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to proceed to sentence him, "Why, (saith he,) what evil hath he done ?” Matt. 27 : 23. Nay, in the preface to the very sentence itself, he acknowledges him to be a just person : "When Pilate saw he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, and said, I am innocent of the blood of this just person, see ye to it.” Matt. 27:24. Here the innocency of Christ broke out like the sun from a cloud, convincing the conscience of his judge that he was just ; and yet he must give sentence against him to please the people.
INFERENCE 1. From this trial of Christ we learn, that though we are not obliged to answer every captious, idle, or insnaring question, yet we are bound faithfully to own and confess the truth, when we are solemnly called to it. It is true, Christ was sometimes silent, and as a deaf man that heard not; but when the question was solemnly put, "Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed ? Jesus said, I am.” Mark, 14:61, 62. He knew that answer would cost his life. On this account the apostle says, "he witnessed a good confession before Pontius Pilate.” 1 Tim. 6:13. Herein Christ hath pointed out the way of our duty, and by his own example, as well as precept, obliged us to a sincere confession of him and his truth, when we are lawfully required so to do ; when we cannot be silent without a virtual denial of the truth ; and when the glory of God, the honor of his truth, and the edification of others, are more attainable by our open confession, than they can be by our silence. You know what Christ hath said, Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I deny before my Father which is in heaven.” Matt. 10:33. It was a noble
saying of the courageous Zuinglius, "What deaths would not I choose, what punishment would I not undergo; yea, into what vault of hell would I not rather choose to be thrown, than to witness against my conscience ?" Truth can never be bought too dear, nor sold too cheap. The Lord Jesus, you see, owns the truth at the imminent and instant hazard of his life. The whole cloud of witnesses have followed him therein. Rev. 14:1. We ourselves once openly owned the ways of sin ; and shall we not do as much for Christ, as we then did for the devil ? Did we then glory in our shame, and shall we now be ashamed of our glory? Do not we hope Christ will own us at the great day? Why, if we confess him, he also will confess us. Oh think on the reasonableness of this duty.
2. To bear the revilings, contradictions, and abuses of men with a meek and quiet spirit, is excellent and Christ-like. He stood before them as a lamb; he rendered not railing for railing ; he endured the contradictions of sinners against himself. Imitate Christ in his meekness. He calls you so to do. Matt. 11:29. This will be convincing to your enemies, comfortable to yourselves, and honorable to religion: and as for your innocency, God will clear it up.
The second proposition before us, the ILLEGAL SENTENCE of Christ, may lead us to consider,
I. Who gave the sentence? It was Pilate, who succeeded Valerius Gratus in the presidentship of Judea, (as Josephus tells us,) in which trust he continued about ten years. This was in the eighth year of his government. Two years after, he was removed from his place and office by Vitellius, president of Syria, for his murdering of the innocent Samaritans. This necessitated him to go to Rome to clear himself before Cesar; but before he came to Rome, Tiberius was dead, and Caius in his room. Under him, says Eusebius, Pilate killed himself. "He was not very friendly or benevolent to the Jewish nation, and was suspicious of their rebellions and insurrections, which the priests and scribes observed, and turned to account in their design against Christ.” Therefore they tell him so often of Christ's sedition, and stirring up the people ; and that if he let him go, he is not Cesar's friend, which consideration prevailed with him to do what he did. But though he had stood ill in the opinion of Cesar, how durst he attempt such a wickedness as this? What! give judgment against the Son of God? for it is evident, by many circumstances in this trial, that he had strong fears and convictions that he was the Son of God, which induced him to desire his release. John, 19: 8–12. His mind was greatly perplexed, and in doubt, about this prisoner, whether he was a God or a man. And yet the fear of Cesar prevailed more than the fear of a Deity; he proceeds to give sentence. See in this predominancy of self-interest, what man will attempt and perpetrate, to secure and accommodate self.
II. Against whom doth Pilate give sentence? against a malefactor ? No, his own mouth once and again acknowledged him innocent. Against a common prisoner? No, but one whose fame no doubt had often reached Pilate's ears, even the wonderful things wrought by him, which none but God could do: one that stood before him as the picture, or rather as the body of innocency and meekness. Ye have condemned and killed the Just, and he resisteth you not.” James, 5:6. Now was that word made good, " They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the innocent blood.” Psalm 94: 21.
III. But what was the sentence that Pilate gave? We have it not in the form in which it was delivered; but the sum of it was that it should be as they required. Now what did they require ? Crucify him, crucify him. So that in what formalities soever it was delivered, this was the substance and effect of it, "I adjudge Jesus of Nazareth to be nailed to the cross, and there to hang till he be dead.” Which sentence against Christ was,
1. A most unjust and unrighteous sentence; the greatest perversion of judgment and equity that was ever known to the civilized world since seats of judicature were first set up. What! to condemn him before one accusation was proved against him? And if what they accused him of (that he said he was the Son of God) had been proved, it had been no crime, for he really was so; and therefore it was no blasphemy in him to say he was. Pilate should rather have come down from his seat of judgment and adored him, than sat there to judge him.
2. It was a cruel sentence, delivering up Christ to their wills. This was that misery which David so earnestly deprecated, " O deliver me not over to the will of mine enemies." Psalm 27: 12. But Pilate delivers Christ over to the will of his enemies, men full of enmity, rage, and malice. As soon as these wolves had griped their prey, they were not satisfied with the cursed, cruel, and ignominious death of the cross, to which Pilate had adjudged him, but they are resolved he shall die over and over; they will contrive many deaths in one : to this end they presently strip him; scourge him cruelly ; array him in scarlet, and mock him ; crown him with a bush of platted thorns; fasten that crown upon his head by a blow, which sets them deep into his sacred temples; put a reed into his hand for a sceptre, spit in his face, strip off his mock-robes again ; put the cross upon his back, and compel him to bear it. By all this, and much more, they express
their cruelty, as soon as they had him delivered over to their will.
3. It was also a rash and hasty sentence. The Jews are all in haste; consulting all night, and up by the break of day in the morning, to get him to his trial. They spur on Pilate with all arguments they can to give sentence. His trial took up but one morning, and a great part of that was spent in sending him from Caiaphas to Pilate, and from Pilate to Herod, and then back again to Pilate; so that it was a hasty and headlong sentence that Pilate gave. He did not sift and examine the matter, but handled it very slightly. The trial of many a mean man hath engrossed ten times more time and debate than this trial of Christ.
4. It was an extorted sentence. They wring it from Pilate by mere clamor, importunity, and suggestions of danger. In courts of judicature, such arguments should signify but little; not importunity, but proof, should prevail : but timorous Pilate bends like a willow at the breath of the people; he had neither such a sense of justice, nor courage, as to withstand it.
5. It was a hypocritical sentence, masking horrid murder under the pretence and formality of law. Loth he was to condemn him, lest innocent blood should clamor in his conscience; but since he must do it, he will transfer the guilt upon them, and they take it; " His blood be on us, and on our children for ever,” say they. Pilate calls for water, washes his hands before them, and declares, "I am free from the blood of this just person.” But stay; free from his blood, and yet condemn a known innocent person! Free from his blood, because he washed his hands in water! Oh the hypocrisy of Pilate! Such juggling as this will not serve his turn, when he shall stand as a prisoner before him who now stood arraigned at his bar.
IV. In what manner did Christ receive this cruel and unrighteous sentence? He received it like himself, with admirable meekness and patience. He doth as it were wrap
in his own innocency and obedience to his Father's will, and stands at the bar with invincible patience and meek submission. He doth not once desire the judge to defer the sentence, much less fall down and