THE SHADOW OF CALVARY
by Hugh Martin, (1821—1885)
THE ARREST, THE CAPTIVE CARRYING CAPTIVITY CAPTIVE
"Then the band and the captain and the officers of the Jews took Jesus and bound Him, and led Him away to Annas first . . . And Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas" (John 18:12, 13, 24).
Among the various aspects under which this singular drama of Christ's capture and arrest may be viewed, there are some that almost prevent us from seeing the insult and shame poured upon Him, by concentrating our attention on certain features of countervailing dignity and glory. The lights in which the subject has been already presented have partaken very largely of this character. What could excel the majesty with which Jesus surrenders Himself into their hands, affording as it does a picture and a representation of the glorious truth that He through the Eternal Spirit was offering Himself without spot to God; while in sovereign authority and covenant right He was securing and demanding the safety of the elect? Or what could be more glorious than that sudden change that passes on the whole scene; startling us by its abrupt and unlooked for occurrence; when the prisoner becomes the judge and arrests, as at an invisible tribunal of his own, every soul around Him, and pronounces judgment on them all, speaking with authority and not as the scribes?
But perhaps we have looked at the scene too exclusively in this light and not sufficiently contemplated the abyss of dishonor in which the Son of God was now plunged. Let us attempt then to remedy this defect before we pass away from this portion of the narrative.
And yet, what can be said in this direction more affecting or impressive than the simple words of the Evangelist: "Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound Him, and led Him away to Annas." They took Him, and bound vim, and led Him away bound! And who was it that they were leading back into the city in triumph, under all the guise and treatment of a felon? Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! The captive is the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of His person; the heir of all things—("this is the heir, come let us kill Him")—the same who was even then in the bosom of the Father as well as in the hands of murderers—who was even then upholding all things by the word of His power! It was their Maker and their God whom these men had captured; it was their judge whom they shall see face to face when they rise from the dead! Yes, look again, look long and thoughtfully on this marvelous event. It is the Living God—the Lord God Omnipotent—whom these rude men lead off in fetters. "Though He was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, He made Himself of no reputation."
Now, when we have said this, do we not feel as if the subject had gone altogether beyond the power of language—yea, beyond the power of thought? They took HIM, and bound HIM, and led HIM away bound!
Still, there are circumstances noted in the narrative singularly fitted to deepen the impression. For instance, in the first place:
1. We may notice the recklessness and relentlessness of His captors. How mad on the execution of their work! Have these men no knowledge? Will no terrors affright them? Will no tender mercies melt them? Will miracles neither of judgment nor of kindness turn them from their purpose? Alas! they are proof against every appeal. The terrific power of their prisoner has cast them to the ground as with the force of lightning. His marvelous mercy has shone forth in the work of healing one among them whose ear the rash disciple's sword had cut off. "And one of them smote a servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. And Jesus answered and said, Suffer thus far. And He touched his ear and healed him." And yet, in the face of a display of divine power and divine gentleness and kindness such as this, they stagger not, nor swerve from their design. Defying the secret power that prostrated their persons on the earth, stifling the appeal that with such dignity and force Jesus had addressed to their consciences, and trampling under foot the miracle of love of which their comrade had been made the subject and the trophy, they dread not to fetter those hands, fresh though they be from such a demonstration of the tenderness of His heart and the truth of His Messiahship and Godhead. Thus recklessly and relentlessly was Jesus captured.
What aggravation of reproach and shame that He should be the prisoner of men who could carry through the work with such appalling blindness of judgment and baseness of heart! To have been brought to the tribunal by men mourning the destiny that appointed them to make Him prisoner would have been a sufficient depth of dishonor, but to own as His captors a band of men so lost to all that could sober or solemnize, that could shame or melt them—men who could rush through all appeals of righteousness, and works of power, and deeds of love divine, who had neither fears nor consciences nor hearts to plead with: to be led captive by such was reproach and dishonor unfathomable.
2. But, secondly, the scene must have been rude and violent in the highest degree. No sooner do they seem to have laid hands on Him after He became silent and allowed them to bind Him, than the order which His voice of majesty had hitherto compelled, seems to have given way to ruthless tumult. Rioting in brutal joy at their success, they abandon themselves, especially the younger men among them, to shameless and unbridled violence, as if hell itself were loose among them. A single stroke of Mark's graphic pencil speaks volumes for the wild and disgraceful features which the scene now assumed. "And there followed Him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body, and the young men laid hold on him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked" (Mark 14:51, 52). They had their warrant to apprehend Jesus, and in doing so might have pleaded, in a sense their duty. But now, as they lead Him away to the city, like a frantic mob, they rush upon the innocent against whom they have neither charge, nor warrant, nor quarrel. Amidst such a scene of shameless riot was Jesus led away in bonds. What unutterable reproach and humiliation! And was this the same whom Isaiah beheld, when he saw His glory and spoke of Him? "I saw the Lord, sitting upon a throne high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly. And one cried unto another and said, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory." Was it indeed the same person whom this wild mob of men was leading away a prisoner? O the depth! He who was rich for our sakes became poor! He who was the God of glory, dwelling amidst all insignia of majesty, yet for our sakes submitted to be sunk in shame! Oh! well might Jesus, in the depths of His soul, repeat His own prayer and Psalm of mourning, "Draw near to My soul, O Lord, and redeem it: deliver Me because of My enemies. You have known My reproach, and My shame, and My dishonor: My adversaries are all before You. Reproach has broken My heart, and I am full of heaviness; and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters but I found none" (Ps. 69:18-20).
3. And, thirdly, another circumstance of dishonor to which Jesus was now subjected was the loneliness to which He was forsaken. "For now all the disciples forsook Him and fled." Peter, we shall see, afterwards rallied somewhat from this panic and returned and followed Jesus afar off, but it was only ultimately to heap more shame on His Lord, while one of the reproached prisoner's favorite companions demeaned himself so basely in denying all knowledge of Him. As it was Jesus was left in reality alone. Now was fulfilled the Father's oracle: "Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the man that is My fellow; smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered," while his own prediction that it should be fulfilled this night and fulfilled in this manner was also accomplished: "He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and we hid as it were our faces from Him" (Isa. 53:3). And as Jesus saw this new indignity, and found Himself now at length utterly alone—deserted of all on every side—might He not well adopt, as written already in the Psalms concerning him, such "grievous complaints" as these: "I looked on My right hand and beheld, and there was no man that would know Me: refuge failed Me, no man cared for My soul. I cried to You, O Lord: I said, You are My refuge and My portion in the land of the living. Attend to My cry, for I am brought very low. In the way wherein I walked have they secretly laid a snare for Me. Bring My soul out of prison, that I may praise Your name: the righteous shall compass Me about, for You shall deal bountifully with Me" (Ps. 142:4-7). "O Lord God, My soul is full of trouble; My life draws near to the grave. I am counted with those who go down into the pit. You have laid Me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps. Your wrath lies hard upon Me; and You have afflicted Me with all Your waves. You have put away My acquaintance far from Me: you have made Me an abomination, a stone of scandal to them: I am shut up, and I cannot come forth. You have put lover and friend far from Me and My acquaintance into darkness" (Ps. 102, Ps. 88).
Now draw near and see this great sight. He to whom the Father says, "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever"; He who is the mighty Lord and to whom belong the issues from death, is made a prisoner by His own creatures, beings whose life is in His hand and whose destinies obey His will. Recklessly seized and pinioned; rudely borne off in triumph, with every degrading accompaniment of violence and tumult; forsaken by His friends; alone in His reproach and shame—how infinitely marvelous is this sight! Might we not say with Moses, "I do exceedingly fear and quake"? Behold the Lamb of God! He is led like a lamb to the slaughter. He is taken from prison and from judgment, and who shall declare His generation? Behold how He loved them, loved the guilty sons of men! He will be a captive prisoner for their sake! He will wear these fetters of a malefactor, that He may draw them with "bands of love and with cords of a man" even though in doing so He finds them all forsaking Him and fleeing, "ashamed of the prisoner" and "ashamed of His chain" (2 Tim. 1:8, 16). "Then took they Him, and bound Him, and led Him away to Annas, and Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas." What shall we say to these things? This humiliation of the God of glory passes all understanding: and the love that reconciled Him to it and made it welcome, passes knowledge and adoration and praise. Praise is silent for You, O God, in Zion. Though in the form of God, You humbled yourself!
But "he who humbles himself shall be exalted." And this great principle of the kingdom of grace finds its seal and noblest illustration in the Head Himself. Because He humbled Himself, God also has highly exalted Him" (Phil. 2:8, 9).
Now we ought to attend to this, in examining together the humiliation and the exaltation of our Lord, namely, that the justice of the Father towards His obedient well-deserving Son is illustriously exhibited in giving Him a reward rich and full as His sufferings and shame were deep: a reward contrasting, in every point and element, and circumstance of it, with the various descending steps of His humiliation. There was not one element of that shame which He despised, but there was an answerable and countervailing element in the joy that was set before Him, and which enabled Him to despise that portion of the shame to which it corresponded. And the glorious contrasts and harmonies which a study of these scenes will more and more reveal, evidence that those Scriptures which attest them are not cunningly-devised fables but a more sure word of prophecy than transfiguration disclosures or any voices from the excellent glory could be. Do we see Jesus for a little made lower than the angels? His reward is that the world to come is put under Him, and in His suffering nature He is head of all principality and power. Is He placed as a panel at the bar where Caiaphas the high priest is the judge? The answerable reward to this is, as He testifies to Caiaphas himself, that God has given Him all authority to execute judgment because He is the Son of man, for "I say to you, hereafter you
shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven." Do His disciples forsake Him, scattered every one to his own? The shame and sorrow of this are redeemed when Paul says, "I charge you by our gathering together to Christ at His coming." What portion, then, of His glorious recompense and exaltation shall we set over against the shame of these chains with which He is bound and led away a prisoner to trial? What is the precise element in His reward—the exact counterpart joy set before Him—on which His soul may rest in full assurance and complacency, while wending his way an insulted prisoner to the city? What shall be a due solace and recompense for the dark night of his captivity? What but the glorious prediction concerning Him: "You have ascended on high; you have led captivity captive." Here is the singularly satisfying arrangement which His Father's righteousness has made for Him. The shame of His chains shall be obliterated by the triumph decreed for Him. The captive Jesus shall carry captivity captive.
Now this prediction concerning Jesus, quoted and applied by Paul (Eph. 4:8), occurs originally in the 68th Psalm, and the terms in which it is couched are very magnificent. "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them as in Sinai, in the holy place. You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive: You have received gifts for men: yes, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them" (Ps. 68:18).
There is every reason to believe that this glorious piece of psalmody was sung on the occasion of carrying up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to its resting place on Mount Zion. The whole structure of the Psalm is that of a triumphal ode, intended to be sung with all the accompaniments of David's minstrelsy, and when the tribes are assembled to the praise of the Lord. "The singers go before, the players on instruments follow after; among them are the damsels playing with timbrels"; while some leader answers them, as Miriam to her sisters in Israel, "Bless God in the congregations, even the Lord from the fountain of Israel." "Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously." Meanwhile, the tribes in succession gladly follow. "There is little Benjamin with their ruler, the princes of Judah and their council, the princes of Zebulun and the princes of Naphtali," all joyful because of what God has wrought for them "because of Jehovah's temple in Jerusalem" (ver. 25-29). And that the ark of the Lord is with them this day may be gathered from the opening note of their glorious hymn, the same as of old in their marching through the wilderness, when the ark at any time set forward, and Moses said: "Rise up, Lord, and let Your enemies be scattered; let those who hate You flee before You" (ver. 1: Num. 10:35).
Now that ark was the symbol of Jehovah's presence, and when ascending Mount Zion to its resting place which God has chosen for Himself to place His name there, the congregation of Israel glorify God as "ascending on high," the conqueror of His people's foes, bringing all fullness of blessing to His Church, and dwelling both in symbol and reality among them.
But evidently while this hymn of triumph celebrates the presently transpiring event, as the priests bear up the ark to the mount of God, its strains are framed on the remembrance and celebration of the past, and already contemplate a still nobler future.
I. Thus as to the past: The ascending on high and carrying captivity captive has reference to the glorious manifestation of the God of Israel in the giving of the law on Sinai. They feel that the Lord is among them as in Sinai (ver. 17) as, "when, O God, You went forth before Your people, when You marched through the wilderness. The earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God; even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel" (ver. 7, 8). Then "the chariots of God were twenty thousand, thousands of angels, the Lord among them in Sinai, ascending on high, carrying captivity captive" (ver. 17, 18).
Now, viewing the triumph here celebrated as referring thus to the majestic display of divine glory on Sinai, there can be no doubt that it is Christ, the angel of the covenant, who is addressed as the ascending conqueror. It is the angel, the messenger, of the covenant, as a son over his own house, the Church in the wilderness. It was "the reproach of Christ" which Moses, who was with the Church in the wilderness, as a faithful servant, preferred to the treasures of Egypt (Heb. 11:26). And it was Christ, as Paul testifies, whom the Israelites tempted (1 Cor.10:9), when their sin was avenged by the judgment of the fiery flying serpents.
Then again, to this ascension on Sinai, we must clearly apply the same self-evident principle which Paul educes in speaking of the risen Lord's ascension into heaven. "Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first" (Eph. 4:9). The glorious God is incapable of ascension in any case or in any sense until He render that ascension possible by some prior voluntary descent, or condescension, in His dealings with men, or His disclosures of Himself which He gives them. In this instance the divine condescension, the divine descent which preceded the ascension on Sinai, is expressly declared, even as God testified to Moses at the bush, saying, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob: I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters: for I know their sorrows. And I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians. I will send you that you may bring forth My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt" (Ex. 3:7-10). It is in reference to this descent—"I have come down to deliver them"—that the Lord is celebrated as "ascending" on Mount Sinai. How could He have ascended had He not, as Paul unanswerably argues, "first descended"? He who came down to deliver Israel from the captivity of Pharaoh—He who descended into the wilderness of Sinai, and in humble guise set forth the symbol of His presence in the small flickering flame, tabernacling for the time in the humble bush or desert heath—He is the same that has now ascended on high on Sinai's lofty peak—His symbol of ascension being no more in the solitary flame as when He came down to deliver Israel, but in the wide wasting fire, enshielded in the smoke and cloud, and giving forth the thunder and the lightning as the mountain burns with fire and the sweeping tempest mingles the fire and the darkness, while, amidst the play of nature's mightiest elements, God calls to the heavens above and to the earth that He may judge His people; and our God does surely come and not keep silence: a fire devours before Him and it is very tempestuous round about Him (Ex. 19, Heb. 12, Ps. 1). Why should the ascension be in symbols of fire amidst such extensive and terrific elements of grandeur but that it may form the counterpart and countervailing incident to the descent in flame into the bush, that lowly habitation of the glory of the Lord?
And now, what is meant, in this connection, by the triumph ascribed to the ascending King of Israel, You have carried captivity captive? What can it imply but a celebration, in His ascension, of that very work of deliverance from their bondage for which the Lord Himself had testified that He descended? "I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians: I have seen their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them." And before He thus ascends again gloriously on Sinai, has He not redeemed His pledge and redeemed His people, having brought them out with n high hand? Yes, "Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider has He thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become our salvation. The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is His name. Pharaoh's chariots and his host has He cast into the sea: his chosen captains have also drowned in the Red Sea. You, in Your mercy, have led forth Your people which You have redeemed: You have guided them in Your strength to Your holy habitation. Your right hand, O Lord, has become glorious in power; Your right hand, O Lord, has dashed in pieces the enemy" (Ex. 15:1-6). Yes, "You have ascended on high: You have carried captivity captive."
There are still other two circumstances to be noticed, namely, the glorious retinue of the ascended king and the practical design of this majestic and solemnizing exhibition of his glory.
Attending angels wait upon Him; His chariots are twenty thousand, thousands of angels: in the midst of them the Lord appears in Sinai. By the disposition of angels, and as ordained in their hands, or by their ministry, the law is given to Israel (Acts 7:35; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2). "The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them: He shined forth from Mount Paran, and He came with ten thousands of holy ones: from His right hand went a fiery law for them" (Deut. 33:2). For the chariot throne of the Lamb, the messenger of the covenant, whether set in heaven as seen by Isaiah (6:1) or Daniel (7:10), or by the beloved disciple in apocalyptic vision; or moved and pitched as the grand scheme of divine love requires, as on Sinai; is ever waited on by ministering spirits that excel in strength, in numbers without number. "I beheld and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne, and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands" (Rev. 5:11).
Finally, the grand purport or design of this occasion of divine state and dignity was no empty and transient exhibition but a high end worthy of Jehovah's interposition. "The Lord Himself now gave the word, and great was the company of those who published it" (ver. 11). In other words, He gave them now His statutes and His ordinances: He framed them now into a Church visible, compactly built together, His law the charter of their constitution and office-bearers of His own to rule over them in the Lord. Thus did He form them into a household for Himself, giving them at the same time "the law of His house," and its stewards also to give them "meat in due season." Beautiful and glorious was Israel then, as taking order at the mouth of the Lord. The defilement and degradation of Egypt vanished, and the rude uncultured mass of erewhile slaves of Pharaoh fell as by the secret virtue of the Lord's own word into the well ordered camp of Jehovah's bannered host—the priestly kingdom of His own inheritance. "Though you have lain, O Israel, among the pots, yet shall you be as the wings of a dove, covered with silver and her feathers with yellow gold" (ver. 13). Hereby they became the Lord's congregation, and He confirmed them as His inheritance when it was weary. And then, as their Head and King, as a Son over what was now His own house, He provided of His goodness for the poor of his congregation, having brought out those that were "bound with chains" (verses 6, 10). Thus did He receive gifts for them, yes, for the rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell among them.
Such was the past ascension of the Lord on Sinai and such the principles and circumstances involved in that glorious event.
II. But, secondly, the Psalm has a prospective as well as retrospective reference: it contemplates a future triumph, as well as celebrates a triumph that is past. And it is this prophetic reference which Paul opens up in the fourth chapter of Ephesians.
For there is an ascension and a conquest in Mount Zion, as well as in Mount Sinai, of which indeed the glorious pageant on Mount Sinai in the giving of the law was but the feeble type and preparation. And it is for Mount Zion, the city of the great King, that the Psalmist claims the honors he records. He will in fact bear no rival to the hill of Zion. He disdainfully sets aside every jealous hill that might emulate the claims of the mountain of the Lord's house. Bashan, especially, with all its noble ranging summits, is set aside indignantly. "The hill of God as the hill of Bashan?" No: "n high hill though the hill of Bashan be" (ver. 15). Not Bashan but "Zion is the perfection of beauty," "the joy of the whole earth." "Why do you leap"; rather, "why look you askance so jealously, you high hills? this is the hill which the Lord desires to dwell in: yesa, the Lord will dwell in it forever" (ver. 16). "For the Lord has chosen Zion: He has desired it for his habitation. This is My rest forever, here will I dwell for I have desired it." And now here also, in Zion, as on Sinai, "the chariots of the Lord are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels; the Lord is among them as in Sinai, in His holy place. You have ascended on high; You have carried captivity captive." Such are the claims of Zion; vindicated as the ark is borne up to its resting place on the holy hill.
But surely this was but the shadow of the good things to come, and neither the very image nor the body of them. The body is of Christ, as Paul himself teaches us to understand. And the ascension in view is that of our risen Lord as He entered into the holy places not made with hands. And the circumstances are singularly beautiful in their correspondence with those involved in the prior ascension on Sinai.
Thus, first, there is the preceding humiliation, the scandal whereof in all its parts is now to be wiped away. "Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?" (Eph. 4:9). Here was a descent infinitely more lowly than when the divine symbol dwelt for a little in the bush. For here was that type realized, while the fullness of the God-head tabernacled in flesh with men upon the earth. Truly now it might be said, in no symbol and in no figure: "The Lord has seen the affliction of His people and has come down to deliver them." He has come down in the likeness of sinful flesh, and He will descend even to the lower parts of the earth, to the depths of the grave; for in this deliverance He will redeem His people not by power merely but by price, giving His soul a ransom for sin; bearing our sins in His own body on the tree; making His grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death. A descent so profound as that implied in the incarnation and death and entombment of the Prince of Life must call for an ascension proportionally grand. If the condescension of the Shechinah to dwell for a little at the foot of Sinai in the heath of the wilderness, required that the glorious symbol should ascend and expand and flame out so terrifically on Sinai's summit what, when the Divine angel of the covenant in all the fullness of His Godhead dwelt in the humanity of Christ Jesus, and died and was buried—what shall the countervailing glory be in this case? Surely not to Sinai's summit, nor to any region less glorious than one far above all heavens shall our high priest proceed as He passes through the heavens to the throne of His reward. Yes, "he who descended thus into the lower parts of the earth, is the same who ascended far above all heavens that He might fill all things with Himself" (Eph. 4:10).
Farther, the attending retinue of angels are here also as before. Again "the chariots of the Lord are twenty thousand, thousands of angels," and the Lord is once more "among them as in Sinai." For, as the risen Jesus passes beyond the cloud that receives Him out of the disciples' sight, the hosts of principalities and powers, of whom in our glorified flesh He is now recognized as head, come forth to grace His entrance into the heaven of heavens; knowing that when He is come into heaven to the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers are made subject to Him, and rejoicing to acknowledge that He is made so much better than the angels as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. Professing loyalty to God manifest in the flesh, they begin their service by an impatient demand that the gates of the celestial Jerusalem admit their king. "Lift up your heads, O you gates, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors, and the king of glory shall come in." Nor are they slack in announcing His titles of conquest or defending His claim. "Who is this king of glory? The Lord strong and mighty; the Lord mighty in battle; sing to Him, for He has triumphed gloriously." But while thus His messengers are spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire, to the Son God says, while receiving Him to the right hand of the majesty on high, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever" (Ps. 24; Heb. 1). And then around that mediatorial throne the countless angels worship. "The Lord is among them as in Sinai."
Once more, observe the striking correspondence of the practical design of this ascension in its bearing on the constitution and the confirmation of the Church below. On Sinai the Lord gave the word, and great was the company of those who published it. He gave the law of his house and formed the people into a well-ordered inheritance for Himself—a house, a habitation, a temple for Himself, as it is said, "I will dwell in you, and I will walk in you, says the Lord." He gave them ordinances and rulers, and they fell beautifully into the order of a visible Church for the Lord. And does not Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, indicate the like design of the risen Lord's ascension, and the like gifts which He received and gave to the Church, framing the order of a gospel Church for Himself to fill and to dwell in, for Himself to feed and rule by servants of His own, given by the chief shepherd to the sheep? "But unto every one of us is given grace according to the gift of Christ. Wherefore He says, when He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive and gave gifts to men. And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come, in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:7, 8, 11-13). Thus marvellously do these grand incidents correspond in their great design: the constitution of the Old Testament Church being founded on the ascension on Sinai—that of the New Testament Church on the ascending, far above all heavens. Hence, in the very act of ascending, Jesus gives commandment concerning the charter and the ordinances of His Church visible on earth, saying, "Go and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe whatever I have commanded you." Nor am I removed from you by My ascension—for He ascended rather "that He might fill all things" "lo! I am with you alway even to the end of the world." "You have ascended up on high that the Lord might dwell among them." And why should we speak of the outpouring of the Spirit which Jesus, having ascended, and having received the promise of the Father, bestowed? Refreshing his inheritance with a plenteous rain, confirming the congregation of the Lord, even as without the Spirit they have neither life, nor beauty, nor order, nor holiness, nor power to lengthen their cords or strengthen their stakes, as the young gospel Church so marvelously did.
And now the only other parallel circumstance, or point of correspondence, is that to which our subject especially draws our attention, namely, that in this case also, the enemy is laid low and a triumph decreed to the conqueror and embodied and enacted in his high ascension: "You have ascended up on high, You have again led captivity captive." And who are the adversaries led in triumph at the wheels of the conqueror's chariots? To answer this requires an answer to the question, From whom did the conqueror deliver His people, when for their redemption He came down once more, yes, descended now into the lower parts of the earth? No tyrant of the human kind; no Egyptian king and his captains drowned in the waves of the Red Sea, but the original foe of the family of man, the same in reference to whom this conqueror was promised from the beginning—the serpent whose head He came to bruise. For He descended into the earth in his incarnation and was manifested in the flesh that He might destroy the works of the devil. And He descended into the lower parts of the earth, in His crucifixion and burial, in prosecution of the same purpose of His grace and judgment, when by death He destroyed him who had the power of death; that is, the devil, and delivered them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. He met the strong man armed in his house; and He spoiled him by greater strength than his; yes, by the strength of the weakness of His cross He overcame him. And He spoiled principalities and powers even in the hour of the power of the kingdom of darkness, and made a show of them openly triumphing over them in his cross.
He came down of old in the bush in the wilderness to deliver Israel from Pharaoh's captivity; and He ascended on Sinai having carried their captivity itself captive, His right hand and His holy arm having gotten Him the victory. He descended infinitely lower, not abhorring the virgin's womb, nor Bethlehem's manger, nor Calvary's cross, nor Joseph's sepulcher, that He might bruise the serpent's head and proclaim liberty to the captive, announcing a salvation procured over the defeat of all the powers of hell that had withstood it: and in his ascension He is celebrated as a triumphing Captain of Salvation, having gotten the neck of His own and the Church's foes, and now carrying captivity captive.
Such is the analogy between the two glorious ascensions—the one on which the Church in the wilderness was founded, purged from Egyptian bondage and disorder; the other to which the gospel Church traces her constitution and her office-bearers and her spiritual gifts and ordinances, obtained and enjoyed by her in the liberty wherewith Christ has made her free. For in both cases the constitution of a Visible Free Church to the Lord is the grand aim in view. In both instances, accordingly, the bondage is destroyed: in both cases captivity must be carried captive: and in both cases it is the angel of the covenant, having first descended, who ascends gloriously amidst the myriads of the heavenly host, receiving and giving gifts to His Church under its twofold dispensation—the Church in the wilderness and the Church of the fullness of times. And yet, while liberty is the grand aim secured for the Church in both cases, and while according to the bondage in each case, the corresponding captivity is carried captive, it is not difficult to decide in which of them the nature and the amount of liberty procured preponderates. In fact, although in the first case, captivity was truly carried captive, and the Church was redeemed from the bondage of Egypt, yet as compared with the rights and feelings of liberty enjoyed now by the redeemed of God in the fullness of times, those of the former dispensation were poor indeed. In reality the comparison when made becomes a contrast, even as the apostle has drawn it in his allegory to the Galatians when dissuading them from the folly and the sin of a return to the ceremonies of the law. He contrasts Mount Sinai and Mount Zion on this very point, namely, in reference to the covenants or Church constitutions which are involved in the ascensions of which these mountains were the scenes. "These," says he, "are the two covenants, the one from the Mount Sinai which genders to bondage, even as Hagar, the servant in the house, bore a son who had not the birthright and could not be accounted the heir, being not freeborn, not the child of the free and honored spouse: and this Hagar, whose child's birth is neither free nor his abiding in the house secure, is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answers to Jerusalem that now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above, Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, where still there are the innumerable company of angels, the chariots of the Lord, as of old and as ever, twenty thousand, thousands of angels—Mount Zion, which indeed is the General Assembly of the Church of the first-born whose names are written in heaven—Jerusalem which is from above—the Gospel Church, founded on the everlasting covenant, and constituted on the Lord's ascension triumph, enriched with his ascension gifts, and emancipated and redeemed by the price and the power through which He carried captivity captive; this Mount Zion, this Jerusalem which is from above, is free, and is the mother of us all. For of old, and at Sinai, the heir was a child. "Now the heir, as long as he is a child, differs nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; even so we," says Paul, "while we were children, were in bondage, under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his own Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might obtain the adoption of sons; and because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore you are no more a servant, but a son, and an heir of God through Christ" (Gal. 4:1-8).
Well, therefore, may believers now be congratulated on their greater freedom in the house of God: for though liberty was vindicated, and captivity was carried captive, when the Lord ascended on high, and his chariots were the many thousands of angels on Sinai, still vastly more spiritual, more precious and secure is the liberty wherewith Christ now makes His people free; and it is a matter of rejoicing that we are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, but unto Mount Zion, the city of the living God, unto the heavenly Jerusalem, which is free, and the mother of all those who believe. For the son of the free woman, the child of the covenant of Zion, is the heir, standing fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made him free and not entangled in the bondage or the terror of the mount that burned with fire.
But it remains to inquire what had transpired in the interval whereby Christ, the same ascending conqueror in both cases, was enabled to secure and vindicate a liberty to his Church so much greater in the fullness of times than in the ancient days in the wilderness; so vastly higher, indeed that the other has no glory by reason of the glory that excels and may rather in the contrast be called a yoke of bondage?
Why did the carrying of captivity captive on Zion secure a freedom so much more renowned than the similar triumph on Sinai?
It depended all on the depth of the descent. Corresponding to the depth of the descent in each case was the glory of the ascension, and the value of the liberty secured. And in the interval the liberty secured became infinitely more precious because the conqueror carried this second captivity captive by being Himself subjected to captivity. Himself became responsible, and surety, for His Church.
Her obligations became His. Her captivity, her bonds, became His. He submitted to her fetters in her name. "Then the band, and the captains, and the officers of the Jews took Him, and bound Him, and led Him away to Annas, and Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas." The handwriting of ordinances that doomed the Church to captivity and bondage, under Satan as her jailor and her tyrant, to whom in vengeance that broken bond and its curse abandoned her, Jesus honored, obeyed, fulfilled, exhausted. He took the handwriting of ordinances, which was contrary to us, out of the way: He answered and made it honorable. "You seek me," He said. Be it so. And they bound him. Satan looked and saw the only document whch he could plead a blank, and his plea become a lie. He saw the only chain by which he could detain the captive broken by being used to bind the surety, the only key by which he could imprison his victims, even the curse, vanished and gone, and buried in the depths of the Savior's woe. He heard the cry to the prisoners, "Go forth," and to those who sit in darkness, "Show yourselves." In helpless rage he heard the glorious call: "Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem: shake yourself from the dust, arise and sit down, O Jerusalem; loose yourself from the bands of your neck, O captive daughter of Zion: for thus says the Lord, You have sold yourselves for nothing, but you shall be redeemed without money." He heard the mighty voice, the same which said, "It is finished," proclaiming liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to those who were bound. He heard, and as he heard he ventured to reply, "Shall the prey of the mighty be taken or the lawful captive delivered?" But thus says the glorious Lord, forth from out the glory of His angel chariots and His ascension triumph: "Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered; and I will contend with those that contend with Zion, and I will save her children." And as Satan heard the call to revolt thus given to his victims, and looked to see the issue, he beheld the captive exile hastening that he might be loosed, that he should not die in the pit, nor that his bread should fail: he beheld multitudes recovering themselves from the snare of the devil who had been carried captive at his will, "multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision," choosing, rather to flee to a stronghold as prisoners of hope, inspired, as they had never hoped before to be, by a voice that spoke of liberty and a Spirit who is such that where that Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty indeed. And as he looked to see by what right and power the great Counsellor to rebellion amidst his victims prevailed to translate them from the kingdom of darkness and the bondage of corruption into God's marvelous light and into the glorious liberty of the children of God, he saw, to his eternal confusion, that the fetters which in the hour and power of darkness he had urged his agents to impose on Jesus when they led Him away as a dishonored prisoner, had satisfied and so extinguished the only bond by which he reigned a tyrant over the victims of his temptation and the handwriting of ordinances being gone, he was himself the writhing captive of the meekly captive Jesus, spoiled and triumphed over forever.
It is a scene, this captivity of our Lord, over which to grieve and mourn and weep. But in the fruit of it—in our own "most glorious liberty of the children of God" thus achieved, and in Satan's most confounding bafflement and retribution thus inflicted, it is a scene over which to smile and sing, to sing and smile again. O! to be clothed with the beauties of holiness, that as the chariots of a willing people we too may grace the triumph of the fettered substitute of sinners. Sound the loud timbrel! Go forth with your maidens, O Miriam, with timbrels and with dances; and answer them, saying: Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and His rider He has cast into the deep. And He has done it by His bonds. By means of His bonds the Captive Christ has carried captivity captive!
And now, if we had faith in the Captive Christ carrying captivity captive, might we not, in His name, compel all manner of captivities to go into captivity?
Who among us, then, is fettered by the conscious guilt of sin and the haunting spirit of bondage? Your hearts condemn you and God is greater than your hearts. Conscience tells you that an unsettled account stands over against you in the book of the Lord's remembrance; and countless offences are between you and your God, hiding His face from you, for they are not forgiven nor forgotten in reconciliation. And this sense of guilt is itself a spirit of bondage, for it straitens your heart and seals your lips in prayer; and it keeps you cold and distant and formal in your worship of the Lord: in short, it keeps you alienated and an enemy in your heart. Ah! there will be no relief from this bondage till you come in penitence and faith to Jesus. Embrace and be one with Jesus. Identify yourself with Jesus. Identify your captivity with His; and you will issue and end it in his also. You will find that His captivity, imputed to you, relieves you from captivity; emancipates you from bondage in the virtue of Christ's own bonds. He was in bonds for bond slaves that they might be free; and there is neither condemnation nor captivity to those who are in Christ Jesus.
Who among us is fettered by the power of sin? For he who commits sin is the slave of sin. Who groans as an unwilling captive under the bondage of corruption? Pleased you would be to break loose from lusts that are too strong for you and evil passions that have become your tyrants. But you are helpless in their hands. You make a truce with them now and again, but they break all terms with you, and are satisfied only when you are their slave. For "know you not that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey? if of sin, unto death." Ah! it is Christ, and the grace of Christ at once free and omnipotent that can alone meet your case. If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. For He was made under the law to redeem those who were under the law; and only as thus redeemed can you be free from the power of sin, for the curse you have entailed seals the bondage as your punishment. But come to Him who by His own bonds procured emancipation. Accept a free pardon and an immediate liberty from Him who preaches deliverance to the captive and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. Through Him, come with liberty to the throne of grace; you will find mercy there, and grace to help. And sin shall no more have dominion over you when you are not under the law but under grace.
Who among us is caught in the snare of the devil, carried captive by him at his will? Come to Him who spoiled principalities and powers by giving Satan his will and permitting Himself to be carried captive at his instigation. He will give you repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth. He will give His free Spirit to convince you of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment—of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. He will spoil the strong man for you and bruise Satan under your feet.
Who among us, "through fear of death, are all their lifetime subject to bondage"? Come to Him whose death has destroyed death, even as His captivity carried captivity captive. He will give you to know that your life is hidden with Himself in God, carried safely up with Him when He ascended on high.
Finally, who among us feel painfully "a law in our members warring against the law of our mind, and bringing us into captivity to the law of sin which is in our members," so that we cry, as the Lord is witness, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Let us "thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us bear in mind that He was bound for us, but was a captive only that He might lead captivity captive. Let us seek grace more and more that being delivered out of the hands of our enemies we may serve God in holiness and in righteousness all the days of our life. Let us wrestle against that law of sin and death that would lead us into bondage. Let us never yield, but vindicate our freedom as freely forgiven and fully justified, and unchangeably adopted children of God through the work and merit of Him who was fettered so that we might be free: and let us anticipate the time of our full deliverance into the glorious liberty of the sons of God; when Jesus shall come again and verify in its ultimate and grandest form His glorious triumph, as with His risen saints and all His angels He answers for the last time the call of Israel: "Arise, O Lord, You and the ark of Your strength: let Your enemies be scattered and let those who hate You flee before You," while once more, yes, more gloriously than ever, the chariots of the Lord shall be twenty thousand, thousands of angels, the Lord among them as on Sinai and the host of the redeemed, from all ages and dispensations shall exclaim: "O Lord, You have ascended on high; You have carried captivity captive."
THE TRIAL, THE CHARACTER OF THE JUDGE
"Now Caiaphas was he who gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people" (John 18:14).
"Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man does many miracles. If we let Him thus alone, all men will believe on Him; and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, You know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spoke he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. Then, from that day forth, they took counsel together for to put him to death" (John 11:47-53).
We have seen the Lord Jesus led away a prisoner to await His trial at the bar of the Jewish Sanhedrim. Accordingly we shall soon see the Great High Priest, the Son of God, consecrated to His office by the word of the oath, and made a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedeck, confronted with the present representative of the Levitical priesthood. The time was when that Levitical priesthood paid tithes and gave reverence to the priesthood of Melchizedeck. For Levi, being yet in the loins of Abraham, when that father of the faithful was met by the priest of the Most High God, the king of Salem, received Melchizedeck's blessing and without all contradiction acknowledged his superiority. Now, however, Levi exalts himself against Melchizedeck, or rather against Him whom Melchizedeck typified, and scruples not to sit in judgment over him.
But before we review the proceedings of the Sanhedrim, it is desirable if possible to have some idea of the character of the chief member of the court, whose influence and decision must so greatly overrule the issue. The Evangelist, indeed, invites us to this inquiry, for, on mentioning the name of Caiaphas, and indicating that it is at his bar that the captive Jesus must stand, he is careful to give us a sufficient hint of what may be expected from the bench by presenting us with a brief sketch of the judge. "Now Caiaphas was he who gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people." This is a brief sentence, but it will be found to carry in it all the elements necessary to a right view of the high priest's character. We see by it at once that as a judge he is unjust, a fearful and a summary sentence of condemnation to pass upon him, yet an inevitable one, for he scruples not to prejudicate a very solemn case, a case even of life and death and brings the prisoner to his bar to hear a foregone sentence. Caiaphas had made up his mind, before the case was tried, that the prisoner must die.
But the council chamber where this foregone decision was first agreed upon and announced presents a painfully interesting scene, and one from which we may learn not a few solemn moral principles of perpetual application, as well as gain a fuller insight into the moral character of this particular man.
The scene is drawn and the discussion is reported by this same Evangelist in the eleventh chapter, to which indeed he must be understood as referring us back when he identifies the man at whose bar Jesus is to stand with him who had already given counsel to the Jews that one man should die for the people. Let us turn, then, at John's invitation to the account he has given us of that conference or conspiracy.
And it is well worth contemplating. It is no dull affair; no commonplace meeting; it is not called for the transaction of mere routine business. On the contrary, it has been summoned eagerly and earnestly, and on the spur of a great and immediate necessity. In short the grandest of all Christ's miracles has just taken place. He has raised Lazarus from the dead—a notable miracle and undeniable, being performed in the presence of many, both friends and foes. It was never seen after this fashion in Israel, and neither the people of God nor the children of the devil can help their spirit being deeply moved.
The officials in Jerusalem are especially startled. Spies of their own come and tell them what Jesus has done (ver. 46). They have always hated Him, contested His authority, and sought to destroy His interest and reputation with the people. Jealously trembling for their own influence, and all the more as an evil conscience witnesses to their selfishness, rapacity, and unfaithfulness as guardians of the people or office-bearers in the church, they have hitherto heard with increasing dismay of the doings of one who claims to be the Messiah, and freely denounces wrath upon the "Scribes and Pharisees hypocrites." They have attempted to make Him out to be a Sabbath breaker—to be in league with Beelzebub, the prince of the devils; but His replies have confounded them. They have sent Saducees and lawyers and Pharisees to question Him and ensnare Him in His replies, but a wisdom deeper than their subtleties has always broken their toils. They have questioned Him by what authority He did these things, but a pointed question about the baptism of John has revealed their hypocrisy and silenced them. And every plan they have adopted has failed or recoiled upon themselves. When told now that Jesus has raised from the dead one who had been four days in the grave, and that many of the Jews had seen the things which Jesus did and believed, they are at their wit's end, and their enmity being still unquelled, the council that they hold in such a crisis of affairs must inevitably be distinguished by a peculiar and painful intensity or animation—presenting a very gem or study to those who take pleasure in scanning the motives of men, because affording, as it does, a favorable theater for developing the passions and displaying the characters of the actors. For they are among themselves. It is a private meeting; there is no restraint upon their freedom of speech. How the Evangelist came to be able to put the substance of their discussion on record we do not know. It may have been impossible to keep the secret where so many were possessed of it; or some of the parties present, being perhaps brought to another mind after the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, being convicted of having crucified and slain the just One, and being converted to the faith of Him whom once they persecuted, may have subsequently detailed the scenes in which they held so unprincipled a part. And in any event, believing as we do in the full inspiration of the narrative before us, we can have no difficulty in understanding how the all-seeing Spirit of God should have moved His servant to record any portion of the proceedings of any council however secret, all of which had been naked and open before Him with whom the speakers have to do. Little did they think that a divinely accurate report of their conspiracy would descend from generation to generation till the end of time. But let us bear in mind that what is spoken in the ear may be proclaimed upon the house tops, and that there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed. What a power is there in this single thought, if habitually realized, to promote our moral purity! You, God, see me.
But the Pharisees and chief priests forgot that and thought they were safe among themselves. Accordingly they speak out plainly and reveal, without mask or concealment, of what manner of spirit they are.
Their discussion takes this shape: first, the precise position of the case as they mutually understand it, is stated; the object of the meeting, in short, is announced, and the question to be submitted to them. "They said, What shall we do? For this man does many miracles. If we let him alone, all men will believe on Him, and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation." Then, secondly, a remedy or solution is offered, and it is here that Caiaphas comes out as the master spirit of this wickedness, more advanced in iniquity than the others. "You know nothing at all," says he, "nor consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should perish not."
Let us consider these two portions of the discussion in their order.
I. The case is stated. The aspect of affairs, it is agreed on all hands, is dangerous and critical in the last degree. Something must be done, and that without delay. They chide themselves, indeed, for having dallied with this danger so long. "What shall we do?" What are we about? This man does many miracles; there is no questioning and no denying that. If we let Him alone much longer, the whole nation will believe on Him, make Him a king, provoke the Romans, and ensure the destruction of the temple, of our national worship, and our national existence.
1. Now, in the first place, and at the first glance, we see their dishonesty in the very form in which the case is stated. In fact, this is not the case at all, in the form in which it ought to be brought into court. Is there no member of council honest enough to move the previous question? That previous and most momentous question is not, What must we do to prevent the Jews believing on this man, or to prevent the Romans destroying the nation? but, Is this, or is this not, the Christ? That is the question which, as honest men, were they such, they would feel themselves bound in the first instance to raise and face and settle. Settle that, and it may fairly be expected to carry in its train an adjustment of all their difficulties, scattering those that are imaginary, guiding them safely through those that are real. Leave that question unsettled and danger and evil must thicken.
It is a question they are bound to settle, for their own consciences and their own conduct they are bound to settle it. As public men and judges of the people, they are bound to settle it in order that they may cast all their official influence on the side of the Lord and His anointed, and lest they be found plotting and fighting against God. Moreover, they have the means of settling it in their hands—the Scriptures of God, those lively oracles, the possession of which is the peculiar honor of their nation. Nay, the individual Himself, so directly concerned, demands nothing more than that His claim be tried by Scripture; and this He has again and again demanded. "Search the Scriptures, for they testify of Me. If you believe Moses, you will believe on Me, for He wrote of Me." Nor can they have a moment's hesitation that the search, if sincere and sustained, will be satisfactory and conclusive. A hasty glance, indeed, may tell them nothing: the miserably short and offhand style of spirit that could say, "Search and look: for out of Galilee arises no prophet," is little likely to come to the knowledge of the truth, and rather satisfied than otherwise to remain in ignorance, is far from being in the way to learn that this man was really born in Bethlehem Ephratah, and is indeed the same whose "goings forth have been of old, from everlasting." It is an honest and unprejudiced and sustained examination which they are bound to prosecute. And the question is worth such examination, while the promise of their law is that the Lord will show them the truth. For of old it had been written for those who sit in judgment: "The judgment is God's, and the case that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it." A promise, how sure to be specially fulfilled, if sincerely pleaded, in relation to the one grand end towards which all their Scriptures and all their offices and ordinances pointed!
Mark how it concerned them to settle this question. Yes, on whatever side of the question their ultimate decision should fall, it must very greatly affect all their procedure. Jesus is either the Christ, or He is not. Take the alternatives.
1. Say, first, that He is not the Christ. They have examined and seen that His claims are false. By all means let them come to this conclusion if they can. It must be greatly to the comfort of their consciences in silencing Him. In that case it is an impostor whose claims they have set aside, a blasphemer whose crimes they have punished. And if still the Romans do come and take away their place and nation, they will have the consolation of having done their duty.
Still, it will be a difficult case to bring in all points to a satisfactory close. It will be hard, for instance, to explain why their God should give such power to a blasphemer to work "those many miracles which this man," on their own admission, "does." For, if this man is a sinner, it was at least shrewdly argued by the blind man whom He had cured: "Why, here is a marvellous thing, that you know not where He is from, and yet He has opened my eyes." These miracles must cost them some anxiety. Still, if He is not the Christ, it must be very satisfactory to know it.
Even so with the infidel, both professed and practical, who lives as if the Bible were a fable. Let him by all means prove that the Scriptures are not the word of God. He will have emancipated the best portion of the human race from a very cunningly devised fable. And though death has to come and take away his place among the living, yet he will have the consolation of having set aside a great imposture, and of having done his duty.
Still, he will have those miracles to explain. Always those miracles—both for ancient Jews and modern skeptics to digest!
2. But take the other alternative. What if this is the Christ? Ah! then, every difficulty vanishes at once. The Christ can vindicate both Himself and His people. He can make n highway in the desert and prepare His own way, either by His forerunner or by His presence. "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places made plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it." And as for the Romans, let them know themselves to be men. "The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. But you, O Zion, who brings good tidings, get up into the high mountains: O Jerusalem, who brings good tidings, lift up your voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say to the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, His arm shall rule for Him" (Isa. 40:3-10). Yes, if this is indeed the Christ, there is no need to fear the Romans. If Christ be with you, who can be against you? Nor is there any need to fear the scattering of the people. For the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come, and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be. Meantime you may accept the blessed invitation to cast away all fear of man. "Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king comes, meek and lowly." And you may well sound His praise and raise Hosannahs. "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord to save you."
How joyfully would this emancipate them from all servile fear and all painful forebodings! Why do they not seek this clear, straightforward, honest, blessed settlement of all their difficulties, and then proceed like free and fearless honest men. If this is not the Christ, by all means proceed against Him; and let them do so, not because they fear the Romans, but because He is not the Christ, and because it is their duty to punish and silence His imposture. But if He is, they need still less dread the Romans: the only thing then to dread would be lest they themselves should be tempted to fight against God.
Why, then, do they not consider whether Jesus is the Christ? Alas! the terrible truth must come out that they fear He is. They cannot face the inquiry. They are not prepared for an unprejudiced investigation, because they are not prepared to accept either alternative as the issue. And from which alternative do they shrink? Are they afraid of proving him to be not the Christ? Ah, no. They would gladly accept that solution. It falls in with all their prejudices and all their passions. It would be to them a great relief—a valuable set-off against these perplexing miracles—enabling them to proceed with still more freedom to conclude their purpose. It must be the other alternative they are afraid of. For they shrewdly suspect the demonstration would turn all the other way. They fear being confronted with a sufficient proof that He whom they hate is the Messiah. Hence they will not even raise the question. They have painful forebodings that He is, yet from the beginning they hasten indecently to state the question precisely as if He were not the Christ.
Ah! how exactly is this paralleled in the conduct of thousands every day! They will not carry their proposed schemes to the tribunal of the Scriptures, because they shrewdly dread a decision adverse to their worldly and carnal desires.
Thus we see not a little of these men's state of mind from the form in which they bring forward the matter from the first. They set aside, dishonestly, the one grand question which it behooves them to consider and substitute another in its room. Prompt action, they say, must be taken with this man. Nay, rather, a scriptural decision ought to be given concerning Him. For what if He should be the Christ?
With the bare possibility of His being the Christ (if they would not search and see) the time was at least come for that absolute neutrality which under Gamaliel's counsel they were compelled to observe at a later stage of this same drama, as the old question reappeared in the persons of this Man's followers. If they will not settle whether He is the Christ, they might at least let Him alone, believing that if He is not of God, He and all His movement will come to nothing, but if He is, as His miracles would seem to prove, then they cannot overthrow it, for they would be fighting against God. But neutrality is the very thing for which they chide themselves. The evil, as they say, is that they are doing nothing, whereas "this man does many miracles!" And their resolution is that they will let Him alone no longer. And they persuade themselves the case is such as justifies their resolution.
2. Accepting the case, then, as they have stated it—as one demanding action and not investigation—let us see on what ground they plead that action is required. "If we let Him alone the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation."
Now here the question may be asked: Were they honest in setting forth this plea? Did they really feel that this afforded sufficient reason for the adoption of prompt measures such as they desired to set in motion? Were they really satisfied that serious danger was to be apprehended from this quarter? Was it an honestly felt fear of the Romans which they now expressed? We must again take the alternatives.
1. There is not a little reason to suspect that even in this they were insincere, and that they were conscious to themselves of duplicity in affecting to dread any serious rupture with the Romans in connection with the ministry or miracles of Jesus of Nazareth. Nothing, certainly, had occurred to show that the attention of the Romans was in the least degree awakened to the matter. And probably affairs might have long gone on as they were without the Romans heeding them if they had not themselves—these high priests and elders—been the first to call for the aid and the action of the Romans against Him. We know how great aversion the Roman Governor had to deal with the case at all, and how much of the special kind of influence and argument which only wicked men can wield, they needed to bring to bear on Pilate before he could be persuaded to comply with their demands. But if this reference to what the Romans might be expected to do is insincerely pleaded by them, then behold in what a light they now stand forth! Understanding one another thoroughly—quite committed among themselves to a policy that contemplates the destruction of an innocent man—they yet shrink from realizing their sin in its baseness and nakedness. It is not as if they were pleading the case before others who would thwart them if they saw unmasked their wicked design. It is not as if they were striving to gain the concurrence of others before whom they must be very wary not to let out the secret of their pure and simple hatred to their victim. In that case we might naturally enough expect them to put some color on their crime and, masking its true nature and enormities, labor to secure, under false pretences, the acquiescence of those to whom they dare not state the case in its simplicity. It is not in circumstances like these that we find them enforcing false pleas and arguments. It is when they are assembled privately, when they can speak as plainly as they please and have nothing to fear, at least from man: it is when they are by themselves, with none to overhear and judge. But even then, such is the native character of sin, such its revolting nature, that they labor to throw a cloak of concealment over the real aspect of their crime, if by any means they can hide it from one another and themselves. They must affect a great deal of anxiety about "this place"—that is, the temple and its sacred worship; and "this nation" with its stability and liberties! They must come forth in this affair under the garb of patriotism! Had they been laboring to spread a panic among the people, this would have only indicated a hypocrisy for which Christ's denunciations of them as hypocrites would have quite prepared us. But here they come under our review, not so much in the light of hypocrites, as in that of self-deceivers, when at the bar of even their own seared consciences they feel compelled to put their iniquity upon the plea of the public good. Men never do care to see their sin remorselessly stripped bare and held up in its nakedness, in its unmingled exceeding sinfulness. As to past sin, Satan, the father of lies, willingly labors to supply them with many palliations and excuses. And as to sin still proposed and contemplated, he can serve them in that matter too with many blinds and masks and can occupy their attention and keep up their courage by engaging them in trying on these masks and pleading these arguments to themselves and one another, even while they all thoroughly understand that these masks will never fit and all these arguments will never do. It is a strange and painful thing to see how men will even hand themselves over expressly to be supplied with the means of self-deception, with some poor and pitiful plea of self-justification, where the project that conscience condemns is nevertheless resolved on, and some rag is sought to clothe its nakedness, some varnish to conceal its criminality. For what else were these men doing?
Ah! be assured sin is a mysterious thing. Beware lest you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Sin is so deceitful that it leads the sinner to seek the means of deceiving himself.
This, on the supposition that they were consciously insincere in pleading any danger that might arise from the Romans. But suppose:
2. That they honestly held that there were great apprehensions to be entertained from this quarter—that they really dreaded the advancing fame of Jesus as likely to induce the people to proclaim Him king, to revolt from under the Roman sway, and thus bring down upon them the Imperial power to their destruction. And suppose that in this fear there was more than the selfish dread of all their own comforts and advantages being lost in the breaking up of their national existence and the loss of their official positions. Put the matter in the light most favorable for their integrity. They had, we shall say, an unaffected regard for the public good and a genuine apprehension of a great public danger. But what then?
Will it mend the matter that they slay the innocent? Will they propitiate the Romans at the expense of incurring the wrath of God? What kind of policy will this be? Yet in the spirit and drift of it, it is very common policy notwithstanding. In fact, it is one of the most general forms into which the contest between good and evil shapes itself; and it reappears in every variety of circumstance and under every variety of phase again and again continually. The fear of man and the fear of God in their opposite requirements come into collision: and the fear of God is set aside. Principle and expediency demand opposite courses of action; and principle is thrown overboard. Interest pulls in one direction, while conscience points in the other; and conscience is silenced. What else is going on throughout the whole frame of worldly society daily?
Such is the course these counselors propose. The fear of man is before them; and having not the fear of God to emancipate them, they fall into the snare. Now herein was their sin whereby they magnify the power of man and treat as a shadow the Almightiness of God. The Romans are to them an object of dread. They can credit them with attributes and powers before which they tremble. But the Lord God Omnipotent, who rules supreme above all nations, they regard as such n one as themselves, one whose powers and displeasure they may fearlessly brave. The Romans have power to kill the body, and them they fear; but they fear not Him who has power to destroy both body and soul in hell. In all circumstances this is grievous sin, but especially when permitted to weigh in a case of judgment and to lead to the perversion of the right of the guiltless. For had not the Lord expressly forbidden them when sitting in judgment to allow any circumstances to make them afraid? For, says the Lord, I charged you, saying: "You shall not respect persons in judgment, but you shall hear the small as well as the great: you shall not be afraid of the face of man, for the judgment is God's; and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto Me and I will hear it" (Deut. 1:17). Let them plead that promise: let them act on that precept. Let them judge righteous judgment in the fear of God; and they shall not be afraid for the fear of man. What though the Romans come? If God is among them as they judge righteously—" a Spirit of judgment to him who sits in judgment—He will also be a strength to those who turn the battle from the gate."
For this is the first principle of all piety. I have no personal religion except as I fear God sincerely and supremely. Neither otherwise have I any safety. If I fear not God, I am exposed on every side to a thousand slaveries of men and devils. If I fear Him in truth and abide in His fear, I am before all creatures fearless and free indeed, and He whose I am and whom I serve will defend my freedom when threatened.
So ought these Jews to have argued. And their first question should have been, "Lord, what will You have us to do?" If they fear God, and if God is for them, as He always is for all those who fear Him, who then can be against them? Do they not know of those better days—those ancestral glories of "their place and their nation"—when great armies fled apace because men fearing God had prayed, saying: "O our God, will You not judge them? We have no might against this great company who comes against us, neither do we know what to do; but our eyes are upon You" (2 Chron. 20:12). And again, when against a million foes, another man of God cried: "Lord, it is nothing for You to help whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O Lord God, for we rest in You, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O Lord, let not man prevail against You." And again, when the man after God's own heart sang in dauntlessness of godly fear, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident" (Ps. 27:1-3). And truly in all cases the name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous flee into it and are safe. "Fear not, Abraham: I am your shield and your exceeding great reward" (Gen. 15:1).
But these councilors despised that shield, for they feared the Romans. They clung to expediency and abjured the demands of principle. They could trust their own views of expediency and the wisdom of their own policy to relieve them from the danger. But they neither so believed God's power as to feel that being against them it would be infinitely worse than the arms of Rome; nor
did they trust that power as able to shield and protect them, being on their side, from all adverse power whatever. They braved therefore the divine wrath that by their own hands they might defend the temple and the nation from the Romans.
Did they succeed? Is expediency better than principle? Was it better to lean to their own understanding than to trust and fear the Lord? No, the deed they now resolved on, as the price to propitiate Rome, was the very deed that brought Rome upon them in history's most terrific cruelties. "Do you not see all these things?" said Jesus to the twelve, as from Olivet they looked upon the goodly buildings of the temple. "Truly, I say to you, there shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down." Nor was that an absolutely new prediction in the Savior's lips: it was but the repetition and renewal of what Moses so long before had announced as part of the curse for disobeying the word of the Lord. "The Lord shall bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation of fierce countenance, that shall not regard the person of the old nor show favor to the young." So spoke Jesus to the twelve: and so had Moses spoken to the nation. But then, if they had believed Moses, they would have believed Jesus, for he spoke of Him. As it was, they betrayed Jesus to make Rome their friend: and the wrath of God, by the hand of Rome, came upon them to the uttermost. "The fear of the wicked, it shall come upon them": yes, their schemes of safety ripen only to make them reap destruction.
Alas! do we not see, in the high places of our own land, a fear of Rome—Rome Papal—as great as ever these Jews had of Rome imperial? And do we not see that in them too expediency is the great rule, and the question of principle is set aside habitually? And is the issue any better? Does Rome become more manageable? more quiet? Quite the contrary. Statesmen confess their disappointment, and acknowledge that the very reverse of their expectations are realized, and the evils they meant by this policy to subdue are gathering strength continually. When will they know that the same principles rule in the destinies of nations now that ruled of old, for the same God governs high above all people, and that therefore principle is the best policy? Expediency outwits itself.
And the great fear is that a Caiaphas may rise to bring matters much further on to their crisis when once they are advancing in this direction.
II. We have heard the general statement of the case on which all are agreed. We must now hear the remedy proposed. And this is the part of Caiaphas. This honor is reserved for him. Nor have we been in reality putting the high priest out of view. The iniquity we have seen already prevailing in the assembly, he is quite capable of—and more. It is he who carries the matter many steps forward and brings the whole deliberation to a point.
"You know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not."
Now this is cutting short the discussion and coming boldly to the point. This cuts the Gordian knot and summarily settles all the case. Others may half hint the necessary course, but Caiaphas has no hesitation. No half measures will do with him: he scorns those who may think so, and tells them point blank that they know nothing about it. "You know nothing at all," says he. He pities their ignorance; he makes short work of their scruples. This miracle-monger must be despatched: and why not? He is but "one man." Better that than "the nation." Such is the high priest: perfectly unscrupulous in his wickedness; reckless in the extent to which he is prepared to carry out his purpose; bold and rude in propounding and pressing it on others.
1. For, in the first place, he thoroughly understands what he is saying. When the Evangelist says, "This spoke he, not of himself, but being high priest that year he prophesied," he does not mean that Caiaphas had no meaning of his own—that he spoke unconsciously and unintentionally. The prophetic turn which his words are seen to take was altogether unintentional on his part, and he was quite unconscious that the words bore any other meaning than those he meant them to carry. But that meaning which he designed them to express, far from being doubtful, was rather all too plain. Viewing the words then in the meaning of Caiaphas, before we review their prophetic import, let us consider their place in this discussion and their bearing on the matter on hand. And,
First: it is obvious that, desperate and accursed though the high priest's proposal is—to slay the innocent—and far ahead as he has gone of anything that has yet been suggested, he proceeds on precisely the same ground as the others have all taken up already—the ground of expediency. "It is expedient," says he, "that one man die." And John, in reminding us that this Caiaphas was the same who had given out the foregone sentence against the prisoner who was about to appear before him, is careful to remember and set forth this painful word on which indeed the whole character and key of the proceeding depends: "Now Caiaphas was he who gave counsel to the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people." Hence while he goes a very great deal further than the rest seemed prepared at least to suggest, he is quite at one with them in the motive which is to guide them and the style of procedure which they must adopt. Expediency, it is agreed on all hands, must rule the day: that which is expedient must be this day decided on. They are all at one on that. And Caiaphas has no objection. He says so too. Hence, if he does go farther than more scrupulous consciences can go, still there is no gainsaying him. Who is there among those who would willingly dissent now as the real villainy of this conspiracy breaks out? Is there any among them sensitive enough to feel that matters are at last really going too far, and he hints to Caiaphas that he takes the liberty of thinking so? Alas! how easily he may be answered, and how impertinent his interruption may be shown to be. For he has already granted all on which he could have taken his stand. "You agree, do you not, that there is great danger of the Romans coming and taking away our place and nation? At least you said so this moment. You agree also that that is very undesirable; and that it is expedient that we take means to prevent it? You agree on that, do you not?" "Certainly, that is an evil by all means to be got rid of; anything rather than that." "Exactly so"; then surely "you know nothing at all" if you do not consider that it is expedient that one man die rather than that the whole nation perish. Or are you one of His disciples, and ready to back Him though the whole nation perish?" So might some sensitive and restive conscience have been bullied and silenced, and taught to feel that it had already resigned all right to object or to protest as soon as the doctrine of expediency was granted.
And hence, secondly, there was no way open for retreat to any who were now alarmed at the serious turn which the matter was taking, except by taking up at once the ground of principle, and demanding a full and fair investigation of the case in the light of Scripture. Where was Nicodemus? He had formerly taken this style of protestation against them when he said, "Does our law judge any man, before it hears him, and knows what he does?" In all probability they have learned by this time to dread his presence, while he has less sympathy with them and their councils than ever and hates and shuns them. But we feel that had he been present this would have been the style in which he would have at once objected. And so must anyone frame his objection who would escape from the toils in which the snare of expediency has caught him. There is no other help for it but abandon the whole principle in which you are one with those that would lead you farther than your conscience can go. You must raise the question and hold to it: Is this, or is this not, the Christ? Demand the settlement of that and you are safe. Rest the whole on the point of high principle and Scripture. Caiaphas for very shame cannot come out as a denier of the Scriptures, as a professed infidel. Caiaphas! "Do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe them." Press him there and you are safe. But if you yield that, you yield all; for if he goes a little farther than you, or even very much, still it is all in the same style and track, and the argument that is good for you is good for him also against you when silencing your scruples and your fears. Be disciples of expediency, and Caiaphas is quite your master. Take up the ground of clear and thorough principle and then you are proof against him. Perhaps you may even convince him and thus gain your brother. At least you will deliver your own soul.
And, then, as to the Romans? "Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." Nor are glorious promises and precedents lacking. "If a man's ways please the Lord He can make even his enemies to be at peace with him." "In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence, and the righteous shall have a place of refuge." And in any event, the sublime defiance of the Hebrew children is part of that word which lives and abides forever: "Our God is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hands, O king."
2. The words of Caiaphas are also the words of the Spirit; and in that view they are holy in their importance and prophetic in their meaning. And what a startling transition we make from the accursed blasphemy of the man to the holy prediction of the Lord—couched, both of them, in the same words and in the same one utterance of these words!
How wonderful is God's work! Yes, even when it falls into closest contact with the pollution of man's sin, God's work is honorable and glorious and His righteousness endures forever. Truly He makes the wrath of man to praise Him. Nor is this the first time that unwilling lips have been made instrumental in uttering for God the holy and blessed things which He would announce to men. Balaam comes to curse Israel, but his mouth is filled with blessing; yes, and declares that blessing unchangeable, the gift of God and without repentance.
God is not a man that He should lie nor the son of man that He should repent; has He said and shall He not do it? or has He spoken and shall He not make it good? Behold I have received commandment to bless; and He has blessed and I cannot reverse it. He has not beheld iniquity in Jacob, nor seen perverseness in Israel. Yes this is the true blessing; the non-imputation of iniquity. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes not his sin. But on what grounds can such a blessing be conveyed? Caiaphas will himself supply the ground of the blessing which Balaam uttered. He will tell us that it is the imputation of sin to Christ, the substitute, that relieves and redeems the Israel of God. For in this light and in this view his blasphemous proposal was made not of himself, "but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation." Comes then this blessedness, which Balaam announced upon the circumcision on "that nation" only? No, again Caiaphas will teach us: "And not for that nation only, but also that He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad."
A true substitute and sacrifice and high priest, therefore, Caiaphas in this amazing statement now announces: a statement, as clothing the Spirit's meaning, profoundly grand in proportion to the very baseness and atrocity of the meaning intended by Caiaphas. Nor is it of little moment to observe that it is Caiaphas, the high priest, whose lips the Spirit thus used to speak his prophecy. For evidently the Scripture lays stress on the point that this prophetic sense of his words was in connection with his priestly office as much as on the point that this prophetic sense was not meant by him personally. "This said he, not of himself, but being high priest that year he prophesied." Being high priest that year when Jesus is rejected by Levi's priesthood, it is right that the high priest, if he rejects the Eternal Priesthood of Jesus, shall do so in words which the Spirit overrules to announce and confirm that very priesthood. Yes, glorious, we again repeat and honorable is the work of the Lord! The final rejection of Christ's priesthood is in language that accurately describes and predicts and seals it! Nor might this be without an interesting bearing on the moral discipline which the parties present were secretly subjected to and their ultimate responsibility at the bar of judgment. For,
1. Are there any present hesitating about this murderous design, unwilling to commit themselves to a deed so black? And then it may be Messiah after all! Hark! the high priest tells "he must die for the nation." So spoke the Lord by the mouth of Daniel. "He must be cut off, but not for Himself." May it not be He? Good ground has the hesitating councillor to pause, to tremble, to draw back before it be too late.
2. Are there none who hesitate? Are they all bold in wickedness? Still it is not without a meaning that "a prophet of the Lord has been among them," and he has spoken words which, were they less resolved on sinning and less blinded by the power of sin, might have settled all their difficulties and constrained and taught them to recognize the Christ. They may little think of it now, but they have, nevertheless, the greater sin: and the time will come when they shall know that the spirit of prophecy, in the hour of their dark iniquity, spoke words among them by which they and all their house might have been saved. Eternal judgments may be expected to disclose not a few such wonderful conjunctures when God brought some of his most holy and amazing efforts to enlighten and rescue transgressors into the closest connection with the very crisis of their sin! And terrific aggravations of eternal misery may result from revelations that shall show how very strongly great tides of divine light and salvation were beating on the blind sinner's soul. While, in like manner, may not the redeemed expect disclosures that shall carry up their gratitude and admiration to the loftiest heights of rapture as they see in heaven how that all the paths of the Lord were mercy and truth and love and wisdom quite unsearchable?
From among the various important principles that have come under our notice let the two following exhortations be deduced and enforced.
Beware of ungodly fears and beware of ungodly fellowships.
I. Beware of ungodly fears. The fear of man brings a snare. Fully half of the lies that are uttered on the earth are dictated by ungodly fear; and fully half the deeds of unrighteousness are prompted by some ungodly fear. Men will not fear God, and therefore they must frequently be at the mercy of ungodly fear. For men are not self-sufficient gods, quite able to manage themselves; or independent sovereigns that can manage all adverse powers and circumstances: they are but men. And a good lesson it is to learn what this means. Let me learn my weakness and let me fall back upon God as my rock. Let me fear Him and inquire, "Lord, what will You have me to do?" Then I need never fear another. "The righteous is bold as a lion, and he who has clean hands shall grow stronger and stronger." Be thus in the fear of the Lord; and there is no lack to those who fear Him. There is no divination against Israel. Can you not trust the All-mighty, the All-wise, to protect you from all evil? Oh! let the young attend to this. Natural enough it is that you should love life and desire to see good days. But hear the word of the Lord as to how alone this wish can be gratified. "For he who will love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips that they speak no guile; let him shun evil and do good: let him seek peace and ensue it; for the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. But who is he who will harm you if you are followers of that which is good?" Yes; who can harm you, if you do that which is good; if you speak the truth, and live righteously, and do justly, and love mercy, and keep yourselves unspotted from the world, maintaining a conscience void of offence towards God and man? And then, if danger and a snare should threaten, beware of the temptation to unbelief. The Lord is your refuge, and He is with you while you be with Him. Though no man should stand with you, howbeit the Lord will stand with you and strengthen you, and will deliver you out of the mouth of the lion; yes, and He will deliver you from every evil work and preserve you to His heavenly kingdom. But if you will not believe and fear the Lord, then surely you shall not be established. The evil that you fear, it shall come upon you. The loss that you took sinful measures to prevent shall be the very thing that shall come upon you. God's providence is engaged daily in proving it. The lack which you took unrighteous steps to ward off shall fall on you as an armed man. The fellow-creature whose frown you evaded, or whose favor you bought, at the price of sin, shall be he of all others who shall vex and betray you. And you will find in the end that to depart from the fear of God for the fear of creatures, is to be the enemy of the Creator and the slave and victim of the creature all in one. Saul forces himself against his duty to offer sacrifice, and waits not for Samuel because he sees the people departing from him, and he fears the loss of the kingdom: Samuel comes and announces that because of this wickedness the kingdom is taken from him. The Jews betray Christ for fear of the Romans: the Romans drive the ploughshare over Zion and the temple site.
My son, know the God of your fathers, and fear Him continually and serve Him with a perfect heart. He is no hard taskmaster. "He executes lovingkindness and judgment and righteousness in the earth." His own Eternal Son died for sinners to gather together the dispersed of Israel and make them one in the favor and love and fear of the Lord. His blood cleanses from all sin, and He sees no iniquity in those who believe. Receive His promise and make that blessedness yours; and be free thereby forever from the fear that beings a snare.
II. For, secondly, ungodly fellowship often brings the very snare by which ungodly fear is punished. Your companion in sin may soon ensnare you and tempt you much farther forward in iniquity. Caiaphas makes his compeers villains; and they have no power to resile. This, of course, you never mean to be. But the question is not what you mean for yourself, but what those sinners may mean for you with whom you are really at one if the fear of God is not before your eyes, or, rather, the question is what the devil means for you: for he is a liar and murderer from the beginning. He will lead you on and on, till you despair of ever retracing your steps. He will flatter first, and then defy you. For it always comes to this, that the friendship of the world tends onward and onward to the thorough proof that it is enmity to God. And there is no safety but in breaking with all its principles. Is this the Christ or not? To the law and to the testimony! Is this conduct you invite me to join you in, such that it will stand the test of Scripture? If you scorn the Scriptures, I see at once with whom I have to do, and I am done with you. "Depart from me, you evil doers, for I purpose to keep the commandments of my God."
Yes, and then you shall be as a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth his fruit in his season, and his leaf shall not wither, and all that you do shall prosper. The wicked are not so. Caiaphas was deposed from the priesthood within three years by the Roman Governor! The thing that he feared came upon him. His "place" was "taken away." For "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree: yet he passed, and lo! he was not: yes, I sought him, but he could not be found" (Ps. 37:35, 36).
THE TRIAL, "GIVEN YOU IN THAT SAME HOUR"
"The high priest then asked Jesus of His disciples, and of His doctrine. Jesus answered him, I spoke openly to the world; I always taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, where the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. Why do you ask Me? ask those who heard Me, what I have said to them: behold, they know what I said. And when He had thus spoken, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Do you answer the high priest like that? Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you smite Me?" (John 18:19-23).
"And as soon as it was day, the elders of the people, and the chief priests, and the scribes, came together, and led Him into their council, Saying, Are You the Christ? tell us. And He said to them, If I tell you, you will not believe and if I also ask you, you will not answer Me, nor let Me go" (Luke 22:66-68).
At an early period of his ministry, Jesus, in predicting to His disciples the trials that awaited them as the witness of His truth to the world, comforted them in the prospect of having to maintain their testimony in the presence of kings and rulers by the promise: "It shall be given you in that same hour what you shall speak. For it is not you who speaks, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you." This promise He seems to have substantially repeated on another occasion, when announcing, namely, the destruction of Jerusalem and the persecutions that should precede that event. "I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay or resist."
In almost literal conformity with this promise, and in evident fulfillment of it, we read of Stephen that his enemies "were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which He spoke." In like manner of Peter and John it is recorded that the manner in which they acquitted themselves before their enemies called forth the greatest astonishment, with such precision, wisdom, and courage did they speak. For "when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled."
Nor is it an ordinary blessing to be enabled to stand before able and malicious and powerful foes and bear the ark or cause or truth of God through the perils to which in such an hour it is exposed. For aid in such an hour Paul gives special thanks, celebrating the remembrance thereof as a mercy not inferior to the prophet's escape from the den of the lions; for when he stood before Nero, "At my first answer," says he, "no man stood with me, but all men forsook me"—even as with his Master now, for when Jesus was arrested "all the disciples forsook him and fled " (Matt. 26:56): "I pray God," continues the forgiving apostle, similar here in spirit as well as in destiny to the Master, who cried, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do"—"I pray God," says Paul, "that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that the Gentiles might hear; and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion" (2 Tim. 4:16, 17).
This blessing was sought from the Lord by holy men of old, as well as promised to apostles. "Lead me, O Lord, in Your righteousness because of my enemies: make Your way straight before my face" (Ps. 5:8). "Teach me Your way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path because of my enemies. Deliver me not over to the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses have risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty" (Ps. 27:11, 12).
To be enabled to possess your soul in patience; to give to everyone, even an enemy, a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; to walk safely amidst the snares that are set for you, and the efforts made to entangle you in your speech; to bear bravely the contemptuous sneer of rude and worldly men; and withal to rebuke their enmity to God without seeking to revenge their enmity to you; to know when to be silent and when to speak; and to have your speech in all things with grace seasoned with salt—thus to conduct yourself before the enemies of true and vital Christianity, so as to give them no just handle against you, and no ground of triumph over you; yielding to them no hair's-breadth of truth or righteousness, and carrying Christ's cause in your hands, and bearing it safely through, with no just stain or imputation thrown upon it for your sake—thus to have your way made straight before your face: made plain because of your enemies, is a blessing truly, which when experienced may well confirm you in your confidence in the faithfulness of God and in your joyful belief that the Lord is indeed upon your side.
Be it observed, however, that this, as all blessings, is conferred on you in Christ. You can look for it only as one whom God has "called into the fellowship of His Son." When you enjoy it, you enjoy it in common with Christ. It is something which you share with Him. It is something which He shares with you. Yes, it is something which, in its perfection and preeminence as experienced by Him, transcends everything you can experience, for "in all things it behooved Him to have the preeminence."
In his case, therefore, when called before rulers who were taking counsel against the Lord and His anointed, we may look for the preeminent and sublime accomplishment of the promise given to the Church—given to the living Head of the Church, as proprietor and possessor in her name of all promises and all blessings: the promise, namely, that in the presence of kings and rulers a mouth and wisdom irresistible should be given them: themselves not speaking, but the Spirit of their Father. For as in all respects and to all ends the Spirit is given to every believer and servant and witness of Christ according to the measure of the gift of Christ, so to Christ Himself was that Spirit given without measure. Now that Spirit, speaking in measure in Peter, in John, in Stephen, in Paul, as a Spirit of wisdom and council against the wiles of enemies, is to be traced in the same forth-putting of his light and meekness and wisdom, but in highest manifestation and in the most transcendent illustrious instance, when the Head himself, the elder brother, made in all things like His brethren, that He might enter by personal knowledge and sympathy into all their sorrows, stands arrested and arraigned before the tribunals of the wicked.
Surely we may look—may we not?—for a conspicuous display of the Spirit's wisdom in the Savior's procedure? Yet not such wisdom as forces itself upon our notice: rather that which invites but abundantly repays our search into it; which, however, we appreciate aright only by the teaching of the same Spirit through whom He spoke; and who can cause us to set our seal to Christ's own declaration: "All the words of My mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them."
Let us trace, then, in this trial before Caiaphas the successive and separate draughts made on the wisdom of Christ as well as His meekness; separate and successive opportunities for Jesus to display, by speech or silence, as the meekness of wisdom might require, His own supreme and immeasurable interest in the promise which He gave to his apostles. His power to give them a mouth and wisdom is to be tested by His own experimental need in the days of His flesh, and His unlimited possession of what He professed His ability and design to confer.
I. It seems evident, or at least probable, that before the formal assembling of the Sanhedrim, Jesus was questioned and examined by Caiaphas in the presence merely of some of the retinue or officers of his household. Captured at midnight and led away bound first to Annas, He seems to have been detained by him but briefly, being speedily sent forward to Caiaphas, his son-in-law. His arrival at the high priest's palace, while it was still dark, was doubtless the signal for transmitting to the scribes and elders and those of the chief priests who had not assisted at our Lord's arrest (Luke 22:52) a summons to attend the Sanhedrim immediately. The day, however, had already begun to dawn before, even with all their good will to the evil work, these councilors could be got together, consisting, as the court did, of about seventy members, the original number of elders chosen by Moses in the wilderness (Num. 11:16). Thus Luke tells us that "as soon as it was day the elders of the people and the chief priests and the scribes came together and led Him into the council." It was during this interval between Christ's arrival at the palace and the assembling of the council that the denial on the part of Peter took place—an interval of some considerable time, as is obvious from the fact that an entire hour intervened between Peter's second and his third denial (Luke 22:59). In all probability, also, it was during this interval that the high priest, as recorded by John, questioned Jesus "of His disciples and His doctrine." For the three evangelists record what took place after the Sanhedrim had met, and John professes, in what is narrative or historical in his gospel, chiefly to supply additional information. It will accord well with this, therefore, to suppose that while waiting the arrival of his compeers, the high priest attempts a sort of preliminary or semi-official precognition of the case. Thus, also, we may account more easily for the fact that an officer should strike the prisoner, which could scarcely occur in presence of the regularly constituted court.
How passing wonderful the scene! It is yet dark, and messengers are scouring Jerusalem to summon hastily together a tribunal to arraign and condemn the Prince of Life. Meantime the prisoner, with unexampled meekness, forsaken of all His friends, except one who has followed to be no honor, no aid to him, but a disgrace and grief, awaits the assembling of His foes. Seated, probably, or left without the comfort of a seat, standing on the gallery overlooking the court or quadrangle where the soldiers have made a fire—and Peter stands with them warming himself—the blessed Savior has opportunity to watch the conduct and overhear the words of His faithless and falling disciple; and is prepared immediately to seize the instant of the third denial, and the cock-crowing, to catch that disciple's eye and pierce his heart with the look of righteous reprimand and faithful, injured, yet eternal love.
Here, also, with the underlings of Caiaphas surrounding him, ready to chime in with their master's words and anticipate or outstrip their master's wishes, Jesus is subjected to the beginning of His insulting cross-examinations and His inexpressible indignities.
"The high priest then asked Jesus of His disciples and of His doctrine."
Shall Jesus answer or shall He be silent? There is a time to speak and a time to be silent; and no small part of the divine wisdom exhibited by Jesus on this occasion is seen in His choosing when to speak and when to refuse to speak.
On this occasion Jesus will speak. He will clear at least His "doctrine" and His public ministry from every imputation. Of His "disciples," indeed, concerning whom Caiaphas asks Him, He may say little. Alas! at this moment there is little that He can say on their behalf. They have forsaken Him and fled. One of them, within earshot, is almost now abjuring Him with oaths and curses. At the bar of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest, Jesus prefers being silent concerning His disciples. At another bar, His Father's throne, Himself their high priest there, He prefers to plead their cause: there He can announce their excellencies, their graces, their love to Himself, hiding all their faults and procuring forgiveness for them all (John 17:6, 8, 19). But before the bar of Caiaphas, if He cannot commend them, He will not compromise them. Of his disciples He is silent. But of His doctrine He may speak with all freedom; nay, considering the insinuations that Caiaphas would throw upon it, He may speak with some indignation. For the high priest would evidently insinuate that He had some doctrine to propagate different from and opposed to the truth and Scriptures of God as in the hands and keeping of his nation. Caiaphas speaks of His doctrine with affected contempt or affected jealousy, or fear, or condemnation as if He were some vain babbler or a setter forth of strange gods, or a vender of secret and seducing doctrines.
Should Jesus permit any such imputation to lie upon His teaching and His ministry? It is clear He should not. He is bound to vindicate the piety and publicity, the honor and the holiness of His doctrine. He has never had any doctrine or any design to conceal. He has never had any scheme in hand which secrecy could promote. Nay, while Caiaphas would insinuate a charge of secrecy, he well knows that it is not secrecy but publicity that has awakened his own jealousy and hatred. "If we let this man alone, all men will believe on Him." It is the publicity of Jesus' doctrine that he dreads. It is its publicity that Jesus had sought, and still desires, and is prepared not merely to avow but to glory in. Jesus answered him, "I spoke openly to the world; I always taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, where the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who heard Me what I have said to them: Behold, they know what I have said."
Such is the warm and almost indignant reply and reproof which Jesus returns when questioned of His disciples and of His doctrine. His doctrine has been the truth. As He subsequently avows to Pilate, He has come into the world to bear witness of the truth. Now the truth covets the light and shuns concealment. He had spoken the truth freely, boldly, openly. He had not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God. He had kept back nothing that was profitable. To the meek and the poor and the contrite He had preached remission of sins and peace with God. The Spirit of the Lord God being upon Him, He had proclaimed liberty to the captive and the opening of the prison to those who were bound. When in other towns He had gone into their synagogues, as at Nazareth and Capernaum, and as indeed His custom was, and had taught publicly, His word being with power, and the people being astonished at His doctrine. When in Jerusalem, the temple itself, even from the beginning, had been the place where He delivered His lessons of mercy to the humble and of wrath and damnation to the proud and lofty-minded Pharisee. There, where the Jews all resorted, and even in the last and great day of the feast, "He stood in the midst and cried aloud, If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink." For, as to disciples, this was His method of adding to their number. He had, it is true, a small band of more intimate followers—a circle of personal friends. With them, indeed, He spoke oftentimes of His doctrine more freely, with more ease and fullness, than when speaking to the multitude. But even then it was the same doctrines He dwelt upon more fully, the same parables He opened up more fully, the same precepts He enjoined with the greater force and tenderness of a more personal or family affection. But secret disciples, secretly seduced and instigated, He had none. For when on one occasion, while talking to the people, it was announced to Him that His mother and brethren stood without, desiring to speak with Him, "Who," said He, "is My mother and My brethren?" Who are My most intimate and chosen friends? "And He stretched forth His hands and said, Behold My mother and My brethren! For whoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother and sister and mother."
Yes, His doctrine had been openly delivered; nor had any man been entrapped or seduced into discipleship. Ask those who heard Him what He said to them. Ask the officers whom you sent to apprehend Him, and who returned saying, "Never man spoke like this man." They know what He said to them.
Thus Jesus in this instance speaks out. And rightly so, vindicating His doctrine from every imputation. It was neither secret, nor seductive—neither secretly delivered, nor seductive in its tendency. In itself it courts investigation and the light. Followers He sought only publicly and through conviction. It was right there should be no mistake here—that Jesus should speak out; that He should make this point clear. It was necessary that His condemnation, when it did take place, should be seen to rest on other grounds altogether: that there should not be the shadow of a reason to assert that He suffered as a secret and seductive false teacher. He had not by cunning craftiness lain in wait to deceive His followers or hearers and the very breath of such suspicion or insinuation must not light upon His name even when He is dishonored as a captive and a criminal. On other grounds altogether must He be set forth as being condemned. Condemned He is to be, and He knows He is to be. But He shall have the right charge brought forth; that for which though false He is willing to suffer, for which He glories to suffer. Therefore the imputation on His doctrine must be repelled. He must go forward to His sufferings, not only clear, but seen to be clear, from this charge. Even when dying a sacrifice and offering, "made sin for us," with our iniquities made to meet upon him, and thereby "innumerable evils compassing Him about," even then it is under protest that His ministry of truth has been honorable and glorious. "I have preached righteousness in the great congregation; lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, you know: I have not hid Your righteousness within My heart: I have declared Your faithfulness and Your salvation: I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth from the great congregation" (Ps. 40:6, 12, 9, 10). "I always spoke openly."
Thus He will allow no shadow to obscure, no stain to alight upon His doctrine or His ministry. And be it observed, His defense is not only satisfactory and sufficient in point of right and truth: it is in point of fact effective. The charge is brought against Him no more. It is not as a secret and false teacher that He is put to death. He compels His condemnation to be put on other grounds, such as He chooses to refrain from contesting. Hence the wisdom of Jesus in not allowing this to pass in silence.
II. But soon as He has thus repelled the high priest's insinuation, galled by the truth of this unanswerable and final reply, one of the underlings of the household, with mean subservience to his master and in professed support of his dignity, "struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Do You answer the high priest like this?"
What is the line of wisdom and the path of duty now? Ought our blessed Lord now to be silent? Ought this blow to be borne with no remark? Or if Jesus shall speak, what shall be the principle or precise object that He will have in view in doing so?
Evidently this blow is to be meekly borne; and so Jesus bears it. "When He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not." But meekness does not always mean silence. The meekness required is the meekness of wisdom; and to be silent is often an easy wisdom compared with the wisdom of speaking precisely the very word, the word in season, whether to him who is weary or to him who is wicked. There is in some circles a demand for a meekness which is not the meekness of wisdom, and for a charity which is not the charity of true love. By all means let injury be borne without wrath; but should injury always be borne without rebuke? Should not Christian meekness and Godlike charity be like God's own word, "profitable for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness"? Let there be all long-suffering indeed: yet let the full injunction be remembered: "Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering." Ah! the real difficulty is not always to keep silence. One may keep silence and muse in hot revenge, or keep silence in senseless mental indolence or imbecility. Either of these requires little wisdom and little self-restraint. But keenly to feel the injury and quietly to bear it, and yet to this to add the other duty—and perform it well, not wrathfully but righteously, not revengefully but lovingly—the other duty of pointing out the offender's sin and seeking to enlighten his mind, awaken his conscience, and touch and melt his heart in reference to it; here is the difficulty—needing the wisdom of meekness and the charity of love. "Let them alone" is the frequent cry when the invaders of Christ's honor, in respect of His truth and His Church, are exposed, rebuked, reproved by those who are set for the defense of the gospel. Let them alone! Is that charity? Christ did not mean that for charity when He spoke it of the Pharisees—"Let them alone, they are blind leaders of the blind." It was not said in love. It was not meant for love. It was spoken and meant as doom, abandonment, damnation. "Ephraim is joined to his idols, let him alone." Has not that the sound of awful wrath? If a man is to be let alone—if it is right He should be let alone—be it so. Only let it not be under pretence of charity or meekness: it is righteous abandonment, relinquishing all effort for his salvation.
Thus, some might think Jesus would have displayed greater meekness by bearing this blow in silence. For Himself Jesus could easily have done so. For the offender's sake He expostulated on his injustice: He revealed to him his sin. Jesus answered him, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you smite Me?" If I have spoken evil, let it come into judgment against Me: I am already a prisoner; you will have the opportunity immediately of pleading against Me, of securing all the ends and claims of justice. Meantime, abstain from rude, unrighteous, cowardly violence. This, even if I have spoken evil. But if I have spoken well, how much more are you unrighteous in smiting me!
Thus Jesus testified in meekness and in love to the understanding and the conscience of his rude assailant. An inconsiderable and thoughtless subordinate, he might have been hitherto carried away unthinkingly, in the wake of his superiors' indignation, against one concerning whom he had heard many a slander. An effort, therefore, for his good might yet be tried as far from hopeless. With this view, far more than to vindicate himself, Jesus spoke. And who shall tell the influence which that calm and kind rebuke may have had? Who shall say but it may have lain in the mind till after the whole issues had transpired, and then germinated in convictions which may have ended in his conversion to the faith and his casting in his lot with those who "abode in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread"? And if so, how blessed the result of this meekness of wisdom that was not silent! But, in any event, an effort was made to reprove, correct, and rescue a soul from sin. And the word could not return void. Meantime, Jesus, as He had done His duty by His public doctrine and ministry in vindicating them from misrepresentation, now discharges himself of a solemn responsibility devolving both on public ministers and private servants of God—the duty of rebuke, not suffering sin upon another. "For the servant of the Lord," as Jesus was preeminently, "must not strive but be gentle to all men, able to teach, patient: in meekness instructing those who oppose themselves if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will" (2Tim. 2:24-26).
Thus hitherto Jesus has walked in a plain path because of His enemies.
III. We turn now, thirdly, to the account given by Luke, which properly comes in here. For by this time the summoned councilors are assembled, and they lead the way to the council chamber, more regularly and formally sisting the prisoner before them.
"And as soon as it was day the elders of the people and the chief priests and the scribes came together and led Him into their council, saying, Are You the Christ? Tell us."
What is the dictate of wisdom now? Will Jesus answer at this call? or will He be silent? Or if He speaks, will He give them the satisfaction they desire? No, He will refuse to answer their question. But He will give them His reason for refusing. "And He said to them, If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I also ask you, you will not answer Me nor let Me go." What bold resoluteness in sin, what hardenedness of heart does this charge bring home upon them! Jesus refuses to instruct them on the ground of their deep dishonesty of purpose. To the officer who struck him Jesus could reply in terms fitted to enlighten his mind and touch his heart. He was not hopelessly given over to a reprobate mind. He was a very secondary and subordinate actor, swept along, probably, in his judgment and feelings by the opinions and sentiments of his superiors, to whom, perhaps, as the authorities in such a case, he resigned the decision, content for his part simply to acquiesce with them. He did it very much in thoughtlessness, deeply misled by those he might naturally think in such a point his rightful guides. For him, therefore, Jesus had pity in store. With him, Jesus could kindly expostulate and remonstrate to show him his error and his sin. What he did, he did very much like Saul, ignorantly and in unbelief, and Christ's patience and divine mercy might tarry for him and teach him the truth.
But these chief priests and scribes and elders, they are the prime movers in this great evil. They are not carried away by the opinion or example of superiors; nor by the undue influence which a position of servitude might exert, tending to carry them blindly along with their masters. Neither have they any desire to learn the truth by this question which they put. They do not mean to believe Jesus if he confess himself the Christ. If He tells them, they will not believe; and if He asks them, they will not answer. If He questions them, they will act as they did regarding the baptism of John. They would not say it was from heaven, for then were John a heaven-inspired guide to bear witness of Jesus, and His Messiahship in that case must be acknowledged. Neither would they say his baptism or mission was of men; for they feared the people because all men regarded John as a prophet. If Jesus asks them, they will not answer. Neither will they let Jesus go. They had seized Him in the last resort. They were resolved no more to be delayed in their design of removing Him. And their question could not have come from hearts more averse from learning the truth, or more fully set in them to do evil.
With such men, therefore, Jesus refuses to plead His claims; refuses even, at least at this stage, to assert them. He will not so much as tell them that He is the Christ. Thus truth is refused to the deceitful and insincere inquirer, even as prayer is not answered when coming from a heart which regards iniquity. "The secret of the Lord is with those who fear him, and He will show them His covenant."
Does the poor guilty woman of Samaria anticipate with pleasure the coming of the Christ because He will give instruction in the worship of God: "When the Messiah, which is called Christ, comes, He will tell us all things"? To her Jesus is prepared to reveal Himself as the Christ. "Jesus said to her, I who speak to you am He."
Is the man born blind, whom Jesus has cured and the authorities have cast out, earnestly desirous of believing on the Son of God? Is he craving an object of faith and confidence and love? so that when the question is put to him, "Do you believe on the Son of God?" he is prepared to reply, as one who is ready and longing to believe, "Who is He, Lord, that I might believe on Him?" To him also Jesus is prepared to reveal Himself. "Jesus said to him, You have both seen Him and it is He who talks with you."
Are you, like him, eagerly craving an object of faith; ready, inclined, desirous to believe? And do you seek a view of the Son of God in His grace and glory so that you may believe on Him? Are you, like that woman at the well, desirous of the instruction which the Christ can give concerning the worship of the Father in spirit and in truth; and desirous of that introduction to the Father in righteousness and peace which the Christ, the advocate, alone can give so that you may really worship Him in confidence and cordiality, and walk with Him humbly and holily as your God? Then doubt not but Christ will reveal Himself to you. Doubt not but Christ is even now more ready, inclined, and desirous to disclose Himself—to remove all veils, all embarrassment, all ignorance, and disclose to you His person, His presence, His office, His love; more ready, more willing far than you are to receive the gracious revelation. But are you an undecided, insincere, formal worshipper of God? not earnestly inquiring about the Christ and the claims which Christ puts in for all your faith in Him as the only priest: your docility to Him as the only prophet; your obedience to Him as the only king? Do you wait on God's ordinances from mere custom, from regard to character, from motives inconsistent with a supreme fear of God and desire to worship Him in spirit and in truth: apparently listening to the claims and truth of Christ; apparently asking instruction in the sanctuary; apparently inquiring Who is the Christ? who is the Savior? what is the way of salvation and life? and yet with no desire to embrace the Christ who is preached to you and the salvation which He came to preach?
Then to you ordinances shall be useless and worse. From you Jesus will withhold those disclosures of His Messiahship which He gives to the sincere and single-minded, to the poor and contrite in heart. For if He tells you, you will not believe on Him any more than before. And if He asks you, you will not answer Him. You will neither believe on Him as the Christ, claiming to give you a salvation ordered in all things and sure; claiming, therefore, to receive literally a first and commanding place in your affections. Nor when He demands your submission to Him will you answer. You will come to no conclusion, holding, if possible, both with God and Mammon—serving, if possible, both Christ and the world. You will neither believe Him when He answers all those questions which the anxious soul must put, as when the cry is, "What must I do to be saved?" or, "How shall man be just with God his maker?" Nor will you answer Him when He questions you as when pointing to the unrecompensing character of your worldly career He asks, "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not profit?" or as when pointing to the unprepared for close of that career He asks, "What will you do in the swellings of Jordan?" If He tells you, you will not believe; and if He asks you, you will not answer. Neither will you let Him go. Pilate—heathen Pilate—would let Christ go: not so the members of the Jewish Sanhedrim. Infidels, professed infidels, let Christ and His religion go: not so professing, mere professing, dead members of the Christian Church. If you still believe not on Jesus and yet seek to hold by His ordinances and His Church and truth, He has cause to complain that you will not let Him go. You will neither receive Him as the Christ, nor will you let Him go. They would not let Him go till they had crucified Him. You will not let Him go till, by your hypocritical and unholy profession, you crucify Him afresh and put Him to an open shame.
Give up this method of torturing Christ in the person of His truth and cause. "Let Him go" if you will not honestly and honorably receive Him. Be done with Him, and with all profession of His name, or else, having named the name of Christ, depart from all iniquity. Let His ordinances alone, or else wait upon them in the fear of God and with solemn desire for His blessing. Attend no more on a preached gospel, or else be not hearers only but doers of the word. In one word, choose whom you will serve and halt no more between two opinions. If He whose word is now spoken to you in His name is not the Christ, have done with it, and with Him, with His house and servants, with His word and ordinances altogether. "Let Him go." But if He on whose claims you are called to decide is the Christ; if there really is a Christ, a Savior, a witness of the truth, a messenger from heaven, a priest and king upon His throne in Zion; and if it is in His name, as the name of the Prince of Peace, that you are summoned to surrender that He may save you from all your iniquities and sanctify you for all His service: that He may freely forgive you all trespasses and fully furnish you for all good works, then, as one who has found the indispensable portion, the pearl of great price, the one thing needful, hold Him fast and do not let Him go; for what will you give in exchange for your Savior? What will you give in exchange for your soul? Once you really find Christ, you will not let him go. "I found Him whom my soul loves; and I held Him and would not let Him go" (Song of Sol. 3:4).
For there are two very diverse senses in which men will not let the Savior go, carrying with them very different meanings and very different issues. And how marvelous, how startling the extremes which they reveal—extremes of deadliest sin and deepest piety.
Caiaphas! priest of the Most High God, you hypocrite! You will not let the Christ go. You will not let Him go "until you crucify Him. Nor you, O worldling, until you crucify Him afresh.
Jacob! prevailing prince with God! You will not let Him go. You will not let Him go until He blesses you. Nor you, O Israelite indeed, until He blesses you too.
In which of these two senses would you have the Christ declare that you will not let Him go?