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1. Then Pilate therefore took Jesus. Pilate adheres to his original intention; but to the former ignominy he adds a second, hoping that, when Christ shall have been scourged, the Jews will be satisfied with this light chastisement. When he labors so earnestly, and without any success, we ought to recognize in this the decree of Heaven, by which Christ was appointed to death. Yet his innocence is frequently attested by the testimony of the judge, in order to assure us that he was free from all sin, and that he was substituted as a guilty person in the room of others, and bore the punishment due to the sins of others. We see also in Pilate a remarkable example of a trembling conscience. He acquits Christ with his mouth, and acknowledges that there is no guilt in him, and yet inflicts punishment on him, as if he were guilty. Thus, they who have not so much courage as to defend, with unshaken constancy, what is right, must be driven hither and thither, and led to adopt opposite and conflicting opinions.
We all condemn Pilate; and yet, it is shameful to relate that there are so many Pilates (157) in the world, who scourge Christ, not only in his members, but also in his doctrine. There are many who, for the purpose of saving the life of those who are persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, constrain them wickedly to deny Christ. What is this, but to expose Christ to ridicule, that he may lead a dishonorable life? Others select and approve of certain parts of the Gospel, and yet tear the whole Gospel to pieces. They think that they have done exceedingly well, if they have corrected a few gross abuses. It would be better that the doctrine should be buried for a time, than that it should be scourged in this manner, for it would spring up again ill spite of the devil and of tyrants; but nothing is more difficult than to restore it to its purity after having been once corrupted.
(157) “ Tant de Pilates.”
2. And the soldiers, platting a crown of thorns. This was unquestionably done by the authority of Pilate, in order to affix a mark of infamy on the Son of God, for having made himself a king; and that in order to satisfy the rage of the Jews, as if he had been convinced that the accusations which they brought against Christ were well founded. Yet the wickedness and insolence of the soldiers is indulged more freely than had been ordered by the judge; as ungodly men eagerly seize on the opportunity of doing evil whenever it is offered to them. But we see here the amazing cruelty of the Jewish nation, (158) whose minds are not moved to compassion by so piteous a spectacle; but all this is directed by God, in order to reconcile the world to himself by the death of his Son.
(158) “ Cependant on voit icy une cruante merveilleuse en ce peuple des Juifs.”
6. Take you him. He did not wish to deliver Christ into their hands, or to abandon him to their fury; only he declares that he will not be their executioner. This is evident from the reason immediately added, when he says that he finds no guilt in him; as if he had said, that he will never be persuaded to shed innocent blood for their gratification. That it is only the priests and officers who demand that he shall be crucified, is evident from the circumstance that the madness of the people was not so great, except so far as those bellows contributed afterwards to kindle it.
7. We have a law. They mean that, in proceeding against Christ, they do what is right, and are not actuated by hatred or sinful passion; for they perceived that Pilate had indirectly reproved them. Now, they speak as in the presence of a man who was ignorant of the law; as if they had said, “We are permitted to live after our own manner, and our religion does not suffer any man to boast of being the Son of God. ” Besides, this accusation was not altogether void of plausibility, but they erred grievously in the application of it. The general doctrine was undoubtedly true, that it was not lawful for men to assume any honor which is due to God, and that they who claimed for themselves what is peculiar to God alone deserved to be put to death. But the source of their error related to the person of Christ, because they did not consider what are the titles given by Scripture to the Messiah, from which they might easily have learned that he was the Son of God, and did not even deign to inquire whether or not Jesus was the Messiah whom God had formerly promised.
We see, then, how they drew a false conclusion from a true principle, for they reason badly. This example warns us to distinguish carefully between a general doctrine and the application of it, (159) for there are many ignorant and unsteady persons who reject the very principles of Scripture, if they have once been deceived by the semblance of truth; and such licentiousness makes too great progress in the world every day. Let us, therefore, remember that we ought to guard against imposition, so that principles which are true may remain in all their force, and that the authority of Scripture may not be diminished.
On the other hand, we may easily find a reply to wicked men, who falsely and improperly allege the testimony of Scripture, and the principles which they draw from it, to support their bad designs; just as the Papists, when they extol in lofty terms the authority of the Church, bring forward nothing about which all the children of God are not agreed. They maintain that the Church is the mother of believers, that she is the pillar of truth, that she ought to be heard, that she is guided by the Holy Spirit. (160) All this we ought to admit, but when they wish to appropriate to themselves all the authority that is due to the Church, they wickedly, and with sacrilegious presumption, seize what does not at all belong to them. For we must inquire into the grounds of what they assume as true, that they deserve the title of The Church; and here they utterly fail. In like manner, when they exercise furious cruelty against all the godly, they do so on this pretence, that they have been ordained to defend the faith and peace of the Church. But when we examine the matter more closely, we plainly see that there is nothing which they have less at heart than the defense of true doctrine, that nothing affects them less than a care about peace and harmony, but that they only fight to uphold their own tyranny. They who are satisfied with general principles, and do not attend to the circumstances, imagine that the Papists do right in attacking us; but the investigation of the matter quickly dissipates that smoke by which they deceive the simple. (161)
(159) “ Entre la doctrine generale et l’application d’icelle.”
(160) These statements regarding “The Church ” our Author considers to be what logicians call the major proposition of the syllogism; and by the Latin word “ hypothesis “ rendered in French “ l’application ,” he evidently means the minor proposition, which he declares not only to be unsupported by proof, but to be utterly false. His own early training and habits, as a lawyer, naturally led him to throw the argument into this form, especially when it related to a criminal prosecution; for even in our own times indictments invariably take the form of a syllogism. He appears to have conceived the accusation against Christ to run thus: “Any mere man, declaring himself to be the Son of God, is guilty of blasphemy, and deserves to die. But Jesus of Nazareth, who is a mere man, hath made himself to be the Son of God. Therefore, according to our law, Jesus ought to die.” The major proposition cannot, be questioned, being manifestly taken from the law of Moses. The minor proposmon consists of two parts. 1. Jesus is a mere man. 2. Jesus hath made himself to be the Son of God. The second part is true, but the first is false; and, consequently, the whole argument, plausible as it had seemed, falls to the ground. It ought to have been known and acknowledged by the Jews, that the honorable rank of the Son of God, though it could not without blasphemy be claimed by a mere child of Adam, belonged of right to Jesus of Nazareth, of whom, even before his birth, the angel said to the Virgin Mary,
That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God, (Luke 1:35.)
(161) “ Ces fumees, par lesquelles ils abusent les simples.”
8. He was the more afraid. These words may be explained in two ways. The first is, that Pilate dreaded lest some blame should be imputed to him, if a tumult arose, because he had not condemned Christ. The second is, that, after having heard the name of the Son of God, his mind was moved by religion. This second view is confirmed by what immediately follows:
9. And he entered again into the hall, and said to Jesus; Whence Art Thou? It is evident from this that he was in a state of perplexity and anguish, because he was afraid that he would be punished for sacrilege, if he laid his hand on the Son of God It ought to be observed that, when he asks whence Christ is, he does not inquire about his country, but the meaning is, as if he had said, “Art thou a man born on the earth, or art thou some god?” The interpretation which I give to this passage, therefore, is, that Pilate, struck with the fear of God, was in perplexity and doubt as to what he ought to do; (162) for he saw, on the one hand, the excitement of a mutiny, and, on the other hand, conscience held him bound not to offend God for the sake of avoiding danger.
This example is highly worthy of observation. Though the countenance of Christ was so disfigured, yet, as soon as Pilate hears the name of God, he is seized with the fear of violating the majesty of God in a man who was utterly mean and despicable. If reverence for God had so much influence on an irreligious man, must not they be worse than reprobate, who now judge of divine things in sport and jest, carelessly, and without any fear? for, indeed, Pilate is a proof that men have naturally a sentiment of religion, which does not suffer them to rush fearlessly in any direction they choose, when the question relates to divine things. This is the reason why I said that those who, in handling the doctrine of Scripture, are not more impressed with the majesty of God, than if they had been disputing about the shadow of an ass, are given up to a reprobate mind, (Romans 1:28.) Yet they will one day feel to their destruction, what veneration is due to the name of God, which they now treat with such disdainful and outrageous mockery. It is shocking to relate how haughtily the Papists condemn the plain and ascertained truth of God, and with what cruelty they shed innocent blood. Whence, I beseech you, comes that drunken stupidity, but because they do not recollect that they have anything to do with God?
And Jesus gave him no answer. We ought not to think it strange that Jesus makes no reply; at least, if we keep in mind what I have formerly mentioned, that he did not stand before Pilate to plead his own cause, — as is customary with persons accused who are desirous to be acquitted, — but rather to suffer condemnation; for it was proper that he should be condemned, when he appeared in our room. This is the reason why he makes no defense; and yet Christ’s silence is not inconsistent with what Paul says,
Remember that Christ, before Pilate, made a good confession, (1 Timothy 6:13;)
for there he maintained the faith of the Gospel, as far as was necessary, and his death was nothing else than the sealing of the doctrine delivered by him. Christ left nothing undone of what was necessary to make a lawful confession, but he kept silence as to asking an acquittal. Besides, there was some danger that Pilate would acquit Christ as one of the pretended gods, as Tiberius wished to rank him among the gods of the Romans. Justly, therefore, does Christ, by his silence, frown on this foolish superstition.
(162) “ Il estoit en perplexite et doute de ce qu’il devoir falre.” — The Latin phraseology is highly idiomatic, being formed on a noted passage of Plautus: — “ Quod inter sacrum, ut aiunt, et saxum haeserit .” — “That he stuck fast, as they say, between the victim and the sacrificial knife.” A close resemblance to this may be observed in a French idiom — “ Etre entre le marteau et l’enclume ;” — To be between the hammer and the anvil. — Ed.
10. Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee? This shows that the dread with which Pilate had been suddenly seized was transitory, and had no solid root; for now, forgetting all fear, he breaks out into haughty and monstrous contempt of God. He threatens Christ, as if there had not been a Judge in heaven; but this must always happen with irreligious men, that, shaking off the fear of God, they quickly return to their natural disposition. Hence also we infer, that it is not without good reason that the heart of man is called deceitful, (Jeremiah 17:9;) for, though some fear of God dwells in it, there likewise comes from it mere impiety. Whoever, then, is not regenerated by the Spirit of God, though he pretend for a time to reverence the majesty of God, will quickly show, by opposite facts, that this fear was hypocritical.
Again, we see in Pilate an image of a proud man, who is driven to madness by his ambition; for, when he wishes to exalt his power, he deprives himself of all praise and reputation for justice. He acknowledges that Christ is innocent, and therefore he makes himself no better than a robber, when he boasts that he has power to cut his throat! Thus, wicked consciences, in which faith and the true knowledge of God do not reign, must necessarily be agitated, and there must be within them various feelings of the flesh, which contend with each other; and in this manner God takes signal vengeance on the pride of men, when they go beyond their limits, so as to claim for themselves infinite power. By condemning themselves for injustice, they stamp on themselves the greatest reproach and disgrace. No blindness, therefore, is greater than that of pride; and we need not wonder, since pride feels the hand of God, against which it strikes, to be armed with vengeance. Let us therefore remember, that we ought not rashly to indulge in foolish boastings, lest we expose ourselves to ridicule; and especially that those who occupy a high rank ought to conduct themselves modestly, and not to be ashamed of being subject to God and to his laws.
11. Thou wouldest have no power. Some explain this in a general sense, that nothing is done in the world but by the permission of God; as if Christ had said, that Pilate, though he thinks that he can do all things, will do nothing more than God permits. The statement is, no doubt, true, that this world is regulated by the disposal of God, and that, whatever may be the efforts of wicked men, still they cannot even move a finger but as the secret power of God directs. But I prefer the opinion of those who confine this passage to the office of the magistrate; for by these words Christ rebukes the foolish boasting of Pilate, in extolling himself, as if his power had not been from God; as if he had said, Thou claimest every thing for thyself’, as if thou hadst not to render an account one day to God; but it was not without His providence that thou wast made a judge. Consider, then, that His heavenly throne is far higher than thy tribunal. It is impossible to find any admonition better fitted to repress the insolence of those who rule over others, that they may not abuse their authority. The father imagines that he may do what he pleases towards his children, the husband towards his wife, the master towards his servants, the prince towards his people, unless when they look to God, who hath determined that their authority shall be limited by a fixed rule.
Therefore he who delivered me to thee. Some think that this declares the Jews to be more guilty than Pilate, because, with wicked hatred and malicious treachery, they are enraged against an innocent man, that is, those of them who were private individuals, and not clothed with lawful authority. But I think that this circumstance renders their guilt more heinous and less excusable on another ground, that they constrain a divinely appointed government to comply with their lawless desires; for it is a monstrous sacrilege to pervert a holy ordinance of God for promoting any wickedness. The robber, who, with his own hand, cuts the throat of a wretched passenger, is justly held in abhorrence; but he who, under the forms of a judicial trial, puts to death an innocent man, is much more wicked. Yet Christ does not aggravate their guilt, for the purpose of extenuating that of Pilate; for he does not institute a comparison between him and them, but rather includes them all in the same condemnation, because they equally pollute a holy power. There is only this difference, that he makes direct attack on the Jews, but indirectly censures Pilate, who complies with their wicked desire.
12. From that time Pilate sought to release him. Though Pilate does not conduct himself conscientiously, and is actuated more by ambition than by a regard to justice, and, on that account, is wretchedly irresolute, yet his modesty is commendable on this ground, that, when he is severely reproved by Christ, he does not fly into a passion, but, on the contrary, is still more disposed to release him. He is a judge, and yet he meekly permits the accused person to be his reprover; and, indeed, scarcely one person in a hundred will be found, who so mildly suffers a reproof, even from one who is his equal.
Thou art not Caesar’s friend. By threats they prevail on Pilate to condemn Christ; for they could do nothing that was more hateful, or more fitted to produce terror, than to hold him suspected of disloyalty to Caesar. “Thou showest,” say they, “that thou dost not care about Caesar’s authority, if thou acquit him who has endeavored to throw every thing into confusion.” This wickedness at length broke down the resolution of Pilate, who, till now, had only been shaken by their furious clamours. Nor is it without a good reason that the Evangelist so laboriously examines and details those circumstances; for it is of great importance to us to know, that Pilate did not condemn Christ, before he had several times acquitted him with his own mouth, in order that we may learn from it, that it was for our sins that he was condemned, and not on his own account. We may also learn from it, how voluntarily he offered himself to die, when he disdained to avail himself of the favorable disposition of the judge towards him; and, indeed, it was this obedience that caused his death to be a sacrifice of sweet savour, (Ephesians 5:2,) for blotting out all sins.
13. And sat down on the judgment-seat. Hence we see what conflicting opinions passed through the mind of Pilate, as if he had been a stage-player who was acting two characters. He ascends the judgment-seat, in order to pronounce sentence of death on Christ solemnly, and in the customary form; (164) and yet he declares openly, that he does so reluctantly and against his conscience. When he calls Christ king, he speaks ironically, meaning that it was a trivial charge which the Jews brought against him; or rather, for the purpose of allaying their fury, he warns them, that it would bring disgrace on the whole nation, if a report were spread abroad, that a person of that nation had been condemned to die for aspiring to kingly power.
In the place which is called the Stone-pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. When the Evangelist says, that גבתא ( Gabbatha) was the name of the place in Hebrew he means the Chaldaic or Syriac language, which was then in common use; for in Hebrew, גבה ( Gabach) means to be lofty. It was proper, therefore, that Christ should be condemned from a lofty place, that he, coming from heaven as the supreme Judge, may acquit us at the last day.
(164) “ Solennellement a la facon accoustumee.”
14. About the sixth hour. The Evangelists appear to differ, and even to contradict each other, in the computation of time. The other three Evangelists say that the darkness came on about the sixth hour, while Christ was hanging on the cross, (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44.) Mark, too says expressly that it was the third hour when the sentence was pronounced on him, (Mark 15:25.) But this may be easily explained. It is plain enough from other passages that the day was at that time divided into four parts, as the night also contained four watches; in consequence of which, the Evangelists sometimes allot not more than four hours to each day, and extend each hour to three, and, at the same time, reckon the space of an hour, which was drawing to a close, as belonging to the next part. According to this calculation, John relates that Christ was condemned about the sixth hour, because the time of the day was drawing towards the sixth hour, or towards the second part of the day. Hence we infer that Christ was crucified at or about the sixth hour; for, as the Evangelist afterwards mentions, (John 19:20,) the place was near to the city. The darkness began between the sixth and ninth hour, and lasted till the ninth hour, at which time Christ died.
15. We have no king but Caesar. This is a display of shocking madness, that the priests, who ought to have been well acquainted with the Law, reject Christ, in whom the salvation of the people was wholly contained, on whom all the promises depended, and on whom the whole of their religion was founded; and, indeed, by rejecting Christ, they deprive themselves of the grace of God and of every blessing. We see, then, what insanity had seized them. Let us suppose that Jesus Christ was not the Christ; (165) still they have no excuse for acknowledging no other king but Caesar. For, first, they revolt from the spiritual kingdom of God; and, secondly, they prefer the tyranny of the Roman Empire, which they greatly abhorred, to a just government, such as God had promised to them. Thus wicked men, in order to fly from Christ, not only deprive themselves of eternal life, but draw down on their heads every kind of miseries. On the other hand, the sole happiness of the godly is, to be subject to the royal authority of Christ, whether, according to the flesh, they are placed under a just and lawful government, under the oppression of tyrants.
(165) “ Que Jesus Christ ne fust point le Christ.”
16. Then, therefore, he delivered him to them to be crucified. Pilate was, no doubt constrained by their importunity to deliver Christ; and yet this was not done in a tumultuous manner, but he was solemnly condemned in the ordinary form, because there were also two robbers who, after having been tried, were at the same time condemned to be crucified. But John employs this expression, in order to make it more fully evident that Christ, though he had not been convicted of any crime, was given up to the insatiable cruelty of the people.
17. He went forth to a place. The circumstances which are here related contribute greatly, not only to show the truth of the narrative, but likewise to build up our faith. We must look for righteousness through the satisfaction made by Christ. To prove that he is the sacrifice for our sins, he wished both to be led out of the city, and to be hanged on a tree; for the custom was, in compliance with the injunction of the Law, that the sacrifices, the blood of which was shed for sin, were carried out of the camp, (Leviticus 6:30;) and the same Law declares that
he who hangeth on a tree is accursed, (Deuteronomy 21:23.)
Both were fulfilled in Christ, that we might be fully convinced that atonement has been made for our sins by the sacrifice of his death; that
he was made subject to the curse, in order that he might redeem us from the curse of the law, (Galatians 3:13;)
he was made sin, in order that we might be the righteousness of God in him, (2 Corinthians 5:21;)
that he was led out of the city, in order that he might carry with him, and take away, our defilements which were laid on him, (Hebrews 12:12.) To the same purpose is the statement about the robbers, which immediately follows: —
18. And two others with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst. As if the severity of the punishment had not been sufficient of itself, he is hanged in the midst between two robbers, as if he not only had deserved to be classed with other robbers, but had been the most wicked and the most detestable of them all. We ought always to remember, that the wicked executioners of Christ did nothing but what had been determined by the hand and purpose of God; (167) for God did not surrender his Son to their lawless passions, but determined that, according to his own will and good pleasure, he should be offered as a sacrifice. And if there were the best reasons for the purpose of God in all those things which he determined that his Son should suffer, we ought to consider, on the one hand, the dreadful weight of his wrath against sin, and, on the other hand, his infinite goodness towards us. In no other way could our guilt be removed than by the Son of God becoming a curse for us. We see him driven out into an accursed place, as if he had been polluted by a mass of all sorts of crimes, that there he might appear to be accursed before God and men. Assuredly we are prodigiously stupid, if we do not plainly see in this mirror with what abhorrence God regards sin; and we are harder than stones, if we do not tremble at such a judgment as this.
When, on the other hand, God declares that our salvation was so dear to him, that he did not spare his only-begotten Son, what abundant goodness and what astonishing grace do we here behold! Whoever, then, takes a just view of the causes of the death of Christ, together with the advantage which it yields to us, will not, like the Greeks, regard the doctrlne of the cross as foolishness, nor, like the Jews, will he regard it as an offense, (1 Corinthians 1:23,) but rather as an invaluable token and pledge of the power, and wisdom, and righteousness, and goodness of God.
When John says, that the name of the place was Golgotha, he means that, in the Chaldaic or Syriac language, it was called גלגלתא, ( Gulgaltha.) The name is derived from גלגל, ( Gilgel, (168)) which signifies, to roll; because a skull is round like a ball or globe. (169)
(167) “ N ont rien fait qui n eust este decrete et ordonne par le conseil de Dieu;” — “did nothing which had not been decreed and appointed by the purpose of God.”
(168) The Pihel of, גלל, ( Galal.) — Ed.
(169) “The place where Christ was crucified appears to have received this name, not — as some have imagined — because the shape of the mountain resembled a human head, but because it was filled with the skulls of malefactors who had been put to death there.” — Schleusner on the word Γολγοθᾶ
19. And Pilate wrote also a title. The Evangelist relates a memorable action of Pilate, after having pronounced the sentence. It is perhaps true that it was customary to affix titles, when malefactors were executed, that the cause of the punishment might be known to all, and might serve the purpose of an example. But in Christ there is this extraordinary circumstance, that the title which is affixed to him implies no disgrace; for Pilate’s intention was, to avenge himself indirectly on the Jews, (who, by their obstinacy, had extorted from him an unjust sentence of death on an innocent man,) and, in the person of Christ, to throw blame on the whole nation. Thus he does not brand Christ with the commission of any crime.
But the providence of God, which guided the pen of Pilate, had a higher object in view. It did not, indeed, occur to Pilate to celebrate Christ as the Author of salvation, and the Nazarene of God, and the King of a chosen people; but God dictated to him this commendation of the Gospel, though he knew not the meaning of what he wrote. It. was the same secret guidance of the Spirit that caused the title to be published in three languages; for it is not probable that this was an ordinary practice, but the Lord showed, by this preparatory arrangement, that the time was now at hand, when the name of his Son should be made known throughout the whole earth.
21. The chief priests of the Jews said therefore to Pilate. They feel that they are sharply rebuked; and, therefore, they would wish that the title were changed, so as not to involve the nation in disgrace, but to throw the whole blame on Christ. But yet they do not conceal their deep hatred of the truth, since the smallest spark of it is more than they are able to endure. Thus Satan always prompts his servants to endeavor to extinguish, or, at least, to choke, by their own darkness, the light of God, as soon as the feeblest ray of it appears.
22. What I have written I have written. Pilate’s firmness must be ascribed to the providence of God; for there can be no doubt that they attempted, in various ways, to change his resolution. Let us know, therefore, that he was held by a Divine hand, so that he remained unmoved. Pilate did not yield to the prayers of the priests, and did not allow himself to be corrupted by them; but God testified, by his mouth, the firmness and stability of the kingdom of his Son. And if, in the writing of Pilate, the kingdom of Christ was shown to be so firm that it could not be shaken by all the attacks of its enemies, what value ought we to attach to the testimonies of the Prophets, whose tongues and hands God consecrated to his service?
The example of Pilate reminds us, also, that it is our duty to remain steady in defending the truth. A heathen refuses to retract what he has justly and properly written concerning Christ, though he did not understand or consider what he was doing. How great, then, will be our dishonor, if, terrified by threatenigs or dangers, we withdraw from the profession of his doctrine, which God hath sealed on our hearts by his Spirit! Besides, it ought to be observed how detestable is the tyranny of the Papists, which prohibits the reading of the Gospel, and of the whole of the Scripture, by the common people. Pilate, though he was a reprobate man, and, in other respects, an instrument of Satan, was nevertheless, by a secret guidance, appointed to be a herald of the Gospel, that he might publish a short summary of it in three languages. What rank, therefore, shall we assign to those who do all that they can to suppress the knowledge of it, since they show that they are worse than Pilate?
23. Then the soldiers. The other Evangelists also mention the parting of Christ’s garments among the soldiers, (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34.) There were four soldiers who parted among themselves all his garments, except the coat, which, being without seam could not be divided, and therefore they cast lots on it. To fix our minds on the contemplation of the purpose of God, the Evangelists remind us that, in this occurrence also, there was a fulfillment of Scripture. It may be thought, however, that the passage, which they quote from Psalms 22:19, is inappropriately applied to the subject in hand; for, though David complains in it that he was exposed as a prey to his enemies, he makes use of the word garments to denote metaphorically all his property; as if he had said, in a single word, that “he had been stripped naked and bare by wicked men;” and, when the Evangelists disregard the figure, they depart from the natural meaning of the passage. But we ought to remember, in the first place, that the psalm ought not to be restricted to David, as is evident from many parts of it, and especially from a clause in which it is written, I will proclaim thy name among the Gentiles, (Psalms 22:22) which must be explained as referring to Christ. We need not wonder, therefore, if that which was faintly shadowed out in David is beheld in Christ with all that superior clearness which the truth ought to have, as compared with the figurative representation of it.
Let us also learn that. Christ was stripped of his garments, that he might clothe us with righteousness; that his naked body was exposed to the insults of men, that we may appear in glory before the judgment-seat of God. As to the allegorical meaning to which some men have tortured this passage, by making it mean, that heretics tear Scripture in pieces, it is too far-fetched; though I would not object to such a comparison as this, —that, as the garments of Christ were once divided by ungodly soldiers, so, in the present day, there are perverse men who, by foreign inventions, tear the whole of the Scripture, with which Christ is clothed, in order that he may be manifested to us. But the wickedness of the Papists, accompanied by shocking blasphemy against God, is intolerable. They tell us, that Scripture is torn to pieces by heretics, but that the coat — that is, the Church — remains entire; and thus they endeavor to prove that, without paying any attention to the authority of Scripture, the unity of faith consists in the mere title of the Church; as if the unity of the Church were itself founded on any thing else than the authority of Scripture. When, therefore, they separate faith from Scripture, so that it may continue to be attached to the Church alone, by such a divorce they not only strip Christ of his garments, but tear in pieces his body by shocking sacrilege. And though we should admit what they maintain, that the coat without seam is a figure of the Church, they will be very far from gaining their point: for it will still remain to be proved, that the Church is placed under their authority, of which they show no sign whatever.
25. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus. The Evangelist here mentions incidentally, that while Christ obeyed God the Father, he did not fail to perform the duty which he owed, as a son, towards his mother. True, he forgot himself, and he forgot every thing, so far as was necessary for the discharge of obedience to his Father, but, after having performed that duty, he did not neglect what he owed to his mother. Hence we learn in what manner we ought to discharge our duty towards God and towards men. It often happens that, when God calls us to the performance of any thing, our parents, or wife, or children, draw us in a contrary direction, so that we cannot give equal satisfaction to all. If we place men in the same rank with God, we judge amiss. We must, therefore, give the preference to the command, the worship, and the service of God; after which, as far as we are able, we must give to men what is their due.
And yet the commands of the first and second table of the Law never jar with each other, though at first sight they appear to do so; but we must begin with the worship of God, and afterwards assign to men an inferior place. Such is the import of the following statements:
He who loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me, (Matthew 10:41;)
If any one hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, he cannot be my disciple, (Luke 14:26.)
We ought, therefore, to devote ourselves to the interests of men, so as not in any degree to interfere with the worship and obedience which we owe to God. When we have obeyed God, it will then be the proper time to think about parents, and wife, and children; as Christ attends to his mother, but it is after that he is on the cross, to which he has been called by his Father’s decree.
Yet, if we attend to the time and place when these things happened, Christ’s affection for his mother was worthy of admiration. I say nothing about the severe tortures of his body; I say nothing about the reproaches which he suffered; but, though horrible blasphemies against God filled his mind with inconceivable grief, and though he sustained a dreadful contest with eternal death and with the devil, still, none of these things prevent him from being anxious about his mother. We may also learn from this passage, what is the honor which God, by the Law, commands us to render to parents, (Exodus 20:12.) Christ appoints the disciple to be his substitute, and charges him to support and take care of his mother; and hence it follows, that the honor which is due to parents consists, not in cold ceremony, (171) but in the discharge of all necessary duties.
On the other hand, we ought to consider the faith of those holy women (172) It is true that, in following Christ to the cross, they displayed more than ordinary affection; but, if they had not been supported by faith they could never have been present at this exhibition. As to John himself, we infer that, though his faith was choked for a short time, it was not wholly extinguished. How shameful will it be, if the dread of the cross deters us from following Christ, when the glory of his resurrection is placed before our eyes, whereas the women beheld in it nothing but disgrace and cursing!
Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. He calls her either the wife or the daughter of Cleophas; but I prefer the latter interpretation. (173) He says, that she was the sister of the mother of Jesus, and, in saying so, he adopts the phraseology of the Hebrew language, which includes cousins, and other relatives, (174) under the term brothers. We see that it was not in vain that Mary Magdalene was delivered from seven devils, (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2;) since she showed hersclf, to the last, to be so faithful a disciple to Christ.
(171) “ En froide ceremonie.”
(172) “ De ces sainctes femmes.”
(173) ” Il y en a aucuns qui pensent que c’estoit la femme de Cleopas: mon opinion est que c’estoit plustost sa rifle.” — “There are some who think that she was the wife of Cleophas: my opinion is, that she was rather his daughter.”
(174) “ Les cousins et autres parens.”
26. Woman, behold thy son! (175) As if he had said, “Henceforth I shall not be an inhabitant of the earth, so as to have it in my power to discharge to thee the duties of a son; and, therefore, I put this man in my room, that he may perform my office.” The same thing is meant, when he says to John,
Behold thy mother! For by these words he charges him to treat her as a mother, and to take as much care of her as if she had been his own mother.
In refraining from mentioning his mother’s name and in simply calling her Woman! some think that he did so, in order not to pierce her heart with a deeper wound. I do not object to this view; but there is another conjecture which is equally probable, that Christ intended to show that, after having completed the course of human life, he lays down the condition in which he had lived, and enters into the heavenly kingdom, where he will exercise dominion over angels and men; for we know that Christ was always accustomed to guard believers against looking at the flesh, and it was especially necessary that this should be done at his death.
(175) “One who will take as much care of you as if he had been your son.” — Beausobre.
27. The disciple took her to his own home. It is a token of the reverence due by a disciple to his master, that John so readily obeys the command of Christ. Hence also it is evident, that the Apostles had their families; for John could not have exercised hospitality towards the mother of Christ, or have taken her to his own home, if he had not had a house and a regular way of living. Those men, therefore, are fools, who think that the Apostles relinquished their property, and came to Christ naked and empty; but they are worse than fools, who make perfection to consist in beggary.
28. Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished. John purposely passes by many things which are related by the other three Evangelists. He now describes the last act, which was an event of the greatest importance.When John says that a vessel was placed there, he speaks of it as a thing that was customary. There has been much controversy on this subject; but I agree with those who think (and, indeed, the custom is proved by histories) that it was a kind of beverage usually administered for the purpose of accelerating the death of wretched malefactors, when they had undergone sufficient torture (176) Now, it ought to be remarked, that Christ does not ask any thing to drink till all things have been accomplished; and thus he testified his infinite love towards us, and the inconceivable earnestness of his desire to promote our salvation. No words can fully express the bitterness of the sorrows which he endured; and yet he does not desire to be freed from them, till the justice of God has been satisfied, and till he has made a perfect atonement. (177)
But how does he say, that all things were accomplished, while the most important part still remained to be performed, that is, his death? Besides, does not his resurrection contribute to the accomplishment of our salvation? I answer, John includes those things which were immediately to follow. Christ had not yet died: and had not yet risen again; but he saw that nothing now remained to hinder him from going forward to death and resurrection. In this manner he instructs us, by his own example, to render perfect obedience, that we may not think it hard to live according to his good pleasure, even though we must languish in the midst of the most excruciating pains.
That the Scripture might be fulfilled. From what is stated by the other Evangelists, (Matthew 27:48; Mark 15:23; Luke 23:36,) it may readily be concluded that the passage referred to is Psalms 69:21,
They gave me gall for my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
It is, undoubtedly, a metaphorical expression, and David means by it, not only that they refused to him the assistance which he needed, but that they cruelly aggravated his distresses. But there is no inconsistency in saying that what had been dimly shadowed out in David was more clearly exhibited in Christ: for thus we are enabled more fully to perceive the difference between truth and figures, when those things which David suffered, only in a figurative manner, are distinctly and perfectly manifested in Christ. To show that he was the person whom David represented, Christ chose to drink vinegar; and he did so for the purpose of strengthening our faith.
I thirst. Those who contrive a metaphorical meaning for the word thirst, as if he meant that, instead of a pleasant and agreeable beverage, they gave him bitterness, as if they intended to flay his throat, (178) are more desirous to be thought ingenious than to promote true edification; and, indeed, they are expressly refuted by the Evangelist, who says that Christ asked for vinegar when he was near death; from which it is evident that he did not desire any luxuries. (179)
(176) “ On dispute diversement de ceci; mais je m’accorde a l’opinion de ceux qui disent (comme aussi I’llsage enest approuvee par les histoires) que e’estoit une sorte de bruvage, duquel coustumierement on usoit pour avaneer la mort des poures malfaiteurs, apres qu’ils avoyent este assez tormentez.”
(177) The French copy gives an additional clause to this sentence: — “ Comme s’il s’estoit oublid jusqu’k ce qu’ayant satisfait au payement de nos offenses, il declare qu’il n’est pas insensible, mais que l’amour qu’il nous portoit a surmontd toutes les angoisses;” — “As if he had forgotten his own concerns till he had given full satisfaction for our sins, he declares that he is not incapable of feeling, but that the love which he bore to us rose superior to all the pains which he endured.”
(178) “ Comme s’il vouloit dire qu’au lieu de bruvage doux et aimable, on luy a donna de l’amertume, cornroe pour lug escorcher le gosicr.”
(179) “ En quoy fi’ appert qu’il n’estoit question de nulles, delices.”
29. And, having filled a sponge with vinegar, they fixed it on hyssop. When he says that they fixed the sponge on hyssop, the meaning is, that they fastened it to the end of a bunch of hyssop, that it might be raised to Christ’s mouth; for, in that country, hyssops grow as large as small shrubs, (180)
(180) “ Car l’a les hyssopes sont grans comme petits arbnsseaux.”
30. It is finished. He repeats the same word which he had lately employed, (181) Now this word, which Christ employs, well deserves our attention; for it shows that the whole accomplishment of our salvation, and all the parts of it, are contained in his death. We have already stated that his resurrection is not separated from his death, but Christ only intends to keep our faith fixed on himself alone, and not to allow it to turn aside in any direction whatever. The meaning, therefore, is, that every thing which contributes to the salvation of men is to be found in Christ, and ought not to be sought anywhere else; or — which amounts to the same thing — that the perfection of salvation is contained in him.
There is also an implied contrast; for Christ contrasts his death with the ancient sacrifices and with all the figures; as if he had said,” Of all that was practiced under the Law, there was nothing that had any power in itself to make atonement for sins, to appease the wrath of God, and to obtain justification; but now the true salvation is exhibited and manifested to the world.” On this doctrine depends the abolition of all the ceremonies of the Law; for it would be absurd to follow shadows, since we have the body in Christ.
If we give our assent to this word which Christ pronounced, we ought to be satisfied with his death alone for salvation, and we are not at liberty to apply for assistance in any other quarter; for he who was sent by the Heavenly Father to obtain for us a full acquittal, and to accomplish our redemption, knew well what belonged to his office, and did not fail in what he knew to be demanded of him. It was chiefly for the purpose of giving peace and tranquillity to our consciences that he pronounced this word, It is finished. Let us stop here, therefore, if we do not choose to be deprived of the salvation which he has procured for us. (182)
But the whole religion of Popery tends to lead men to contrive for themselves innumerable methods of seeking salvation; and hence we infer, that it is full to overflowing with abominable sacrileges. More especially, this word of Christ condemns the abomination of the Mass. All the sacrifices of the Law must have ceased, for the salvation of men has been completed by the one sacrifice of the death of Christ. What right, then, have the Papists, or what plausible excuse can they assign for saying, that they are authorised to prepare a new sacrifice, to reconcile God to men? They reply that it is not a new sacrifice, but the very sacrifice which Christ offered. But this is easily refuted; for, in the first place, they have no command to offer it; and, secondly, Christ, having once accomplished, by a single oblation, all that was necessary to be done, declares, from the cross, that all is finished. They are worse than forgers, therefore, for they wickedly corrupt and falsify the testament sealed by the precious blood of the Son of God.
He yielded up his breath. All the Evangelists take great care to mention the death of Christ, and most properly; for we obtain from it our confident hope of life, and we likewise obtain from it a fearless triumph over death, because the Son of God has endured it in our room, and, in his contest with it, has been victorious. But we must attend to the phraseology which John employs, and which teaches us, that all believers, who die with Christ, peacefully commit their souls to the guardianship of God, who is faithful, and will not suffer to perish what he hath undertaken to preserve. The children of God, as well as the reprobate, die; but there is this difference between them, that the reprobate give up the soul, without knowing where it goes, or what becomes of it; (183) while the children of God commit it, as a precious trust, to the protection of God, who will faithfully guard it till the day of the resurrection. The word breath is manifestly used here to denote the immortal soul.
(181) The repetition of the word is concealed by the circumstance, that it is rendered, in the 28 verse, by impleta, Accomplished, and, in the 30 verse, by consummatum, Finished Οτι πάντα ἤδη τετέλεσται (verse 28,) that all things were now Accomplished Τετέλεσται, (verse 30) It is Finished or, it is Accomplished. — Ed.
(182) The last few sentences — commencing with “for he who was sent by the Heavenly Father“ — are not contained in the Latin original, but have been taken from the Author’s French Version. “ Car celuy qnt estoit envoye du Pete celeste pour nous acquitter pleinement, et achever nostre redemption, seavoit bien son office, et n’est pus esparg.n en ce qu’il scavoit estre requis. Or notamment pour appaiser nos consciences, et nous Faire contenter, il a pronone ce mot, Quc c’cstoit fait. Arrestons-nous-y done, si nons ne voulons estre frustrez du saint qu’il nous a acqnis.”
(183) “ Ne scachant ou il va, ne qu’il devient.”
31. For it was the preparation. This narrative also tends to the edification of our faith; first, because it shows that what had been foretold in the Scriptures is fulfilled in the person of Christ; and, secondly, because it contains a mystery of no ordinary value. The Evangelist says, that the Jews besought that the bodies might be taken down from the crosses. This had undoubtedly been enjoined by the Law of God; but the Jews, as is usually the case with hypocrites, direct their whole attention to small matters, and yet pass by the greatest crimes without any hesitation; for, in order to a strict observance of their Sabbath, they are careful to avoid outward pollution; and yet they do not consider how shocking a crime it is to take away the life of an innocent man. Thus we saw a little before, that
they did not enter into the governor’s hall, that they might not be defiled, (John 18:28,)
while the whole country was polluted by their wickedness. Yet, by their agency, the Lord carries into effect what was of the greatest importance for our salvation, that, by a wonderful arrangement, the body of Christ remains uninjured, and blood and water low out of his side.
And it was the great day of that Sabbath (185) Another reading more generally approved is, and that Sabbath-day was great; but the reading which I have adopted is supported by many manuscripts that are ancient and of great authority. Let the reader choose for himself. If we read ἐκείνου in the genitive case, ( ἐκείνου τοῦ σαββάτου of that Sabbath) the word Sabbath must be understood to denote the week; as if the Evangelist had said, that the festival of that week was very solemn, on account of the Passover. Note, the Evangelist speaks of the following day, which began at sunset. But, if we choose rather to read ἐκείνη, in the nominative case, ἦν γὰρ μεγάλη ἡ ἡμέρα ἐκείνη τοῦ σαββάτου, and That was the great day of the Sabbath, the meaning will be nearly the same in substance; only there would be this difference in the words, that the Passover, which was to take place on the following day, would render that Sabbath more solemn.
(185) ἦν γὰρ μεγάλη ἡ ἡμέρα ἐκείνη τοῦ σαββάτον . “A very solemn festival; namely, as being not only an ordinary Sabbath, but the extraordinary one on the 15 of Nisan. For ἐκείνη, very many MSS., Versions, and early Editions, have ἐκείνου , which is received by most Editors from Wetstein to Scholz, with the approbation of Bishop Middleton.” — BloomfieId.
33. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was already dead. That they break the legs of the two robbers, and after having done so, find that Christ is already dead, and therefore do not touch his body, appears to be a very extraordinary work of the providence of God. Ungodly men will, no doubt, say that it happens naturally that one man dies sooner than another; but, if we examine carefully the whole course of the narrative, we shall be constrained to ascribe it to the secret purpose of God, that the death of Christ was brought on much more rapidly than men could have at all expected, and that this prevented his legs from being broken.
34. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear. When the soldier pierced Christ’s side with his spear, he did so for the purpose of ascertaining if he was dead; but God had a higher object in view, as we shall immediately see. It was a childish contrivance of the Papists, when, out of the Greek word λόγχε, which means a spear, (186) they manufactured the proper name of a man, and called this soldier Longinus, and, to give an air of plausibility to their story, foolishly alleged that he had been formerly blind, and that, after having received his sight, he was converted to the faith. Thus they have placed him in the catalogue of the saints. (187) Since their prayers, whenever they call on God, rest on such intercessors, what, I ask, will they ever be able to obtain? But they who despise Christ, and seek the intercessions of the dead, deserve that the devil should drive them to ghosts and phantoms.
And immediately there came out blood and water. Some men have deceived themselves by imagining that this was a miracle; for it is natural that the blood, when it is congealed, should lose its red color, and come to resemble water. It is well known also that water is contained in the membrane which immediately adjoins the intestines. What has led them astray is, that the Evangelist takes so much pains to explain that blood flowed along with the water, as if he were relating something unusual and contrary to the order of nature. But he had quite a different intention; namely, to accommodate his narrative to the passages of Scripture which he immediately subjoins, and more especially that believers might infer from it what he states elsewhere, that Christ came with water and blood, (1 John 5:6.) By these words he means that Christ brought the true atonement and the true washing; for, on the one hand, forgiveness of sins and justification, and, on the other hand, the sanctification of the soul, were prefigured in the Law by those two symbols, sacrifices and washings. In sacrifices, blood atoned for sins, and was the ransom for appeasing the wrath of God. Washings were the tokens of true holiness, and the remedies for taking away uncleanness and removing the pollutions of the flesh.
That faith may no longer rest on these elements, John declares that the fulfillment of both of these graces is in Christ; and here he presents to us a visible token of the same fact. The sacraments which Christ has left to his Church have the same design; for the purification and sanctification of the soul, which consists in newness of life, (Romans 6:4,) is pointed out to us in Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper is the pledge of a perfect atonement. But they differ widely from the ancient figures of the Law; for they exhibit Christ as being present, whereas the figures of the Law pointed out that he was still at a distance. For this reason I do not object to what Augustine says, that our sacraments have flowed from Christ’s side; for, when Baptism and the Lord’s Supper lead us to Christ’s side, that by faith we may draw from it, as from a fbuntain, what they represent, then are we truly washed from our pollutions, and renewed to a holy life, and then do we truly live before God, redeemed from death, and delivered from condemnation.
(186) “ Du mot Gree lonchi, qui signifie une lance.”
(187) Dr Bloomfield subjoins the following note to this verse: — “The epitaph of this soldier, (if genuine,) said to be found in the Church of St Mary, at Lyons, is as follows: — Qui Salvatoris latus Cruce Cuspfdefixit, Lo,’Ginus Mc jacet — ’ Here lies Longinu’s, who pierced the Savior’s side on the Cross with a spear.’” As the learned annotator has thus summarily adverted to this legendary tale, it is right that the reader should be briefly put in possession of the whole of it, as it has been collected by Moreri from Tillemont and other ecclesiastical writers, in his “Directory” under the head, St Longin — ( St Longinns.) This St Longinus is twofold: “some saying, that he was the soldier that pierced our Lord’s side with a spear; and some, that he was the centurion who commanded the guard at the cross. The legends report both these persons to have been converted to the Christian faith, to have suffered martyrdom, and to have been canonized.” Moreri, however, though an ecclesiastic of the Romish Church, was constrained to add, The acts of both Longinuses are manifestly false; and the circumstances they allege mutually refute each other.”
It would appear that the name Longinus has been formed from the Greek λόγχη , spear: Longinus being the Latin form of λόγχιμνος , — spear-man. Thus, St Longinus is found to be a similar saint to the Sancta Veronica, reported by Brydone. “The Greeks,” continues Moreri, celebrate the martyrdom of Longinus, the centurion, on the 16 of October, the Latins on the 15 of March, and the Copts on the 1 of November. The martyrdom of Longinus, the soldier, is not acknowledged by the Greeks; but the Latins commemorate it on different days; some on the 15 of March, some on the 1 of September, others on the 22 of November; or 11th of December.” We thus see how little this offspring of credulity and superstition merits the attention of the readers of the Gospel. — Granville Penn’s Annotations.
36. A bone of him shall not be broken. This citation is made from Exodus 12:46, and Numbers 9:12, where Moses treats of the paschal lamb. Note, Moses takes for granted that that lamb was a figure of the true and only sacrifice, by which the Church was to be redeemed. Nor is this inconsistent with the fact, that it was sacrificed as the memorial of a redemption which had been already made; for, while God intended that it should celebrate the former favor, he also intended that it should exhibit the spiritual deliverance of the Church, which was still future. On that account Paul, without any hesitation, applies to Christ the rule which Moses lays down about eating the lamb:
for even Christ, our Passover, is sacred for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with, the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, (1 Corinthians 5:7.)
From this analogy, or resemblance, faith derives no ordinary advantage, for, in all the ceremonies of the Law, it beholds the salvation which has been manifested in Christ. Such is also the design of the Evangelist John, when he says that Christ was not only the pledge of our redemption, but also the price of it, because in him we see accomplished what was formerly exhibited to the ancient people under the figure of the passover. Thus also the Jews are reminded that they ought to seek in Christ the substance of all those things which the Law prefigured, but did not actually accomplish.
37. They shall look on him whom they pierced. This passage is violently tortured by those who endeavor to explain it literally as referring to Christ. Nor is this the purpose for which the Evangelist quotes ib but rather to show that Christ is that God who formerly complained, by Zechariah, that the Jews had pierced his heart, (Zechariah 12:10) Now, God speaks there after the manner of men, declaring that He is wounded by the sins of his people, and especially by their obstinate contempt of his word, in the same manner as a mortal man receives a deadly wound, when his heart is pierced; as he says, elsewhere, that his Spirit was deeply grieved, (188) Now, as Christ is God manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16,) John says that in his visible flesh was plainly accomplished what his Divine Majesty had endured from the Jews, so far as it was capable of enduring; not that God can be at all affected by the outrages of men, or that the reproaches which are cast at him from the earth ever reach him, but because by this mode of expression he intended to declare with what enormous sacrilege the wickedness of men is chargeable, when it rises in rebellion against heaven. What was done by the hand of a Roman soldier the ]Evangelist John justly imputes to the Jews; as they are elsewhere said to have crucified the Son of God, (Acts 2:36,) though they did not lay a finger on his body.
A question now arises as to this passage taken from the prophet, (189) Does God promise to the Jews repentance to salvation, or, does he threaten that he will come as an avenger? For my own part, when I closely examine the passage, I think that it includes both; namely, that out of a worthless and unprincipled nation God will gather a remnant for salvation, and that, by his dreadful vengeance, he will show to despisers who it is with whom they have to do; for we know that they were wont to treat the prophets as insolently as if the prophets had told nothing but fables, and had received no commission from God. God declares that they will not pass unpunished, for he will at length maintain his cause.
(188) Here Calvin’s Latin Copy refers to the words of our blessed Lord in Matthew 26:38, My soul is sorrowful, even to death; but the French Copy refers to Isaiah 63:10, But they rebelled, and Grieved His Holy Spirit. — Ed.
(189) “ On fait une question sur ce passage du prophete.”
38. Joseph of Arimathea besought Pilate. John now relates by whom, and in what place, and with what magnificence, Christ was buried. He mentions two persons who buried Christ; namely, Joseph and Nicodemus, the former of whom requested Pilate to give him the dead body, which otherwise would have been exposed to the lawless violence of the soldiers. Matthew (Matthew 27:57) says, that he was a rich man, and Luke (Luke 23:50) says, that he was a counsellor; that is, he held the rank of a senator. As to Nicodemus, we have seen, in the Third Chapter of this Gospel, that he held an honorable rank among his own countrymen; and that he was also rich, may be easily inferred from the great expense which he laid out in procuring this mixture.
Till now, therefore, riches had prevented them from professing to be the disciples of Christ, and might afterwards have no less influence in keeping them from making a profession so much hated and abhorred. The Evangelist expressly says, that Joseph has formerly been kept back by this fear from venturing to declare openly that he was a disciple of Christ; and as to Nicodemus, he repeats what we have already seen, that he came to Jesus secretly, and by night, (John 3:2 and John 7:50.) Whence, therefore, do they derive such heroic magnanimity that, when affairs are at the lowest ebb, they fearlessly come forth to public view? I say nothing of the great and evident danger which they must have incurred; but the most important point is, that they did not scruple to place themselves in a state of perpetual warfare with their own nation. It is therefore certain that this was effected by a heavenly impulse, so that they who, through, fear, did not render the honor due to him while he was alive, now run to his dead body, as if they had become new men.
They bring their spices to embalm the body of Christ; but they would never have done so, if they had been perfumed with the sweet sayour of his death. This shows the truth of what Christ had said,
Unless a grain of corn die, it remaineth alone; but when it is dead, it bringeth forth much fruit, (John 12:24.)
For here we have a striking proof that his death was more quickening than his life; and so great was the efficacy of that sweet sayour which the death of Christ conveyed to the minds of those two men, that it quickly extinguished all the passions belonging to the flesh. So long as ambition and the love of money reigned in thenb the grace of Christ had no charms for them; but now they begin to disrelish the whole world.
Besides, let us learn that their example points out to us what we owe to Christ. Those two men, as a testimony of their faith, not only took down Christ from the cross with great hazard, but boldly carried him to the grave. Our slothfulness will be base and shameful if, now that he reigns in the heavenly glory, we withhold from him the confession of our faith. So much the less excusable is the wickedness of those who, though they now deny Christ by base hypocrisy, plead in his behalf the example of Nicodemus. In one thing, I admit, they resemble him, that they endeavor, as far as lies in their power, to bury Christ; but the time for burying is past, since he hath ascended to the right hand of the Father, that he may reign gloriously over angels and men, and that every tongue may proclaim his dominion, (Philippians 2:9.)
Secretly, through fear of the Jews. As this fear is contrasted with the holy boldness which the Spirit of the Lord wrought in the heart of Joseph, there is reason to believe that it was not free from blame. Not that all fear, by which believers guard against tyrants and enemies of the Church, is faulty, but because the weakness of faith is manifested, whenever the confession of faith is withheld through fear. We ought always to consider what the Lord commands, and how far he bids us advance. He who stops in the middle of the course shows that he does not trust in God, and he who sets a higher value on his own life than on the command of God is without excuse.
Who was a disciple of Jesus. When we perceive that the Evangelist bestows on Joseph the honorable designation of a disciple, at a time when he was excessively timid, and did not venture to profess his faith before the world, we learn from it how graciously God acts towards his people, and with what fatherly kindness he forgives their offenses. And yet the false Nicodemites have no right to flatter themselves, who not only keep their faith concealed within their own breast, but, by pretending to give their consent to wicked superstitions, do all that is in their power to deny that they are disciples of Christ.
40. As the custom of the Jews is to bury. When Christ had endured extreme ignominy on the cross, God determined that his burial should be honourable, that it might serve as a preparation for the glory of his resurrection. The money expended on it by Nicodemus and Joseph is very great, and may be thought by some to be superfluous; but we ought to consider the design of God, who even led them, by his Spirit, to render this honor to his own Son, that, by the sweet savor of his grave he might take away our dread of the cross. But those things which are cut of the ordinary course ought not to be regarded as an example.
Besides, the Evangelist expressly states that he was buried according to the custom of the Jews. By these words he informs us that this was one of the ceremonies of the Law; for the ancient people, who did not receive so clear a statement of the resurrection, and who had not such a demonstration and pledge of it as we have in Christ, needed such aids to support them, that they might firmly believe and expect the coming of the Mediator (190) We ought, therefore, to attend to the distinction between us, who have been enlightened by the brightness of the Gospel, and the rather, to whom the figures supplied the absence of Christ. This is the reason why allowance could then be made for a greater pomp of ceremonies, which, at the present day, would not be free from blame; for those who now bury the dead at so great an expense do not, strictly speaking, bury dead men, but rather, as far as lies in their power, draw down from heaven Christ himself, the King of life, and lay him in the tomb, for his glorious resurrection (191) abolished those ancient ceremonies.
Among the heathen, too, there was great anxiety and ceremony in burying the dead, which unquestionably derived its origin from the ancient Fathers of the Jews, (192) in the same manner as sacrifices; but, as no hope of the resurrection existed along them, they were not imitators of the Fathers, but apes of them; for the promise and word of God is, as it were, the soul, which gives life to ceremonies. Take away the word, and all the ceremonies which men observe, though outwardly they may resemble the worship of godly persons, is nothing else than foolish or mad superstition. For our part, as we have said, we ought now to maintain sobriety and moderation in this matter, for immoderate expense quenches the sweet savour of Christ’s resurrection.
(190) “ Lt, venue du Messias;” — “the coming of the Messiah.”
(191) “ Sa resurrection glorieuse.”
(192) “ Des Peres anciens des Juifs.”
41. Now, in the place where he was crucified there was a garden. This is the third point, as I have said, which ought to be observed in the history of the burial. It is related by the Evangelist for various reasons. In the first place, it did not happen by accident, but by an undoubted providence of God, that the body of Christ was buried in a new sepulchre; for although he died as all other men die, still, as he was to be the first-born from the dead, (Colossians 1:18,) and the first-fruits of them that rise, (1 Corinthians 15:20) he had a new sepulcher, in which no person had ever been laid True, Nicodemus and Joseph had a different object in view; for, in consequence of the short time that now remained till sunset, which was the commencement of the Sabbath, they looked to the convenience of the place, but, contrary to their intention God provided for his own Son a sepulchre which had not yet been used. The good men are merely gratified by the place being near at hand, that they might not violate the Sabbath; but God offers them what they did not seek, that the burial of his Son might have some token to distinguish him from the rank of other men. The local situation served also to prove the truth of his resurrection, and to throw no small light on the narrative which is contained in the following chapter.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on John 19". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18