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CHRIST’S ACCUSATION BEFORE PILATE
Luke 23:1-3. And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him unto Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Cζsar, saying that he himself is Christ a King. And Pilate asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answered him and said, Thou sayest it.
UNANIMITY in any cause is no proof that the cause is good: nothing is requisite but to raise an outcry, and the passions of the multitude are soon heated; and, if there be a few artful and designing men to head them, they will concur in measures the most violent, and in acts the most atrocious. Never was this more awfully exemplified than in the conduct of the Jews towards our blessed Lord. Of all the Benefactors that nation ever beheld, Jesus was by far the greatest: yet there we find the whole multitude of the Jews, with the priests and elders at their head, leading Jesus before the Roman governor, in order to obtain against him the sentence of death.
We would call your attention to,
The transaction itself—
Here are three things to be noticed;
The virulence of the accusation—
[How contemptuously, how maliciously, how falsely, do they speak against him! He pervert the nation! Had they called him the Instructor of the nation, the Healer of the nation, the Saviour of the nation, they had done well: but to call him the Perverter of the nation, was a calumny, which one would have thought his bitterest enemies would not have dared to utter. It was not long since the very question had been publicly submitted to him; and his express answer was, “Render unto Cζsar the things that are Cζsar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s [Note: Luke 20:25.].” What he thus enjoined on his followers, he had before sanctioned by his example, having actually wrought a miracle on purpose to pay his tribute [Note: Matthew 17:25-27.]. And when the people would have taken him to make him a king, he by a miracle rendered himself invisible, and withdrew himself from them [Note: John 6:15.].]
The subtlety of his accusers—
[They formed their accusation so as to influence the person whose decision they desired. Before the High Priest, they accused him of blasphemy; but before Pilate, of sedition; that so they might interest the feelings of each, and procure from both a sentence of condemnation against him. Their pretended zeal for the honour of the Roman emperor, was especially calculated to make a favourable impression on him, who, as Cζsar’s deputy, now governed Judζa as a province of the Roman empire.
Their accusation too was founded upon assertions made by our Lord himself. He doubtless had frequently declared that he was the Christ, the King of Israel. His triumphant entry into Jerusalem but four days before, and his approbation of the Hosannas of his followers, amounted to a declaration, that he was the person spoken of by the prophet, “Behold thy King cometh unto thee, riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass [Note: Zechariah 9:9.].”
But did he therefore pervert the people, or claim for himself the tribute that was due to Cζsar? No: their premises in a certain sense, were true; but their conclusions from them were utter falsehood. They knew, however, that logical precision was not wanted in such a cause: when passion and prejudice guide the judgment, a specious plea will pass for substantial reason, and the semblance of truth will operate as forcibly as truth itself; especially where the accuser espouses the cause of the judge, and the accused is represented as his enemy.]
The dignity of the accused—
[He preserved silence in the midst of all the accusations which were brought against him; “insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly [Note: Matthew 27:12-14.].” And well he might marvel, that not a word of anger, or complaint, or self-vindication, should escape him. But Jesus was mute and passive, like a sheep led to the slaughter [Note: Isaiah 53:7.], and “committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.”
Nevertheless, when interrogated by his judge, he did answer, “Yea,” and “witnessed a good confession.” “Art thou the king of the Jews?” saith Pilate. “Thou sayest right,” replied our Lord; “I am.” He would not dissemble, nor for a moment hide such an important truth. He was prepared to endure all consequences, and to yield up his life in the very way that his enemies desired. And, as the Jewish Sanhedrim had already condemned him on his own confession [Note: Luke 22:71.], so he was willing that the Roman governor should follow their example. He was alike unmoved by impatience or revenge, by hopes or fears.]
The improvement that should be made of it—
The followers of Christ are called to tread in his steps. Would we then approve ourselves worthy of that high calling? let us,
Expect all manner of evil to be spoken of us falsely for his sake—
[He has warned us plainly to expect it [Note: Matthew 5:11.]: and experience proves that we ought to be prepared for it — — — Our enemies will not only take advantage of any thing we say or do, to build malignant reports upon it; but will be sure to impute our conduct to false principles, and to load our principles with consequences not at all deducible from them. We preach salvation by faith only i therefore we are enemies to morality: “We are instant in season and out of season;” and therefore we are irregular, and enemies to the established Church — — — If they would inquire, they would soon find that the very reverse of what they affirm is true: but they desire our condemnation; and therefore they make up by confidence and clamour, what they want in truth and equity — — — Thus was our Lord himself treated; and “if they called the Master of the house Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household [Note: See 1 Kings 18:17. Jeremiah 38:4.Esther 3:8-9; Esther 3:8-9. Acts 17:6-7; Acts 24:5.].”]
Submit with meekness to whatever evils we may be called to suffer—
[Our blessed Lord has suffered, “leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps.” It is true, it is not easy to preserve meekness and resignation amidst all the treatment which we experience from “unreasonable and wicked men:” but we should endeavour to “walk as Christ walked:” and be willing to “be made perfect through sufferings,” even as he was. “Let patience then have its perfect work;” and, when led to indulge an impatient spirit, beg of God to strengthen you with all might “by his Spirit in your inward man” — — —]
Be steadfast and immoveable in the maintenance of our principles—
[Many occasions may arise wherein we may be tempted to conceal our principles: but it is better to confess them openly, and suffer for them, than to violate our conscience and offend our God. We are expressly commanded “not to fear man, who can only kill the body; but to fear God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” We do not recommend it to any one to court persecution by a voluntary declaration of his principles to those who will only make them grounds of offence; (for that were to “cast pearls before swine;”) but whenever called to give an account of our faith, let us follow the example of our Lord, and at the risk of our lives “witness a good confession.”]
HEROD’S RECONCILIATION WITH PILATE
Luke 23:12. And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves.
IT was truly said of Christ at the time of his birth, that “he should be a sign that should be spoken against, that the thoughts of many hearts should be revealed:” for by means of him, throughout all his ministry, and especially at the close of his life, such depravity was brought to light, as one would scarcely have conceived it possible for man to indulge. To go no further than the immediate context: Pilate had been constrained to declare him innocent; yet, instead of liberating him, had availed himself of the mention of Galilee to send him to Herod, under whose jurisdiction that province was. The Scribes and Pharisees, enraged rather than pacified by Pilate’s attestation of his innocence, followed him to Herod’s judgment-seat, loading him with all manner of accusations, and making up in vehemence and clamour what they wanted in truth and evidence. Herod, after trying him, was forced to confirm the verdict of Pilate; yet, instead of protecting this persecuted person, arrayed him in mock-majesty, and with his men of war poured contempt upon him, and sent him back again to Pilate as an object worthy only of derision. Thus, while the Scribes and Pharisees unremittingly urged against him their malignant accusations, Pilate and Herod complimented each other at his expense, and made their injuries to him the means of reconciliation between themselves.
From this last circumstance we notice,
That sin is a common bond of union among men—
Sin certainly has produced in families and nations the greatest disunion: and generally causes the fiercest animosities among them that are nearest to each other. But it is also true, that sin often forms a bond of union among men.
This is true of sin in general—
[The friendships of the world at large originate almost entirely in sin. The gay unite for the indulgence of their pleasures; the licentious, for the gratification of their lusts; the convivial, for the exercise of (what they call) good fellowship; the worldly and ambitious, for the pursuit of wealth or honour; yea, the very infidels for the purpose of confirming and propagating their fatal tenets.]
It is true of enmity against Christ, in particular—
[Persons who have no other point of contact whatever, are brought together by means of this. The Scribes and Pharisees were far from being friends either to Pilate or Herod; and these two were “at enmity between themselves.” Yet behold, how they all agree in persecuting Christ! It had been foretold that they would do so [Note: Psalms 2:1-2.]; and the history before us is declared to be an accomplishment of that prophecy [Note: Acts 4:25-28.]. But how can we account for this? How can we account for that union, which has subsisted in all ages between persons of all ranks, habits, and dispositions, in opposing Christ? It can only be accounted for from hence; that every man has in his own bosom a rooted principle of enmity against Christ; and that he will break down all common rules of propriety in order to give it vent: yea, rather than not have confederates in his opposition to Christ, he will associate himself with the vilest of mankind, and avail himself of any help for the suppression or extinction of vital godliness.]
But, however desirable the esteem of our fellow-creatures may be, we must say,
That friendships cemented by sin are no objects of envy or congratulation—
Doubtless a reconciliation between any parties that are at variance, is desirable. But it may be purchased at too dear a rate:
It was so in the present case—
[Pilate and Herod were appealed to as judges; and, when they found the accused person innocent, they should have rescued him out of the hands of his oppressors. It was no fit occasion for paying compliments to each other, when the life of an innocent person was at stake; nor were they at liberty to sport with such sacred interests. And what was the natural effect of this solemn trifling? What, but to encourage each other in sin; to harden each other in impenitence; and to aggravate each other’s eternal condemnation? Say now, whether a friendship so formed could afford any solid satisfaction to their minds? Say, whether it would not have been better for Herod to have continued at enmity with Pilate, and even to have subjected himself to all manner of indignities for espousing the cause of Jesus, than to have brought such guilt upon his soul for the sake of gratifying a fellow-worm?]
It is so, whenever we sacrifice a good conscience in order to obtain it—
[We many conciliate the favour of men by “putting our light under a bushel,” and conforming to the maxims and habits of the world. We may make “the world love us, by becoming of the world.” Probably many, who would have condemned Demas for continuing faithful to his high calling, commended him when they found that he had relinquished it together with the society of the Lord’s people. But what do we think of his conduct? or what does he himself think of it now? Has he not learned long since, that the purchase of the whole world at the expense of the soul is an unprofitable bargain? Have not many apostates borne testimony to that effect, even while they have been yet in possession of the things they coveted? Yes; many would gladly have restored, like Judas, their ill-acquired wealth or honour, if they could but regain the peace of mind which they have lost. Know then, that the testimony of a good conscience is the first of blessings; and nothing, not even life itself, is to be desired, unless in perfect consistency with that.]
Let us not be surprised if there be confederacies against us—
[As long as there continues in the hearts of unregenerate men a principle of enmity against God, we must expect it to operate as it ever has done, and to combine against us all the powers of the world. When the Gibeonites made a covenant with Joshua, all the kingdoms of Canaan confederated to destroy them. Let not us think that the world will be at peace with us, if we unite ourselves to the Lord Jesus. “The servant cannot be greater than his Lord.” When therefore we suffer like indignities with him, let us not account it hard, but rather rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer shame for his sake [Note: 1 Peter 2:19-23; 1 Peter 4:12-16.].]
Let a principle of faith and love unite and animate us—
[We blame not the union of Herod and Pilate, but their union in a bad cause. We have a cause in which it will be our honour to unite; and a principle, which, if truly operative in our souls, will combine us all in the prosecution of the noblest ends. See what an union was produced among the converts on the day of Pentecost [Note: Acts 2:41-47.]. O that the Holy Ghost might descend on us also, and that we might be all of one heart and one mind in the service of our God! Then shall we exemplify the change which divine grace effects, and glorify Him who endured such indignities for us.]
BARABBAS SPARED, AND CHRIST CONDEMNED
Luke 23:13-25. And Pilate, when he had called together the chief-priests and the rulers and the people, said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: no, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto [Note: The marginal translation “by him,” is far preferable.] him. I will therefore chastise him, and release him. (For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.) And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas: (who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.) Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them. But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go. And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief-priests prevailed. And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. And he released unto them him. that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will.
THE prophets enter very minutely into the subject of Christ’s sufferings, in order that, instead of being led by them to doubt the truth of his Messiahship, we might see in them a demonstration that he was the very person to whom the prophecies referred. But it is not in this view only that we should dwell upon this mysterious subject: many other, and most important, ends are to be answered by the contemplation of his sufferings. We see in them his unparalleled love to us: we see also the desert of sin: and the trials which all his followers must, in a greater or less degree, be called to endure. That part of them which we are now to consider is, his condemnation at the bar of Pilate. Let us notice,
The circumstances of his condemnation—
There are three mentioned in our text; and to these we will confine our attention:
Pilate’s testimony respecting him—
[God so ordered it, that every person who was active in putting our Lord to death, should either directly or indirectly attest his innocence. We forbear to adduce other instances; such as that of Judas, or the Dying Thief, or the Centurion; because in the passage before us we have ample scope for illustrating the observation. Pilate here tells the whole assembly of the Jews, that he had examined Jesus, that he had examined him in their presence, and had inquired into all their allegations against him; and that, after the most careful investigation, he could not find that Jesus had been guilty of any one of those things laid to his charge. He then tells them, that he had sent both the prisoner and his accusers to Herod, who being governor of Galilee, where the crimes were said to have been committed, had the greater right to take cognizance of them; and, being a Jew, must be supposed to be more competent to judge of them, as being more conversant with the Jewish laws and customs than he could pretend to be: but that neither could Herod find in him any crime worthy of death. When he found that these united attestations did not satisfy them, he repeated a second and a third time his declarations, that Jesus was innocent: and he appealed to the whole multitude of his accusers, whether any of them could substantiate so much as one single charge against him. This they answered only by clamours: and thus unwittingly confessed, that they were unable in any single instance to prove their point — — — Thus all, both accusers and judges, confessed, that though he was to be “cut off, it was not for himself;” or, in other words, that “he was the true Messiah [Note: Daniel 9:26.].”]
His ineffectual attempts to save him—
[Pilate, being convinced of the innocence of Jesus, was very averse to condemn him: yet, being afraid of offending the Jews, he did not dare to acquit him. Upon the mention of Galilee therefore, he was glad to get rid of the matter altogether, and to send the parties to Herod, to be judged by him. When this expedient failed, he tried to pacify the people, by offering to inflict on Jesus the milder punishment of scourging; (though he had no right to punish in that manner a person whom he knew to be innocent;) but this would not satisfy them: they thirsted for his blood; and would be satisfied with nothing less. Perceiving that the chief priests and elders were the chief instigators of the people, he tried to secure his object by putting the matter entirely into the hands of the people; amongst whom he supposed Jesus must have many friends. Accordingly he reminded them of a privilege, which by the courtesy of the Roman government they enjoyed, of having one criminal liberated at their request; and, that there might he no comparison at all between the persons presented to their choice, he gave them the option of liberating Jesus, or a noted robber, rebel, and murderer, named Barabbas. This, however, through the influence of the priests, succeeded no better than the former devices. He therefore resorted to one more contrivance. He thought that the people would feel themselves highly honoured if they might on this occasion have their privilege extended to the liberating of two instead of one; and therefore, without expressing it in plain terms, he intimates to them, that if they chose to ask it, he would readily grant their request in favour of Jesus too: “What shall I do then with Jesus, which is called Christ [Note: Matthew 27:22.]?” But all was to no purpose: they were bent upon destroying Jesus, and would listen to no proposal in his favour — — — In their pertinacity however, we see, that though they were free agents, and criminal in the highest degree, they did only what was from eternity fixed in “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God [Note: Acts 2:23; Acts 4:28.].”]
His surrender of him to the will of his enemies—
[In proportion as Pilate wavered, the people became more urgent: and they would at last take no denial. Seeing therefore his efforts of no avail, he set the murderer, Barabbas, at liberty, and gave up Jesus into their hands; first, to be scourged, (in hopes that their pity might be moved, when they should see “great furrows ploughed upon his back,”) and then to suffer death upon the cross.
Satan, methinks, exulted now in having accomplished the final destruction of Jesus: but little did he imagine, that, whilst he was thus “bruising the heel” of the Messiah, his own head should receive a deadly blow, which he should never to all eternity recover [Note: Genesis 3:15.]: and that the Messiah’s kingdom should be immoveably established, by the very means used to root it out from the earth [Note: Hebrews 2:14-15.].]
We now pass on to suggest,
Some reflections suited to the occasion—
Amongst the multitude of thoughts which such a subject must bring to the mind, we will fix on two or three of the most important:
How awful is the depravity of the human heart!
[This we can see in reference to the Jews: but we make a very defective improvement of Scripture history, if we do not use it as a glass wherein to see human nature in general, and our own hearts in particular.
What was the principle by which the priests and elders were actuated on this occasion? It was envy: “He knew that for envy they had delivered him.” And is not that principle in our hearts? Are we not told that “the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?” Have Cain, and Ishmael, and Joseph’s brethren, none resembling them amongst us? It is true, that men are less conscious of that principle than perhaps of any other: but this arises from its so destroying the characters of those who are exposed to its malignant shafts, as to make them appear deserving of all the evil that it inflicts upon them. But though we see not this principle in ourselves, we discover it easily enough in others; and are constrained to confess its odiousness.
And, as the same principle exists in us, so, if Jesus Christ were now to come into the world again, and demean himself precisely in the same manner as he did before, he would excite the same inveterate hatred in us as he did in them. Suppose a poor man laying open the pride, the worldliness, the hypocrisy of all ranks of people, as well among the Clergy as the Laity, and drawing myriads after him from every quarter of the land; would this provoke no enmity: would it beget no murderous rancour in the hearts of those whose hypocrisy was detected, and whose influence was destroyed?
We may go further, and ask, whether the same impious choice be not made at this day as in the days of old? What is the preferring of the ungodly to the godly, and sin to holiness, but a preferring of Barabbas to Christ? Yes; and so common is this, that the generality of the world would rather be seen in public with a known rake or infidel, than with a man eminent for piety and godly zeal — — —
Behold then, I say, the human heart in general, and your own in particular; and whilst you justly wonder at the impiety of the Jews, learn no less to wonder at, and deplore, your own.]
How dangerous an evil is indecision!
[Had Pilate determined to execute justice without regard to consequences, he had never crucified the Lord of glory: but when he listened to the fear of man, and sought to please the Jews, he made a snare for his own feet: he encouraged the importunity which he should have silenced at first, and sacrificed his conscience to a desire of popularity. Unhappy man! what guilt did he contract, and what misery did he treasure up for himself by his want of resolution [Note: Acts 3:13-15; Acts 4:27. with Psalms 2:2; Psalms 2:9.]!
Thus it is also amongst us. We hear Christ and his religion vilified, and are afraid to defend them. We see wickedness practised, and are afraid to testify against it. To avoid the ridicule or displeasure of others, we are led into compliances which our conscience disapproves. In short, we are carried oftentimes from one sin to another, through a want of firmness to withstand the tide of fashion and custom. But, brethren, we shall have reason to deplore timidity infinitely more than any consequences which an adherence to duty can ever entail upon us. We all see what Pilate should have done. He should have said, ‘I am a judge, and I must decide according to law.’ Thus should we say: ‘I am a Christian, and I must act according to the Gospel: that is my directory; and nothing shall tempt me to depart from it: as for clamour, I regard it not: applause or censure are alike indifferent to me: if God call me to perform a duty, and all the world combine to make me swerve from it, my answer to them is, “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye:” if I seek to please men, I cannot be the servant of Jesus Christ.’ I mean not that you are to be thus rigid in matters of indifference: but in matters of plain duty, you must “resist unto blood,” and embrace death rather than make shipwreck of a good conscience [Note: If a third reflection be wanted, it may stand thus: 3. How reasonable is it that we should submit to sufferings for Christ’s sake! and then, after representing his submission here manifested, such passages as 1 Peter 2:19-24; 1 Peter 4:12-16. may be cited to shew, that in suffering for him (provided it be “wrongfully,”) we have reason to rejoice, and to account it our highest honour. But this subject occurs elsewhere.].]
CHRIST’S ADDRESS TO THE WOMEN WHO LAMENTED HIM
Luke 23:27-31. And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?
ON a cursory view of the subject, it might be thought, that the enemies of Jesus, after having secured their chief object, began to relent; since, instead of obliging him in his debilitated state to bear his cross to the place of execution, (as was customary on such occasions,) they compelled another person to carry it for him. This however was only an additional instance of their malignity. They saw that, in consequence of his watching, and fasting, and diversified sufferings, he was ready to faint; and they began to fear, that he would die before he should reach the place; and consequently that they would be deprived of the satisfaction of making him a public spectacle upon the cross. Hence they spared him this fatigue, that he might be the more capable of suffering all the other miseries which they were about to inflict upon him. Far different was the disposition of Jesus towards them. This short interval he improved for the good of those who were around him. He saw many, and especially some women, making bitter lamentation on his account: and these he exhorted not to weep on his account, but on account of themselves and their children; since the evils reserved for them were both in extent and duration far more terrible than those which he now experienced.
In discoursing upon his words to them, we shall,
Explain his counsel—
[It is possible, that some of those whom he addressed were moved to pity him merely from a natural sense of humanity; whilst others were influenced both by faith and love. At all events, we are sure that he did not mean to forbid the exercise of sympathy and compassion; since it was his desire that these amiable qualities should characterize his followers in all ages. Love, in all its branches, was not only enjoined by him, but was distinguished by him as his commandment, which he imposed on all who professed themselves his Disciples [Note: John 15:12.]: from whence St. Paul calls it “the law of Christ;” “bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ [Note: Galatians 6:2.].”
The prohibition was rather of a comparative kind; similar to that expression of the Prophet, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice;” where sacrifice is not intended to be prohibited, but only to give way, when it should stand in competition with the exercise of mercy.
In this view there was abundant reason for the counsel which Christ now gave them. With respect to himself, they had no such great occasion to weep, because his sufferings were altogether voluntary: they were also now very near their termination; and they would issue both in his own exaltation to the right hand of God, and in the salvation of a ruined world. Hence, if rightly considered, his afflictions, though so exceeding grievous, were grounds rather of gratitude and joy than of regret and sorrow. But the afflictions which in due time would come on them, would be such as had not existed from the foundation of the world, nor ever would be equalled to the end of time. Happy as the Jewish women accounted themselves in having children, they would then congratulate “the barren:” and, desirous as men naturally are of life, they would wish even “rocks and mountains to fall upon them,” to put them out of their misery.
This prediction our blessed Lord confirms by a kind of proverb, in which he appeals to the very judgment of those whom he addressed: ‘You see,’ says he, ‘what they are doing to me, who have never given any just occasion of offence: judge then what shall be done to them, when they have filled up the measure of their iniquities, and rendered themselves, like dry wood, proper fuel for the wrath of God?’
These then were the subjects to which he endeavoured to turn their minds, not so much for the purpose of augmenting their sorrow, as of giving it a right direction, and rendering it subservient to their eternal good; for, in proportion as they anticipated the judgments that awaited that wicked generation, they would become penitent themselves, and encourage penitence in others; and thus become instrumental in saving some who were now hardened in their iniquities.]
Having thus explained our Lord’s counsel to the lamenting women, we proceed to,
Engraft some further counsel upon it—
We might draw your attention to the example of Christ, who even in this hour of his deepest sorrows forgot, as it were, his own personal concerns, and was mindful only of the concerns of others [Note: Philippians 2:4.]. But we shall rather keep in view the subject-matter of his address: in reference to which we would say,
Get your hearts impressed with the sufferings of Christ—
[We have before observed, that our Lord did not mean to forbid this, but only to recommend in preference some other considerations, which, under their circumstances, were of more importance. It is true, that under any circumstances, the being affected with the relation of our Lord’s sufferings, just in the same way that we should be with any tragical story, will be of little avail. It is not such an impression therefore that we are anxious to produce. We wish you to consider, what was the end of those sufferings; and to behold in them, as in a mirror, your desert and danger, your hope and deliverance. Yes; you will do well to contemplate them in this view, till you weep and smite upon your breasts with even greater anguish than his compassionate attendants ever felt. This is the duty of every one amongst us; according to that declaration of the Prophet, “They shall look on him whom they pierced, and shall mourn as one mourneth for his only son, and be in bitterness as one that is in bitterness for his first-born [Note: Zechariah 12:10.].” Indeed, to attain this state of mind, should be the greatest object of our lives; since without it we can have no interest in him; and with it we can never perish. A humble, contrite, and believing view of Christ will infallibly transform us into his image, and bring us to the possession of his glory [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18. John 6:40.].]
Contemplate the probable issue of sin, even in this life—
[It is in the future world that sin will receive its full reward. But it not unfrequently receives a tremendous recompence even here. How many have their health impaired, their fortunes injured, their reputation blasted, and their peace destroyed, by their own folly and wickedness! How many mothers have lived to see the child, which they once fondled with the tenderest affection, become a source of unutterable grief: insomuch that they have envied the wombs that never bare! And how many have so embittered their lives, that they have wished for death, and would have been glad to have a rock or mountain to crush them to atoms! There is not a town, or scarcely a village, that will not afford some instances of persons, who, from having ruined their health, their reputation, their fortune, or their peace, do not wish that they had never been born. What is it that makes suicide so common? You will almost invariably trace it to this source: the person’s sins have made him so miserable, that life itself is become a burthen to him: so true is that repeated declaration of the prophet, “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest; whose waters cast up mire and dirt: there is no peace, saith God, to the wicked [Note: Isaiah 57:20-21.].”
Such are the means by which God often punishes sin in this life. Not unfrequently it happens that the partners of our guilt are made the instruments of our punishment. Thus, in the history before us, the Romans were employed by the Jews in putting Jesus to death; and they were afterwards employed by God in punishing that whole nation, to an extent unparalleled in the annals of the world. Thus also it is often found, that those who have administered to our fraudulent gains or licentious pleasures, are the very persons through whom God visits our iniquity upon us.
Let then the connexion between sin and misery be considered: and learn, that in holiness alone is pleasure to be found without alloy.]
Look forward with awe to the future judgment—
[If the Jewish matrons were bidden to weep for themselves and their children, on account of the calamities that should be endured in the siege of Jerusalem, much more may every thoughtful person weep in the prospect of that day, when all shall stand at the judgment-seat of Christ. Then shall every man be recompensed according to his works. How they who have made light of sin in this world will feel in that day, we are informed by God himself; who assures us, that sinners of every rank, from the highest to the lowest, will “cry to the rocks to fall upon them, and the hills to cover them from the wrath of the Lamb [Note: Revelation 6:15-17.].” The inference which our Lord draws from his own sufferings, in reference to the Jewish nation, may with equal propriety be drawn from his people’s sufferings in reference to the world at large. They are, in their measure, persecuted like him; and “if these things be done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” “If judgment begin at the house of God,” says the Apostle, “what must the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God [Note: 1 Peter 4:17-18.]?” If those who are comparatively as “a green tree” are afflicted by God for the purging of their sins, what must not they expect, who, like “a dry tree,” are prepared for the punishment of their sins? Doubtless their misery will be inconceivably great, insomuch that they will curse their very existence, and wish that by any means they could bring it to a termination [Note: Revelation 9:6.].
Brethren, know assuredly, that that day will come; and that repentance then will be too late. Then, not they only who crucified the Lord Jesus must give account of themselves to God, but those also who have “crucified him afresh” by continuing in sin [Note: Hebrews 6:6.]. Prepare ye then for that great account; and beg of God, that “when he shall appear, ye may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless [Note: 2 Peter 3:14.].”]
THE GREEN AND DRY TREE
Luke 23:31. If they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?
THE Jews, at this day, know not how to account for the judgments that are upon them. But we can tell them the true reason: it is for the murder of their Messiah. Whilst yet they were in the commission of that act, it was foretold by Jesus himself, that they, even their whole nation, should endure such tribulation as had not been experienced by any people from the beginning of the world; nor ever should again be, as long as the world shall stand [Note: Matthew 24:21-22.]. He was now, at this time, bearing his cross to the place of crucifixion. And, though the nation at large were gratified at the miseries inflicted on him, there were some whose hearts were tender and compassionate, and who greatly “bewailed and lamented him.” These, however, he exhorted to weep, not for him, but for themselves and for their children; since the days were coming, when they who accounted barrenness so great a calamity, should congratulate themselves upon it; and when, to be crushed to death under rocks and mountains, instead of being dreaded, should be coveted as a blessing [Note: ver. 28–30.].” His own sufferings were indeed great: but, says he, “If these things be done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?”
Under this proverbial expression he conveyed,
A prophetic intimation to that peculiar people.—
They were now committing a greater sin than had ever yet been committed on the face of the earth—
[All other sins were light in comparison of this. Nothing had he done among them, but good. Not one amongst them could lay any sin to his charge. His very judge proclaimed his innocence. Yet did they, even the whole nation, rise against him, to put him to death: and when, by reason of their subjection to the Romans, they were unable to gratify their malice to the extent they wished, they delivered him up to the Roman governor, and, by their importunities and threats, compelled him to put him to death. In executing this sentence, they loaded him with every species of indignity, and strove by all possible means to aggravate his sufferings to the uttermost. Hence it may be said of him, “Never was sorrow like unto his sorrow.”]
And for this they were doomed to suffer a heavier punishment than had ever been inflicted on any other nation under heaven—
[They were thus ripening themselves for vengeance, which was soon to come upon them to the uttermost. And it was to be inflicted by the instrumentality of that very people by whom they were now wreaking their vengeance upon him. They had proposed to put Jesus to death, “lest the Romans should come and take away their place and nation.” And God awarded to them, as their punishment, that very judgment which they had sought to avert. Into the hands of the Romans he delivered them; and not less than one million one hundred thousand of them were slain in the siege: the rest were carried captive, or sold for slaves: and from that day to this have their afflictions been continued, with a severity which has marked, in a peculiar manner, the wrath of Almighty God against them. To this hour are they “a reproach, and a hissing,” in every quarter of the globe. So that in them is the text fully verified. We have seen what was done in the green tree; and we now see what has been done, and is even yet doing, in the dry.]
But, in these words we may yet further see,
A solemn warning to all mankind—
All are fitly compared to “a dry tree”—
[A tree which is dead draws no moisture from the ground; nor does it derive any benefit from the sun and rain. The heavenly influences which nourish and strengthen living trees, serve but to prepare the dead trees as fuel for the fire. What a striking picture does this give us of the Christian world! All who call themselves Christians are planted on the same ground. But the great mass of them are dead. Though, by profession, standing on Christ, and rooted in him, they receive from him no communications of grace or peace. The ordinances which enrich others, impart no blessing to these; but rather tend to render them more dead, and more meet for the fire that shall consume them. Years pass away, and no change, but for the worse, is wrought upon them: so that the very attempt to make them fruitful is altogether in vain.]
And what can be prepared for them?
[What but excision and the fire? They shall not always be left to cumber the ground thus. Look at every individual tree, and you shall see an axe already lying at the root, ready to inflict the fatal stroke, the moment that the expected order for it shall be issued. But, O who can conceive the fierceness of that fire which shall then consume it; or, rather, that shall ever prey upon it unconsumed; the fire itself being never quenched, nor the material that feeds it being ever wasted? In the green tree, the calamities were soon at an end: but to the dry tree, eternity itself shall be the duration of its torments. The things indeed which were done in Christ were inconceivably terrible, notwithstanding his perfect innocence: but, if they were so terrible in him, when sin was only imputed to him, what shall they be in those who are laden with iniquities, from their youth up even to their dying hour? Verily, no tongue can utter, no imagination can conceive, the miseries that await those who, in the midst of all the advantages of Gospel ministrations, continue dead in trespasses and sins.]
Sufficient has been spoken for the explaining of the text, both in its prophetic import and its more general application. We may now give somewhat fuller scope to our observations, whilst we call you to notice,
The double aspect in which our Lord’s sufferings should be viewed—
[We ought to view them as an atonement to God, and as an exemplar to man. As an atonement to God, we delight to contemplate them; seeing that they are “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.” Behold him, brethren, bearing his cross to Calvary, and there exhibited, a naked bloody spectacle, to angels and to men: behold him, I say, and bear in mind that he is a victim dying under the load of your sins, and effecting reconciliation for you with your offended God — — —
At the same time we must not forget, that, as an exemplar, he shews to us what is the desert of sin, and what must infallibly overtake the impenitent and unbelieving sinner. Hear him, under the depths of dereliction, crying, “My God, my God! why hast thou forsaken me?” and see him dying under the wrath of God, who for our sakes “was pleased to bruise him:” and know that such hidings of God’s face, and such endurance of his wrath, must be the everlasting portion of all who die in their sins. Yes, these things, which in the green tree were done for a season, shall be done in the dry, to all eternity — — —
Never shall we have a just view of the Saviour’s sufferings, unless these widely-different considerations be combined.]
The double operation which they should have upon our minds—
[Hope and fear should both be called forth into united and harmonious exercise. Need I say, that hope should be generated in our souls? There is no other ground of hope for any child of man; nor any reason for despondency to the vilest sinner upon earth. What cannot those sufferings expiate? and for what can they not prevail to obtain pardon? Not even the sin against the Holy Ghost is excepted on account of its enormity, but because, in its very essence, it contains a contempt of this all-sufficient remedy. I hesitate not to say, that that very blood which was then shed on Calvary will cleanse from all sin, even from the sin of shedding it. Lift up your eyes to Him, then, upon the cross, my brethren; and you shall, though your views be very indistinct, experience, like the wounded Israelites at the extremity of the camp, a healing efficacy to your souls — — —
Yet I would have you fear: for if God spared not his own Son, when sin lay upon him only by imputation, be assured he will not spare those who hold fast their iniquities in impenitence and unbelief. If God was a consuming fire to the green tree, be assured that he will be so likewise to the dry. To all, then, I say, “Fear and tremble before the God of heaven; and lose not one hour in seeking reconciliation with him through the Son of his love” — — —]
CHRIST INTERCEDING FOR HIS ENEMIES
Luke 23:34. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
AS one of the most essential qualifications for a due discharge of the priesthood was, a disposition to “commiserate those who were ignorant and out of the way [Note: Hebrews 5:1-2.],” so it was the express office of the priest to “offer sacrifices for the errors of the people [Note: Hebrews 9:7.].” Our blessed Lord, who was our great High-Priest, shewed himself on all occasions, but more especially in the instance before us, abundantly qualified for the office he had undertaken; and, in the very hour that he offered himself a sacrifice for sin, he particularly pleaded the cause of those who ignorantly “crucified him as a malefactor [Note: See ver. 33.].”
In discoursing on his words we shall shew,
In what respects ignorance extenuates the guilt of rejecting Christ—
There doubtless have been instances wherein men have known the Gospel, and yet refused subjection to it—
[The sin against the Holy Ghost seems evidently to include in it a wilful, deliberate, and contemptuous rejection of Christ in opposition to the clearest convictions of our own minds; and there is every reason to believe that this sin has often been committed: many also have “sinned wilfully after they had received the knowledge of the truth [Note: Hebrews 10:26.],” and have so “fallen away, as never afterwards to be renewed unto repentance [Note: Hebrews 6:4-6.]:” from whence it is evident that all contempt of the Gospel does not proceed from ignorance.]
Yet, generally speaking, a rejection of Christ arises from an ignorance of his true character—
[This was certainly the case with respect to those who crucified our Lord: the prejudices of their education, together with the mean appearance of our Lord, blinded their eyes, so that they knew not how to acknowledge him as their Messiah. This our Lord himself confessed [Note: The text.]; St. Peter also declared the same [Note: Acts 3:17.]; and St. Paul expressly says that, “if they had known him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:8.].”
And is it not the same with respect to us? Would the profane person scoff at the followers of the blessed Jesus, or neglect to seek an interest in him, if he knew what a gracious, merciful, loving, and adorable Being he despised [Note: John 16:3.]? Or would the self-righteous moralist feel such reluctance to submit to the Gospel, if he had any just conceptions of the suitableness and excellency of that salvation which it offered to him? Surely, however this might happen on some occasions, we cannot conceive that it should be a general, or even a common, practice.]
This view of men’s conduct certainly extenuates their guilt in rejecting Christ—
[We must not imagine that ignorance is a sufficient excuse for sin: for the very petition in the text intimates that, notwithstanding the murderers of Christ knew not what they did, they contracted guilt, and needed forgiveness: and in other passages of Scripture it is said, that men perish for lack of knowledge [Note: Hosea 4:6.]; that “Christ will take vengeance on them” for their ignorance [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:8.]; and that “he who formed them will shew them no favour [Note: Isaiah 27:11.].”
But though ignorance cannot remove, it certainly extenuates, our guilt. The more opportunities of information any persons had, the more guilt they contracted in rejecting the truth; on which account our Lord’s hearers were altogether inexcusable [Note: John 15:22.], and were involved in deeper guilt than even Sodom and Gomorrha [Note: Matthew 10:15.]. On the other hand, the less light any one had in his mind, the less was the malignity of his offence. St. Paul tells us that this was, in a measure, the ground of his obtaining mercy [Note: 1 Timothy 1:13.]; for that, if he had persecuted Christ as he did, and at the same time been aware of what he was doing, he would have been almost beyond the reach of mercy. And we are informed that in the final judgment the sentence denounced against the impenitent and unbelieving, will be proportioned to the light and knowledge against which they had sinned; “the servant that knew not his Lord’s will, will be beaten with few stripes, while he who knowingly disobeyed it will be beaten with many stripes [Note: Luke 12:47-48.].”
The reason of this is evident; for an ignorant rejection of Christ will consist with a desire to please God [Note: Acts 26:9. John 16:2.]: whereas that rejection of him that militates against the clear convictions of our own mind argues a rooted love of sin, and an inveterate hatred to God and his Christ [Note: John 15:23.]. While therefore the latter is “a sin unto death [Note: 1 John 5:16.],” and a sure forerunner of perdition [Note: John 3:19. Hebrews 10:39.], the former may be repented of and forgiven.]
But, however true this statement may be, we cannot but admire,
The wonderful love of Christ in urging this plea on behalf of his murderers—
In contemplating this part of our subject, let us consider,
What his conduct was towards his murderers—
[Justly might he have aggravated the guilt of his murderers, and said, ‘These are they among whom I have wrought all my miracles; and multitudes of them have experienced my power to heal: yet this is the way in which they requite all my kindness: I desire therefore, O my Father, that thou wouldest vindicate my cause, and execute upon them some signal vengeance as thou hast on others, whose guilt was infinitely less than theirs. Let the earth open to swallow them up, or lightning descend from heaven to consume them, or fire and brimstone be rained down upon them, or an angel slay hundreds of thousands of them in an instant.’ He might at least have said, as the martyr Zechariah did in similar circumstances, “The Lord look upon it and requite it [Note: 2 Chronicles 24:22.].” But instead of this, he prayed that they might be forgiven: he sought out the only extenuating circumstance that, could be thought of, and urged it as a plea on their behalf. This was a conduct truly astonishing, and worthy of an incarnate God.]
The wonderful love displayed in it—
[Suppose he had at such a time been praying for his friends, it would have argued most unbounded love; but to be praying for his enemies! to plead the cause of those who by their clamours had compelled his judge to deliver him up into their hands, and to be imploring the richest mercies for those who were loading him with all manner of insults and indignities! What love was this! that in the midst of his agonies he should lose all sense of the injuries he was receiving, and, without a murmuring or vindictive word, should occupy himself wholly about the welfare of his enemies, dreading nothing so much as their ruin, and desiring nothing so much as to have them partakers of his glory! Well might the Apostle call this, a “love that passeth knowledge [Note: Ephesians 3:19.].”]
To improve this subject, let us reflect,
How earnest we should be in seeking knowledge—
[Some might be ready to conclude that, if ignorance is an extenuation of guilt, it were safer and better to continue ignorant. But let us not mistake; it is not wilful ignorance that is to be considered in this view, but that ignorance which is unavoidable, or, at least, unintentional. Besides, ignorance is sure to keep us from Christ, and consequently to bring us into condemnation: and it will be a poor consolation to a damned soul that its guilt was not of the most aggravated kind. There is no way of escaping condemnation but by believing in Christ; and we cannot believe in him unless we know him: therefore we must seek divine instruction as the only means of everlasting salvation. This is the declaration of God himself [Note: John 17:3.]: the Lord grant that we may ponder it in our minds, and be regulated by it in our lives!]
What encouragement we have to pray for mercy—
[Never were more atrocious sinners on the face on the earth that those for whom Christ prayed: nor was any prayer ever more signally answered than that he offered for them: for no less than three thousand of those very people were forgiven in an instant, and adopted into the family of God. It was in answer to that prayer that the very blood which they had profanely desired “to be upon themselves and upon their children [Note: Matthew 27:25.]” in a way of judgment, came upon them in a way of mercy, and cleansed them from the guilt of shedding it. Who then amongst us need despair of mercy? If Christ interceded so for persons in the very act of crucifying the Lord of glory, will he not intercede for mourning penitents? If he obtained mercy for those who rejected him, will he not much more for those who “desire to be found in him?” Let us not despond, but carry all our iniquities to him, that they may be cleansed by his atoning blood, and be forgiven through his prevailing intercession.]
What obligation lies upon us to forgive one another—
[The generality, when injured, are ready to search out every possible aggravation, in order to lower their adversary in the estimation of others, and to justify their own resentment against him. But how differently did Jesus act! Yet “he suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps [Note: 1 Peter 2:21.].” Let us then cultivate a forgiving spirit, yea, even towards those whose malice is most inveterate, and whose conduct towards us is most injurious. It was thus that Paul [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:12-13.] and Stephen [Note: Acts 7:60.] trod in their Master’s steps: and thus must we, if we would find mercy at his hands in the day of judgment [Note: Matthew 18:35.]. The express command of Jesus to every one of us is, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you [Note: Matthew 5:44.].” And indeed, if we do not exercise this disposition, we cannot repeat the Lord’s Prayer without praying for our own damnation [Note: Matthew 6:12; Matthew 6:14-15.]. “Let us therefore be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us [Note: Ephesians 4:32.].]
OUR LORD’S ANSWER TO THE PENITENT THIEF
Luke 23:42-43. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.
THE history of Christ in every view is replete with wonders: in every part of it we trace a mixture of dignity and debasement. When he lay in a manger, the Wise Men were conducted to him by a star: when he was tempted by the devil, an angel ministered unto him: he was now dying as a malefactor, and “crucified through weakness,” yet did he, in answer to the Thief’s petition, assert his power to save.
The Thief’s petition first requires our attention—
This petition, if duly considered, will appear very remarkable—
It implied an acknowledgment of our Lord’s dignity—
[Our Lord had often asserted himself to be a king [Note: John 18:37. in reference to which St. Paul speaks, 1 Timothy 6:13.]. For this he was accused [Note: Luke 23:2.], mocked [Note: Matthew 27:28-29.], condemned [Note: John 19:12; John 19:14-15.], crucified [Note: Mark 15:26.]: yet then did the malefactor acknowledge him as a king. He beheld him on the cross as though he had seen him upon his throne: he proclaimed him Sovereign of the invisible world. His petition in this view was stronger than any assertion could be.]
It implied further an affiance in his mercy—
[Often had our Lord been entreated to heal disorders of the body [Note: Mark 3:10; Mark 2:4.]; but rarely had any made application to him on behalf of their souls. The Thief, however, offered his petition only for spiritual blessings [Note: He did not ask to have his life prolonged, or his pains mitigated, but that his soul might be saved.]: and for the obtaining of mercy he relied simply on the grace of Christ. Nor did he express a doubt of Christ’s power or willingness to save [Note: He did not say, “If thou wilt,” or “If thou canst,” as others had done on less important occasions. Matthew 8:2.Mark 9:22; Mark 9:22.]. Yet was his affiance tempered with the deepest humility [Note: He did not presume to offer such a request as the ambitious disciples had done, Mark 10:37. but like the Canaanitess, Matthew 15:27. was contented with the smallest expression of his mercy, “Remember me.”].]
What acceptance he met with will appear from considering,
Our Lord’s answer—
Our Lord had never refused those who came to him for bodily cures: he now testified the same readiness to relieve spiritual wants—
In his answer he displayed the freeness of his grace—
[He granted the Thief’s petition without a moment’s hesitation [Note: When the innocent Joseph entreated Pharaoh’s butler to remember him after his restoration to his place at court, the ungrateful butler forgat him two long years; nor would have thought of him then, but from absolute necessity. What different treatment did this guilty Thief receive from his offended Lord!]. He conferred the desired blessing without up-braiding [Note: How justly might our Lord have upbraided him for his whole course of life, his late repentance, and especially his behaviour even upon the cross! Matthew 27:44. But he was God, and acted like God. Jam 1:5 and Luke 15:20; Luke 15:23.].” He bestowed his mercy without prescribing any conditions [Note: He did not require the Thief to do any thing in order to merit his mercy.]. Thus did he exemplify what he had commanded his prophet to proclaim [Note: Isaiah 55:1.].]
He also manifested the fulness of his grace—
[Often has God bestowed more than his people have desired [Note: 1 Kings 3:11-13. or Matthew 18:26-27.]. Here our Lord infinitely exceeds the Thief’s request. He promises, not a remembrance merely, but converse “with himself.” This converse too shall be enjoyed, not on earth, but “in Paradise [Note: This is sometimes called Hades or Hell, as in Act 2:27 and in the Creed; but it means the place where departed saints dwell in the presence of God, 2 Corinthians 12:2; 2Co 12:4 and Revelation 2:7.].” It shall moreover be enjoyed by him “that very day [Note: Neither our Lord nor his apostles ever countenanced the idea of the soul sleeping till the resurrection. See 2 Corinthians 5:8.]. Of all this he assures the Thief in the most solemn manner. What must now have been the feelings of the pardoned criminal [Note: Had the executioners now offered to release him, surely he would have said like St. Paul, Philippians 1:23.]! What a comment does this afford us on God’s gracious declaration [Note: Isaiah 55:8-9.]—!]
To guard this subject against abuse, we must suggest a caution—
[Some may take occasion from it to defer their repentance: but it does not afford any just ground for such conduct. The case was singular as it respects both Christ [Note: Christ was now in the lowest state of humiliation; Divine wisdom judged it necessary therefore to give to the world some signal display of his dignity and glory. Hence the whole creation was constrained to bear testimony to him; Matthew 27:45; Mat 27:51 and the Thief was chosen from among men to be a monument of his power and grace. But such an occasion never will occur again; and therefore no similar interposition is to be expected.], and the Thief [Note: The Thief, like other malefactors, had most probably disregarded the means of grace, and never heard of Christ before. Yet now he confessed his sin, rebuked his companion, vindicated Christ, and committed himself entirely to his mercy. But how different was this exercise of grace from what we generally see on a death-bed! And what little reason have we to expect that such grace shall be given us in our last hours, when we are despising the offers of Grace and Mercy which are made to us continually!]. It is extreme folly, therefore, to reject the present overtures of mercy in expectation of such a miraculous conversion at the last.]
Nevertheless we may derive from this history much encouragement—
[It forbids any, however long or heinously they may have sinned, to despair. It points out the simple way in which we may attain salvation. The substance of our Lord’s answer is applicable to every penitent. Such joy is offered to all [Note: Romans 10:12-13.]: let all seek it in the same way [Note: Psalms 106:4.].]
THE EFFECT OF CHRIST’S DEATH ON THE BEHOLDERS
Luke 23:47-48. Now when the Centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man. And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned.
RAPID are the revolutions of the human mind: like the sea, it is easily agitated by every gust of wind, and driven with violence in whatever direction it may happen to be impelled. God has given us reason to guide us and to keep us fixed to our purpose; but we are slaves to passion, and yield ourselves willing instruments of all who have skill and inclination to move us. We have a striking instance of this fluctuating disposition in the Jewish populace: they had been so impressed with the wonders which Jesus had wrought in confirmation of his divine mission, that they all followed him with acclamations and hosannahs into Jerusalem: but by the artifices of the chief priests and rulers, they were, in the space of three days, made as clamorous against him, all of them demanding, as with one voice, that he should be crucified. Scarcely however had they prevailed, but another change took place in their minds; and they were as sorry at seeing what they had accomplished, as they had just before been eager to accomplish it.
Let us consider,
The effects which Christ’s death produced on the beholders—
The execution of criminals is of itself calculated to impress the mind with pity for the sufferers, and to evince the evil of those crimes for which they suffer: but the crucifixion of our Lord drew the attention of the spectators to their own state, and led them to contemplate their own guilt and danger in being accessary to it. Observe the effect it produced,
On the multitude—
[The chief priests and rulers, it should seem, were not at all affected with it. Their envy, their pride, their resentment had taken too deep a root within them to suffer them to listen for a moment to the voice of conscience: but the multitude, who were mere instruments of their rage, began to consider what they had done. The three hours of darkness had given them time for reflection: the recollection of all that Christ had done for their nation, led them to consider what return they had now made him for all his unparalleled kindness; and the earthquake convinced them that they were in the hands of an angry God. Now therefore they began to express their regret and sorrow at having lent their aid to so cruel a deed, so wicked a conspiracy. Now they shewed that sin has a far different aspect when committed, from what it had previous to the commission of it. Even Judas, when he saw what was likely to be the consequence of his treachery, was filled with compunction, and would have gladly reversed the deed to which his covetousness had impelled him. So these now wished that they had not yielded to the instigations of their rulers, or suffered themselves to participate in so foul a crime — — — How far their repentance was genuine, we are not able to say: though we think it probable that numbers of them were amongst the converts on the day of Pentecost: but of this we are sure, that sin, of whatever kind, when once it is viewed aright, will cause us to “smite our breasts” with anguish, and to forsake the company of those who hold fast their transgressions: and that, if this effect be not produced upon us now, we shall “weep and wail and gnash our teeth” with unavailing sorrows to all eternity.]
On the Centurion—
[He, and those whom he commanded, had attended there, not so much from choice as from necessity: accordingly we find both in him and them a mind more open to conviction: for they, though heathens, became the advocates of Him, whom his own nation had rejected and abhorred. The miraculous signs attendant on the death of Christ, together with the whole conduct of that righteous Sufferer, and the peculiar manner in which he resigned his life, evincing indisputably that it was not taken away from him, but that he surrendered it voluntarily into his Father’s hands; all this together convinced the Centurion, that Jesus was the very person whom he had professed himself to be. Hence, in the hearing of all around him, he exclaimed, “Certainly this was a righteous man,” “Truly this was the Son of God [Note: Compare Matthew 27:54.].” There were two grounds on which Jesus had been put to death; the one was, that he was a blasphemer, for making himself the Son of God; the other was, that he was a rebel against Cζsar, for making himself a king. In opposition to both of these accusations the Centurion affirms, that he was no rebel, but “a righteous man;” and that he was no blasphemer, but “the very Son of God.” Thus, whilst the Jews were pouring contempt on God, the Centurion “glorified him;” and, whilst they hardened their hearts against him, he and his fellow-soldiers “feared greatly.” What a blessed earnest was this of the conversion of the Gentiles! and what a reproof is this to us, who can hear of these transactions without any emotion, and neglect that Saviour whom he acknowledged! — — —]
From the effects of Christ’s death on the beholders, let us proceed to notice,
The reflections it suggests to us—
Amongst the numberless considerations which naturally arise from this subject, we will select such only as have not been anticipated under any other view of our Lord’s sufferings, and only two or three of them.
Observe then from hence,
That the best of causes may be violently opposed—
[If we were speaking to Jews, we should have need to prove the excellence of Christianity; but to a Christian assembly, it is scarcely necessary to prove that the cause of Christ is the best of all causes. We see in the Gospel the most stupendous display of God’s wisdom and love; a plan for the saving of a ruined world, and for restoring men to the Divine favour, through the mediation and intercession of God’s only-begotten Son. We see, or at least profess to see, how suited it is to our necessities, and how sufficient for our wants: and, if we are Christians indeed, we know by sweet experience that it is an inexhaustible source of peace and joy, of righteousness and true holiness. Yet with what vehemence was it opposed at its first establishment! Not all the wisdom and innocence of Jesus, nor all the benevolent miracles that he wrought, could disarm his enemies: though “it was without a cause that they hated him,” they hated him unto death. In like manner they persecuted unto death his chosen messengers, and myriads of his faithful people: yet, in the review of all which was done to stop the progress of his religion, we Christians do not hesitate to affirm that his cause was good; and whilst we execrate the memory of his opposers, we canonize his followers as saints and martyrs.
But what is the treatment which his cause meets with at this hour? Is there not the same hostility against it, though the exercise of that hostility is moderated by the laws under which we live? People indeed will pretend that the cause which they oppose, is not the cause of Christ; just as the Jews denied that they were opposing the cause of God, and even pretended to be actuated by zeal for God: but as they opposed the Holy Scriptures, so do modern persecutors; and in so doing they both fulfil the Scriptures, and unwittingly confirm the very truths they oppose. Whatever misrepresentations therefore men may adduce to vilify the truths and people of God, the religion of Christ is the same as it ever was; nor does the contempt poured upon it diminish in the least degree the respect in which it should be held. We must not think the worse of the Gospel because it is despised, but must weigh it in the balance of the sanctuary, and estimate it by its own intrinsic worth.]
That the cause of Christ will ultimately triumph—
[The chief priests and rulers congratulated themselves on their success, when they saw the despised Nazarene entombed. But behold, the breath had scarcely departed from his body before his triumphs began; so true is that saying of the Apostle, “He spoiled principalities and powers, and made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them on his cross [Note: Colossians 2:15.].” The whole multitude who attended his crucifixion, smote their breasts with penitential sorrow; and the Centurion who presided at his execution, confessed him in the presence of his murderers! Thus early were the first-fruits of the Gospel reaped: and speedily afterwards followed an abundant harvest. The resurrection and ascension of Christ proved to his enemies how vain were all their efforts against him: and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost gathered thousands to his standard in one day. From that time his religion spread throughout Judζa and the whole Roman empire; and we, at this distant place and period, are witnesses for him that his cause has triumphed, and that it shall finally prevail throughout all the earth. God had set the world at defiance; and had pronounced obedience to the Gospel to be the true wisdom of every man, of kings and governors, as well as of the lowest classes of society [Note: Psalms 2:1-6; Psalms 2:9-12. with Acts 4:25-26.]: and, agreeably to his predictions, “the stone which the builders disallowed, is become the head of the corner.” Let men then continue to oppose the Gospel as they will, it shall “run and be glorified, and fill the face of the whole earth with fruit:” it is a rock that defies all the power or policy of hell itself: and, as “all who fall upon it shall be broken, so, on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.”
Happy would it be if the enemies of Christ would avail themselves of the space allowed them for reflection, and would consider what an unequal contest they are endeavouring to maintain! They think that they are fighting against a few weak enthusiasts: but they are “fighting against God” himself, who, in the person of his Son, addresses them, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” The Lord grant that the admonition given on that occasion to that bitter persecutor, may be remembered by us all; “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks!”]
That the proper effect of his death is to produce penitence and faith in all—
[We see the propriety of their conduct who smote their breasts, and publicly professed their faith in Christ: we even congratulate them in our minds on their speedy experience of such a blessed change. But was this conduct proper in them only? Is there no occasion for similar emotions amongst us? Perhaps, instead of opposing, we approve and profess the Gospel: but who amongst us has not opposed the establishment of Christ’s kingdom in his own heart? Though we did not unite with those who crucified him on Mount Calvary, have we not “crucified him afresh,” by continuing in sin? Truly there is even more cause for us to “smite our breasts,” than there was for that multitude to do so: for they sinned “through ignorance;” “they knew not what they did:” but we sin against light and knowledge, yea, against our own most solemn vows of allegiance to him. The smallest knowledge of our own hearts will furnish us with a catalogue of sins that we have committed against him, a catalogue that would reach up to heaven. This then I say; let us imitate the penitent multitude and the believing Centurion: and in this especially let us imitate them, in not moving from the place where we are, without first abasing ourselves before God for the guilt we have contracted, and looking unto Jesus for the expiation of it. Doubtless the change that took place in them, was wrought by the agency of the Holy Spirit, whose office is “to glorify Christ, and to take of the things that are his, and shew them unto us.” That Spirit is promised “to us, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Let us then pray for the influences of that same Spirit upon our hearts; that, through his powerful operations, we may “look on him whom we have pierced, and mourn, and be in bitterness, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born [Note: Zechariah 12:10.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Luke 23". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29