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CHRIST’S ENEMIES SMITTEN DOWN BY A WORD
John 18:4-9. Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them. As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground. Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way; that the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none.
THE cross of Christ has been an offence and a stumbling-block to both Jews and Gentiles in every age: they think it absurd to expect salvation from one who saved not himself, and life from one who was made subject unto death. But every step of his humiliation was accompanied with circumstances which abundantly attested the dignity of his person, and counterbalanced the ignominy of his low and suffering condition. When he lay in a manger, he was pointed out to the Eastern Magi by an extraordinary star; when he agonized in the garden, there came an angel from heaven to strengthen him; and when he was apprehended as a thief, he beat down the whole band of his enemies by a word of his mouth. This miraculous exertion of his power, though not recorded in the other Evangelists, is a very interesting and instructive part of our Lord’s history. I wish you to notice,
The particular incidents here related.
His successful resistance to his enemies—
[Our Lord went forth boldly to meet his enemies. Many from amongst ourselves will go forth to face danger, and will manifest great boldness in the midst of it, because they hope to escape the troubles that threaten them, and to overcome the enemies that oppose them. But if they could look into futurity and see the sufferings which they would be called to endure, they would not be so precipitate; they would be glad, if possible, to avoid the evil, especially if they found that their submission to it would entail on them nothing but disgrace. Not so our blessed Lord: “he knew all things that should come upon him:” he had already tasted of the bitter cup, and knew that he was about to drink it even to the very dregs; he knew all that he should endure from men, from devils, and from his heavenly Father; yet he went forth unappalled, “enduring the cross and despising the shame.”
He shewed them, however, how vain would be their attempts to apprehend him, if he chose to stand in his own defence. Inquiring calmly whom they sought, and being told, “Jesus of Nazareth,” he answered, “I am he.” Here were no reproaches (for though reviled, he reviled not again), but a plain acknowledgment that he was the object whom they wanted. But with what a glorious power were his words accompanied! No sooner were they uttered, than all the band of soldiers, with Judas at their head, were struck as with lightning, and staggering backward, they fell to the ground. This miracle, though at first sight it may appear vindictive, was, in fact, as replete with mercy as any that Jesus ever wrought. It was calculated to shew them their guilt and danger, and thereby to lead them to repentance. The chief priests and elders in particular, (for they also were close at hand [Note: Luke 22:52.],) could scarce fail to call to mind the signal vengeance that had been inflicted on two bands of soldiers who went to apprehend Elijah, and to contrast with that the mercy they had received [Note: 2 Kings 1:9-14.]. The recollection of this might have convinced them that they were at this instant monuments of God’s forbearance, and that Christ, if he had chosen, could have struck them all dead upon the spot. Happy would it have been for them if they had indulged such obvious and suitable reflections.
But his hour being come, he satisfied himself with merely shewing them what he could do, if he pleased; and that they could no otherwise apprehend him than by,]
His willing surrender—
[Notwithstanding this most awful warning, they still persisted in their intention to apprehend Jesus. If the eyes be blinded and the heart hardened, it is in vain to expect any great benefit either from judgments or mercies. Like Pharaoh we may be affected for a moment, but shall soon “return with the dog to his vomit.” No sooner had they recovered a little from their surprise, than they resumed their purpose. But O! who would have conceived that the ministers of religion should be so employed, and that an Apostle too should be found standing in such company, and on such an occasion? Contemplate him one moment as rising from the ground, and instantly leading on again the murderous band; what an awful picture of human depravity!. Lord, what is man! What a monster of iniquity, if left to follow the dictates of his own heart.
Our Lord, having thus demonstrated his power to resist, surrendered up himself into their hands. Our Lord had before affirmed that no man could take away his life, but that he would lay it down of himself [Note: John 10:18.]. Before his hour was come he repeatedly withdrew himself both from injudicious friends and from incensed enemies [Note: Luk 4:29-30 and John 6:15.]. But now he proceeded to fulfil his word, and willingly gave up himself into the hands of his enemies. As, when first he undertook our cause, he said to the Father, Lo, I come, I delight to do thy will, O God [Note: Psalms 40:7-8.]; so now, at the close of his undertaking, he went up to his enemies again, and asked, Whom seek ye? and replied again as before to the answer given him. Now he suffered himself to be bound as a criminal, and yielded up himself to all those indignities and miseries, which, as our surety, it became him to endure. This voluntary surrender of himself was necessary in order to his being a sacrifice for us; and it was one principal circumstance that rendered his sacrifice so peculiarly acceptable to God; “He loved us,” says the Apostle, “and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God of a sweet-smelling savour [Note: Ephesians 5:2.].”
Nevertheless, even while he thus humbled himself, he further evinced his power by,]
His dignified capitulation—
[He did not see fit to let his Disciples participate yet in his bitter cup. He had ordained that they should be conformed to him in their death as well as in their life. But they were yet but weak in the faith, and not able to encounter great difficulties. A premature discouragement might prove fatal to them. Our Lord therefore would “not put new wine into old bottles,” or suffer his Disciples to be tried beyond their strength. On this account he stipulated with his enemies that they should not molest any of his adherents. He did not make a request to his enemies, for there was no probability that they would listen to it for one moment. He imposed it on them with authority, that they should let his Disciples go; and, by his invisible agency, he constrained them to obey him. And so effectual was his command, that they could not even retaliate upon Peter, whose temerity had exposed both himself and his fellow-disciples to most imminent hazard. Jesus had just before declared to his heavenly Father, that he had preserved all whom the Father had committed to him [Note: John 17:12.]. He was therefore peculiarly solicitous for their welfare in the hour of danger: and shewed that, though he saved not himself, he was both able and determined to save those who had put their trust in him.]
From these striking incidents we shall be led to notice,
The light which they cast on the general character of our Lord—
Behold him here,
As a surety for sinners—
[What he did on this occasion is precisely what he has done with respect to all the enemies of our salvation. Does the justice of God arrest us, or his holy law condemn us? Behold, Jesus gives up himself in our stead, and says respecting us, “Let these go their way.” Isaac was not more certainly doomed to death in the purpose of his father, than we were by reason of our iniquities: but Jesus, like the ram, is accepted in our stead, and we rise to a life of immortality and glory. Let us ever view Jesus in this light; — — — let us regard him as our surety and substitute; — — — nor doubt, but that through his willing sacrifice, and authoritative mediation, our souls shall live for ever.]
As an avenger of his enemies [Note: Isaiah 1:24.]—
[We have seen what Christ did when he was about to surrender up himself, and to stand as a criminal at man’s tribunal: what then will he not do when he shall sit upon the throne of his glory, and summon the universe to his tribunal? If an armed band were smitten to the ground by the power of his word in the hour of his deepest humiliation, how shall an individual, unarmed, resist him in the day when he shall sit on his throne of judgment? When he shall say, “I am he,” whom thou despisedst, “I am he,” whose invitations thou didst slight, and on whose blood thou didst trample; what confusion will cover us! what terror will seize us! and how irresistible will be the power that shall consign us over to perdition! Surely, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” O let us seek Jesus, not to betray and dishonour him, — — — but rather to serve and glorify him with our whole hearts.]
As a protector of his people—
[As his people were beset with enemies at that time, so are they in every age, and every place. Malignant as they were who came to apprehend our Lord, they were but instruments in the hands of that malicious fiend who seeks to destroy us. But all the hosts of hell are as much subject to the power of Jesus, as Judas and the soldiers were. “Not any weapon formed against us can prosper,” if only we put our trust in him — — — Let us then flee to him; and he will hide us under the shadow of his wings — — — As birds flying to protect their young, so will the Lord defend us. And as the attendant angel passed between the destroyer and the houses sprinkled with blood, so will the Lord pass over to preserve us from the assaults of our enemies [Note: Isaiah 31:5.]. Let us rely on him, and we shall find him a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall [Note: Isaiah 25:4.].]
JESUS SMITTEN IN THE HIGH PRIEST’S PALACE
John 18:19-23. The high-priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine. Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said. And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high-priest so? Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?
THE Holy Scriptures are generally considered as containing only matter of historic record; whereas in reality, with the difference only of some outward circumstances, they exhibit a faithful picture of all that is passing at this present day, in ourselves, and in the world around us. Religion is the same now as it always was; and human nature is still the same; and consequently the operations of religion also are the same, whether in those who hate, or those who embrace, it. In the history before us, we must, doubtless, primarily regard our blessed Lord as suffering what God in his determinate counsels had ordained him to suffer for the sins of men: but, if we would reap the full benefit from these occurrences, we must view them in their general aspect, as shewing us,
How religion is opposed—
Few will admit at all that religion is opposed in the present day: but daily experience proves that it is still, precisely as in former ages, opposed,
With inveterate prejudice—
[The interrogations put to Jesus by the high-priest had the appearance of candour (for the bitterest enemies of Christianity wish to maintain somewhat of the semblance of justice); but they proceeded from nothing but a desire to elicit something from Jesus which should serve as a ground of accusation against him. This was clearly perceived by our blessed Lord; and therefore, instead of suffering himself to be thus ensnared by his blood-thirsty persecutor, he referred him to the very people who were seeking his destruction, that he might learn from them the crimes which they had to lay to his charge. Had the high-priest been sincerely desirous of knowing, from Jesus himself, what his doctrines were, and what he expected of his Disciples, that he might guard the more effectually against any misrepresentations or mistakes, and administer justice with impartiality, our Lord would not have withheld from him the necessary information. But the high-priest had no such objects in view: his design was only to find an occasion against Jesus, either on account of something which should proceed out of his mouth, or as concealing truths which he dared not to avow.
And do we not here see the spirit in which inquiries are still made at this very hour, in relation both to the doctrines of the Gospel, and to the people who profess it? In what a captious way are questions continually put to religious characters, by those who hate the doctrines of the Gospel! The object of the inquirers is, not to gain such a knowledge as shall convince and satisfy their minds, but to draw forth some answer, which shall either really, or in appearance at least, justify their rejection of all true religion. So also in relation to the followers of Christ; their enemies have no wish to hear any thing in their favour: all that they want, is, to collect anecdotes to the disadvantage of those who profess godliness, and to find reasons for holding them up to derision and reproach. The very same spirit which urged on the enemies of Daniel [Note: Daniel 6:4-5.], wrought also in the enemies of Jesus [Note: Luke 11:54.], and still reigns, though often cloked under the most specious garb, in all who embrace not the Gospel of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:12.].]
With licentious violence—
[Nothing could be more honourable than our Lord’s appeal to those who surrounded him; since they had all heard his discourses continually in the temple, and were thoroughly disposed to bring their accusations against him, if they were able to lay any thing to his charge. Yet behold, this appeal, instead of being received as a declaration of his innocence, was resented as an indignity offered to the high-priest; and that too in a way which was contrary to all law, or equity, or common humanity: in a court of justice itself, an officer of that court, in the very presence of the judge, struck the prisoner, not only uncondemned, but unheard, yea, and before even an accusation had been brought against him! In what court under heaven would such injustice be tolerated in a common cause? Yet was this passed over without any testimony of disapprobation, either from the judge, or from any of his attendants!
And do we not here see how the rights of God’s people are trampled on by all who choose to persecute and oppress them? Yes verily, the most injurious treatment may be shewn to them, and none will stand up to vindicate their cause. They are neither judged, nor protected by the same laws as other men. Against a godly man acting for his Lord and Saviour, any one may rise, and may insult and injure him, not only with impunity, but with the approbation of many; whilst, if the very same line of conduct were pursued by a professor of godliness against a man of this world, a fire would be kindled in every breast, and a general indignation excited against the offending person. We cannot descend to particulars; but the observation of every man may furnish them in abundance: and, if any one be acquainted with instances of such licentious violence, we desire him only to look at the means which are used to cramp the efforts of the godly, and to arrest the progress of vital godliness; and then to ask himself, What he would think of religious persons, if they were to adopt such measures against the opposers of the Gospel as the opposers of the Gospel adopt towards them? And we will venture to say, that a very few minutes’ consideration shall convince him, that “those who are born after the flesh do still persecute those who are born after the Spirit,” and that the descendants of Cain, of Ishmael, and of Doeg, are not by any means extinct.]
With hypocritical pretences—
[This officer professed a high regard for order and decorum; but a greater act of indecorum can scarcely be conceived than that which he himself committed at that very time; since the taking for granted that the judge who sat there, to administer justice, would suffer all the rights of justice to be so violated in his very presence, was as severe a reflection upon the judge as could well be cast on a human being. Yet this was the man who complained of a want of order and decorum in our blessed Lord, and made that a plea for the outrage which he himself committed. What hypocrisy was here! yet it is no other than what is practised every day by those who hate the Gospel, and labour to obstruct its progress. Need we go to Rome to hear the plea, that, from the labours of Christ’s faithful servants, the Church is in danger? With what sanctimonious zeal will many cry out against lectures on a Sabbath evening, as injurious to morality; whilst they never lift up a voice against the theatres, in which so much iniquity abounds! And what concern will many express about the peace of men’s minds as disturbed by the Gospel, when they have never, on any occasion whatever, shewn any regard for the spiritual interests of others, or even for the welfare of their own souls! I mean not to say, that the welfare of the Church, and the interests of morality, and the peace of men’s minds, ought to be deemed of small importance; for they ought, beyond a doubt, to be regarded with the utmost care and tenderness: but this I say, that they are not uncommonly made a pretext for opposing religion, by persons who on any other occasion would shew no regard for them at all. Rather than not prevail to destroy the Lord Jesus, the Jews would cry out, “If thou let this man go, thou art not Cζsar’s friend:” when they would not have hesitated to throw off Cζsar’s yoke at any moment, if they could have attempted it with any prospect of success [Note: John 19:12.]. Their loyalty was but a pretext; their only object being to ensure the condemnation of one, whose innocence the very judge himself had repeatedly proclaimed. The truth is, that the godly are a prey, which every man is at liberty to hunt down; and in the taking of which he is at liberty to use any means which his ingenuity may devise [Note: Isaiah 59:15.].]
But whilst in the conduct of the Jews we see how religion is opposed, we see, in the conduct of our Lord,
How it is to be maintained—
None of the weapons which are made use of by the enemies of religion, are to be employed by its friends. If they contend with evil, we are to contend with good, and to “overcome evil with good.” The cause of Christ must be maintained,
With undaunted firmness—
[Our blessed Lord was not intimidated by this rude assault; but, as one who felt that he was possessed of a good conscience, and a good cause, he firmly expostulated with his adversary: “If I have done evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?” Now this shews us, that we are not called to submit to injuries without maintaining that we have still the same rights as other men, and that, when those rights are violated, we have just reason to complain. St. Paul, when a Roman Centurion had bound him with thongs, and was about to scourge him, asserted his right, as a Roman citizen, to be regarded as innocent, till his guilt had been proved in a court of justice [Note: Acts 22:25.]: and at another time, after having been unjustly beaten and imprisoned, he would not leave the prison till the magistrates, who had so treated him, should “come to fetch him out [Note: Acts 16:37.].” Thus we may avoid injuries when no sacrifice of conscience is required: but, rather than violate, in any instance, our duty to God, we must brave all the injuries that can be inflicted on us. The Hebrew Youths have set us an excellent example in this respect. When menaced with being cast into the fiery furnace, they expressed their confidence in God, that he would interpose for their deliverance: but whether such an interposition should be vouchsafed or not, they were determined to hold fast their integrity at all events: “Our God will deliver us. But, if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods [Note: Daniel 3:18.].” No trials whatever should at any time drive us from this point. Whatever persecutions may arise, we must say with Paul, “None of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto myself.” In a word, we must “not fear man, who can only kill the body; but fear Him alone, who can destroy both body and soul in hell [Note: Luke 12:4-5.].”]
With unruffled patience—
[Though our Lord’s answer was firm, there was not the smallest degree of irritation in it. And herein he shewed how superior he was to any mortal man. Moses was the meekest man upon the face of the earth; yet, when greatly tried, he broke forth into unadvised expressions, which brought the displeasure of God upon him [Note: Numbers 20:10-12.]. And when Paul was injured precisely in the same way that Jesus was, he resentfully addressed the judge that had so injured him: “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law [Note: Acts 23:2-3.]?” Our duty in all circumstances is to imitate “the meekness and gentleness of Christ,” who, as St. Peter informs us, “suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps: who, being reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously [Note: 1 Peter 2:21-23.].” If we betray any unhallowed temper, our adversaries have so far gained a victory over us. We must, under all circumstances, “possess our souls in patience;” and “let patience have its perfect work, that we may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing.”]
From the whole then we may learn,
What to expect—
[“The servant must not expect to be above his lord.” “If men called the Master of the house Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household.” Our blessed Lord strongly guards us upon this very point: “Marvel not,” says he, “if the world hate you: if it hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you [Note: John 15:18-20.].” Nor is it mere hatred that we must expect to encounter, but injuries also, yes, and injuries of the most atrocious kind. “If we will live godly in Christ Jesus, we shall assuredly suffer persecution.” Let us then “count the cost;” and be ready to pay it. “The pearl of great price” is worth it all.]
How to act—
[Let us set our Lord Jesus Christ before us as our example. “He, when oppressed and afflicted, opened not his mouth: he was brought as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so opened he not his mouth [Note: Isaiah 53:6.].” O blessed attainment! how rare! how beautiful! “To turn the left cheek to him who smites us on the right! to let a man who sues us at the law, and takes away our coat, take away with him our cloak also! and when compelled to go with a man one mile, to accompany him voluntarily another [Note: Matthew 5:39-41.]!” What hard savings are these to the carnal man! and how difficult to be carried into execution, even by the most spiritual! But, beloved, let us not despair of attaining these things; for “the grace of Christ is sufficient for us;” and we may rest assured, that, if only we “be strong in him,” we shall “be able to do all things through Christ who strengtheneth us.” And it is but a little time that we shall be called to these sacrifices. Soon we shall be beyond the reach of all our adversaries: having “suffered with Christ, and overcome through him, we shall soon be glorified together, and sit down with him upon his throne, as he overcame, and is set down with his Father upon his throne [Note: Romans 8:17. Revelation 3:21.].”]
CHRIST’S GOOD CONFESSION
John 18:37. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
IN the whole of our Saviour’s life there was a strong apparent contradiction between the character he professed, and that which he visibly sustained. At his introduction into the world he was announced as a most exalted personage, even as “the King of the Jews [Note: Luke 2:11-12.];” yet was he found born in a stable, and laid in a manger. When he entered triumphantly into Jerusalem, and was welcomed with loud hosannas as the Son of David, he did not assume the pomp of earthly monarchs, but rode thither, in a meek and lowly manner, seated on a young ass [Note: Zechariah 9:9. with Matthew 21:2-9.]. But this opposition between his mean appearance and his high pretensions never was more visible than when he stood before the bar of Pilate. He was like any other poor man; except indeed that he was bound as a criminal, and held by his whole nation as more execrable than even a robber or a murderer: yet at this time did he assert his claim to kingly authority, or, as St. Paul expresses it, “witnessed a good confession before Pontius Pilate [Note: 1 Timothy 6:13.].”
In his answer to Pilate, there are two things to be considered;
The Jews had already condemned him, for making himself the Son of God [Note: Matthew 26:63-65.]. But he could not be executed, unless Pilate also should condemn him. But Pilate did not regard any questions relating to the Jewish law; and therefore the Jews brought a different charge against him before Pilate; affirming that he had set up himself as a King against Cζsar. On this charge Pilate questioned him, and received the answer which we have just read.
In this answer we notice,
The boldness of it—
[Our Lord had already told Pilate, that he disclaimed any idea of establishing an earthly kingdom; and that there was no ground for fear or jealousy, as if he was invading the rights of Cζsar, or attempting to rescue his country from the Roman yoke. He appealed to the prohibition which he had just before given to his Disciples respecting their using the sword in his defence; and declared, that the kingdom to which he aspired was not of a worldly nature; not established on worldly principles, nor supported by worldly force, nor governed by worldly policy, nor in any respect interfering with the interests of other monarchs. Yet even in thus rectifying the misapprehensions of Pilate, he thrice used the words, “My kingdom.” He might have satisfied himself with simply denying his interference with human governments: but he would on no account conceal what it was of importance to the world to know: and therefore, though he foresaw all the consequences of his confession, he answered plainly to the next interrogation, “Thou sayest truly; I am a King.”]
The truth of it—
[The prophets had abundantly testified of the regal dignity of the Messiah [Note: Isaiah 9:6-7. Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:13-14; Dan 9:25 and Psalms 72:1; Psalms 72:11.] — — — and in the New Testament it had been confirmed by the testimony both of men and angels [Note: Matthew 2:2.Luke 1:32-33; Luke 1:32-33.]. The very works also which he had wrought, bore witness to him [Note: John 10:25.]. The difference which subsisted between his government and earthly kingdoms, so far from invalidating his claim, served only to establish it on the firmest basis: for, whereas other kings had dominion only over the bodies of men, he reigned over their souls: others had their territories bounded by seas or mountains; but his extended over all the earth.]
But we shall have a further insight into the truth of his confession, while we consider,
His explanation of it—
The connexion between the two parts of our Lord’s answer is not obvious at first sight: but, on comparing them with attention, we shall find, that in the latter he explains,
The manner in which he exercises his kingly office—
[Satan is “the god of this world,” “the prince that ruleth in all the children of disobedience [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4.Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 2:2.].” He has usurped a power over the whole race of mankind, and he governs them all as his vassals [Note: 2 Timothy 2:26.].
Now Jesus has not, like other kings, any persons who are his subjects by birth: every one of his subjects is rescued from under the dominion of Satan, and constrained to submit to him.
But with what weapons does our blessed Lord invade the kingdom of Satan? not with those which are used in earthly wars, but with the force of truth. It is by darkness and falsehood that Satan retains men in his service; and it is by the light of truth that Christ delivers them from their bondage. Satan makes men believe that “God is even such an one as themselves;” that they have no reason to fear his displeasure; that their own good works or repentance will save them; and that it is sufficient for them to maintain a moral and decent conduct. Our blessed Lord, on the contrary, proclaims that God is a just and holy Being; that sinners are obnoxious to his wrath; that there is no reconciliation with God but through him; and that they who would be happy in the next world, must now devote themselves wholly to the service of their God. It had been foretold that He should be “a witness to the people [Note: Isaiah 55:4.]:” and he came agreeably to the prediction, “to bear witness to the truth.” “For this very end was he born;” and by executing this office, he prevailed, and still does prevail, on thousands to renounce their allegiance to Satan, and to “take upon them his light and easy yoke.”]
The distinguishing character of his subjects—
[Those are said to be “of the truth,” who have been begotten, or converted, by it: just as those are said to be “of God,” who have been born of God [Note: Compare James 1:18. with 1 John 3:19.]. Now every one that has experienced the influence of truth in “bringing him out of darkness into light,” and “in translating him from the power of Satan into the kingdom of God’s dear Son [Note: 1 Peter 2:9. Colossians 1:13.],” from that time “hears the voice of Christ,” and obeys it without reserve. “Other lords had dominion over him before:” the world governed him by its maxims; the flesh captivated him by its allurements; the devil enslaved him by his temptations: but from henceforth he will not listen to the syren voice of pleasure, or regard the calls of interest or reputation: he has sworn allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ; and for him he is determined to sacrifice every other consideration.
This designates the character of Christ’s subjects. Wherever such persons are found, these are the subjects of his kingdom. Other kings exercise their sway over those only who are born in a particular country: but in whatever country these persons live, they belong to Christ; to Christ supremely, to Christ only. All other authorities are subservient to his; and are to be obeyed so far only as shall be agreeable to his laws, and conducive to his honour.
At the same time, none are his subjects, who do not correspond— with the character here given. Whatever they may profess, they are not his: they may call themselves Christians; but he calls them traitors, rebels, enemies.]
Those who never yet submitted to Christ’s government—
[Whose are ye? There are but two monarchs, who divide the whole world between them; and these are, Christ and Satan. If then you have never been smitten with that “two-edged sword, the word of truth;” if you have never been so deeply wounded, that nothing but the “balm of Gilead” could heal you; if you have never cast down the anus of your rebellion, and surrendered up yourselves to Christ, we must say of you, as Christ himself did of the Jews, “Ye are of your father the devil [Note: John 8:44.].” And if you are Satan’s vassals, from whom, and with whom, must you expect your reward? Let this question come home to your hearts; and choose ye this day “whose ye will be, and whom ye will serve [Note: Joshua 24:14.].”]
Those who are afraid to yield themselves up to Christ—
[Alas! that any should be deterred by fear or shame from acknowledging Christ; when he braved even the most cruel death, rather than deny the office which he bore for us! What can be your loss or pain, when compared with his? What is the contempt poured upon you, when compared with the accursed death of the cross to which he submitted for your sakes? Perhaps you expect to be acknowledged as his subjects, though you shun the odium of acknowledging him as your king. But this cannot be; for those who deny him shall be denied by him; and those only who confess him, shall be confessed by him in the presence of his Father, and of his holy angels [Note: Matthew 10:32-33.].]
Those who call themselves his subjects—
[What our heavenly King said of himself, may be fitly applied to all his subjects; “For this end were ye born, and for this cause came ye into the world, that ye should bear witness unto the truth.” Ye are to be God’s witnesses in the world: “ye are to be as lights,” and “as a city set on a hill.” Let it appear then that “the truth has made you free [Note: John 8:32.].” Let it be seen in you, that truth will rectify, not only the errors of the mind, but the propensities of the heart; and that, when it is “mighty through God, it will bring every thought and desire into captivity to the obedience of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.].”]
PILATE’S INQUIRY ABOUT TRUTH
John 18:38. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?
THE rich and powerful are for the most part under great disadvantages for the attainment of religious knowledge. Their appointed teachers too often “prophesy smooth things to them;” and those who would deal faithfully with their consciences, are kept at a distance from them. Their dispositions and habits also are generally unfavourable for the reception of truth: and hence it is, that if they have an opportunity of gaining instruction, they rarely avail themselves of it, so as to derive any essential benefit to their souls [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:26.]. Herod heard John the Baptist; but “knew not how to use the price put into his hand.” Festus, and Agrippa, and Felix were variously affected with the preaching of Paul; but no one of them was savingly converted unto God. Pilate, as governor of Judζa, had Christ himself brought before him, for the express purpose of inquiring into his pretensions to the kingdom of Israel: and when our Lord had informed him what kind of a kingdom it was that he claimed, and that he came into the world to bear witness to the truth, Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” Happy man, who made such an inquiry; and who had One before him so capable of giving him instruction respecting it! Surely this man could not fail of being saved. But, alas! he waited not for an answer. We do not apprehend that he put the question contemptuously, as though he had said, “Why do you talk to me about truth?” The notice which the Evangelist takes of his question, gives us reason to think that it was intended seriously; though the event shewed, that he was not sufficiently anxious to obtain the information which he had professed to desire. However, the question was important; and, had his mind been duly impressed with its importance, we should have had to number him among the followers, rather than the enemies, of that despised Nazarene.
For our present improvement, we shall endeavour to state,
The importance of the inquiry—
Truth is of various kinds, physical, moral, and religious. By physical truth, we mean that which comprehends all the phenomena of nature: and by moral truth, that which relates to the whole system of morals, independent of religion. That an inquiry into these is important, appears from its having been the employment of all wise men from the beginning of the world; and from the value that has been set even on the smallest measures of truth which have, by means of the most patient and laborious investigations, been at any time brought to light. But religious truth, and that especially of which our Lord came to testify, is, beyond all comparison, more important than any other. What that truth is, we will state in few words. The point upon which our blessed Lord was examined before the Jewish council, was, “Art thou the Christ?” and that before Pilate, was, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” To both of these he answered in the affirmative, “I am.” Now these two points comprise all that truth, respecting which our blessed Lord came to testify: first, He is the anointed Saviour of the world; and, secondly, He is the King and Governor of all whom he saves. This is truth: this is the sum and substance of the Gospel [Note: Compare Acts 2:36. where these two points, that “Jesus is both Lord and Christ,” are spoken of precisely in this view.]: there is nothing connected with the justification, the sanctification, or the complete and everlasting salvation of mankind, which is not comprehended in this. Consequently, an inquiry into this must be of the very first importance.
It is important,
For the forming of our principles—
[Man without a principle is like a ship without a rudder, driven by every wave of temptation, and every gust of passion.
He has nothing whereby to judge of good and evil in matters of the greatest moment; no standard, to which he can refer a doubtful opinion; no touchstone, by which he can try a specious sentiment.
But whither can a man go for the forming of his principles? If he apply to heathen philosophers, he finds nothing fixed, nothing certain, nothing wherein they are generally agreed. Even the question, “What is the chief good of man?” he finds unsettled; and can obtain no clew that can lead him to any definite judgment.
But in the Gospel, all his doubts are solved. There he sees, that love to Christ as his Saviour, and obedience to him as his King, are to be the main-spring, which must set every wheel in motion. Whatever accords with the principle of love to him, and with the rule of his revealed will, is good; and whatever deviates from the one or other, even if it be only an hair’s breadth, is wrong. To this standard every feeling of the heart, and every expression of it in act, may be referred; and, if rightly referred, its true nature and quality will be infallibly determined.]
For the regulating of our conduct—
[As the principles of the greatest philosophers were involved in doubt and uncertainty, so were they altogether destitute of any sanctifying influence: they wrought no change on the morals of men; they produced no consistent change even on their own morals. Even Christianity itself, if there be not a direct and constant reference in the mind to that particular truth spoken of in the text, will not prevail to the renovating of the soul. Of this we have decisive evidence in the lives of nominal Christians; who, though they have a higher standard of morals than the heathen, are strangers to that heavenliness of mind, which characterizes a real saint.
But the knowledge of this truth will bring, not the actions only, but even “the thoughts, into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” The truth, cordially embraced, will operate as fire on metal, pervading the whole soul, and transforming it, as it were, into its own image [Note: See the want and the attainment of it contrasted. Ephesians 4:17-24.].]
For the saving of the soul—
[Whatever God may do in a way of uncovenanted mercy, (respecting which, as there is nothing revealed, it were presumptuous to speak;) men ignorant of the Gospel are invariably represented as in a state of guilt and condemnation. “If our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.” Indeed, the very circumstance of “Christ’s coming into the world on purpose to bear witness to the truth,” and his submitting to the accursed death of the cross in confirmation of that truth, is proof sufficient, that the knowledge of the truth is essential to our happiness, and that every living creature is bound to inquire into it.]
The objects and reasons of our inquiry being thus defined, we proceed to notice,
The manner in which it should be made—
Here Pilate was greatly defective: and, in marking his defects, we are unavoidably led to notice the manner in which such an inquiry should be made: it should be made,
[Some will inquire about religion with as much levity as if it were quite a trifling concern: they have nothing in view but the gratifying of their curiosity. They resemble the Jews who came to converse with Paul when he was a prisoner at Rome; “We desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest [Note: Acts 28:22.]:” or those who ridiculed the doctrine of the resurrection; “We will hear thee again of this matter [Note: Acts 17:32.]:” or those foolish women, of whom we read, that they were “ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth [Note: 2 Timothy 3:7.]” But religion is a serious matter; and in our inquiries respecting it we should remember, that on our acceptance or rejection of the truth our everlasting welfare depends — — —]
[While some are light and trifling, others make inquiries only that they may carp and cavil at the word. Such were the Herodians, the Sadducees, and Pharisees of old, who brought forth their respective difficulties, merely to ensnare Jesus, and entangle him in his talk [Note: Matthew 22:15-17; Matthew 22:23-28; Matthew 22:34-36.]: and such were those also, who “urged him vehemently to speak of many things, that they might find something whereof to accuse him [Note: Luke 11:53-54.].” But we should rather imitate the Berζans, who, instead of determining at once that all which they heard from time to time was folly and delusion, “searched the Scriptures daily, to find whether things were as they had been represented to them” — — —]
[There are many things revealed to us in the Gospel which are contrary to the generally prevailing opinions of mankind: “they are even foolishness unto the natural man; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” In order to understand them aright, we must receive them simply on the authority of God; and conclude them to be true, because he has revealed them. We must beg of him “the gift of his Holy Spirit, that we may know the things which are freely given to us of God:” for then only shall we know him, when “he gives us an understanding to know him,” and reveals his dear Son in our hearts as the hope of glory. If we are so wise that we will not seek instruction from him, God will “take us in our own craftiness” — — —]
[It is not a transient or superficial inquiry that will suffice: we must “search for wisdom, and dig for her as for hid treasures.” We must not presently give over the pursuit, because we find that we have not yet attained: the promise is, “Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord.” There are in the Gospel heights and depths which cannot be explored: and therefore, however deep our acquaintance may be with this stupendous mystery, we should still “not count ourselves to have attained,” but continue to “give attendance to reading,” and to pray with unabated fervour, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law!” — — —]
With a determination to embrace whatever we may find to be agreeable to the mind and will of God—
[This is the main point: “If we will do God’s will, we shall know of the doctrine whether it be of him.” If we will not receive the truth in the love of it, God will give us over to believe a lie, in order to our more aggravated condemnation [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12.]. To receive it speculatively will be to no purpose: for it were better to be wholly ignorant of it, than to “hold it in unrighteousness,” or turn from it after having once professed to embrace it [Note: Romans 1:18. Hebrews 6:4-6. 2 Peter 2:21.] — — —]
[As Pilate asked of Jesus, “What is truth?” so you are come hither professedly to make the same inquiry. Behold then, in Christ’s stead we answer your inquiry: This is truth; that Jesus is the Christ; and that his people look unto him as the Saviour of the world. This is truth; that Jesus is also the King of Israel; and that all who are his, submit to his government — — — Now go not away, as Pilate did, regardless of your own question; but reflect upon it; consider its importance; meditate on the answer given to it; and examine your own hearts, how far you understand it — — — how far you feel it — — — and how far your lives are conformed to it — — — “If you know the truth, it will make you free:” but if it do not “sanctify you” in this world, it can never profit you in the world to come.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on John 18". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
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