, and are installed into all the rights and immunities of the citizens of his kingdom. You are now justified in the sight of God, and accepted of him. No condemnation any longer attaches to you. No sin will any more be laid to your charge, no accusation given ear to against you. This we can tell you, yet not we, but the infallible Word of God, in plain terms; and we call upon you in God's name to believe this word, and to rejoice in it to the honor of Christ.
How does Barabbas act after receiving the glad tidings? The Bible does not tell us; but we may easily imagine it. If he had said to himself, "It is impossible that this can have reference to such a criminal as I;" and had resisted, when his chains were being removed, how should we designate such conduct? You would call it senseless, and be justified in doing so. But I fear that this reproach may attach to some of my readers; for equally foolish are many of our believers. Suppose that Barabbas had rejected the message with a protest, and had replied to the herald in the following manner,—"What you say is absurd, and cannot be founded on truth." What would have been the consequence? By so doing, he would have insulted the herald and the authorities that sent him in the most infamous manner, and have branded them as liars. But such is precisely your case, my friend, who, in your legality, resist the grace of God in Christ. You unceasingly offend, not merely a human messenger, but the Holy Spirit, who speaks to you in the Scriptures; the apostles of the Lord, who so plainly testify to you of Divine mercy; and Christ himself, who assures you that whoever believes shall be saved. Yes, you infringe upon the glory of God, as if he only offered you a partial deliverance, and had not wholly and completely provided it. Suppose that Barabbas had replied to the announcement of his liberty, "No, for the present at least, I will not leave my prison, but will first become another man, and prove that I have amended myself." What do you suppose the authorities would have answered? "Do you imagine," they would have said, "that you are liberated for your own sake? You would never have been free on that ground. Though you might have become ten times better, you would never be able to remove the guilt you have contracted. In the eye of the law, you would continue a murderer as before; and if you do not make a free use of the pardon offered you, know that you will vainly calculate upon ever being legally liberated."
Take to heart, my dear readers, this official announcement, for it is of high importance, and points out to you the way in which you ought to walk. Suppose Barabbas had said, "I will remain a prisoner, until, after being injurious to society, I have shown myself a useful member of it." This might have sounded nobly; but, strictly examined, would it not also be absurd? Doubtless you would have replied to him, and said, "What folly! before you can become useful to society, you must become free. For, of what service or benefit cant you be to others, as long as you are fettered and in prison?" Take this lesson also to heart, my friends. It is applicable to so many, who foolishly seek to become holy before they make room for the comfort of pardoning mercy.
Probably, however, not one of all these ideas occurred to Barabbas. I doubt not, that on receiving the joyful message, he gladly accepted it, and gave himself up to a transport of delight. He immediately shook off his chains, left his dark dungeon, exchanged his convict dress for the attire of a citizen, and made every use of the liberty offered him. He returned to his family, joying and rejoicing, and never forgot how much he was indebted to the mysterious man of Nazareth for life, freedom, and all that he possessed, who was condemned in his stead, and by his death, saved his life.
And you, my readers, who, like Barabbas, may be still languishing in the gloomy dungeon of inward anxiety, care, and sorrow, go and do likewise. Believe the Gospel message, that for Christ's sake, you are eternally liberated from curse and condemnation. Listen no longer to the accusations of Satan, the world, or your own consciences. Enjoy the fruit of the suretyship of your great representative. Live in peace, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
The path of the Holy One of Israel becomes increasingly dark and obscure. The night-piece of his passion carries us from the region of the tragical into that of the horrible and appalling. His sufferings increase to torture, his disgrace to infamy; and the words of Isaiah, "He was despised and rejected; and we hid, as it were, our faces from him," are completely realized. We now proceed to the consideration of an act which is calculated to make the blood run cold in our veins. It is the scourging and subsequent crowning with thorns, of the righteous Jesus. We draw near to the appalling scene, and after having viewed it historically, we will endeavor to fathom the mystery concealed under it. May the Spirit of the Lord guide us into all truth, and teach us to penetrate by faith, where human reason fails!
After the momentous decision has been made at Gabbatha, and the lot of the murderer has fallen upon the just: the latter is, for a while, removed from the view of the people, having been given up to the armed band of executioners' assistants, and led away by them, amid wild uproar, like a sheep for the slaughter, into the inner court-yard of the palace. There let us follow him, although we do so with reluctance; but we must be witnesses of the scene, since it is the will of God that we should be aware of what our restoration and redemption cost our great Surety.
What now takes place? A deed, the sight of which might rend even nerves of steel and iron, and respecting which, a feeling comes over us as if it were improper and even sinful to behold it with the naked eye. Look at yonder pillar, black with the blood of murderers and rebels. The iron collar which is attached to it, as well as the ropes which hang down from its iron rings, sufficiently point out its cruel object. Look at the crude and barbarous beings, who, like bloodthirsty hyenas in human form, busily surround their victim. Observe the brutal vulgarity of their countenances, and the instruments of torture in their hands. They are scourges, made of hundreds of leathern thongs, each armed at the point with an angular bony hook or a sharp-sided cube. Such are the instruments of torture prepared for Him, who was dear to God, as the apple of his eye. We naturally think he could not and ought not to descend to such a point of degradation, but that all heaven must interfere to prevent it, or that the world must perish under it. But it takes place; and neither does heaven protest against it, or the world sink into ruin.
See, see—the execution of the sentence begins! Good God, what a spectacle! The executioners fall upon the Holy One like a host of devils. They tear off his clothes; bind those hands which were ever stretched out to do good, tie them together upon his back, press his gracious visage firmly against the shameful pillar, and after having bound him with ropes in such a manner that he cannot move or stir, they begin their cruel task. O do not imagine that I am able to depict to you what now occurs. The scene is too horrible. My whole soul trembles and quakes. Neither wish that I should count to you the number of strokes which are now poured upon the sacred body of Immanuel, or describe the torments, which, increasing with every stroke, sufficed in other cases of this kind, to cause the death of the unhappy culprit, before the formal execution which this scourging usually preceded. It is enough for us to know that it lasted full a quarter of an hour; streams of blood flow from his sacred form. What avails it? The scourging continues without mercy. The arms of the barbarous men begin to grow weary. What signifies that? New tormentors release those that are fatigued. There is not a nerve of the divine sufferer that does not thrill with nameless pain and smart. But such is the intention. The scourges cut ever deeper into the wounds already made, and penetrate almost to the marrow. His whole back appears an enormous wound. Each fresh drop of blood which flows from his opened veins, falls like a drop of oil—not into the fire of pity, which these men know not, but into that of their infernal fury and thirst for blood; and that which they at first performed with a kind of seriousness and solemnity, they proceed with, after the last remains of humanity are choked within them, as an amusement, with shouts of horrid mirth and glee. No abyss yawns to receive these bloodhounds. Certainly, there must be no God—no avenger of innocence in heaven, or, as we have often already seen, the passion of our Lord must have a most extraordinary and profoundly mysterious meaning.
After the horrible act is finished, another instantly follows, which almost exceeds it in cruelty. The agonized sufferer is unbound from the bloody pillar, but only to be tortured afresh. The material rods have done their duty, and mental ones of the bitterest and most poignant mockery are now employed against him. Their ridicule is directed against his kingly dignity, even as it was, on a former occasion, against his prophetic office. A worn-out purple robe, once the garment of the leader of a Roman cohort, is produced. This is thrown over his back still bleeding from every pore, while the barbarians exult aloud at this supposed witty and appropriate idea. They then break off twigs from a long-spiked thorn-bush, and twist them into a circle, which is afterward pressed upon his sacred head as a crown. But in order to complete the image of a mock king, they put into his hands a reed instead of a scepter, and after having thus arrayed him, they pay mock homage to him with shouts of derisive laughter. The miscreants bow with pretended reverence to the object of their scorn, bend the knee before him, and to make the mockery complete, cry out again and again, "Hail, King of the Jews!" It is not long, however, before they are weary of this abominable sport, and turn it into fearful seriousness. With Satanic insolence, they place themselves before their ill-treated captive, make the most horrible grimaces at him, even spit in his face, and in order to fill up the measure of their cruelty, they snatch the reed out of his hands, and repeatedly smite him with it on the head, so that the thorns of the horrible wreath pierce deeply into the skull, while streams of blood flow down the face of the gracious friend of sinners. Merciful God, what a scene! O horror unexampled, and without a name!
My readers, how can we reconcile such revolting occurrences with the government of a just and holy God! A great mystery must lie at the bottom of them, or our belief in a supreme moral government of the world loses its last support. And is not this really the case? Have you not already perceived that the references of that scene extend back, even to the commencement of the history of mankind? Did it not seem to you as if, instead of the Lord Jesus, you saw our first father standing before you, and suffering the punishment due to his transgression in Paradise? If so, you have hit upon the right clue to explain that otherwise inexplicable scene. Believe me, there is a closer connection between the garden of Eden and the court-yard of the Roman praetorium than might at first sight be supposed. Debts incurred in Eden are there liquidated, and sins committed in Paradise are there atoned for.
Consider, for a moment, what was the crime by the commission of which, the first of our race plunged himself and all his descendants into destruction. He who was so abundantly blessed by his Maker, lusted, nevertheless, after the forbidden fruit, and ate of it. He who was adorned, by the kindness of God, with innocence and beauty, was not satisfied with that attire, but stretched out his hand to grasp a crown which did not belong to him. He refused to be God's servant any longer, but would be himself a god. No longer satisfied with the rod of dominion which had been granted him, as lord of the earth and every earthly creature; he sought, in a certain sense, to seize the scepter of the Almighty himself. His presumptuous desires tended to the being independent of the Lord in heaven, to the right of unconditionally ruling over his own destiny, and even to unlimited freedom from every law which he did not impose upon himself. "Independence" was the motto which flamed upon his banner. He wished to be a king—not as he ought to be, under God, but a sovereign, independent as God himself, as autocrat, to whose egotistic will everything should bow.
But in this tendency of his heart lay the most decided falling away from God; and alas for us! that, in its germ, it was transferred over to, and inherited by us, like a subtle poison. Who will venture to pronounce himself free from it? Who does not feel those sentiments daily blossoming and bearing fruit in him, in a thousand different ways? Do not we all naturally strive, as a heathen writer has expressed it, "always after that which is forbidden?" Is it not self, instead of God, that we would gladly place upon the throne; and does not its glorification lie incomparably nearer our hearts than that of our Creator? Does not the arrogant desire accompany us at every step, to mark out, as little deities, our own path of life; and do we not all bring with us into the world the rebellious inclination to evade the laws of Jehovah, and instead of them, arbitrarily to make our own laws? Assuredly it is so! We all bear about in us the likeness of our fallen progenitor; and if we refuse to hear of it, we only, by so doing, again evince our inherent pride, and the inward darkness into which we are fallen.
Tell me, now, what, according to your opinion, ought to have been the fate of Adam for lusting after the forbidden fruit, and for his impious infringement of God's prerogatives? "At least," you think, "the scourge instead of sensual delight; a crown of thorns instead of the longed-for diadem; and a robe of mockery instead of the imperial purple." You have judged rightly. Look now into the court-yard of Pilate's palace, and convince yourselves that all this, of which you deem him worthy, really befell him. "Whom;" you ask, astonished, "our first father, Adam?" No other than he, and we, his seed, in him. Yes, see there the presumptuous luster, the culpable insurgent, and aspirer to the crown in Paradise; except that you do not behold him there in person, but as represented by him, who, as the second Adam, took upon himself the guilt of the first.
Such is the secret cause of the bloody events we have been contemplating. Away, therefore, with all false sentimentality! with the partial and selfish indignation at the barbarous crew! Apart from the fact of our being innately no better than they—they are the unconscious instruments in the hands of retributive justice. What befalls Christ, befalls us in him, who is our representative. The sufferings he endures, fall upon our corrupt nature. In him we receive the due reward of our misdeeds; and now say, if it be too much? With the shudder at the sight of the martyred Lamb of God, ought to be joined a thorough condemnation of ourselves, a profound adoration of the unsearchable wisdom and mercy of God, and a joyful exulting at the glorious accomplishment of the counsel of grace. Our hell is extinguished in Jesus' wounds; our curse is consumed in Jesus' soul; our guilt is purged away in Jesus' blood. The sword of the wrath of a holy God was necessarily unsheathed against us; and if the Bible is not a falsehood, and the threatenings of the law a mere delusion, and God's justice an idle fancy, and his truth a mere cobweb of the brain—then, nothing is more evident than this, that of all the millions of sinful and guilty men who ever trod the earth, not a single individual would have escaped the sword, if the Son of God had not endured the stroke, and taken upon himself the payment of our debts. This he undertook. Then it thundered upon him from the clouds; the raging billows of a sea of trouble roared against him; hell poured upon him all its tortures and torments, and heaven remained unmoved. What was all this but the fate which awaited guilty sinners? But since Christ endured it, the crosses, which were erected for us, have been thrown down; the stake which waited for us has been removed; the cannon which were pointed against us have been dismounted, and, from the royal residence of the Lord of Hosts, the white flag of peace is held out to us poor dwellers upon earth.
The case has been well stated by an ancient writer, in the following words: "Adam was a king, gloriously arrayed, and ordained to reign. But sin cast him down from his lofty throne, and caused him the loss of his purple robe, his diadem and scepter. But after his eyes were opened to perceive how much he had lost, and when his looks were anxiously directed to the earth in search of it, he saw thorns and thistles spring up on the spot where the crown fell from his head; the scepter changed, as if to mock the fallen monarch, into a fragile reed; and instead of the purple robe, his deceived hand took up a robe of mockery from the dust. The poor disappointed being hung down his head with grief, when a voice exclaimed, 'Look up!' He did so, and lo! what an astonishing vision presented itself to his eye! Before him stood a dignified and mysterious man, who had gathered up the piercing thorns from the ground, and wound them round his head for a crown; he had wrapped himself in the robe of mockery, and taken the reed, the emblem of weakness, into his own hand. 'Who are you, wondrous being?' inquired the progenitor of the human race, astonished; and received the heart-cheering reply, 'I am the King of kings, who, acting as your representative, am restoring to you the paradisaical jewels you have lost.' Our delighted first father then bowed himself gratefully and reverentially in the dust; and after being clothed with the skin of the sacrificed animal, fathomed the depths of the words of Jehovah, 'Adam is become like one of us.'"
What I have now related to you is a parable, but one which rests on an historical basis. For, in fact, the great exchange which Christ made with us, as regards the reversion and the right, has again placed us in the full possession of paradisaic glory, seeing that we are "begotten again to a lively hope, and to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in heaven for us, who are kept by the power of God, through faith unto eternal salvation."
We stand, in spirit, before Gabbatha. The judgment-seat is still empty. The scene, as we are aware, has been transferred for a time into the inner court-yard. We know the horrible things which have there occurred. The evangelists describe them with a trembling hand. They mention the scourging only briefly. We think we see them covering their faces with their hands at this terrific scene; but they cannot conceal from us the tears which silently steal down their cheeks.
Impatience begins to seize upon the multitude outside; when suddenly, the gate of the praetorium again opens. Pilate approaches, visibly affected, followed by One who is surrounded by a troop of jeering barbarians. Oh, what an appearance does he present! You shudder, and cover your faces. Do so, and permit me, meanwhile, to relate a brief narrative to you.
Heaven's pearly gates were once thrown open, and a Holy One descended into the world—such a one as the sons of men had never seen since the fall. He was glorious beyond compare, and came to verify the dream of Jacob's ladder, which connected earth with heaven. Love was his banner, compassion the beating of his heart. He sojourned three years among mortals, shedding light on those who were stumbling in darkness, filling the cottages of the wretched with temporal and spiritual blessings, inviting the weary and heavy laden to come to him, in order to give them rest, and irradiating the darkness of the valley of death with promises upon promises, as with so many golden lights from heaven. "I am not come," said he, "to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give my life a ransom for many." He testified that he came to redeem his people from their sins; that he would not leave them comfortless, but would bring them to the Father, and elevate them to be fellow-heirs with him in his glory. And how did he fulfill his promises, whenever any ventured to take heart and filially confide in him! O what blessings must such a guest have brought with him to a world lying under the curse! Even the angels around the throne might have envied the pilgrims in this valley of death by reason of this visit. And as regards the children of men—"Doubtless," you say, "they received him with exultation, melted into tears of rapture, conducted him in triumph, and knew not what they should do to manifest their gratitude to their heavenly friend and deliverer."
Truly, one might have supposed that such would have been the case. ''What, and was it not so?" My friends, lift up your eyes, and look toward Gabbatha. "Gracious heaven!" you exclaim, "Who is yonder sufferer?" O, my friends, whom do you take him to be? Look him narrowly in the face, and say if wickedness could have vented itself worse than it has done on this person? Alas! they have made of him a carnival king; and as if he were unworthy of being dealt with seriously, they have impressed upon him the stamp of derision. Look at the mock robe about his shoulders, the theatrical scepter in his hands, and on his head, which is covered with wounds and blood, the dreadful crown of thorns. But who is this man, thus horribly disfigured? I think you will no longer seriously inquire. The lamb-like patience, and the superhuman resignation with which he stands before you, point him out sufficiently clearly. No less does the majesty betray him, which, in spite of all the abasement he experiences, still shows itself in his whole deportment, as well as the divinely forgiving love which even now beams from his eye. Who would be found acting thus in a similar situation? Yes, it is the Holy One from on high, who stands before you, the picture of agony. "Behold the man!" exclaims the heathen judge, deeply affected, and faintly impressed with an idea of some superior being. Ah, had Pilate clearly known, what he only obscurely felt, he would at least have said, "You have here before you the moral pattern of our race, the flower of humanity, and holiness personified."
"Behold the man!" The hope is once more excited in the governor, that he would still be able to accomplish the liberation of Jesus. "Now," he thinks, "the blood-thirstiness of the raging multitude will certainly be satisfied. In the presence of One so full of dignity and meekness, the fury of the most cruel must subside, and right feeling return, even to the most hardened." Let us see what occurs. The people are about to reply to the governor's appeal—the people, that thousand-headed giant, of whom so much is said in commendation, and whose appearance is so imposing; whose united voice is supposed to be always correct, and even proverbially esteemed equal to the voice of God. But what is the echo which resounds from the bosom of the powerful monster in reply to the governor's exclamation, "Behold the man!" "Crucify him! Crucify him!" rends the air, as if proceeding from a single tongue.
"But are these impious men aware of what they are doing?" Certainly not, in all its extent. You must not, however, suppose that they are acting merely as in a dream. O no! In the person of Christ, they would gladly dash to pieces the mirror which mutely renders them conscious of their own deformity. In the Nazarene, they would gladly extinguish the light of the world, which they hate, because they feel more at ease in the darkness of deception, than in the broad daylight of unvarnished truth. They would gladly get rid of the disagreeable monitor who reminded them of the awfulness of eternity; for they are vexed at being disturbed in the quiet enjoyment of their earthly husks. They neither desire an external conscience, nor the exhibition of a model of virtue, nor an awakener from their deadly sleep, nor, generally speaking, any moral authority over them. On all these accounts, they are exasperated against the Holy One of Israel, and have nothing left for him but the implacable cry of "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
Thus they are judged. In the manifestation of him who was "fairer than the children of men," our fallen nature has taken occasion to make it evident that its corruption is radical, its disease desperate, and its inmost tendency nothing else than enmity against the Most High God. The many thousand additional proofs of this which history furnishes, we may dispense with, after our race, in the murder of the Lord from heaven, has pronounced sentence upon itself, and filled up the measure of its guilt. The mute sufferer in the purple robe and crown of thorns, sits in judgment upon it, and silently testifies that without mediation and an atonement, the seed of Adam, in its whole extent, is exposed to the curse.
That which manifests itself at Gabbatha, is only the mature fruit of a seed, which grows, openly or secretly, in us all. Do not call this assertion unjust. As long as we have not experienced the second birth by water and the Spirit, we do not act, with regard to Jesus, in a manner essentially different from the wretched men at Gabbatha. Like them, we are offended at the holiness of Jesus. Like them, we spurn them from us, when he is desirous of rending the web of deceit we have spun around us. Like them, we spit upon him in spirit with our scorn, when he gives us to understand that we ought to bow the knee of homage to him as our ruler. Tell me, does not Christ still wear, in a hundred different forms, the purple robe and crown of thorns in the world? Is he not exposed to public ridicule, and treated as a liar and an enthusiast, because he bears witness to his superhuman dignity? Is not his name, even to this day, proscribed by thousands, like scarcely any other? Does not an ironical smile dart across the lips of many, when it is mentioned with reverence and fervor? Is it not regarded, in many circles, as much more pardonable to be enthusiastic for Voltaire, than that it should occur to us to be serious in our love to Jesus? As soon as we begin to be so, are we not inundated with disgrace and reproach, and in us, the Lord himself? Truly, the sins which were committed on the bleeding form of Jesus, are so little to be regarded as the sins and impious acts of a few, that the accumulated guilt of the whole human race is only thereby made apparent. The horrible and cruel scene at Gabbatha is not yet at an end. It is daily renewed, although in a somewhat less striking manner. The words, "Behold the Man!" point not only to what is past, they have also a condemning reference to the present. Alas, the world became a Gabbatha! The thorn-crowned martyred form exhibited there mutely condemns us all without distinction.
But the presence of the divine sufferer acts not merely judicially and condemnatory. It also exercises an influence commanding homage and reverence. However deeply abased the Savior may appear, he is still a king. Even in his blood-stained attire, he accomplishes a truly regal work, and in so doing, ascends a throne on which no eye had previously seen him. It is not the throne of government over all created things; for to this the Father had long before elevated him. Do not mistake, while contemplating the man thus covered with disgrace. If he sways even the feeble reed in his hand, legions of angels would hasten down for his defense, and lay his foes beneath his feet. Just as little is the throne he here ascends that of an avenger and a judge. This also he had previously occupied. Let no one deceive himself; beneath his robe of mockery, he still conceals the thunder, and the lightning; and consuming fire, if he permitted it, would issue from his thorny crown, as from Jotham's bush of old, and devour his adversaries.
"But if he possessed the power to do this, why did he not make use of it?" I answer, because beneath the robe of mockery he wears another and a different one, the purple of a compassionating love, which longs for the salvation of the lost. The new throne, which he ascends on Gabbatha, is that of a King of poor sinners and of a "Prince of Peace." It is the throne of grace, from whence forgiveness flows down, instead of retribution, and promise proceeds instead of command. To this throne no other way is open to him, but that on which we have seen him walk. Before the curse could give way to blessing, the sword of justice to the olive branch of peace, the obligations of sinners must be fulfilled, their debts liquidated, and thus divine justice satisfied. This is the great work in which we see the Redeemer now engaged. Through suffering, he acquires fresh power; immersed in ignominy, he clothes himself with new glory.
"Behold the man!" Yes, fix your eyes upon him, and strike your hands together with astonishment at the sight. In the mock robe in which he stands before you, he gains victories and triumphs which he never could have won in the sumptuous robe of his divine majesty. In it, he overcomes eternal justice, while compelling it to change its sentence of death upon the sinner into a sentence of grace. In it, he overcomes the irrevocable law, by rendering it possible for it to withdraw the curse pronounced upon us, without infringing its authority and dignity. He overcomes sin, from which he rends its destructive power; Satan, whom he deprives of his last claim to us in the way of right; and death, from which he takes away the sting, and the armor of a king of terrors. To the man, so disfigured as scarcely to be recognized, belongs, henceforth, the earth, as the price of payment for his blood; and no destroying power, which, as the consequence of sin, had, by divine permission, entered into the world, has any more a legal claim upon it. From its pillars he removes the insignia and armorial bearings of all usurping authority, and replaces them with the sign of the cross, the mark of his peaceful sway. And no one dare to interfere and say to him, What do you? He is complete and unassailable in his own right. The world is his, that he may let his love rule over it, and not his wrath; and if he henceforth treats penitent sinners as if they were replete with holiness and virtue, who will be bold enough to contest his right to do so?
"Behold the man!" Yes, it is a strange ornament that decks his head; but know, that in this wreath he possesses and uses a power of which he could not boast while only adorned with the crown of Deity, which he inherited from all eternity. In the latter, he could only say to the dying thief, "Be you accursed!" In the former, he is able to say to him, "This day shall you be with me in paradise!" In the heavenly crown, he could say nothing else to a Magdalene, a tax-collector, or a paralytic, than "Depart from me!" and give them over to perdition. But in his crown of thorns, it is in his power to say to these guilty souls, "Go in peace, your sins are forgiven you!" In the former he certainly reigned, but over a hopelessly ruined race, devoted to destruction; in the diadem of thorns, he rules over a world replete with great and glorious anticipations.
"Behold the man!" A feeble reed is his rod of office; but with the scepter of Omnipotence, which he wielded from the beginning, he did not perform the wonders which he works with this mark of abasement and weakness. True, the gates of hell opened for transgressors at a wave of the former; but when he sways the latter, the doors of the paradise they have forfeited open for them at his pleasure. With the former, he was Lord over mankind only as over a lost race destined for the slaughter; with the latter, he now tends a flock of them called to eternal salvation. The scepter of his majesty did not menace the kingdom of darkness in its claim on fallen man, since retributive justice, which is the basis of God's throne, bounded his power with impassable limits. With the scepter of his lowliness, on the contrary, he overturns the seat of the prince of darkness, taking away from him territory and population, and that so justly, that hell itself dares not object to, nor call it in question.
Can you mistake the conqueror of the world in Him whom you see before you? Does not the "stronger" stand before you, who takes away the spoils and armor of the "strong man," and makes an end of all opposing authority? But know, that in the same attire in which he there yields himself up to the world, as to any legal claim, he continues to overcome it. It is not in the form of "the Master in Israel," nor in that of the glorious Son of the Eternal Father, but in the form of the divine sufferer, that he inclines the hearts of those toward him whom he has purchased with his blood. He meets his children usually in his wreath of thorns, and gathers, even to this day, the recompense of his sufferings in his robe of mockery, and not in the purple of his Eternal Majesty. The sons of the desert continue estranged from him as long as he meets them only in the garb of a teacher, or with the insignia of his superhuman royalty. But no sooner does he display before them his suffering form, than they begin to be astonished, and feel attracted, as by a wondrous and magnetic power; and when they hear, as from his bleeding lips, that all he endured was for their sakes, it is his purple robe they first lay hold of, his crown of thorns to which they first pay homage, and his reed-scepter to which, in joyful obedience, they bow their necks, as to that of their rightful Lord. Yes, the sight of the suffering Savior is still the mighty power which silently changes lions into lambs, breaks and melts the stony heart, and prepares the way for his most glorious achievements.
"Behold the man!" Yes, keep your eyes fixed upon him. Even as he is the Judge and Conqueror, so he is also the Benefactor of the world. We know that he no longer stands on Gabbatha. He has long ago ascended the throne of glory, in a different robe and a different diadem to that in which we there beheld him. But he left us his thorn-crowned image in the Gospel; and Oh, the wonders it has wrought in the world, and continues to perform, whenever the Holy Spirit illumines it! Even as in that degraded suffering form, the Lord from heaven saved the world, so he still shows himself in it as the world's benefactor. Thus arrayed, he exhibits himself in the lonely cell of the weeping and contrite penitent, and how is the heart of such a one relieved at the sound of "Ecce Homo!" for "He bare our iniquities." In this form he shows himself to those who are severely tempted; and the sight of him who has trodden Satan under his feet, renders their victory secure. He appears in this form to those who are grievously afflicted, and scarcely do they behold him than they breathe more freely, and exultingly exclaim, "Through the cross to the crown!" In this form he approaches his children, when rejected and despised by the world; and when they see him, though only through the lattice, they feel already fresh courage, and boldly say, "We desire no other array from you who are his adversaries, than that in which you once clothed our Glorious Head." In this form he silently draws near to those who feel grieved at the base ingratitude and coldness of the world; but in his presence, how quickly does their sorrow turn to deep confusion at their desire for human praise and empty honor! In this form he restores those to his flock, who had again let themselves be seduced from him by the allurements of the world. A compassionate and warning look from his eye, from under the crown of thorns, causes them again to melt in contrition at his feet. In this form he appears to his children when the shades of death begin to fall around them, and their feet already tread the dark valley; and when their half-closed eyes behold him, they feel that heavenly peace flows down to them from his crown of thorns, and that, from the reed in his hand, the king of terrors, overcome, shrinks back with all his horrors, and as if the purple robe of their divine friend extended itself like a peaceful canopy over them. Cheered by his presence, they exclaim with good old Simeon, "Lord, now let you your servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen your salvation!"
O may he thus appear to us, likewise, when our day declines, and the darkness of night surrounds us! May he then unveil his suffering form before us, when the gloomy path presents itself to our view, which we must tread alone! When our pulse ceases to beat, amid the unavailing tears of those who are dear to us, and the world passes away from us forever; when no human are any longer avails, and even the consolation of human affection no longer reaches the heart, O may he then accompany us in our solitary path, in his purple robe and crown of thorns, and all that is dark around us will be changed into heavenly light and glory! For it is in this form above every other, that the great truth is expressed, that the sentence of death and the curse are removed from our heads to his, in order that free access to the throne of grace may be granted us, when clothed in the robe of his righteousness. O how much sooner does a poor sinner take heart to lay hold of the hem of his purple robe, than of that of his garment of light; while from the thorny wreath around his brow, the mysterious benediction of Moses is pronounced upon us: "The good-will of him that dwelt in the bush come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the top of the head of him that was separated from his brethren."
Let, then, the sound of "Ecce Homo!" ever vibrate in our hearts, and nothing in the world ever cause his suffering form to fade from our mental view. This ought never to be the case, if we desire that the peace of God, courage in striving against sin and the world, and comfort in life and death, should abide within us. The wisdom of the just consists, as Paul expresses it, in knowing nothing among men save Christ, and him crucified. Dying daily to ourselves and the world, in fellowship with the dying Redeemer, in order daily to rise with him to the new life in God, is our vocation. Let us be satisfied with it, remembering that "we have here no abiding city." How long may it be before we hear the sound of another "Ecce Homo!" But if we then lift up our eyes, a different form will present itself to our view than that which we saw on Gabbatha. The King of Glory will then have exchanged the robe of mockery for the starry mantle of Divine Majesty, the wreath of thorns for a crown of glory, and the reed for the scepter of universal dominion. He inclines the latter to us graciously as the symbol of his especial favor, saying, "Come, and inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!" And while from the interior of the heavenly city of God the never-ending hallelujahs of the blessed above greet our ears, our full hearts respond to the ecstatic acclamation, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom and strength, and honor and glory, and blessing."
The Close of the Proceedings
The judicial procedure against the Lord of Glory hastens to its close. Events crowd upon, and even overthrow each other. The great and decisive moment is at hand, and the occurrences which take place, claim our sympathy in an increasing degree.
"Crucify him!" was the people's answer to the pathetic appeal of the more than half-vanquished governor, that the life of the Lord Jesus might be spared. This response completely dispossessed Pilate of his last and imaginary safe position. Behold him, now a mere object of compassion and pity, helpless, and wholly at a loss, inwardly torn and tortured by the scourge of his better-self; without faith, though not free from superstition, and therefore the football of human and infernal powers, which exert their influence over him. He again affirms the innocence of the accused, but instead of terminating the proceedings by the liberation of Jesus, as he ought to have done, he demeans himself so far as to give the cowardly advice to the Jews to take him and crucify him without his authority: really, our compassion for the weak-minded and unprincipled man begins greatly to diminish, and with respect to him, we are tempted to soften our reprobation of the people thus misled and strengthened in their delusion by Pilate's weakness, and to transfer it entirely to him. Can we feel surprised that the people become more bold, the more they see the judge vacillate and give way? "We have a law," they cry out very determinedly, "and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God." The people are not satisfied with simply putting Jesus to death, but in order to avoid the appearance of revolt, they desire that Jesus should be executed under all the forms of public justice.
The new accusation here brought by the Jews against Jesus, that he made himself the Son of God, is very deserving of notice. By this, they in fact assert that Jesus, in the proceedings against him, had assumed this high and honorable title. That they therefore consider him guilty of a capital crime, may serve us as a criterion of the extent and sublimity which they attached to that appropriation. How could it have occurred to them to regard the latter as anything impious, had they taken it for granted, that Jesus had declared himself to be a Son of God in no higher sense than that in which all men, and especially the pious and such as keep the law, might so call themselves? But it was quite clear to them, that by the title of Son of God, Jesus intended to place himself high above every creature, and even on an equality with the all-sufficient God himself. And if our Lord had intended less than this, it was his sacred duty, on this occasion, to reject the assertion of his accusers as false, or to rectify it as a great mistake. However, he neither does the one nor the other, but observes silence, and by it, openly confirms the accusation brought against him as well-founded.
"We have a law," cried the people; and such they had, indeed—a positive law, revealed from heaven, and contained in the written word of God. A law, clearer than the sun, deeper than the sea, and as the pure reflection of the holiness of God, and the perfect expression of his unchangeable will, valid for the whole world for time and for eternity; and know, that until God shall become less holy than he is, and not until then, will the requirements of that law be lessened and mitigated. When the justice of God once begins to decline, and his truth to vacillate, then, and not until then, will the transgressing his law be of less moment, and the curse of the law be less feared. But as long as there is in God no shadow of a change, his law retains its majesty and implacable severity; and as long as justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne, he who continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law, is rejected of God and under the curse. Hence the law of which we speak, cannot be a favored or welcome guest upon earth. As long as we live without union to Christ, we should rejoice if the law did not exist. For what does it effect, but show us in a clear light, our estrangement from God, and by means of its threatenings, cause a hell in our consciences? How many thousands has it robbed of their peace and all the enjoyment of life and imprisoned them, for the rest of their days, in the gloomy dungeons of terror and despondency! Where is the wonder, then, if they execrate the law, and are always endeavoring to unnerve and make it void. For if the law was not in the world, sin would be no longer sin, and men would imagine they could reach heaven as they listed. But to wish that there were no law, would be to desire that God should cease to exist. For if there is a God in heaven, he has a right over his creatures, and the will of God, as the personal abstract of every virtue, cannot be less holy than the law of the Scriptures, which requires a perfection, "even as the Father in heaven is perfect."
The Jews of that day had still a consciousness of the existence of a divine law. The world in the present day has long ago lost this consciousness, and has swept away the positive command, by a reckless, arbitrary, self-chosen, and shallow morality. This substitute, which capitulates to our corrupt nature, does not hurl a curse, but unavoidably brings one after it. It is rebellion against the law to endeavor to weaken and neutralize it; and, believe me, in due time it will avenge itself on all such, and dreadfully vindicate its honor.
"We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God." Very true, presupposing that he had spoken falsely in the great things he asserted of himself. The charge of a treasonable blasphemy would then have lain upon him. Such, however, was not the case, for he was really what he gave himself out to be. But let us remember, that he was now appearing in our stead; and in this position the people's sentence proves correct. You know, however, that he died, the just for the unjust, and thus he became the end of the law to all them that believe. We died with him, without personally feeling the suffering of death. In him we emptied the bitter cup, which was destined for us on account of our sins. Henceforward the law no longer stands in our way, but only ministers to us in offices of love. Henceforth it may only say to us, "Behold the righteousness reflected in my demands, and know that it is now yours in Christ Jesus. As personally holy as I require men to be, you shall eventually be presented before God." The law is also appointed to us, who delight in the law of God after the inward man, to live so as entirely to please him, who has bought us with his blood; to unfold to us, in every case, what is pleasing to the Lord, and with which we may infallibly serve him; and in addition to this, to show us its threatenings and its curses, as a conquered general shows to his victors, the ordnance, which, during the conflict, were dismounted by their superior fire. It is to such performances that the law is now enjoined. It is our friend, though occasionally disguised under a gloomy mask, and makes again the sound of its lifted rod to be heard by us. This it does, only to drive us back to the wounds of Jesus, or still deeper into them. But having again reached this city of refuge, it greets us in its true and wholly reconciled form. It has forever forsaken its hostile and menacing position with regard to us. "Christ is the end of the law;" and whoever is conscious of being a sinner in the sight of God, let him read these words to his complete satisfaction. In them lies the spring of my peace, as well as the dying song, with which I hope, at length, gently and blissfully to fall asleep.
"He made himself the Son of God," cried the assembled crowd. "When Pilate heard that saying," we are informed, "he was the more afraid." We well understand the reason. The words were in unison with his deepest presentiment. He had long felt, while the Holy One was before him, as if transported into a supernatural region. The remembrance of his childish dreams of heavenly beings, who appeared as dispensing benefits to mankind, of sons of God, who favored the earth with their visits, awoke again in his soul, accompanied by more serious and gloomy thoughts; and although it did not occur to him to conceive of such a messenger from Olympus in the person of the Nazarene, yet the reality of a superior world impressed itself so strongly upon him, that, with his enlightened understanding, he felt himself greatly perplexed. Jesus had therefore declared himself to be the Son of God. This seemed to the governor to be something highly remarkable and significant. All that he had seen of the man with his own eyes seemed only to confirm this assertion respecting him. "The Son of God!" Pilate, had he been willing to have given vent to the feeling, which in single moments overpowered him, would have almost called him so; and what was there in the wondrous man to render it incredible that he should be of other descent and superior in nature to other men? Pilate is deeply affected. His mind feels a degree of mysterious apprehension of which it had never before been the subject. He is anxious to inquire more particularly who the Nazarene is, and for this purpose retires with him again into the interior of the palace.
Here a memorable conversation takes place between them. Pilate begins it with an inquiry, which includes within it nothing less than the vital question of the whole of the Christian religion. "Whence are you?" says he. You perceive that we have rightly judged of what had occurred within him. His inquiry does not refer to the city or town, but rather to the world, from whence Jesus proceeded. He wishes to know whether he is a son of earth, or has come from some other sphere of the universe. This of itself has become a problem to Pilate. How clearly, therefore, must the stamp of eternity have shone upon our Lord's forehead, even in his menial form!
"Whence are you?" We perceive from the emphasis laid upon this question, that if the Lord had replied, "I am from heaven," the governor would not have started back amazed, but would only have said, "Then my presentiment has not deceived me, for it has already seemed to me as if you were only a stranger and a pilgrim upon earth." But the Lord gives him no such answer, and even thinks fit to leave him without any information. We must not regard this as strange; for what benefit would Pilate have derived, if the great mystery had then been revealed to him, that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh?" The heart of the heathen governor was not prepared for it, and his inquiry concerning the descent of Jesus, strictly regarded, must have proceeded more from vain curiosity than from a desire for salvation and a need of help. Besides this, such a disclosure respecting Christ's true person and nature could only have increased Pilate's responsibility, and have aggravated his condemnation at the last day, and hence it proceeded both from compassion and sparing mercy, that Jesus maintained a profound silence at his question. How little Pilate would have felt inclined to bow to the scepter of the Son of God, had he recognized him as such, is sufficiently evidenced from the conduct which he observed immediately after the question. For on Jesus not at once replying to him, he feels offended, and addresses the Lord, in a tone of extreme excitement, with the arrogant and haughty words, "Speak you not unto me? Know you not that I have power to crucify you, and have power to release you?" Hear him, only! How evident he makes it appear what spirit he is of! Ah, the finest feelings and presentiments of the natural man are only like a rapid vernal vegetation upon a moral morass, which just as rapidly decays. The man must be born again, or else he continues sold under sin as from the first; and his life, however moral and pious it may appear, will only be an uninterrupted chain of relapses.
"Speak you not unto me?" Does not the man act as if the Lord committed high treason by not immediately giving him the desired information? What presumption! what price! "Know you not," continues he, "that I have power to crucify you, and have power to release you?" Oh, what delusion, what ridiculous and beggarly pride in one who had just before, in the presence of his subjects, manifested a weakness which should not have allowed him to use any longer the word "power" without blushing, especially with reference to crucifying and releasing!
But let us listen to what the Lord says. With the majestic composure of his regal self-consciousness, he replies to the judge who so boldly boasted of his authority. "You could have no power at all against me, except it were given you from above; therefore he who delivered me unto you has the greater sin." Admirable words, perfectly worthy of the Lord from heaven and the Son of God! According to them, Pilate appears, although acting, in his own estimation, as self-existent and independent, as an unconscious instrument in the hands of the living God for a sublime purpose, only moving within limits appointed and marked out by an invisible hand. He is unable to do anything but that which God enables him to do. Notwithstanding his cowardice and want of principle, he would not have delivered Jesus over to his murderers, if it had not been pre-determined in heaven. He walks, indeed, in his own way, but in leading-strings of which he is unconscious. He bears, indeed, his guilt; but, while acting thus culpably, he promotes a great and sacred object, of which he is ignorant.
The Lord immediately follows up what he has said, that was calculated to humble and put the governor to shame, with something different and more consolatory. "Therefore," says he, "he who delivered me unto you has the greater sin." Pilate had not understood our Lord's words, when he spoke of a power given him from above, and had regarded the Lord with surprise and astonishment. It is not his misunderstanding his words, which evidenced itself in his gestures, to which the Lord refers. He intends to say, "Because you are ignorant of me, and know not why I am come into the world, your guilt is less than that of him who delivered me into your hands." The latter was primarily the high priest Caiaphas, this son of Abraham, this master in Israel, who had grown up in the light of Moses and the prophets, and, therefore, knew what the title "Son of God" signified, and was in a position to recognize this Son of God in Christ. He, nevertheless, pronounced the sentence of death upon our Lord, as a blasphemer. This sin was the greater because committed in the daylight of scriptural illumination, and against superior light and knowledge. It was so, because it was not committed from weakness, but purposely; not from being taken by surprise, but considerately; not from cowardice, but from wickedness. But observe how the Lord here again appears great. How he shows himself afresh as the king over all, yes, as the judge of the world. With the certainty of an infallible searcher of hearts, he weighs sin and guilt in the balances of the sanctuary, appoints the measure of future punishment, opens, at the same time, to the unhappy governor a prospect of mercy and possible forgiveness, and in the latter trait, again manifests the compassion of his heart, which thirsted for the salvation of sinners.
The Lord's words have not entirely failed of their effect on the mind of the governor. He clearly feels in them the sublime as well as the benevolent and charitable motive which dictated them; and hence he is induced to return to the open court, and, with fresh zeal, to repeat the attempt to liberate Jesus. But he then hears from the crowd below the words which break the mast and rudder of the bark of his good-will, even on venturing out of the harbor. "If you let this man go, you are not Caesar's friend; for whoever makes himself a king (like him for whom you are pleading) speaks against Caesar."
This outcry hit the governor's weakest and most vulnerable side. He knew his master, the Emperor Tiberius, too well, not to foresee that an accusation like that which had just been raised against him, if it reached his ear, would find only too strong a response in his suspicious mind, and would cost him, the governor, his office, and who knows what beside. He, therefore, felt assured that the emperor who, as we are informed by a contemporary writer, regarded the crime of leze majesty as the highest of all accusations, would, without previous inquiry, pronounce the severest sentence upon him so soon as he should be informed that his viceroy had set a man at liberty who had attempted to claim the title of king over Israel. But the emperor's favor was everything to Pilate, for with it stood or fell his official dignity. No, the emperor's anger would have endangered his liberty and life, and it was a grave question with Pilate whether he ought to sacrifice these blessings to justice and peace of conscience. He certainly judged differently in the sequel; like many among us, with whom it seems also a question whether the peace of God is the chief of blessings, who will afterward view the matter in a different light. God grant that the hour of their awaking from the devil's snare may not come too late, that is, only when no choice will be left them, because, having too long and obstinately chosen the curse against their better knowledge, they are already given over to hardness of heart.
No sooner does Pilate hear the unfortunate words, "You are not Caesar's friend," than his little remaining ability to resist gives way. He does not indeed entirely give up his efforts to set Jesus at liberty; but what he undertakes for that purpose, is with the despairing consciousness that a successful result is no longer to be expected. With the instability of one who is completely driven from the field, he steps forward from the praetorium once more, again brings the accused with him upon the stage, ascends with assumed solemnity the judgment-seat, and then again begins to harangue the people. But all he now adduces, only proves the boundless confusion which reigns within him, and seems only to be calculated fully to frustrate his purpose. "Behold your king," cries he, pointing to the suffering Savior, torn with stripes, and covered with ignominy. Who does not feel from this exclamation, that it was prompted by a mixture of compassion for the Man of Sorrows, and of bitter scorn toward the hated Jews? He wishes at one and the same time, to gain them over to favor Jesus, and to give them a very painful blow. The people naturally felt only the poisoned sting of his speech, and not its moving power, and that which Pilate might have foreseen occurs. The insulted multitude rise up, like an irritated viper, and cry out more resolutely, angrily, and furiously than before, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him!" Pilate now loses all self-possession. His passion even removes the object of his efforts from his view; like a madman destroying his furniture, so Pilate destroys the last hope of Jesus' rescue, while pouring oil into the flame of the people's rage already brightly burning; he calls out maliciously and with bitter sarcasm to the raging crowd, "Shall I crucify your king? You think," is his meaning, "to blacken my character with the emperor as a protector of, and fellow-conspirator with a rebel; but you are the rebels; for here is your chief to whom you pay homage." But he no longer knows what he is saying. Inward discomfiture and despair, accompanied by a powerless thirst for revenge, and ridiculous arrogance, render him beside himself. The chief priests, on the contrary, know better how to preserve their coolness. To the ironical question, "Shall I crucify your king?" they have immediately an answer at hand, which, though it casts a horrible light upon themselves, could not have been more ably chosen, had it been their intention, through it, to give the governor a moral death-blow. With pretended loyalty and devotedness toward the Roman sovereignty, they cried briefly and forcibly, "We have no king but Caesar," and thus give themselves, as regards Pilate, the menacing aspect as if it were they, and not he, who defended the endangered authority and sovereignty of the emperor. But the supposition that the matter might be regarded in the same manner by Tiberius, as well as the idea of the dreadful punishment, which would impend over him, if, in the emperor's gloomy soul the suspicion should arise that the subjugated Hebrews were more faithful to him than his own servant, quite overpowered the governor. He now gives Jesus up to the people to do with him as they list. They have gained a complete victory; but woe, woe to the poor unhappy beings! While vociferating, "We have no king but Caesar!" in which they rejected the true Messiah, as well as their hopes in him, they verified Jotham's parable of the trees, who chose for their king a fiery bramble-bush, and unconsciously pronounced sentence and predicted a curse upon themselves for thousands of years. To this hour the Jews have no king, but live without laws and without a home, as tolerated aliens under foreign dominion.
We take our leave of Pilate, and bid him farewell, not without sorrow. He was fitted for something better than that which we saw him display. But he wished to serve two masters—God, who spoke in his bosom, and the world at the same time; and hence his fall and his ruin. He was desirous of doing what was right, but not wholly. His sentiments were noble, but he did not make room for the Divine Spirit to confirm the feeling in him until it became a permanent conviction and resolute will. The seed of all the sanctifying impressions he received, fell under the thorns of his unbroken pride and worldly-mindedness, and these sprang up, and overpowered and choked it. Pilate fell a sacrifice to his want of decision and weakness of character, even as numberless others, though often the subject of fine feelings and resolutions, incessantly become a prey to the power of Satan.
We have very scanty intelligence respecting the governor's subsequent fate. We merely know that his inward state became gradually more gloomy, and his severity increased; from whence we reasonably infer that his peace was at an end, because his conscience condemned him on account of the crying injustice committed upon the Holy One of Israel. In consequence of heavily oppressing the people, in which he afterward indulged, he was removed by the Syrian Proconsul, in the last year of the reign of Tiberius, and banished to France. It is a question whether, in his exile, he came to himself, and learned to know the King of the Jews in the glory of his mediatorship. The curse which hovered over Pilate's head was written clearly enough to induce us to hope that its contents would bring him to reflection, and kindle in him a desire for mercy and forgiveness. The primitive fathers speak of documents which Pilate sent to Tiberius respecting his judicial proceedings against Jesus, and his death, by which the latter was induced to cause Christ to be received among the gods. We have no reason to doubt the truth of this ancient tradition; and for the sake of those who cannot believe in the superhuman majesty of Christ, sincerely regret that these documents are lost. But to me, the whole conduct which Pilate, though a heathen, observed toward Jesus, seems sufficiently glorifying to him. Pilate occupies his place in the apostle's creed as a witness for the holiness and superhuman dignity of the Lord from heaven, as well as that Christ was delivered up and crucified, not merely according to human will and design, but in accordance with the divine plan of redemption and mercy.
We conclude, while impressively calling to mind the words of the Lord, "He who is not with me is against me," and those of the apostle, "It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace;" as also the prayer of the Psalmist, "Uphold my goings in your paths, that my footsteps slip not."
The Way to the Cross
"Then delivered he him therefore unto them." How mournful and horrifying this sounds! Alas for Pilate! Had he but known who it was, and all that he gave up in thus delivering him! We have tasted only a little of his heavenly manna, but we would not give him up for all the world. "Lord, to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." We confess, indeed, with deep humiliation, that we are frequently guilty of denying his name, and whenever this is the case, we go out, weeping bitterly, with Peter, and after having been comforted by him afresh, we again say, with stronger emphasis than before, "We will never again deliver him up." We renounce the friendship, favor, and honor, of his adversaries. If the whole world were offered to us, Jesus is not to be had in exchange. Our union with him bears the stamp and signature of eternity.
"Then delivered he him unto them." Oh, if Pilate had had any idea of whose instrument he was at that moment! But he is unacquainted with the precious words, "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son," and those of the apostle, "He who spared not his own Son, but freely gave him up for us all: how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" These testimonies, however, are known to us; we also know their mysterious depth; we hang down our heads at the words, "Then delivered he him unto them," sink down in the dust, and adore.
"Then." He was now ready and prepared for the last great sacrificial act. He had fulfilled the law, had victoriously endured every trial of faith, and had proved himself in every ordeal to be pure and unalloyed gold. He was "the Lamb without spot," obedient beyond compare, and it was just such a sacrifice as this that the God of holiness required. He must first be found worthy of a crown before he could bear the curse. All is now in readiness.
"Then delivered he him." Now close the temple, you sons of Aaron; the types and shadows with which you had to do have done their duty, now that the substance has appeared. Lay aside the band from your foreheads, and the breastplate, you ministers of the sanctuary; for know that another now justly adorns himself with both, and that your priesthood has reached its termination.
The act of delivering over the accused has taken place; Jesus is now in the hands of his enemies, like a lamb amid wolves, or a dove in the claws of the vulture. How was David in the right when he said, "I will rather fall into the hand of the Lord, than into the hands of man." Look how they treat the Holy One, now that they have him among them. They again assail him with the bitterest mockery, cruelly and rudely tear the purple robe from his bleeding body, and put on him his own clothes again, not from compassion, but because it seems to them that the horrible death to which they are now preparing to conduct him, is no longer to be treated as a jest or a scoff, but requires a certain solemn seriousness.
Have not the modern enemies of Christ arrived at a similar stage in their conduct toward him? When, fifty years ago, the French illumination spread itself over the nations like a poisonous atmosphere, Christ again stood as a mock king on the stage of the world; and he who thought he possessed anything of wit and humor made use of them to brand both him and his cause with the stamp of ridicule. The proceedings have since assumed another and more serious appearance. It is almost unanimously agreed, in the present day, that Christ is too great and too noble for mere trifling. His person and doctrine are thought worthy of being treated scientifically, and thus they put on the dishonored Jesus his garment again, inasmuch as they do not hesitate to restore to him the honor of being one of the wisest and noblest men that ever trod the earth. But all this gravity, regarded in the light, is nothing else than a solemn introduction to the act of crucifixion. Christ, doubtless with gravity and decorum, is declared in the name of science, to be a mere man, and therefore an enthusiast and a blasphemer, justly condemned to be crucified, because he had affirmed on oath that he was more than a man, and hence was guilty of blasphemous perjury, in the judgment of the most modern philosophy. In truth, notwithstanding all appearance to the contrary, the anti-christian spirit has only entered upon a new and more dangerous phase of development, and has approached considerably nearer its perfect maturity. Beneath the scoff and scorn of earlier times there was always an accusing conscience, which was endeavored to be kept down and overpowered. Behind modern unbelief is encamped the deepest and most hopeless state of death. With philosophical pride they feel assured of the incontrovertible foundation for their views of Christ, and thus has unbelief expanded itself into strong delusion.
The change of garments which took place in the court of the praetorium reminds me of an act in our own life. In the days of our blindness we had also divested the Lord Jesus of the glory of his inherent splendor, while presuming to deny one or other particular concerning him, so as to leave him little more than the title of a Jewish Rabbi, or the Sage of Nazareth. But how did we afterward alter our course, when the Lord stripped us of the garments of our imaginary righteousness, and in the mirror of his law exhibited to us our real form! How hastily did we then put upon Immanuel his own clothing! We first gave you back your Messiah-crown, and then your sacrificial and priestly robes, and, finally, your diadem as the King of Glory; for the awakened necessities of our hearts had rectified our vision, and sharpened it for your beauty. Amid many tears of repentance and delight, we again clothed you in your original attire. You now stands before us in your full and complete array, and we will never cease to bow the knee before you, and to rejoice, and say with Jacob, "Judah, you are he whom your brethren shall praise!"
After the soldiers had made their preparations, the awful sign appears, which has since become the standard of the kingdom of Christ, and the token of our salvation. During the space of three thousand years it had been constantly symbolized to the view of the believing Israelites. It is even reflected in the peculiar manner in which the dying patriarch Jacob, with crossed hands, blessed his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh. It glimmered no less in the wave-offerings of the tabernacle and temple, which, as is well known, were accustomed to be waved so as to make the form of a cross appear. In the wilderness, the sign was elevated to support the brazen serpent, and the spirit of prophecy interwove it in the figurative language of David's Psalms, when placing in the mouth of the future Messiah the words, "They pierced my hands and my feet."
Look, yonder they bring it! According to the Roman custom, all who were condemned to the punishment of the cross were compelled to carry that instrument of their death to the place of execution; and even the divine sufferer is not spared this disgrace and toil. Without mercy they lay on his wounded back the horrible instrument of torture; and, after having given him for his escort two grievous criminals, similarly burdened and condemned to the same death, they open the gate of the courtyard toward the street, in order at length to satisfy the people, who had been impatiently awaiting the cruel spectacle. A low murmur of malicious joy and profound excitement pervades the mass when the three cross-bearers make their appearance. The procession sets itself in motion. In the van, an armed troop on foot and on horseback; then the three victims, with their crosses, surrounded by their executioners; behind these, the civil and ecclesiastical authorities of the nation; and, finally, the crowding, gaping, innumerable multitude.
We silently join them in spirit. Oh, what a path is that which we now tread! Only think, it is thus the unhappy world repels the man who entered upon it heralded by angels, and in the midst of heavenly songs of praise. It is thus she rewards him for the unwearied love with which he poured upon her the abundance of all conceivably benefits and mercies! Oh, who that is still inclined to doubt whether mankind was worthy of eternal perdition without the intervention of a mediator, let him cast a look at this path of suffering, and convince himself of the contrary! For why is the Holy One thus dragged along, unless it be that we loved sin too ardently not to hate a man, even to the death, who made himself known as the deliverer from it.
Look there, he bends beneath his heavy burden! Dreadful and horrible is his situation! All his friends have forsaken him, and even heaven is silent above him, as if it also had rejected him. An ancient legend states, that Veronica, a young maiden, stepped up to him weeping from the crowd, and with compassionate hand wiped the bloody sweat from his wounded brow. In gratitude for this service, the Lord left her his image on the napkin. This is only a fiction and a legend, but the sentiment it conveys is significant and true. Whoever is brought by love to the Savior, he impresses his thorn-crowned likeness on their hearts, as the gift of his reciprocal affection; so that he who has received it, henceforth carries it about with him as a most valuable legacy, and can never more turn away his eyes from beholding it.
According to another legend, as Jesus was passing by, the Jew Ahasuerus stepped out of his dwelling, and with devilish hatred, hit, with his foot, the Holy One of Israel, in consequence of which, he began to totter beneath his load, and even to sink to the ground. This occasioned the denunciation, that he should henceforward wander restless and fugitive through the world, and not die until the Lord should come again. This Ahasuerus is "the Wandering Jew." Here again we have to do with a myth; but it also has its truth and deep meaning. The wandering Jew represents the people of Israel, who crucified our Lord, and in satanic delusion pronounced upon themselves the awful anathema, "His blood be upon us and our children." They now roam about, fugitive and homeless, aliens among all nations, the offscouring of the world; and die not, and will not die, until the Lord shall come again to complete his kingdom upon earth. But then they will die, by ceasing to be an excommunicated and outlawed people, and rise again as a new and glorious race, singing Hosanna to David their true King. The wondrous stars of the promises given to Abraham's seed shine for thousands of years, and send their beams to the end of days.
Yonder they conduct the Man of Sorrows! One cannot reflect who it is that is thus laden with the accursed tree, without feeling one's heart petrified with surprise and astonishment. But it is well for us that he traversed the path. Only observe now the form of the Lamb which takes away the sins of the world, is so clearly expressed in him. Behold him, and say if you do not feel as if you heard the ancient words proceed from his silent lips, "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, a body have you prepared for me. Lo! I come, I delight to do your will, O my God! yes, your law is within my heart." Had he shrunk back from this fatal path, his road to suffering would have represented to us that on which, when dying, we should have left the world. Instead of soldiers, the emissaries of Satan would have escorted us; instead of the accursed tree, the curse of the law itself; instead of fetters, the bands of eternal wrath would have encircled us, and despair have lashed us with its fiery scourge. Now, on the contrary, angels of peace, sent by Eternal Love, will at length bear us on a path of light, illumined by heavenly promises, to Abraham's bosom. To whom are we indebted for this? Solely to the man who totters yonder under the most horrible of all burdens; and who carries away with him everything which stood opposed to us and threatened us with destruction.
Certainly, it may still be the case, that during our earthly pilgrimage we are led on similar paths to that on which we see Jesus, our Head, proceeding. For the world hates his members like himself; and Satan ceases not to desire to have his redeemed, that he may sift them as wheat. But heaven is no longer closed over our path of suffering and disgrace, nor does the black cloud of rejection and the curse obscure it. The sword of God has returned to its scabbard, and peace and hope are the gracious companions who walk by our side. Christ has deprived our fearful path of its horrors, our burdens of their overpowering weight, our disgrace and need of their deadly stings, and placed us in a situation to say with the royal psalmist, "Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me."
Blessed, therefore, be the path of our Prince of Peace to the cross! Let us not cease to accompany him daily thereon in the spirit. It will unspeakably sweeten our own painful path; for why does he take this horrible road, but to enable us to traverse ours with heads erect, because we are freed from curse and care. Upon his path he not only carries all our sins to the grave, and breaks a passage through all the obstacles which blocked up our access to the Father, but he makes, at the same time, all the bitter waters of the desert sweet, and neither leaves nor forsakes us, until he brings us safe to our heavenly home.
Simon of Cyrene
Pilate, driven from the field by the determined opposition of the enemies of Jesus, contrary to the voice of justice in his bosom, has delivered the Holy One of Israel into the hands of his murderers, who hasten to carry the execution into effect as quickly as possible. No appeal was permitted to a rebel after being sentenced; on the contrary, a Roman law commanded that such should be led away to execution immediately after sentence had been pronounced. This was believed applicable to him, whom the people thought they could not remove soon enough from human society, as being a rebel against God, against Moses, and against the emperor.
We left the Savior at the close of our last meditation on the road to the fatal hill. The procession moves slowly forward enveloped in clouds of dust. What a running together from every side! What a tumultuous noise and horrible din! Spears, helmets, and drawn swords glitter in the sunshine. Soldiers on foot and horseback, priests and scribes, high and low, shrieking women and crying children, Jews and heathens, all mingled together in the crowd. At the head of the procession, surrounded by guards, the three delinquents, panting slowly forward under the weight of their instruments of death. Two of them robbers and murderers, and between them, he, to whom, on closer observation, the whole of this hideous exhibition has reference. Behold that bleeding man, who, according to appearance, is the most guilty of the three! But we know him. He also bears his cross, and thus claims our sympathy in the highest degree.
Crosses were often seen, under the dominion of the Romans. A rebellious slave was very frequently condemned to this most shameful and painful of all punishments. But there is something very particular and peculiar about the cross which we see the Holy One of Israel bearing to Calvary. If we refer to the roll of the Divine Law, Deut. 21:22: "If a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall in any wise bury him that day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), that your land be not defiled, which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance." This remarkable ordinance of God was punctually observed in Israel. As often as a criminal was nailed to the tree of shame, he was regarded, according to the words of the law, as an object of profound abhorrence to the Almighty, and the people were conscious that God could only look upon the land with anger and disgust, so long as the dead body of the criminal was not removed out of his sight. But such of them as were enlightened, well knew that all this included in it a typical meaning, and had a prophetic reference to one who should hang upon a tree, on whom the vials of heaven's wrath would be poured out, but in whose atoning sufferings, the curse and condemnation of a sinful world would reach its termination. But who would dare to seek in Christ, the individual thus laden with the divine curse, and assert that the ordinance in the wilderness had found its fulfillment on Golgotha, if the word of God itself had not justified such a conclusion? That such is actually the case, turn to Galatians, 3:13, where the apostle states frankly, and without circumlocution, that "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, as it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree, that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ."
In the type of the brazen serpent, as well as in the divine ordinances respecting one that was hanged on a tree, the clearest light is thrown on the horrible cross which the Son of God is carrying to Calvary. Those beams evidently form the stake upon which, according to the promise, the storm of Divine judgment should be discharged. It is the scaffold where, according to Romans. 3:25, God resolved to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. The Moriah where, for the benefit of a sinful world, the curse pronounced in paradise is endured in the sacred humanity of the great Surety. The altar of burnt-offering, on which the Lamb of God submitted to the sum total of that punishment which ought in justice to have fallen upon me; and the dying bed, where death, over which Satan has power, and to which I was subject by a sentence of the Supreme tribunal, is permitted to seize upon, and slay another, in order that he might forever lose his claim upon me. Such is the mysterious cross which you see borne toward Calvary. It is the sepulcher of a world; for the innumerable host of those that are saved, died, in the eye of God, with Christ upon it. It is the conductor which carries off the destroying flash from our race, by his attracting it upon himself; the tree of life, "the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations."
Jesus carries his cross. When did he ever show so plainly in his outward circumstances that he bore the curse, as now? If the voice of God had sounded directly down from heaven, and said, "This Just One is now enduring the sentence pronounced upon you," it could not have afforded us more certainty than by this living figure of bearing the cross. Its language is powerful, and points out, even to a simple child, wherein we ought to seek the final cause of Christ's passion. We find the Holy Sufferer, as you know, outside the gates of Jerusalem. The Scriptures attach great importance to the fact that he was led away out of the holy city. Thus we read in Hebrews 13:11, 12, "The bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore, Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate." Here Christ is evidently represented as the true antitype of the Old Testament sin-offerings. But since we know the nature of these, and how, by this devotional act, the sins of the transgressors were imputed to the animals to be sacrificed; that thus they became objects of abhorrence, and their bodies were not only removed from the neighborhood of the temple, but even burned with fire, in testimony of what was justly due to the sinner; and that the latter, after such sacrificial act, was absolved and declared blameless; so it almost clearly appears, that in the passage above quoted, the apostle cannot and does not intend to say anything else than that Christ, on his being led out of the gates, was in fact burdened with our sins, and bore our curse. Thus it is we that tread the path to the place of execution; for he does so in our stead. That such is really the case, and that He does not proceed upon that road as the holy Jesus, but as the representative of our sinful race, becomes more apparent at every step. Hence it is comprehensible how the Eternal Father could give him up to such nameless ignominy and torment. It is on this account that no angel from above hastens to his aid; no fire falls from heaven to consume his murderers; rather do the clouds pass quietly and silently over the dreadful scene, as if assent were given above to the horrible transactions below; no, the Just One may, for this reason, while wearied to death, be ready to break down under the burden of his cross, without any one in heaven or on earth appearing to grieve at it. The gates of the eternal sanctuary are closed; the portals of the Almighty's abode are shut; and the same God who delivered righteous Lot out of Sodom, Daniel from the den of lions, and commanded the enraged Laban to speak only kindly to Jacob, and who says to all his saints, "Fear not, for I am with you"—this Keeper of Israel seems to slumber and sleep with regard to his best Beloved, and to have forgotten respecting him who was his "fellow," his sweet words of promise: "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, they may forget, yet will I not forget you." All the circumstances in which we see the Savior are truly dreadful and appalling; but all exclaim, with the most powerful emphasis, "Behold the Lord Jesus, laden with the sinner's curse!"
We have been contemplating Jesus with the sinner's cross. The scene now changes, and a new figure presents itself to our view—the sinner with the cross of Jesus.
The Holy One had proceeded forward some distance with his heavy burden, when his blood-thirsty attendants begin to fear lest he should break down under his load, and entirely succumb from exhaustion before the execution. To prevent this, they look about for some one on whom they may lay the cross of Jesus for the remainder of the way; and their eyes soon light upon a stranger, just coming from the field, whom they the sooner select for this purpose from thinking they see in his looks a secret sympathy with the Nazarene. This was Simon, born at Cyrene, in Africa. We are not informed whether he belonged, at that time, to the secret friends of Jesus; but he was certainly regarded as such by the people, and probably not without reason. At least Simon's two sons, Alexander and Rufus, were afterward designated as true Christians; and the inference from the sons to the father is probably correct. Suffice it to say, this Jew, Simon, was stopped, and compelled to bear the Lord's cross. At first he resisted being thus burdened and disgraced, but he soon reconciled himself to it, and then bore it willingly.
With reference to this circumstance, the words of Jesus are accustomed to be applied—"Whoever will be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me;" and occasion is then taken from the history of this part of the passion, to treat of the reproach we have to bear for Christ's sake. But this seems to me not entirely correct, since Simon does not bear his own cross, but that on which Jesus died. Something very different is, therefore, reflected in the symbolical form of the cross-bearer. It presents to our view the inward position of faith with respect to the cross of Christ, that is, to the sacrifice and act of redemption accomplished upon it. We ought to be cross-bearers in the same sense in which Simon was, only spiritually so. We are such, when the cross of Christ becomes ours in the way of self-accusation, believing appropriation, and continual dying with Christ.
He who, in spirit, sees Jesus proceeding toward Calvary under the burden of his cross, will, in so far, immediately become like Simon, in being compelled, by compassion and right feeling, to remove the dreadful load from the innocent Jesus, and cast it upon the wicked Jews, or upon a blind and merciless power, which he calls fate and chance, or even upon the all over-ruling God himself, whom he secretly accuses of not having prevented such a piece of crying injustice. But relieving Christ of his burden in this manner, only proves great mental blindness. It is true, the commencement of all Christian life begins by our being inwardly constrained to take the burden from the Savior, not, however, in order to hurl it upon others, but in sincere self-condemnation, to take it upon ourselves. An enlightened conscience urges upon us the conviction of our own guilt. We shrink back from it, and resist with all our power, but in vain. The holy law, the dreadful mirror of the Divine perfections, now no longer misunderstood, stands before us, and who will undertake to belie or deceive it? Possibly the lightning that strikes us, flashes upon us, at first, only from one of the ten commandments. We then think we may be able to save ourselves in the other nine, and we cast ourselves, as into a safe fortress, perhaps into the first command, "You shall have no other gods before me." But the Spirit, who has now begun to enlighten us, conducts us ever deeper into the inmost nature of the divine law, and it is then said to us, "You who suppose you have kept the first commandment, have you loved God from your infancy, with all your heart, and mind, and strength?"
On hearing this heart-searching question, we hasten to turn our backs on the first, and then flee, say to the sixth. We are aware of never having sought another's life, nor ever committed murder. Nevertheless, we now hear it thundered in our ears, "Whoever hates his brother is a murderer;" and thus the supposed fortress of the sixth commandment has a breach.
We cast ourselves into the ninth, and think we have never been guilty of bearing false witness. But it is then said, "How do you dare to appeal to the ninth commandment? Have you never told a falsehood, never deceived, dissembled, nor flattered? We hear, but do not let the voice of conscience finish its speech, before we retire, without hesitation, into the seventh, and say, very confidently, "I have kept this, I never committed adultery." But we immediately hear the appalling words, "He who looks upon a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery;" and we flee from the seventh commandment as from a fire which threatens to consume us.
Where now? possibly to the fifth. Alas, both father and mother accuse us. To the eighth? It really seems as if we should find shelter there for we are no thieves. But woe unto us! not far from it stands the tenth, with its injunction, "You shall not covet!" This finally strips us of everything, and terminates the whole process by a general condemnation. All our boasting is then at an end. We hesitate, indeed, to give up. We assemble together all our so-called good works; but scarcely do we begin to derive comfort from this dubious source, when a light shoots down upon it from the sanctuary of God, in whose bright and burning rays, even our best performances appear as a worm-eaten fruit of impure self-love.
Thus we are compelled to pronounce sentence upon ourselves. But what threatens transgressors, such as we, during the remainder of our existence? "Tribulation and anguish upon every soul that does evil." "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness." We read and tremble, "Woe is me," we exclaim, "Miserable man that I am! I am already condemned, and accursed, and lost!" We refuse to believe it, but the appalling words, "You are the man!" resound on every side; and it seems as if the very walls of our chambers, and the joists and beams cried out against us. A thousand reminiscences of past transgressions crowd around us like avenging spirits exclaiming, "You shall surely die!" and the dreadful words haunt us even in our dreams. We imagine we read them in the stars, and that they are written on each of our days. Thus we are at length compelled to acknowledge that the sentence is just. Christ's cross is laid upon us, that is, we find ourselves guilty of the cross, since we feel that we are ourselves exposed to the curse which Christ endured upon it.
When, in this sense, we have taken the cross of Christ upon us, God who has humbled us, is accustomed, in due time, to comfort us. We again arise from the darkness and horrors of self-condemnation into the crimson-colored sunshine of the atonement. In the cross of Christ, we recognize the mysterious tree, on which the sentence which menaced us with eternal destruction has long ago been endured. We apprehend the mystery of the cross in its consolatory depth, and enter into a new relation with it, embrace it as our only refuge, and believingly appropriate the merits of him who suffered upon it. We now take it in a different manner upon us than before; certainly more from necessity at first than desire. Proud human nature resists the idea of being saved by grace. In the sequel, however, we become reconciled to the wondrous burden, and finally bear it with delight, even as an heir his inheritance, as a king his scepter, as a warrior his sword and shield, as a conqueror the flag of victory, as a liberated debtor his receipt in full, and as a nobleman the diploma of his nobility.
Thus, in a spiritual sense, we become like Simon of Cyrene. We enter into the most vital, fervent, and blissful fellowship with the cross of Christ. We are every where and continually occupied with this cross, and it becomes the sign by which we are known. If listened to in our chamber, we are heard praying beneath the cross. If we say, "Abba, father," it is the cross which encourages us to do so. If we hope for a favorable answer to our requests, the cross emboldens us to expect it. If our conversation is in heaven, the cross is the heavenly ladder, on the steps of which we rise above the world, death, and hell. The cross forms the focus of all our heartfelt melody. If a gleam of joy rests upon our foreheads, the cross is the sun from whence it proceeds. If we are courageous, it is in the shadow of the cross. If we overcome the temptations of the wicked one, the cross of Christ is the banner under which we conquer.
We do not indeed always embrace the cross with equal warmth and fervor. Occasionally, we bear it with indifference, unwillingly, and even as a burden. This is the case either when the root of our life again sinks imperceptibly deeper into the soil of this world; or when the Lord causes our mountain to stand strong, and we take fresh occasion to please ourselves with our own doings. But God, who is as faithful in humbling as in comforting us, knows how to render the cross sweet to us, by giving up our old man to a renewed crucifixion, and by reviving and refreshing in us the consciousness of our wretchedness in the midst of distress, disgrace, and pressure. Generally speaking the experience of all who, in faith, take upon them the cross of Christ, agrees in this, that they are ever longer drawn into the death of him who hung upon the tree. They decrease. They consciously become personally poorer, more worthless and helpless—no, in time, nothing remains in them of which they might boast as a ground of justification. But the more completely they suffer shipwreck as to everything of their own, the more valuable does the cross of Calvary become to them, as the only plank of rescue from the surge. How fervently is it then again embraced, how highly and loudly praised, and how bedewed with warm tears of grateful thanksgiving, until at length the whole inward life moves round the cross, in ever closer drawn circles, like the revolving planets round their several suns.
May the Lord be pleased to impress the form of Simon the cross-bearer ever more clearly upon our inner man; and in order that this figure may be the more fully produced in us, may he the more and more comprehensively unveil to us the corruption which adheres to us by nature! It is only thus that we learn to bear the cross of Christ with a holy pride. Only thus does it become to us a tree of life, from which we may pluck heavenly fruit. Only thus does it serve as a wondrous weapon, by means of which we overcome the world, death, and Satan.
The Daughters of Jerusalem
At length, to alleviate in some measure the oppression of our hearts, a trait of humanity appears in the exhibition of utter obduracy and cruelty which presents itself to our view, on the road to Mount Calvary. It becomes evident that even beyond the little circle of his disciples, sympathy for the Holy One of Israel still exists! for even tears of sorrow flow on behalf of the severely tried sufferer. But observe that these manifestations of compassionate feeling afford him no consolation, on the contrary, he is induced to refuse, and even reprove them. This surprises and astonishes us; for we here see to what a severe sifting the feelings even of those who wish well to the Savior, are subjected, and how much we may be in danger of imagining that we love him with that love which forms the soul of the new man, while we are still wholly destitute of it.
The road which leads from Jerusalem to Mount Calvary is crowded with people. O that it were so now in a spiritual and ecclesiastical sense, for no other leads to life and salvation! Certainly, those whom we meet with there, are not such as sympathize with Jesus in his sufferings; on the contrary, the number of such is probably very small. But let us rather meet with decided opponents on the way to the cross, than that the road to it should remain solitary and waste. Alas! in the present day, it lies very desolate. Crowds are seen on the way to the idol temples of the world, and the pavilions of the lust of the eye and the flesh. But how few there are whose hearts are accustomed to beat louder when it is said to them, "The passion-week has returned, and we are again preparing for our pilgrimage to Calvary, where the foundations of our eternal redemption are laid." Numbers, I fear, continue to fall a prey to spiritual death. Few of them succumb under acute diseases; the majority die of the wasting disease of complete indifference. With them it has gradually come to such a pass that even that which is the most sublime under heaven fatigues them, and the words, "Church, divine service, and sermon," make them yawn. Unhappy mortals! They know not that in these characteristic features they already bear the brandmarks of impending judgment, and the signs, if not of rejection, yet of the capability of it. Satan even does not seem to think these people worthy of an energetic attack. Like dead trees, they fall to him of themselves, and he finds them in his net before he spreads it.
You, my readers, do not belong to this pitiable race. We still meet you in spirit on the way to Calvary. It is true this is the way to heaven, but beware! it has also its fissures and pits which terminate in endless deserts. We read in Luke 23:27, that a great multitude of people followed Jesus. These were by no means all of them adversaries and bad characters. Many of them only wished to see what would become of him, and therefore took at least a historical interest in his person and his cause. Know, however, that this does not suffice to save us. Take it to heart that your situation is the same as that of these people.
We meet also, in the present day, with not a few, and their number is increasing, who have directed their attention to religion, the Church, and the affairs of the kingdom of God, as others do to politics, the arts, or any other subject. What progress Christianity is making in the world—how the churches are attended in such and such a place—what this or that society is accomplishing—what may be done to promote public worship—how respect for the Articles of Faith is to be increased—what this or that sect believes and teaches—no, even in what sense this or that doctrine is to be apprehended, and the best mode of expressing it—these are the objects for which they interest themselves, after which they inquire, and of which they love to speak. All this is beautiful and praiseworthy; but it may be the case that in the midst of the Holy Land, in which their attention is engaged, they may be ripening for perdition equally with those lamentable beings who have found their element in the steppes of extreme indifference, or the morasses of frivolity.
There is a natural feeling for divine things which may even become very active, by which the "Old Man" is not in the least injured, nor the game of the prince of darkness spoiled. How this feeling may even extend to the scenes of our Savior's passion may be easily conceived. This narrative which, with the rich varieties of its scenes, personalities, and characters, reflects the world, how should it not be able to exercise an attractive influence, where, apart from every feeling of religious necessity, which may be fast asleep, it meets with a susceptibility for that which is purely human? But such a sympathy is not essentially different from any other, and has nothing in common with the life of faith, on which alone the eye of God is fixed.
Of a somewhat nobler nature than that just described, is the interest felt by those whose sympathy with the history and cause of Christ is excited by their veneration for the latter as the Holy One of Israel. Some of these characters were also among the crowd that followed; and we do not infrequently meet, in our own circles, with such as are thus of a more refined nature. Christ presents himself to their admiring gaze as the perfect model of all moral human greatness. They are also convinced that Christ must be formed in men, and become all in all to them, if the golden age is to be restored. Nor does anything hinder them from celebrating, with lively emotion, the Lord's passion, while magnanimously irritated against the reckless race that could crucify the only immaculate one that ever trod the earth. But do they also pray with us, and say, "O Lamb of God that take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us?" O no! This never occurs to them. As little as they have any idea that Christ, to whom, as "the flower and model of mankind," they gladly give all honor, could have been anything more than this—so little do they dream, that from mankind something further is required in order to be saved, than the combined efforts of their own moral strength, and the persevering energy of their own will to resemble that living example. Hence these worthy people go with us, indeed, on the path of the Church, and, in a certain sense, even the way to Calvary; and yet it is beyond a doubt that they are entirely deficient in the first and most essential requirements of true inward religion—a contrite heart, and a living faith in Christ as the Mediator, and equal with God. Exasperated against the murderers of Jesus, they unconsciously join in signing the sentence of death against him. For since they refuse to rise above his human nature, they stamp him, who declared on oath that he was essentially one with the Father, as a blasphemer who was worthy of death. While reproaching the Pharisees, they are in reality of the same mind with them; for they are as unwilling as the latter to know anything of a Jesus, who treats them as sinners, and calls upon them to let themselves be redeemed by him.
The women, whom we see following the Divine Sufferer with weeping and lamentation, present to us a third kind of relation to Christ, and particularly to Christ as suffering. Here we seem to meet with the true kind of devotion for the solemn occasion. For we perceive heartfelt sympathy with the Man of Sorrows, fervent emotion at the sight of his cross, no, even tears wept in the presence of the reviling adversaries by whom he is surrounded; and in all this a decided confession that an innocent man is being conducted to the place of execution, who is worthy of supreme love and esteem, instead of scorn and hatred. What do we require more than we see concentrated here? Nor does the Lord omit to deign attention to these sympathizing witnesses of his sufferings. He turns to them. For what purpose? To praise and console them, and to cheer and strengthen himself at the sight of them? By no means. The Lord Jesus rejects the grief of the mourners as mistaken, and judges their tears to be useless and unprofitable. He who, every where, and even in the deepest sufferings, was able to preserve the most perfect serenity and presence of mind, and never for a moment lost sight of pastoral solicitude for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, with which he was intrusted, says to the weeping women who followed him, "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and your children."
These serious words deserve to be taken to heart, not only by the women, but also by many among us. They reprove all those whose devotion for the cross likewise consists in a mere natural emotion, excited by the tragical end of the righteous Jesus, and who have nothing else but tears of pity and sentimentality for the Savior. How much pleasing emotion, occasioned by a lively representation of the Redeemer's passion in musical oratorios, ecclesiastical solemnities, or liturgical devotions, is here rejected! It is scarcely to be conceived what a fullness of impenitence and pharisaic self-righteousness may be concealed beneath such outbursts of feeling. One individual, in his devotions on the anniversary of the passion, is, in reality, affected only by his own virtue. He thinks the world loves to defame the noble-minded, and that it knows him not, even as it knew not the Savior on the way to his crucifixion; and it is this which affects his heart. O impious pride of the worthless sinner, thus to compare himself with the Just One from on high! Another says to himself, "I will console myself in my misfortunes, with the reflection that you, the Man of Sorrows, did not walk upon roses, but did rise from the cross to the crown;" and at this idea, his eyes overflow. O culpable delusion, as if he suffered guiltlessly, like Jesus, and as if God were obliged to show mercy to him because of his sufferings!
A third, who has thousands like him, ascribes to himself the tears of sympathy, which the sufferings of Christ draw from him, as a species of righteousness, and exalts them as testimonials of his goodness of heart, thus making them a ground of consolation and hope. O lamentable mistake! "Weep not for me," says our Lord. Do you hear it? He forbids the lamenting and condoling with him. He is not some unfortunate person of a common kind. He does not succumb to any superior power, either human, or the force of oppressive circumstances. If he pleased, he could in a moment stand before us in a crown, instead of with a cross. He freely gave himself up to his sufferings, in order to accomplish that which his Father had given him to do; and the idea of "a tragical end," in its usual acceptance, is by no means applicable to the passion of our Lord. The tears of sentimentality and pity are nowhere so much out of place as on Calvary. While resigning ourselves to such emotions, we mistake the Lord Jesus—no, even degrade him, and as regards ourselves, miss the way of salvation marked out for us by God. Hence the Savior exclaims, once for all, "Weep not for me!" thus placing himself entirely out of the ranks of the wretched and unfortunate of this world.
"Do tears, therefore, not belong to our devotions on this solemn occasion?" Doubtless they do; but their object must be a different one to the person of the Lord. Hear him say himself; "Weep not for me, but for yourselves and your children!" "Ourselves!" you exclaim. Yes, my readers. In the immolation of Christ, the measure of the world's iniquities was full. It was sinful from Paradise downward. That this was the case, was strikingly evident in the days of Noah, Nimrod, the judges and kings of Israel. But "The transgression of the Amorites was not yet full." That even the last pretense for excuse and leniency might disappear, and the hatred of holiness, the base ingratitude and abominable self-seeking of the children of Adam might be manifested still more evidently, opportunity was afforded the human race to exhibit its real and inmost nature, when holiness in person was placed in contrast with it, and the Lord God poured upon it the fullness of his compassion. Both these took place in the mission of Christ, the only-begotten Son, the good Shepherd. And how did the world act? It loved darkness rather than light; was filled with animosity against him who came to redeem it from sin; and rejected him who hurt its pride by the call to regeneration and conversion. It nailed to the cross the herald and bearer of the grace of God.
"The world?" you ask. Yes, the world. Only look a little more closely, and you will find yourself amid the crowd which yonder conducts the Lord of Glory to the slaughter. In one or other of those individuals, you will see your own likeness. If not in Judas, yet in Annas; if not in Annas, in the hypocritical Caiaphas, or in the worldly-minded Pilate, or else in one of the unprincipled senators, or some other individual, you will somewhere meet with the mirror which reflects your own moral form. Look around, and say if the scenes on Gabbatha and Calvary are not incessantly renewed? If, even at present, a certain degree of courage is not required openly to confess the name of Jesus? If those who love Christ are not still reviled as pietists and hypocrites; and if those who wish to recommend the Prince of Peace to others, are not every where angrily repulsed? No, feel in your own bosom, and say if by nature you would gladly have to do with Jesus? What feelings are excited in you, when he places you among publicans and malefactors, or calls upon you to offer up to him your mammon, or some other idol? Or when he meets you, with a reproving gesture, on the path of sensual enjoyment, and requires that you should live to God and not to the world, and walk in God's ways and not in your own; what are you then accustomed to feel? anything else than disinclination, repugnance, displeasure, and vexation? Do you not hear of anything rather than of him; and does it ever occur to you to melt in gratitude at the Savior's feet, when you hear it announced that "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes on him should not perish, but have everlasting life?"
O my friends, to this hour Christ appears to stand among us, only that by his presence our corruption and depravity may be the more conspicuous! How is it, then, that you do not understand the words, "Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves?" Truly, all appropriate devotion, at this sacred season, begins with lamenting over ourselves, and judging, condemning, and acknowledging ourselves worthy of eternal death. The daughters of Jerusalem hear terrible things said to them, but not that they may sink into hopeless despair. On the contrary, it is here the love that seeks that which is lost, which speaks to them, and would gladly lead them, at the proper time, to repentance. "Weep for yourselves and your children." This is an unmistakable allusion to the dreadful malediction which the infatuated crowd at Gabbatha called down upon themselves, and with it, the indication of that sin, which was principally to be lamented as Israel's chief crime, and consequently as the chief source of all their subsequent misery.
The Lord Jesus says, in continuation, "For behold the days are coming, in which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the breasts which never gave suck." What an announcement! That which was previously mourned over in Israel as a great misfortune, and an equally great disgrace—the being barren and childless—will then be commended as an enviable privilege.
"Then," continues our Lord, obviously referring, both here and previously, to passages in the prophecies of Isaiah and Hosea, for he lived in his Father's word, as in the proper element of his holy soul—"Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us, and to the hills, Cover us." The Savior's sphere of vision evidently extends itself here beyond the terrible days of the destruction of Jerusalem. His words manifestly generalize themselves, and point to the judgment of the last day. Those who will then be found rejecting, through obstinate unbelief and persevering impenitence, their truest friend and only Savior, will find themselves in a position in which they will prefer annihilation to a continuance of existence. They will call upon the hills to crush them and bury them forever beneath their mass of ruins. But the mountains stand and fall at God's command, and he, who will then be their enemy, has decreed for them another fate than that of annihilation. They will then implore the rocks to hide them from the face of the angry Judge; but no outlet of escape will be found on the whole earth or under it, which will remove them from the searching look of him, "whose eyes are as a flame of fire." What a horrible prospect! And only consider, that he who thus lifts the veil, is not some wild zealot, to whose threats no great importance need be attached; but it is he who is at the same time the truth and loving-kindness itself. How does this strengthen the emphasis of that address, by which we are called to repentance in a more powerful and impressive manner, than was ever before heard upon earth.
Our Lord concludes his speech to the daughters of Jerusalem with the words, "For if they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" We cannot misunderstand these words. In them the great cross-bearer represents himself as a mirror of the wrath of God. Since he is the Just One and the Life, he calls himself "the Green Tree." Glory and happiness became him individually, and not suffering; yet he endured unparalleled disgrace and torture. But that which he experiences, must be of the same nature and description with that which is threatened, and which awaits the ungodly. Had it been otherwise, the inference which the Lord bids us draw from his sufferings, with regard to the future fate of the impenitent sinner, would not be true, and the comparison he makes inappropriate. If they were only merciful sufferings which befell the Savior, how could they serve as a criterion for the future lot of those with whom divine grace had nothing more to do? But Christ's sufferings were vicariously endured punishments; and his words have now a meaning, which is this: "I, the Green Tree, bear imputatively only the sins of others; and the thrice holy God is not angry with me personally. Yet how horrible is the cup which is given me to drink! Judge from this what will eventually be the fate of those, who, as dry wood and unfruitful trees, will have to suffer for their own iniquities, and at whose judicial visitation, the wrath of a holy God will by no means conflict with his love and tenderness." Therefore let us not overlook the danger in which we are, so long as we are found carnally-minded, estranged from God, and unthankful despisers of the delivering grace of him, whom the Almighty tore from his paternal bosom, in order that by him he might deliver us unworthy creatures from destruction, and bring us back to himself. Let us be conscious of our enormous guilt, and no longer delay, with the holy grief of a tax-collector or a Magdalen, sincerely and heartily to weep over ourselves.
It is thus, I repeat it, that our devotions should begin, when commencing the solemnities of the passion-week. But should they begin with it only, and not end in the same manner? Look at the Savior. Why does he travel the path of suffering? Because he intends to pay our debt, and blot out our iniquities. Let us follow him in spirit; for how much are we interested in this his passage to Calvary! He goes to nail the handwriting that was against us to his cross. The Green Tree gives itself up to the flames, which ought to consume the dry. The path he treads is a sacrificial one, a path of satisfaction and mediation. Had he not trodden it, we should have been the heirs of eternal death, or else the throne of God must have sunk into ruin, and the justice of God would have degenerated into injustice. But he did pass through it, and now deliverance is secured, however heinous our guilt. Let us approach his cross in spite of Satan and the world, open before him the tear-bedewed pages of our book of transgressions, implore mercy upon our knees, lay hold of the great absolution in the blood of the Lamb, and resign ourselves entirely and unconditionally to the thorn-crowned King, that, along with the bands of the curse, he may also loose us from those of the world and the flesh. After this has been done, we may say with propriety, that we have celebrated the passion of our Lord.
May he grant us all such a celebration! We implore it the more fervently now that we are about to enter the Most Holy Place of the history of our great High Priest's sufferings. Let us prepare ourselves for this solemn approach by calling to mind the infinite blessings which Christ has purchased for his people by his death on the cross, and by loving him, who thus loved us, and gave himself for us!
THE MOST HOLY PLACE
"The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him." Let these words of the prophet Habakkuk be the language of our hearts on entering into the Most Holy Place of the Gospel history.
The most solemn of all days in Israel, was, as we well know, the great day of atonement, the only day in the year on which the high priest entered into the most holy place in the temple. Before he approached that mysterious sanctuary, the law enjoined that he should divest himself of his costly garments, and clothe himself from head to foot in a plain white linen dress. He then took the vessel with the sacrificial blood in his hand, and, thrilling with sacred awe, drew back the veil, in order, humbly and devoutly, to approach the throne of grace, and sprinkle it with the atoning blood. He remained no longer in the sacred place than sufficed to perform his priestly office. He then came out again to the people, and, in Jehovah's name, announced grace and forgiveness to every penitent soul.
We shall now see this symbolical and highly significant act realized in its full and actual accomplishment. The immaculate Jesus of whom the whole Old Testament priesthood, according to the divine intention, was only a typical shadow, conceals himself behind the thick veil of an increasing humiliation and agony; that, bearing in his hands his own blood, he may mediate for us with God his Father. Removed from the sphere of reason's vision, and only cognizable by the exercise of faith, he realizes and accomplishes all that Moses included in the figurative service of the tabernacle. The precise manner in which this was accomplished, we shall never entirely fathom with our intellectual powers; but it is certain that he then finally procured our eternal redemption.
My readers, how shall we best prepare ourselves for the contemplation of this most solemn and sacred event? At least we must endeavor to do so by holy recollection of thought, devout meditation, a believing and blissful consideration of the work of redemption, and by heartfelt and grateful adoration before the throne of God.
May we be enabled thus to draw near by the help of his grace and mercy!
Once more we return to the road to the cross, and, in spirit, mingle with the crowd proceeding to the place of execution. They are just passing the rocky sepulchers of the kings of Israel. The ancient monarchs sleep in their cells, but a dawning resurrection gleams upon their withered remains when the Prince of Life passes by. The procession then enters the horrible valley of Gehenna, which once reeked with the blood of the sacrifices to Moloch. But there is another still more dreadful Gehenna; and who among us would have escaped it, had not the Lamb of God submitted to the sufferings, which we now see him enduring?
We are arrived at the foot of the awful hill, but before ascending it, let us cast a look on the crowd behind us, and see if, amid all the hatred and rancor that rages there like an infernal flame, we can discover any traces of sympathy and heartfelt veneration for the divine sufferer. And lo! an estimable little group meets our eye, like a benignant constellation in the darkness of the night. O we know them already, these deeply distressed mourners! We first perceive the pious Salome, the blessed mother of the two "sons of thunder." She desires to see her children an example of faithfulness unto death, and we know that both James and John, the former of whom was the first martyr for the new kingdom of peace, afterward showed themselves perfectly worthy of such a mother. Near Salome walks Mary, the near relative of the blessed Virgin. She had also the great privilege of seeing her two sons, James the Less and Joses, received into the immediate fellowship of the great Master. But alas! when the sword came upon the Shepherd, they were also scattered with the rest of the flock; while it seemed to their excellent mother a paramount duty to appear, instead of her children, and by her own fidelity, to cover their flight. And lo! yonder walks Mary Magdalene, sobbing aloud, who had experienced, above others, the delivering power of him, who came to destroy the works of the devil. O how she appears dissolved in grief and sorrow! She has only one wish more, and that is, to be able to die with him, without whom the earth seems to her only a gloomy grave, a den of murderers.
But who is she with tottering step, leaning on the disciple whom Jesus loved, dejected more than all the rest, who covers her grief-worn face? It is the severely tried mother of our Lord, in whom Simeon's prophecy is now fulfilled, "A sword shall pierce through your own soul also." But she had scarcely the smallest presentiment that it would be accomplished in such a manner. Truly, what she feels, no heart on earth ever experienced. But look up, Mary! Cast yourself, with all your grief, into the arms of the Eternal Father. Do you see your son going to be crucified? He also sees his. He who is crowned with thorns is his Son as well as your. O look at the dear disciple, who though inconsolable himself, tries to support the deeply grieved mother of his Lord. What a scene! But how gratifying is it to perceive, that love for the Man of Sorrows has not wholly become extinct upon earth! Nor shall it ever expire. Be not concerned on that account. In that mourning group you see only the first divinely-quickened germs of the future kingdom of the Divine Sufferer. From a few, a multitude that no man can number will before long proceed.
After this cursory retrospect of the Savior's attendants, let us again put ourselves in motion with the crowd. Only a few steps upward, and we reach the end of the dreadful pilgrimage. Where are we now? We are standing on the summit of Mount Calvary—Golgotha—horrifying name—the appellation of the most momentous and awful spot upon the whole earth. Behold a naked and barren eminence, enriched only by the blood of criminals, and covered with the bones of executed rebels, incendiaries, poisoners, and other offscourings of the human race. An accursed spot, where love never rules, but where naked justice alone sits enthroned, with scales and sword, and from which every passer-by turns with abhorrence, a nocturnal rendezvous of jackals and hyenas. Only think, this place so full of horrors, becomes transformed into "the hill from whence comes our help," and whose mysteries many kings and prophets have desired to see, and did not see them. Yes, upon this awful hill our roses shall blossom, and our springs of peace and salvation burst forth. The pillar of our refuge towers upon this height. The Bethany of our repose and eternal refreshment here displays itself to our view. Truly the ancients were in so far correct in their assertion, that Mount Calvary formed the center of the whole earth; for it is the meeting-place where the redeemed, though separated in body by land and sea, daily assemble in spirit, and greet each other with the kiss of love. Not less correct were they in the legend that Father Adam was buried beneath Mount Calvary—this hill being really Adam's grave, when by the latter we understand the fallen sinful man, whom we all carry about in us, and who was crucified with Christ on Golgotha. It is strange that to this day the learned dispute the position of this hill, and that there is scarcely a prospect of ascertaining the place with certainty. But it was the divine intention that the material mount should be exalted into the region of that which is spiritual; and such is actually the case. It finds its abiding-place in the believing view of the world.
On that awful mount ends the earthly career of the Lord of Glory. Behold him, then, the only green, sound, and fruitful tree upon earth, and at the root of this tree the ax is laid. What a testimony against the world, and what an annihilating contradiction to everything that bears the name of God and Divine Providence, if the latter did not find its solution in the mystery of the representative atonement! Behold him, then, covered with wounds and ignominy, and scarcely distinguishable from the malefactors among whom he is reckoned. But have patience. In a few years, Jerusalem, that rejected him, glorifies him in the form of a smoking heap of ruins, as the beloved Son of the Most High, whom no one can assail with impunity; and surrounded by the lights of the sanctuary, living monuments arise, in three quarters of the globe, bearing the inscription, "To Christ, the Redeemer of the world." But before these things take place, a horrible catastrophe must occur. The life of the world only springs forth from the death of the Just One. The hour of his baptism with blood has arrived. Collect your thoughts, my readers, while you witness it.
Alas! alas! what is it that now takes place on that bloody hill? O heart of stone in our breasts, why do you not break? Why, you cold and obdurate rock, do you not dissolve in tears of blood? Four barbarous men, inured to the most dreadful of all employments, approach the Holy One of Israel, and offer him, first of all, a stupifying potion, composed of wine and myrrh, as usual at executions. The Lord disdains the draught, because he desires to submit to the will of his heavenly Father with full consciousness, and to drink the last drop of the accursed cup. The executioners then take the Lamb of God between them, and begin their horrid occupation by tearing, with crude hands, the clothes from off his body. There he stands, whose garment once was the light, and the stars of heaven the fringe of his robe, covered only with the crimson of his blood, and divested of all that adorned him, not only before men, but also, in his character as Surety, before God—reminding us of Adam in paradise, only that instead of hiding himself behind the trees at the voice of God, he cheerfully goes toward it; reminding us also of the Old Testament high priest, his mysterious type, who, before he entered into the Most Holy place to make an atonement, exchanged his rich attire for a simple white robe.
After having unclothed the Lord, and left him, by divine direction, only his crown of thorns, they lay him down on the wood on which he is to bleed; and thus, without being aware of it, bring about the moment predicted in Psalm 22, where we hear the Messiah complaining, and saying, "Be not far from me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help. Many bull have compassed me about; strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round." O what a dying bed for the King of kings! My friends, as often as we repose on the downy cushions of divine peace, or blissfully assemble in social brotherly circles, singing hymns of hope, let us not forget that the cause of the happiness we enjoy is solely to be found in the fact, that the Lord of Glory once extended himself on the fatal tree for us.
O see him lie! His holy arms forcibly stretched out upon the cross-beam; his feet laid upon each other and bound with cords. Thus Isaac once lay on the wood on Mount Moriah. But, the voice that then called out of heaven, saying, "Lay not your hand upon the lad!" is silent on Calvary. The executioners seize the hammer and nails. But who can bear to look upon what further occurs! A deep and anxious silence pervades the crowd, like that which is accustomed to fill the house of mourning when the coffin is nailed down. And, probably, not only on earth, but also in heaven at that moment, profound and solemn silence reigned. The horrible nails from the forge of hell, yet foreseen in the sanctuary of eternity, are placed on the hands and feet of the righteous Jesus, and the heavy strokes of the hammer fall. Reader, do you hear the sound? They thunder on your heart, testifying in horrible language of your sin, and at the same time of the wrath of Almighty God. O how many sleepers have awoke from their sleep of death under the echo of those strokes, and have escaped from Satan's snare! Awake also you that are asleep in sin, and rouse yourself likewise you who are lulling yourself in carnal security! How many a proud and haughty heart has been broken into salutary repentance by those strokes! O why does not your heart also break? For know, that you did aid in swinging those hammers; and that the most crying and impious act which the world ever committed, is charged to your account.
See, the nails have penetrated through, and from both hands and feet gushes forth the blood of the Holy One. O these nails have rent the rock of salvation for us, that it may pour forth the water of life; have reft the heavenly bush of balm, that it may send forth its perfume. Yes, they have pierced the hand-writing that was against us, and have nailed it, as invalid, to the tree; and by wounding the Just One, have penetrated through the head of the old serpent, like Jael's nail through the head of Sisera. O let no one be deceived with respect to him who was thus nailed to the cross! Those pierced hands bless more powerfully than while they moved freely and unfettered. They are the hands of a wonderful architect, who is building the frame of an eternal Church—yes, they are the hands of a hero, which take from the strong man all his spoil. And believe me, there is no help or salvation, save in these hands; and these bleeding feet tread more powerfully than when no fetters restrained their steps. They now walk victoriously over the heads of thousands of foes, who shortly before held up their heads with boldness. Hills and mountains flow down beneath their steps, which they never would have leveled unwounded; and nothing springs or blooms in the world, except beneath the prints of these feet.
The most dreadful deed is done, and the prophetic words of the Psalm, "They pierced my hands and my feet," have received their fulfillment. The foot of the cross is then brought near to the hole dug for it; powerful men seize the rope attached to the top of it, and begin to draw, and the cross, with its victim, elevates itself and rises to its height. Thus the earth rejects the Prince of Life from its surface, and, as it seems, heaven also refuses him. But we will let the curtain drop over these horrors. Thank God! in that scene of suffering the Sun of Grace rises over a sinful world, and the Lion of Judah only ascends into the region of the spirits that have the power of the air, in order, in a mysterious conflict, eternally to disarm them on our behalf.
Look what a spectacle now presents itself! The moment the cross is elevated to its height, a purple stream falls from the wounds of the crucified Jesus through the air, and bedews the place of torture, and the sinful crowd which surrounds it. This is his legacy to his Church. We render him thanks for such a bequest. This rosy dew works wonders. It falls upon spiritual deserts, and they blossom as the rose. We sprinkle it upon the door-posts of our hearts, and are secure against destroyers and avenging angels. This dew falls on the ice of the north pole, and the accumulated frozen mass of ages thaws beneath it. It streams down on the torrid zone, and the air becomes cool and pleasant. Where this rain falls, the gardens of God spring up, lilies bloom, and what was black becomes white in the purifying stream, and what was polluted becomes pure as the light of the sun. That which dew and rain is to nature, which without them would soon become a barren waste, the crimson shower which we see falling from the cross is to human minds. There is no possibility of flourishing without it, no growth nor verdure, but every where desolation, barrenness, and death. Let us therefore embrace the cross, and sing with the poet:
"Here at your cross, my dying God,
I lay my soul beneath your love,
Beneath the droppings of your blood,
Jesus, nor shall it e'er remove!"
There stands the mysterious cross—a rock against which the very waves of the curse break, a lightning-conductor, by which the destroying fluid descends, which would otherwise have crushed the world. He who so mercifully engaged to direct this thunderbolt against himself, hangs yonder in profound darkness. Still he remains the Morning Star, announcing an eternal Sabbath to the world. Though rejected by heaven and earth, yet he forms, as such, the connecting link between them both, and the Mediator of their eternal and renewed amity. Ah see! his bleeding arms are extended wide; he stretches them out to every sinner. His hands point to the east and west; for he shall gather his children from the ends of the earth. The top of the cross is directed toward the sky; far above the world will its effects extend. Its foot is fixed in the earth; the cross becomes a wondrous tree, from which we reap the fruit of an eternal reconciliation. O my readers, nothing more is requisite, than that the Lord should grant us penitential tears, and then, by means of the Holy Spirit, show us the Savior suffering on the cross. We then escape from all earthly care and sorrow, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. For our justification in his sight, nothing more is requisite than that, in the consciousness of our utter helplessness, we lay hold on the horns of that altar, which is sprinkled with the blood that "speaks better things than that of Abel." And the Man of Sorrows displays to us the fullness of his treasures, and bestows upon us, in a superabundant degree, the blessing of the patriarch Jacob on his son Joseph:—"The blessings of your father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills."
There stands erected the standard of the new covenant, which, when it is understood, spreads terror around it no less than delight, and produces lamentation no less than joy and rejoicing. It stands to this day, and will stand forever, and no more fears those who would overturn it than the staff of Moses feared when those of the magicians hissed around it. And wherever it is displayed, there it is surrounded by powerful manifestations and miraculous effects. We carry it through the nations, and without a blow of the sword, conquer one country after another, and one fortress after another. Look how the missionary fields become verdant, and a spring-time of the Spirit extends itself over the heathen deserts! Hark how the harps of peace resound from the isles of the sea; and behold how, between the icebergs of the north, the hearts begin to glow with the fire of divine love! From whence these changes—these resurrection-wonders? From whence this shaking in the valley of dry bones? The cross is carried through the land, and beneath its shade the soil becomes verdant and the dead revive. When this wondrous cross is exhibited, with a correct exposition of its hieroglyphic characters, "lightnings, thunderings, and voices," are accustomed to proceed. Stones melt in its vicinity, rocks rend before it, and waters, long stagnant, again ripple, clear and pure, as if some healing angel had descended into them.
"I am crucified with Christ," exclaims the apostle, and by these words points out the entire fruit which the cross bears for all believers. His meaning is, "They are not his sins, for which the curse is there endured, but mine; for he who thus expires on the cross, dies for me. Christ pays and suffers in my stead." But that of which Paul boasts, is the property of us all, if by the living bond of faith and love, we are become one with the crucified Jesus. We are likewise exalted to fellowship with the cross of Christ in the sense also that our corrupt nature is condemned to death, and our old man, with his affections and lusts, is subjected to the bitter process of a lingering death, partly through the spirit of purity which dwells and rules within us, and partly by the trials and humiliations which God sends us, until the lance-wound of the death of the body makes an end of it. But it is while enduring these mortal agonies, that we first see the cross of Calvary unfold its full and peace-bestowing radiance. It arches itself, like a rainbow, over our darkness, and precedes us on our path of sorrow like a pillar of fire. O that its serene light might also shine upon our path through this valley of tears, and as the tree of liberty and of life, strike deep its roots in our souls! Apprehended by faith, may it shed its heavenly fruit into our lap, and warm and expand our hearts and minds beneath its shade!
The Dividing of the Clothing
The scene we are about to contemplate, is remarkable even for those who are either unable or unwilling to share in our belief. It represents the taking possession of an inheritance, in which—at least in some respects—we ourselves are nearly interested. A dying bed presents itself to our view—an individual at the point of death—a legacy, and the heirs. Happy is he who is justified in numbering himself with the latter! Let us approach near, and direct our attention, first, to the testator, and then to his legacy and heirs.
A testator, as you are aware, is one who bequeaths an inheritance. We find such a one in that part of the Gospel narrative which we are about to consider. The place where we meet with him is indeed the last where we ought to seek him. We are standing on the summit of Mount Calvary. The company by whom we are surrounded, are certainly, in part, of high rank,—senators, priests, and centurions meet our view. We might suppose, that if there was a testator here, he could be found only among these dignitaries. But such is not the case. Look up, and behold the bleeding man upon the accursed tree between two companions in suffering. No, he who dies like this severely smitten man, does not die well; and we are inclined to exclaim, "Let not our end be like the end of this sufferer!" O horror beyond degree! Dreadful are the terrors which you here behold; but what are they compared with those agonies which he endures behind the veil of that which is visible to the eye? Oh, what a way of leaving the world! A host of scoffing demons surrounds his dying bed; the curse of the law is the coverlet over him; the atmosphere he breathes glows with fiery indignation; his last draught, the distress and agony of a reprobate; the parting hymn sung to him, Satanic scoff and scorn; his only refuge, his Father's hidden countenance, which no longer deigns him a perceptible glance of affection; his prospect, a death over which Satan has power, and that which closes his eyes—not an angel with a palm branch, but the gloomy king of terrors. Comprehend all this in one view, and what will you say to it? Doubtless, that this is real degradation, misery, distress and pressure, and is death in the most complete and horrible sense of the word.
But how will you be astonished, when I inform you that this man, the poorest of the poor, is the very one whom we went forth to seek. "What!" you exclaim, "not the Testator?" Yes, my readers, incomprehensible as it may seem, it is he and no other. Look at the inscription over his head, Pilate caused it to be written; but, believe me, that God has had his hand in it, however seemingly it may stand in contradiction with the bleeding form to which it has reference. It is no bitter scoff, but actual truth: "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews."
"What!" you exclaim again, "that wretched man a King?" O, my friends, and something still more and greater than that! The lines there do not say enough. We will strike them out, and put in their place "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of kings." But even this title is too vague. Let us place another in its stead: "Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of the living God." Nor does this title satisfy us. We blot it out and write, "Jesus of Nazareth, the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the creator and preserver of all things, God blessed forever." This epitaph may remain, for the description is most firmly and irrefutably founded. It was he, it is he, even amid the horrors of such a death; all things are his, heaven and earth, the bliss of paradise and the trees of life by the river of the city of God, and the crown of honor on its pillars. But that which he possessed from the beginning, he possessed only for himself, or at most, only in part for the holy angels that had remained faithful. Not the least glimmer of his glory could he bestow upon us, sinners, without trenching upon his honor and majesty. Divine justice, which necessarily condemned us, decidedly protested against every impartation of the kind; likewise, his divine holiness, which blesses only those who are free from sin; and divine truth, which never employs empty words, nor utters threats which it does not verify by the deed.
Now, if the rich Lord of heaven was nevertheless desirous of bequeathing some part of his property to us, it was first of all necessary that he should satisfy these exalted opponents of our fallen race, in a holy and divinely appointed way. And to this he agreed, when he undertook to yield, in our stead, that obedience which we owed, and to endure, in his own person, the curse inflicted upon us. And both these he accomplished at the horrible moment in which we now find him; and by his vicarious endurance of our misery, he builds a bridge for us, unhappy mortals, by which we are enabled to reach his own felicity. But because, by his rendering this satisfaction, he acquires the power to receive us sinners into the fellowship of his blessedness, we shall do well to remove the inscriptions we have just attached to his cross, however well founded they may be, and leave the first and original one, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." It is the most characteristic in its place; for why did the Lord suffer and die, but because he was not merely the Son of the living God, and regent of the world and those upon it; but also because he became the king and the beatifying Prince of Peace of a spiritual Israel, gathered from among sinners.
We are now acquainted with the great Testator—the man who is bleeding on the cross. And it is because he hangs there that he acquires the power to restore the justly disinherited children of Adam to their lost possessions. But in what does the legacy consist? Its noblest part will be seen in that portion of the narrative we are about to consider. In it a jewel glitters, with which is combined the pledge, that no good thing will be withheld from us. From the summit of the cross cast your eyes down to its foot. Four assistant executioners are seen cowering down together, busily engaged in a peculiar manner. They inherit all that the man possessed whom they have nailed to the cross—his clothing. They are occupied in parting the wide upper garment, and dividing it among them. But on more closely examining the underclothing, they see in it a singular piece of are, for the dress is without a seam, woven entirely in one piece. This vesture, they think, ought not to be cut; and hence they agreed to cast lots for it. They do so, and he who is so fortunate as to win, becomes the possessor of the whole garment.
Scrutinize narrowly this gambling group beneath the cross; for what they are doing is extremely significant. At first sight we would suppose that this was far from being the case; but the fact that the whole of the four evangelists, including the beloved disciple, mention, on the dictate of the Holy Spirit, this division of the clothing, is a pledge to us of its symbolical importance and divine meaning. Besides this, the executioners, without any idea of it, are fulfilling, by their division of the garments, and their casting the lot for the unseamed vesture, a Scriptural prophecy of almost a thousand years old. We read that "this was done that the Scripture might be fulfilled," and you know that it is the twenty-second Psalm which is here referred to. In that sacred song, which may be regarded as a prophetic effusion of the suffering Lamb of God, the Redeemer utters beforehand by the mouth of David, the thoughts and feelings by which he would subsequently be affected during his crucifixion. It is there said, "Dogs have compassed me, the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me. They pierced my hands and my feet; I may tell all my bones, they look and stare upon me." Then follow the words, "They part my garments among them, and cast lots for my vesture."
What do you say to this passage? Must not expressions of this kind from the spirit of prophecy surprise and astonish even the most unbelieving? David could not have uttered these words with reference to himself. The description only suits the sufferer, in whose life we now see it actually interwoven. He who bleeds on Calvary is therefore the mysterious individual who announces himself in the Psalm above mentioned as the Redeemer of the world. But while it adds great importance to the trivial act of the division of the clothing, by making known the Lord Jesus as the true Messiah, we shall find that something of a still more momentous nature is included in the passage above quoted.
We must first inquire for what reason the Lord caused these words to be inserted in the prophetic lamentation of the Psalmist, "They parted my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots." He certainly did so, not merely with the intention of recording a circumstance, trifling in itself, from the subsequent fulfillment of which it should be evident that he was indeed the promised Messiah. Consider that they are rather his own feelings and sentiments which are there expressed. They are, in part, complaints and expressions of suffering; but also comprise a heart-cheering view of the incomparable results which would accrue to sinners from his sufferings. In the latter class must be included the words, "They parted my garments, and for my vesture they cast lots." The Lord in them encourages himself by the blessed consequences of his blood-shedding. But in what does he perceive them? Naturally, not in the fact of his earthly garments being divided among sinners. He evidently takes this outward division of his clothing as a symbol full of meaning, and regards it in a sense incomparably higher and more spiritual. And what is that? Thus we might ask, my friend, if there was no mention in the Holy Scriptures of a garment which Christ had acquired for us. But you know that it is frequently alluded to. This spiritual legacy of a robe is there sensibly represented. Such is the object of the transaction on Mount Calvary.
What we read respecting Adam is worthy of our most serious consideration. Before he gave way to sin, he shone in the white and honorable robe of perfect innocence. He was treated as a beloved child in his Father's house. He was permitted to approach him, and cast himself upon his bosom, when and wherever he pleased. Everything was put under his feet, and his happiness flowed in an inexhaustible stream. The holy angels were his comrades, and the peace of God his food, early and late. But scarcely had the unhappy fall occurred than his situation was entirely changed. We now behold him fleeing and even hiding himself from the face of God, and hear him reply to the inquiry, "Adam, where are you?" with the lamentable confession, "I was afraid, and hid myself, because I was naked." What was expressed in this confession but our own state by nature? Adam's mournful nakedness is ours. We also, as the apostle says, are "destitute of the glory we ought to have before God." We are naked. Not a thread of that righteousness which avails in the sight of God is left us. Sin has banished the last gleam of the radiance of our original beauty. But this fact is dreadful and momentous beyond degree. Does not even sound reason tell us that we dare not appear naked and unadorned before a holy God? Cain felt that he was thus naked in the sight of God, and became a prey to despair. The same feeling prompted Judas Iscariot to destroy himself. This truth smote the conscience of the Philippian jailor, and he was upon the point of throwing himself upon his sword. And what efforts do we see made on dying beds, to lay hold of something with which we may appear clothed before God! In one instance, the grasping at the fig-leaves of a handful of good works, which the man thinks he has performed. In another, what attempts at excuses and palliations! In a third, what a plaguing himself with praying, reading, wringing the hands, or something of the kind! What is the object of all this? The time has arrived when men begin to have a dawning consciousness of their nakedness, and then they cry out for a covering, for they feel assured that it is a dreadful thing to appear naked before the face of the judge of the whole earth.
Certainly, it is a dreadful thing. As true as a holy God lives in heaven, so surely shall we be excluded from his fellowship if we have not a holiness to place in the light of his countenance, which shall reflect, though in a lesser degree, the purity of his own perfections. But where are we to procure such attire? Not from our own looms. It is elsewhere provided for us. Hear what the apostle says, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ." These words direct us to that which leads to a most blissful discovery.
We return to the soldiers under the cross. They are busied in dividing among themselves the upper garment of the dying Jesus. They are not prohibited from parting this. By so doing, they continue quite in the figure which, under divine direction, they are to represent to us. The upper garment symbolizes the outwardly operating fullness of the Savior's power and life; and in a second signification, the spiritual endowment intended for us. This is divisible, and it also appears divided in the assembly of the faithful. One had more, the other less of this legacy. To one, "the gift of knowledge was allotted, to another, the gift of prophecy by the same Spirit; to a third the power to work miracles; to a fourth, the discerning of spirits," etc. (1 Cor. 12.) A distinct measure of these gifts of the Spirit was not required in order to be saved. But there was one kind of legacy which was quite indispensable to every one who desires to stand in the judgment. Its emblem, also, you find in the hands of the mercenaries under the cross. Beside the Lord's upper garment, another prize has fallen to them, and it is this which forms the peculiar capital of their inheritance. It is the vesture or body-coat of the man of sorrows, which he used to wear under the mantle; therefore such a dress as the high priest was obliged to put on when he entered into the most holy place on the great day of atonement. That such a priestly garment is found on the body of Jesus, that it is inherited by one of his murderers, and falls to him wholly and undivided, is extremely significant. A child must be conscious that he is here standing before hieroglyphics, which conceal something important and profound. But what is the marrow of this sacred symbol? Who is there among my readers that has not an idea of it?
Beneath the resplendent robe of his wonderful and active life, the Savior wore another, the garment of a perfect obedience, which he yielded, even in distress and death. Nothing was wanting in him. Many eyes—human, angelic, and satanic—have scrutinized it, but all have been filled with wonder at the sight. Even the eyes of God beheld it with delight, and a voice from heaven declared, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." It was a garment wrought entirely of the golden threads of the purest love to God and man, without spot and without a seam, and woven in one piece. You see it is the robe of righteousness of the Son of God, which is symbolized by the coat without a seam, for which the lot is cast at the foot of the cross.
But you ask in surprise, "Did this also belong to Jesus' legacy to sinners?" Without a doubt. Hear what the Scripture says: "As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners; so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." And again, "As by the offense of one, condemnation came upon all men, so by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life," or which procures life. (Rom. 5.) Not merely was forgiveness intended for us, but also something further and greater. Paul testifies (Acts, 26:18), that the Lord had assured him that his people should receive "forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified."
Here, therefore, are two things mentioned. Forgiveness would only secure us against deserved punishment, and bestow upon us the negative blessing of being uncondemned. But according to the counsel of a merciful God, we were to be positively exalted, blessed, and beatified; and for this purpose he required a righteousness which commended us not only to the sparing magnanimity, but also to the loving good pleasure of a holy God. Christ acquired this for us also. While fulfilling the law as our Surety, he placed that incomparable obedience before the eyes of his heavenly Father, which, being mercifully imputed to us on the part of God, is, on our part, laid hold of by faith, and after being appropriated by us, cause us to break forth into the song of the prophet, "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth her bud, and as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations." (Isaiah, 61:10, 11).
From the inheritance, let us now cast a cursory look upon the heirs. Who is it that inherits the costly attire? Only think, one of the murderers who are sitting beneath the cross, is the fortunate man. This circumstance tells us that, according to the divine intention, no wickedness, however great, excludes unconditionally from the inheritance. It only depends upon this, that the symbolical position of those executioners, and their conduct, with respect to the booty, should be essentially fulfilled in us.
What is their position? They guard the cross, and thus point out to us the place of refuge, to which, as our last resource, the necessities of our hearts, should impel us to flee. First, they know how to value the preciousness of the seamless vestment. Next, they perceive that only in its undivided whole it was of value and a real treasure; and, finally, they are satisfied that they shall obtain possession of the costly garment, entirely gratuitously, by a cast of the dice, and, therefore, without any merit of their own. Do you now understand these hieroglyphics? I do not think that you need a further explanation of them. Become poor sinners, learn to understand the demands of God upon you, and be content to be justified by grace. The symbol under the cross will then find in you its actual antitype.
How the heir of the seamless garment will have rejoiced at the prize he won! We, my readers, have inherited the robe, which makes us objects of the divine good pleasure, and shall the chords of our harps be silent? Doubtless the fortunate man immediately put on his legacy, and wore it thenceforward. Let us avail ourselves of the hint thus given us, to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ." It certainly never occurred to that individual, to attach strange lappets to that scientifically woven garment. Let us beware of the absurd idea of enlarging the righteousness which we have in Christ, by any additional doings of our own. On the contrary, let us make the proper distinction between justification and sanctification.
Even the earthly dress of the crucified Jesus will have exercised a manifold influence on the mind of the mercenary, and have at times affected him, made him shudder, and feel ashamed, and doubtless have caused the image of the man from whom he inherited it, never to be effaced from the mirror of his remembrance. Reflect, therefore, with what powerful and salutary influence the substance of that shadow, the righteousness of Christ himself, must be accompanied, as regards the heart and life of those who are able to appropriate it by a living faith.
The soldier might—as regarded his upper garment—have occasionally gone about poorly clad; and yet, if one looked deeper, it would not be denied that he was more richly attired than many a king. Is not the case similar with the children of God, whose external dress is often, especially in the days of trial, anything but splendid? and yet the eye of all heaven rests upon them with pleasure; and the words are applicable to them, "The king's daughter is all glorious within."
Let us congratulate ourselves, therefore, on the incomparable inheritance left us by him who expired on the cross. Let as many of us as have reason to number ourselves among the heirs of Christ, maintain the conviction, lively and fresh within us, that we are already justified in him before God; and that the love of God is not measured out to us according to the degree of our personal holiness. Let the watchword of our faith, "Jehovah Zidkenu," the Lord our righteousness, with which we overcome the world, be more and more fluent on our lips and let us ever sing, with increasing fervor,
"Jesus, your blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head."
Let us again lift up our eyes to the inscription, which beams from the cross of the Divine Sufferer. We there read, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," written in three different tongues—Greek, Latin, and Hebrew—the three theological languages, that all the world may read and understand. Pilate had so ordered it, induced partly by an obscure and reverential presentiment, and partly in order to give the hated Jews a final blow. No sooner had the latter read the inscription, than they angrily hasten to the governor, and say to him in an imperious tone, "It must not be as you have written. Down with that inscription from the cross of the blasphemer. Write that he presumptuously said that he was the King of the Jews." But Pilate briefly and resolutely replied, "What I have written, I have written!" And thus, Pilate, it ought to be. What you did write was not from arbitrary choice, for another guided your hand. You have prophesied as did Balaam of old; and with your inscription, are ignorantly and involuntarily become a witness for the truth.
Will you behold the King of Israel? Come, friend, and follow me to Calvary's bloody hill. See you that man on the cross, dying the death of a malefactor? "What?" say you, "Is this a king?" Do not shake your head, but know that you are wanting in discernment, not he in majesty. Retrace the ancient Levitical service, and behold in the sacred songs and prophetic language of the Old Testament that which shall throw light upon the appalling scene. Light your torch in the Psalms of David, in which you hear a great King complain and say, "They pierced my hands and my feet. They gave me also gall for my meat, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink," and yet he remains a King. Listen to the prophet Isaiah speaking of One who though he was "wounded for our iniquities," yet "the government was upon his shoulder, and of his peaceful kingdom there shall be no end." Read the words of Zechariah, "Awake, O sword, against the man that is my fellow!" and hear the forerunner in the wilderness, exclaiming, "Behold the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world!" Return with these lights to Calvary, and say if you are still so much astonished at finding the inscription on the cross, which stands between the other two, bearing the words, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews?" A cloud of holy witnesses adoringly surround the cross—venerable figures, tried saints, patriarchs and seers, poets and prophets, kings and priests. The figure of the bleeding King did not mislead them. Reverentially, and far from starting back with surprise, they read the inscription, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
Do you inquire where is the majesty of this King? Truly it exists, although for the time hidden, like the glittering gold of the ark, beneath the rams' skins that covered it. Be not offended at the gloomy cloud which frowns around him. The eye of faith penetrates through it, and perceives in the balmy background, a rainbow-garland of angels' heads and seraphic faces. If they appear to grieve when the eyes of their King close in death, yet they bear palms in their hands, with which they will accompany him when he re-ascends the throne. And who, in the further distance of the heavenly world, compose the brilliant host that, sunk in adoration, lie on their faces beneath the trees of life? They are the saints of God, who inherited the kingdom before the Lord of Glory descended to the earth. But when they shook the dust of their pilgrimage from off their feet, he said, "Behold, I lay down my life for these lambs," and at these royal words, the gates of paradise opened to admit them. They have long enjoyed the fruits of the merits of their Surety, before he commenced his work. They now behold him paying the promised ransom for them, and supporting the blissful abodes they inhabit with the pillars of justice. And what is left for them at this sight, but to sink adoringly in the dust before the wondrous man, and to confess, that even with their glorified vision they are unable to fathom the depths of such infinite compassion. And look still further in spirit. The multitudes of people out of every age and nation, their eyes attentively directed to the cross, and their faces expressive of sacred peace and silent blessedness—who are they, who, in interminable circles, surround the fatal hill? It is his Church, his redeemed people, including the best and noblest of mankind in every age. See the censers in their hands. They desire only to hear and know respecting the Lamb that was slain.
Such are the sights which faith beholds that understands how to lift the veil and look within. And on beholding such a representation, the cross before it changes to a throne, the crown of thorns about the brow of the dying man becomes a diadem, and Pilate's inscription is read with reverence and adoration, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews!"
Yes, it is he! You may recognize him by the victories he achieves, even on the fatal tree, the first of which is of a gloriously twofold character—over himself and over the infernal tempter. He is assailed by powerful temptations, which rise up in the shape of the scornful revilings of the people, who exclaim, "He saved others, himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him," a powerful assault of the wicked one, almost more potent than when he urged him to cast himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. How much did the taunting advice to come down correspond with the necessities of his suffering human nature! If he had followed it, not only he himself would have been delivered at once from his torment, but the host of blaspheming adversaries would have been driven from the field in an unexampled manner, and convinced of his divinity almost more plainly than was afterward the case by his resurrection from the dead. Alluring thought, at one blow to strike the raging multitude mute, and bend their knees in the dust! But far be such an idea from him! It is a snare, a trap of the artful fowler, a rock under water, to wreck the project of the atonement just before its final accomplishment. Jesus surveys the infernal toils, and says in spirit, "Get you behind me, Satan. I will not come down, but bleed, sacrifice myself and pay the wages of sin." In sublime silence, he rejects the call, and bears the torment; nor did he deviate from his path a single moment. Come, let us interweave an olive-branch in his crown of thorns, and wreathe about with the laurel of victory the inscription, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
Yes, while hanging there, he is still a royal conqueror. You might think that no one was more overcome than he. But the prospective glass of faith will show you something different. In the representation which it affords you, you see that the eye of Jesus, instead of closing, scatters destroying lightnings; that his unfettered hands brandish a wondrous sword; that his feet tread freely on a stormy arena. Hot is the battle; furious the onslaught. A conflict of desperation has commenced, and the human race is its object. The hostile parties are the captain of the Lord's host and the infernal powers. How the demons of the pit rage and struggle! The prey is to be taken from them and the captive delivered; the scepter to be wrested from their hands, and the right they had acquired over us by the divine decision again torn from them. And it is the man in the crown of thorns who threatens their dominion, and is trying to overturn it. Nothing in the arsenal of hell is left untried, which may afford any hope of victory. But the Lion of the tribe of Judah laughs at the quivering lance. He bleeds; but his blood is the enemy's overthrow. He falls into the hands of his adversaries; but this is the means of rescuing us out of their hands. He suffers himself to be fettered by the bands of Belial; but his chains beget our liberty. He empties the cup of wrath; but only that he may fill it with blessings for us. He suffers himself to be wounded in the heel; but at the same moment breaks the head of the old Serpent; and after a very different martial rule to the customary one, he conquers the enemy, like Samson, by his fall.
Such are the achievements of the dying Jesus. Even though one may complain, that the fairest of the sons of men should be so abused; another became hoarse with crying, "Come down, and show us who you are!" We, who know how to view things with the eye of faith, neither mourn nor cry out. To us he would not seem more glorious were he to descend in majestic splendor from the cross, amid the music of angelic harps, than he appears to us, yonder, in his bleeding form. We see him, like the archangel, decked with victorious insignia, standing upon a thousand dragons' heads; and while sounding the trumpet of triumph, we exclaim, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
A third victory is gained at the cross, the greatest and most wonderful of all. I call it the victory of the lawgiver over the law. There was no want of wish and will in heaven to save us. They existed abundantly; but the right to undertake the great work was wanting. The holy and inviolable law was the bolt which fastened the door of the treasury of divine mercy. The law put in its protest against our redemption. Its language was, "No salvation for sinners until their guilt is expiated;" and even eternal majesty felt bound by the protestation. But divine wisdom was able to loose their fetters. The Eternal Son descended upon earth to change the negative of the law into an affirmative. He suffered himself to be "made under the law," and fulfilled it, as our representative, in such a manner, as to enable him to stand forward, and say, "Which of you convinces me of sin?" But this did not remove the barrier from the sluices of divine mercy. The curse had to be endured, to which we had become subject by a breach of the law. He submitted to this, likewise, and drank the cup of wrath. Did a drop remain? "Not one," was the law's decision. And when the voice of mercy was heard from heaven, the law had nothing to object. Divine justice resigned the scepter to its august sister, Love, without infringing its glory in the slightest degree. We admire the victory over the law, without violence, in the way of justice; and adoringly read the inscription, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
Yes, he is a King! But where is his kingdom? He is founding it while hanging on the cross. The drops of blood, which trickle down, are the price he paid to ransom his people, and the dying groans which issue from his bosom, the joyful peal which announces the birthday of his Zion.
He did not found his kingdom when gathering the people around him, and addressing them from the mount of the beatitudes. Nor when he scattered in the darkness the sparks of divine truth, and when the shadows of death were dispersed by the light of his heavenly torch. Not there, where he cast out the spirits of darkness, and by his miraculous aid, won the eternal gratitude of hundreds of the weary and heavy-laden. Not there, where with the splendor of his deeds, he ravished the world, and was surrounded by their enthusiastic hosannas. Had he left the world after these triumphs, all would have remained upon earth as before, and he himself have been without a kingdom and a people. No Jerusalem would have been reared in the valley of death; no banner of liberty have waved from the turrets of Zion. No encampment of God's people in the wilderness, and no longing after a better country. No! Teaching, preaching, and example could not effect it. The new city had to be founded on the blood of the covenant; and it was done. The hands that were nailed to the cross overcame the world; and founded, in the midst of the kingdom of darkness, the kingdom of light and peace. O wonder beyond compare! What Pilate wrote remains forever true, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
The Jews did not imagine it was he. They ventured to cry, "His blood come upon us and upon our children!" You know that their imprecation was fulfilled in the manner they desired. "Woe!" exclaimed the blood, and cried to heaven for vengeance upon them. Behold the result! A heavy storm gathers over Jerusalem. The torch of war is lighted in the land. A forest of hostile lances begirds the holy city. The temple sinks in flames. The walls fall down. Not one stone remains upon another, and the blood of the children of Abraham flows in torrents. Those who escape the sword must flee into the wide world, far from their beloved hills and the graves of their forefathers, into the barren and inhospitable waste. And Israel remains to this day a subjugated people, and steals about the mementos of its former glory. It is by divine arrangement that this pillar of salt, this burning bush, which miraculously remains unconsumed, continues conspicuous during eighteen hundred years. This people, in their wretchedness, are a lasting memorial, that he, whose blood they had invoked over them, was and is a King, and does not suffer himself to be mocked with impunity. And, in fact, the words, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews," are as legibly written in fiery letters of judgment on the foreheads of his people, as upon the cross. But we wait for a time, now no longer distant, in which the Lord will make it evident, in another and more gratifying manner, in these his ancient covenant people, that he is their real and true King. When they shall eventually come with weeping and lamentation, and he shall gather them out of the land of the north, and lead them in a plain path, by the rivers of water, and shall say to them, "I am Israel's father, and Ephraim is my first-born;" then the most obstinate unbelief shall no longer rebel, but reverently fold the hands on reading the inscription, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
Yes, he is our King! He reigns from the cross. From thence to this hour he carries on the government in the city of peace. True, he no longer hangs there, but when he presents himself to the eye of faith, and when, in order to accomplish great things he manifests himself in vision, he appears, as before, in his bleeding form, and hanging on the tree. It is from thence he takes the spoil from the strong, and produces repentance in the sinful. From thence he humbles the lofty looks, and melts the stony heart in the fire of his love. From thence he comforts the anxious soul, and dries the weeping eyes of the contrite. From thence, he awakens rejoicing in the camp of the true Israelites, and encourages his people to dance before the ark. O how variously does he daily make it manifest that he, as the crucified Jesus, is the true King of Israel! Yes, in his crown of thorns, he governs the world of spirits and of hearts; and the greatest marvels by which he glorifies himself upon earth, he performs with his pierced hands. Hence Calvary continues to be the place where we pay our homage, and where we cease not adoringly to cry, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
Thus, in fact, no human hand ever wrote anything more true and well-founded than the inscription which Pilate, under divine direction, wrote and placed on the cross. Yet a little while, and signs from heaven, angelic appearances, falling stars, and graves opening at the trumpet's sound will confirm it. Therefore, while unfolding before my readers his blood-besprinkled banner, I call upon them, as a messenger from God, to swear allegiance to this sacred standard, to worship the monarch in the crown of thorns, and reverently to bow the knee with the multitude, which no man can number, before the inscription on the cross, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
My friends, the time is at hand, when we shall no longer read it on the cross, but in the radiant letters on the flowing robe of the returning conqueror. O that then none of us may be forced to say to the rocks, "Fall on us," and to the hills, "Cover us!" but each of us meet him with joyful acclamations, and hail him Lord of all!
"Father, Forgive Them"
Our visit to the horrible darkness which reigns on Calvary has this time reference only to the ray of compassion which flashes through it, than which, one more beatifying never shone upon the sinful earth. This ray displays its effulgence in the intercession of him who hangs bleeding on the cross. In it, the divine sufferer throws down from his cross the first-fruit of his passion into the lap of the human race, whom he came to redeem.
Horrible is the tumult on Calvary. A choir from the pit of hell precedes the chorus of angels. The powers of darkness exhaust themselves in vomiting forth rage and blasphemy; and alas! the very men whose vocation it is to be keepers of the sanctuary, yield themselves up to be the most zealous instruments of hell. Without being aware of it, these men of Belial entirely fail of their object. Their intention is to degrade the man on the cross, and yet they are obliged to glorify him. They are anxious to tear from his head the last remnant of his crown, but they only lift the veil from off his majesty. Listen to the taunts which they pour forth upon the Holy One; but remark, at the same time how these outbreaks, viewed in the light, only contain the most honorable confessions respecting him. "He saved others," say they, "himself he cannot save." Truly, this plain confession on the part of his adversaries is of high importance, since it confirms anew the historical account of the saving and delivering acts of Jesus recorded by the evangelists.
"He trusted in God," they continue. Infer from hence, my readers, how evidently his heavenly and devotional frame must have impressed itself on his entire outward deportment, so that it did not remain concealed even from such worthless characters as these.
"He said, 'I am the Son of God;' let him deliver him now if he will have him!" Can it be otherwise than extremely welcome to us, to hear it confirmed, even by his most furious opponents, that the Lord had declared himself to be the Son of God, and had therefore made no secret of his heavenly descent?
"You that destroy the temple," they exclaim further, "and build it up in three days, save yourself!" Observe how they confirm what he had so decidedly announced concerning his resurrection from the dead. In the same manner, by their taunting words, "Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross," they establish the fact, that the Savior had repeatedly applied this significant title to himself. What do these wicked men therefore effect? In their fury they break a diamond in pieces, by which they only cause it to show its genuineness by its sparkling splinters. In their wrath they pluck to pieces a divine rose, but by so doing only display the brilliance and enamel of every petal.
The Savior hears the envenomed taunts of the crowd below. He knows from whence they proceed, and to whom the blasphemers serve as instruments, without their being aware of it. In their infuriated language, he hears only a ruder echo of those temptations with which the prince of darkness once assailed him in the wilderness. But now, as then, he is conscious of being on the path pointed out to him by his Heavenly Father; and this serves him as an impenetrable shield, with which he quenches all the fiery darts of the adversary. O that we could now cast a look into the Redeemer's soul! But profound silence conceals it from us like the veil in the temple. If, in such moments, when the measure of the opprobrium vented on him overflowed, the glow of a holy indignation had flushed him, or the thunder of the apostle's "Anathema Maranatha" had rolled through his soul—if his heart had turned to him who calls himself an avenger of the evil, with a prayer to reward the wicked according to their deeds—or if, in his own mind, a judicial woe had been pronounced upon these accursed sons of Belial, his holiness would have been fully preserved, and even hell itself must have justified him in forever renouncing the redemption of such a race as the descendants of Adam.
But, be still! See, his lips are moving. He is about to speak. What shall we now hear? Will anything of the kind above mentioned be thundered down from the cross? It might reasonably be expected. Look, he opens his mouth. But can we believe our ears? "Father," says he, "forgive them!" What? Who does he mean? Surely not the servants of Satan who have nailed him to the cross—the heartless brutes, who are even still rending him with their poisoned fangs? Yes, it is even they to whom his intercession refers. It is for them he requests mercy and forgiveness. We bow our heads and adore. What language, "Father, forgive them!" and, in the words, what an act, greater than the most splendid miracles with which he marked his radiant path through the world. Christ was admirable in his transfiguration on Mount Tabor; but here he shines in superior light.
"Forgive them!" Is it possible! With these words, as sincerely as they sound, he covers the guilty heads of his murderers with the shield of his love, in order to secure them from the storm of the well-deserved wrath of Almighty God. With these words, which must have produced adoring astonishment even in the angels themselves, he takes these miscreants in the arms of his compassion, and bears them up the steps of his Father's throne, in order to commend them to his mercy. For know, my readers, that the words "Forgive them," mean, in Jesus' mouth, not merely, "Do not impute to them the murderous crime they have committed upon me." No, when he utters "Forgive," it comprehends something much more, and embraces the whole register of sins. In his mouth it means, "Plunge their whole sinful life into the depths of the sea, and remember no more their transgressions, but consider these sinners henceforth as dear in your sight, and act toward them as such."
There are individuals upon earth for whom no one feels inclined to pray, because they are too depraved. There are those who even dare not pray for themselves, because their consciences testify, that such worthless creatures as they are, cannot reckon upon being heard. What a prospect is here opened to people of this description! Ah, if no heart beats for them on earth, the heart of the King of kings may still feel for them. If among their friends, not one is to be found to intercede for them, yet, possibly, the Lord of Glory is not ashamed of bearing their names before his Father's throne. O what hope beams on Calvary for a sinful world! And if the great Intercessor appears there for a transgressor, how does his intercession succeed! Though a whole world should protest against it, his prayer saves whom he will. His voice penetrates the heart of the eternal Father with irresistible power. His entreaties are commands. Mountains of sin vanish before his intercession. How highly characteristic and deeply significant is the fact that the Lord, with this prayer, commences the seven expressions he uttered on the cross. The words, "Forgive them!" show us not merely the heaven of loving-kindness which he carries in his bosom, but it also darts like a flash of lightning through the gloom of the entire night of suffering, and deciphers the mysterious position which the Holy One of Israel here occupies as Surety, Mediator, and High Priest.
"As High Priest?" you exclaim. Certainly, you must feel that he could only venture to offer up such a prayer in that capacity. Apart from this his peculiar divine office; such a petition would have been like a Titan-storm against the divine order; no as a rebellious attempt to overturn the foundations of God's throne, which are justice and judgment. How can the holy God deal with sinners? Can he say anything else than, "Depart from me, you polluted beings?" How can the God of justice act toward transgressors? Must he not if he will not act contrary to his nature, reward every one according to his works? How would it become the God of wisdom blindly to take some one promiscuously from a crowd, and elevate him to his glory? Is it not more becoming, that he should carefully sift and scrutinize? And how could he be a God of order without doing so! Can he, who is the true God, make laws and denounce threatenings against transgressors, and yet pardon those who have actually trodden his law under foot, without breaking his word, and withdrawing his threatenings? Impossible; if he will not render himself liable to a well-founded accusation, he must, in spite of all human entreaty for pardon, inflict curse where it belongs, and wrath upon him to whom it is due.
All this stands everlastingly firm, and yet the prayer for forgiveness raises its wing from the mount of suffering and passes apparently through all those eternal and unimpingeable statutes and limitations. It puts aside even Mount Sinai and Ebal, and heeds not the cherub of the law, who keeps the gate of paradise, and is enjoined to admit only the righteous. Careless of his flaming sword, it soars with seemingly unheard-of boldness above the brazen walls of the manifold menaces of the divine maledictions, which inexorably close against sinners the entrance to the mansions above, and in a most striking contrariety with the indelible inscription over the eternal sanctuary, "Him that sins against me, will I blot out of my book," requests forgiveness and even admittance into the habitations of the blessed children of God, for rebels, blasphemers, and murderers.
"Does the Savior's prayer do so much, and yet continue legitimate?" Yes, my readers, it is legitimate, well-founded, and entitled to be heard. The mercy of interceding love on the cross, is a law which is, at the same time, subject to all the ordinances of God. Its seeming boldness is only in appearance. It knows what it does, while crying for forgiveness to him with whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning. It is well aware of the properties of the house of God, while desiring blessing and liberation for those whom the law condemns and sentences to the prisons of darkness. It does not direct its petition to an arbitrariness in God, which does not exist, but appeals to both the divine justice and mercy. Its prayer sets aside no divine ordinance, but leaves them all uninfringed upon. It is so far from desiring that the Almighty should deny himself or his word, that it has, on the contrary, the glory of God as its supreme and final aim.
"But can God continue in the exercise of all his perfections, if he rewards murderers with his favor?" Yes, my readers, he can; and it is just this, which is the greatest mystery of godliness, of which the Gospel opens the seals, but which is accessible only to faith. Jesus, who here prays for his murderers, stands in the very place of those men, as their representative. If they have broken the law, he, the Surety, has fulfilled it in their stead. Are they worthy of death? He is the Lamb that lets itself be made sin for them, that sin might be no longer imputed to them. If they drew down upon them the curse of the law, he is the Mediator of whom it is written, "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." If, according to the judgment of God, they are consigned to the powers of darkness, he gives himself up as a voluntary sacrifice to their fiery darts. If the sentence applies to them, "In the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die;" he suffers this sentence to be executed on his own sacred person, in order that it might be said, "If one die for all, then were all dead."
Therefore, satisfaction, atonement, and mediation, are the momentous words which express the ground of justification for the intercession of Jesus. The whole world must now be mute, and hell likewise, when God himself receives into his favor blasphemers and murderers, for whom Jesus appeared in the breach. For complete satisfaction is rendered to all the statutes of the eternal sanctuary, and divine justice can no longer object when eternal love presses sinners with blessing to its bosom. But how comforting and consoling it is to see that divine grace and forgiveness rest upon such foundations!
We now fully comprehend the tone and perfect certainty, firmness, and confidence with which the words, "Father, forgive them!" are uttered. The High Priest pronounces them from the most holy place, and that too at the very moment when he is paying the debt of the guilty. That he really does this, and that the true meaning of his sufferings is to be sought in this, he once for all evinces to a sinful world from his elevation on the cross; and hence, while bleeding on their behalf, he sends up to heaven this unconditional petition for mercy in favor of the vilest sinners, his murderers.
"But how could the Lord commend these hardened rebels to divine mercy?" Observe, my friends, that those whom he had in view, were by no means hardened. For such as have committed the "sin unto death" there is certainly no longer any deliverance or salvation, and according to the apostle's directions, we ought not to pray for such. But the Lord well knows what he is doing. Although he says at first, "Forgive them," which is certainly very general, yet he immediately limits his words, so that Judas, for instance, and doubtless many of the heads of the people, are excluded from the influence of his intercession. The addition of the words, "They know not what they do," defines its bounds. By this clause the Lord selects from the multitude which surrounds him those to whom the majority of them that crucified him probably belonged. They were not like the Pharisees, who accused Jesus of casting out devils by Beelzebub, and had therefore committed the sin against the Holy Spirit, but they were under a delusion, which was certainly far from guiltless, when they consigned Jesus to death.
Now, observe, first, the sublime self-possession which the Lord here again manifests in the words, "They know not what they do." For what other meaning lies concealed beneath them than this, that if they had known it was the Lord of Glory, or even some innocent and just person, they would not have done it? For in the words, "They know not what they do," the idea is included that while offering up the Lord Jesus, they unconsciously pay the ransom for themselves, and thereby render it possible for God to have mercy upon them, without detracting from his justice.
Finally, the words, "They know not what they do," must be apprehended in the same sense in which I must be understood, if I likewise said of any one whom I had come to deliver out of his distress, but who, ignorant of my intention, basely repulsed me, "He knows not what he is doing." In this case, my meaning would be, "Have patience; he will soon recollect himself when he is aware who I am, and for what purpose I entered his abode, and will then act differently toward me." I thus utter a prediction, and such a one is doubtless included in our Lord's words. They contain a veiled prediction of the future repentance and conversion of those for whom he prays. For even by this petition a powerful impulse to repentance is given them, and a direction to a change of mind. Only look forward a little, and you will already see, first, in the Roman centurion under the cross, and his shield-bearer, the commencement of the fulfillment of that prediction. Mark, then, the crowds who, returning from Calvary to Jerusalem, smote upon their breasts, and, at least in part, gave evidence of sincere repentance. Assuredly among them were some to whom the petition, "Father, forgive them," applied. But if they were not among these, they were decidedly among the three thousand who were pierced to the heart by the apostles' words on the day of Pentecost. For listen to the address of Peter: "This Jesus," says he, "whom you have crucified, has God made both Lord and Christ. Now, when they heard this," the narrative states, "they were pierced in their hearts, and said, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Yes, it was these who knew not what they did, but now it became evident to them. O how did the remembrance of the words, "Father, forgive them," smite humblingly and overwhelmingly upon their hearts! How did the love which was manifested in those words melt their souls! Alas! alas! they had nailed to the cross their only Deliverer and Savior! Could it be otherwise than that under such reflections their eyes became fountains of tears? But the repentance for which the consolation of forgiveness first made room in their souls, issued in devotedness to the Lord, and in their being faithful to him even unto death. Thus did the petition, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do," neither overthrow the statutes of divine justices, nor the method of grace, once for all established by the Lord. Justice retained its splendor, by virtue of the satisfaction of the only-begotten Son, and the plan of salvation was preserved entire in the repentance and conversion of them to whom the petition applied.
Let us then rejoice, my friends, that the most desirable and indispensable of all blessings, the forgiveness of sins, is acquired so fully and legally for us. What do all the treasures in the world avail, if we do not know that our names are written in heaven, and that we have an inheritance there? But reflect, that the forgiveness acquired on the cross, although always an entirely free gift of grace, is forever with-held from those who know what they do, while refusing to give their hearts to Christ; and just as little belongs to those who persist in their ignorance and in their deluded opposition to him. Awake, therefore, from your deadly sleep of security; bid farewell to pharisaic deception, condemn the sin that besets you, and then hasten penitently and believingly to the cross of Christ, and devote yourselves, body, soul, and spirit, unto him who loved you, and gave himself for you; for this is the road that leads unto life.