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Matthew 27:3-5. Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the Chief Priests and Elders, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? See thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
AS Jesus was by his own death to take away the sins of others, it was necessary, not only that he should have no sin himself [Note: John 3:5.], but that his innocence should be made to appear by every species of evidence that could be adduced to confirm it. Accordingly, it pleased God so to overrule events, that the witnesses brought against him should not agree in their testimony; that the very judge who was to condemn him should repeatedly pronounce him guiltless; and that even the wretch who betrayed him should, with very peculiar solemnity, attest his innocence.
We might from this circumstance proceed to prove the Messiahship of Jesus, and the consequent truth of the religion which he has established. But it is our intention to enter more deeply into the passage before us; and to consider, not merely the general result of Judas’ confession, but the various characters delineated in the words before us.
And here we have a very striking picture of,
The thoughtless sinner—
[Judas, it should seem, never thought that his Master would suffer himself to be apprehended and put to death. He had often seen Jesus escaping in a miraculous manner out of the hands of his enemies [Note: Luke 4:30. John 8:59.], and confounding the people who came to apprehend him, so that they could not prosecute their purpose [Note: John 7:45-46.]: and therefore he expected that he would act in a somewhat similar manner on this occasion. It was in the hope of this that he was prevailed upon to sell and betray his Lord. Had he foreseen all the consequences that followed, it is probable he would not, at least for so small a sum, have subjected his Master to such miseries, and himself to such infamy and ruin.
And is it not thus with sinners in general? Do they not all proceed to gratify their own inclinations under the idea that no great evil shall arise from it, either to themselves or others? Had David the remotest thought that his numbering of the people would issue in the destruction of seventy thousand of his subjects? Or did he, when sending for Bathsheba, foresee the murder of Uriah, together with about forty others; or the hardening of so many thousands, in that and every age, against the ways of God?
Let us come still nearer home: does the seducer consider what he is likely to bring upon the person whom he tempts from the path of virtue? Does he contemplate her shame and sorrow, or the inconsolable anguish of her parents; or the temporal and eternal ruin which she herself will bring on others? Does he contemplate her infamous life, her lothesome death, her endless misery? Ah! were he to have one glimpse of all the consequences of his conduct, we can scarcely conceive any man so abandoned as to purchase a momentary gratification at so high a price. Does he also consider the consequences as they respect himself? Alas! he thinks of nothing but the indulgence of his lusts: he considers the bait, without adverting to the hook: he promises himself that nothing very calamitous shall result from his conduct: he trusts that through the mercy of God it shall pass unnoticed; or that he shall, by repentance, make compensation for it; or that he shall, by some other means, enjoy the pleasures of sin, without experiencing its bitter consequences. With these vain hopes he goes forward, till he finds, too late, that the evils which he would not anticipate, he is not able to control.]
The awakened sinner—
[Thoughtless as is the career of the wicked, they cannot always ward off conviction. Even Judas at last “repented himself.” What a different aspect had sin when his eyes were opened, from what it had when he was blinded by his covetousness! The wages of iniquity, which at first promised him so much happiness, were now a burthen to him, insomuch that he tendered them to the chief priests again, and, when they refused his offer, cast them down in the temple with indignation and abhorrence. He proceeded further: he confessed and aggravated his sin; and strove to undo the evil he had committed; yea, and indirectly testified against the wickedness of the priests, who had conspired to shed, and tempted him to betray, the innocent blood of Jesus.
All this indeed proceeded only from a selfish terror, and from a vain hope of pacifying his conscience by these means. In the midst of all, there was no real contrition, any more than in Saul [Note: 1 Samuel 26:21.] or Pharaoh [Note: Exodus 9:27.]: there was no prayer to God; no faith in Christ. Though, therefore, he was awakened and terrified, he was far from being truly converted to God.
In him we may see the picture of thousands, both in ancient and modern times. Many will make restitution of their ill-gotten gain: many under a sense of guilt will confess some heinous crime; especially when the consequences of it far exceed their expectations. We do not wish indeed to depreciate the value of such changes: but it is incumbent on us to declare that they are far from constituting true repentance. They argue an awakened, but not a converted mind. There must be, in addition to all this, a deep humiliation, a lively faith, and an earnest crying unto God for mercy. And if, like Judas, we do not hate sin, but only its consequences; if we confess to man only, and not to God; if we labour to expiate our guilt by restitution or reformation, instead of fleeing for refuge to the blood of atonement; we shall, like him, have no solid benefit from our repentance: our very sorrows will be only an earnest of hell itself.]
The hardened sinner—
[While some are awakened to a sense of their guilt, others proceed in the commission of the most horrible iniquities without remorse or concern. The conduct of Judas in criminating himself before those at whose instigation he had betrayed his Lord, should certainly have operated to suspend their proceedings, and to bring them to repentance. But they were bent on the accomplishment of their blood-thirsty purposes, and were alike deaf to the confessions of their agent and to the voice of their own conscience.
But shall we say that this was a singular case? Would to God that similar instances did not perpetually occur! Return to the case of the seducer. See him, when the unhappy victim of his wiles comes to him under the most insupportable agonies of mind, and calls on him for comfort and support:; what answer so common as that given in the text? The obdurate wretch, forgetful of all the obligations of honour and conscience, replies in answer to all her complaints, “What is that to me? look thou to that.” Thus it is also with those who tempt the inconsiderate youth to extravagance; and, having caught him in their net, demand their debts with unfeeling menaces and inexorable rigour. Perhaps in none is such conduct more manifest than in the gamester, who, having gained the property of his companion, discards all thought of his personal and domestic troubles, and, rejoicing over the spoils which he has gotten, says in his heart, “What is that to me? see thou to that.”
Numberless other instances might be adduced to shew, how sin hardens the heart against the temporal distresses of those whom we ourselves have beguiled. And how are we affected by their spiritual trouble? Here, for the most part, our indifference rises to contempt:; and, instead of being led by the penitence of our companions to follow their good example, we load them with opprobrious names, alike regardless of their sorrows and of our own safety.]
The despairing sinner—
[There is a “repentance unto salvation;” but there is also a repentance which leaves room for everlasting penitence “a repentance to be repented of.” Such was the remorse which Judas felt on this occasion. It carried him far,: would to God that all were even as much affected with their sins as he!) but still he stopped short of true repentance. Having no faith in Jesus [Note: John 6:64; John 6:70-71.], he abandoned himself to despair; and, to terminate the present agonies of his mind, he put a period to his existence.
Such despair is not uncommon:; nor is it uncommon to behold it issuing in suicide. Indeed, it is a very principal device of Satan to urge men to this fatal act, because it most effectually secures his object, the destruction of their souls. He first hides from them the consequences of transgression; then represents to them their guilt as unpardonable; and then suggests, that death will put a period to their sorrows. This temptation is most strongly felt by those who have sinned against light and knowledge. “Putting away a good conscience, they are left to make shipwreck of their faith.” And it seems a just and righteous retribution, that they who so ungratefully reject the counsel of God, should ultimately “perish in their own corruptions.”]
Let us not condemn religion for the faults of those who profess it—
[How absurd would it be to bring the treachery of Judas as an argument against the truth of Christianity! Does Christianity encourage treason? Did even the traitor himself approve of his own conduct? If all the twelve Disciples had been traitors, it would not have altered the nature of true religion: that is unalterably pure and holy: and where its operation is effectual, it transforms men into the image of their God.]
Let us guard against the love of the world—
[This was the root of Judas’ apostasy. He loved money, and “was a thief from the beginning:” and at last, from indulging in petty thefts, he was prevailed upon for gain to betray his Lord. Thousands of others also are, from the very same principle, yet daily erring from the faith, and piercing themselves through with many sorrows [Note: 1 Timothy 6:10.]. Let us then beware, lest this “root of bitterness springing up, trouble, and defile, and destroy our souls.” We shall find at last, that to gain the whole world, and lose our own souls, is an unprofitable bargain.]
Let us carefully improve the means of grace—
[The traitor enjoyed every privilege which man could possess: he had even been warned by Jesus respecting the very crime he was going to commit. Happy had it been for him if he had improved the warning! He would then have shunned the fatal act which precipitated him “to his own place.” Happy also would it be for us, if we made a suitable improvement of the warnings and instructions given to us! We should then avoid every species of iniquity, and our feet would be guided into the way of peace.]
THE DISPOSAL OF THE MONEY PAID TO THE TRAITOR JUDAS
Matthew 27:9-10. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me.
THE more we consider the number and minuteness of the prophecies, the more we must be convinced that Jesus was the person whom God had fore-ordained to be the Saviour of the world. One can scarcely imagine it possible, that an uninspired person should venture to predict such remarkable circumstances, as the precise sum that should be paid for the Saviour’s blood, and the ultimate disposal of that money in the purchase of a potter’s field; or that such predictions should be fulfilled by chance. St. Matthew was more careful than any of the other Evangelists in adducing these proofs of Christ’s Messiahship. But the passage cited by him as from Jeremiah, is to be found only in the prophecies of Zechariah. To account for this, many ingenious conjectures have been offered by learned men: but the most probable of them seems to be, either that the name, being abbreviated, was mistaken by some early transcriber, and from thence copied by others [Note: This might easily be, as the mistake would be only of one letter, Ιριουfor Ζριου. In some copies the name is so abbreviated.]; or that, no name being mentioned by the Evangelist, an early transcriber inserted erroneously the name of Jeremiah in the margin, from whence it was afterwards incorporated with the text [Note: Some Versions insert no name at all, but read the passage thus; “Spoken by the Prophet.”]. Whatever way we take of solving the difficulty, the fact remains the same, that the peculiar circumstances in the text were foretold many hundred years before their accomplishment.
The words of the prophet, according to their literal import, record a transaction that took place between the prophet and the Jews. The prophet, as God’s agent and representative among them, demanded, What value they set upon his labours? They despising both him and the Deity from whom he had received his commission, weighed for his price thirty pieces of silver: upon which, God, indignant at such an insult, ordered him to cast them away to a poor potter, who was at that time working in the temple [Note: See Zechariah 11:12-13.]. Under this figure God intended to foreshew how the Jews would undervalue the great Prophet whom he should send among them; and how the thirty pieces of silver, which they would pay as “the price of his blood,” should be disposed of.
That we may give a practical turn to our subject, we shall deduce from the different parts of it some important observations:
For how small a price do men sacrifice their interest in the Saviour!
[God himself exclaims with astonishment, “A goodly price that I was prized at of them [Note: Zechariah 11:13.]!” Thirty pieces of silver was the price of a slave [Note: Exodus 21:32.]: and yet that was (in the estimation of the Jews) the value of Jehovah’s mercies, and (in the eyes of Judas and the Jewish rulers) of the Redeemer’s blood. But we, it may be said, know how to form a different estimate of these things. Would to God we did! But there is no gain so small, no pleasure so transient, but we choose it in preference to Christ, and are willing to part with Christ rather than forego the gratification we desire. Let sinners of every description attest (for indeed, however reluctantly, they must attest) this melancholy truth — — —]
How worthless will those things, for which we sold the Saviour, appear to us, as soon as conscience begins to perform its office!
[Judas had pleased himself with the thought of enjoying his ill-gotten wealth: but scarcely had he obtained it, before he was far more ready to part with it than ever he had been to procure it. Sin of every kind appears very different after we have committed it, from what it did under the immediate influence of temptation. While solicited by our own corrupt affections, we imagine that the particular object of our desire (whatever it may be) will conduce greatly to our happiness: but when we have swallowed the bait, then we begin to feel the hook; and oftentimes would gladly restore, if it were possible, all the pleasure we have felt, provided we could at the same time get rid of the sting that it has left behind. And what will be our views of sin, when once we come into the eternal world? How gladly would we then restore the thirty pieces of silver for which we have sold the Lord! Or, if through penitence and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ we have obtained mercy, with what indignation should we receive a proposal to forego an interest in the Saviour for some momentary pleasure, or some trifling gain! — — — Ten thousand worlds would then appear to us as of no value in comparison of that inestimable pearl.]
Of how little avail will it be at the last day, to have rendered unto God a partial and hypocritical obedience!
[We blame not the priests for refusing to put into the treasury the money which Judas cast down in the temple: for if the price of a dog, or the hire of a harlot, were not to be presented to God, much less ought money that had been the reward of treachery, and “the price of blood.” But we marvel at their hypocrisy, in that they could suborn false witnesses, and persecute unto death an innocent man, and yet profess the smallest reverence for God. Truly, while “they strained out a gnat, they swallowed a camel.” They hoped perhaps to compensate for their oppression of Jesus by their gratuitous kindness to strangers [Note: The field having been exhausted by the pottery, and rendered unfit for cultivation or pasture, was probably worth no more than what they gave for it, and applicable to no better purpose than that to which they destined it.]. Yet, if we know ourselves, we shall not greatly wonder: for we may find a transcript of this very thing in our own hearts. How many are there eminent for truth and honesty, who are yet habitually regardless of all the sublimer exercises of religion! With respect to the second table of the law, they are exemplary; but in their duties to God, they are altogether remiss. In the same manner, there are some who profess a great regard for the Gospel, who yet are defective in their adherence even to truth and honesty. Indeed there are very few, who do not notoriously fail in some one particular: so “deceitful, and desperately wicked, is the heart of man.” But it is certain that an observance of some duties will never procure us an exemption from others: “if we keep the whole law, and yet offend knowingly and habitually in any one point, we are guilty of all,” and shall be dealt with as contemners of the Lawgiver himself. And as the name, “Aceldama,” perpetuated the memory of the atrocious wickedness committed by the priests [Note: ver. 6–8. with Acts 1:18-19.], so shall the very endeavours we use to conceal our impieties stamp them at last with indelible and eternal infamy.]
How certainly shall every jot and tittle of God’s word be accomplished!
[Little did the chief priests think of fulfilling the Scriptures: and little do the contemners of God and his Christ reflect, that they will one day be exhibited as proofs of God’s veracity. But, as all the most contingent actions of men were infallibly foreseen, and not one single prediction, however improbable, ever failed of its accomplishment; so every promise and every threatening shall be fulfilled in its season, and the lot of men be fixed according to their true character. In this world, we see enough to assure us that God is true; but in the world to come, there shall be in all an irresistible demonstration of it: and every man, whether in heaven or in hell, shall be a living witness of his truth: the blessed shall inherit his promised mercies; the damned shall feel his threatened judgments. Let us consider then, that either our salvation or “damnation lingereth not;” and that “the things spoken concerning us have an end.”]
Matthew 27:24-25. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.
IT was appointed under the law, that the beasts offered in sacrifice should be without blemish: and, for ascertaining their fitness to be offered, the strictest scrutiny was made. In the various examinations which our blessed Lord underwent, there was an exact accomplishment of this type: and the testimonies given by all who were concerned in his death, seem to have been providentially appointed for the manifesting of his fitness for the great work he had undertaken, even the work of saving a ruined world by the sacrifice of himself. His hour was now come that he should be delivered up to death: and Pilate, who had investigated every charge that was brought against him, and had already a great many times attested his innocence, now in the most solemn manner entered his protest against the procedure of his blood-thirsty enemies, and declared, that in putting him to death they would murder a just and inoffensive man; of which atrocious act they, and they only, should bear the guilt. In reply to this, they said, that if he would only leave them to execute their purpose, they were willing to take all responsibility from him, and all consequences on themselves; “His blood be on us, and on our children.” Thus, even they, at the very time that they demanded his death, unwittingly acknowledged the truth of Pilate’s assertions, and set their seal to this blessed truth, that Jesus was “cut off, not for his own sins,” but for the sins of those whom he came to save.
Let us however take a nearer view of this subject; and distinctly consider,
Pilate’s vain protest—
In some respects Pilate may be considered as having acted a bold and honest part; for
This protest of his was very solemn—
[It should seem that the washing of the hands in token of innocence, was a custom not unknown to the Romans: and, among the Jews, it was prescribed by God himself; when murder had been committed by some unknown person, and those who, from their proximity to the spot, might be supposed to have had some knowledge of the transaction, were called to clear themselves [Note: Deuteronomy 21:6-7.]. By this significant action did Pilate proclaim his determination not to embrue his hands in innocent blood; accompanying it with a solemn testimony in favour of the person accused, and an admonition to his enemies that they, and they only, must be answerable for his death.
Thus far we approve, and applaud his protest.]
But it was vain—
[In some cases, such a protest would have really acquitted him in the sight both of God and man—
If the matter had been to be determined by a majority of voices, his conscience would have been clear. This was the case when Joseph, one of the Jewish council, was out-voted in the Sanhedrim; and God himself acquits him of any participation in their guilt [Note: Luke 23:51.].
If the act had not been in itself sinful; and circumstances had occurred that rendered that necessary, which, under other circumstances, would have been inexpedient and improper; then his protest would have cleared him, even though he had done the act against which he protested: for this was the case of Paul, when he was compelled by the intrigues of false teachers to confirm his apostolic authority by an appeal to visions, of which it would otherwise have been inexpedient for him to boast [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:1; 2 Corinthians 12:11.].
But Pilate was a governor and a judge, whose duty it was, no less to protect the innocent, than to punish the guilty. He had no right to sacrifice the life of an innocent person to the clamours of a mob. He should have told them plainly, that he would rather sacrifice his situation, and even life itself, than be guilty of such horrible injustice. And, however menacing the rising tumult might appear, he should have adhered to the path of duty, and risked all consequences. In not doing this, he neglected his office; and, by consenting to their wickedness, made himself a partaker of it. It was to no purpose to enter a protest against the act, and then join in the commission of it. His saying, “I am innocent,” did not make him innocent: on the contrary, we are assured, on infallible authority, that in the sight of God he is considered as a confederate with the very people whom he thus professed to condemn [Note: Acts 4:27.].]
Nor less vain are many similar protests that are made amongst ourselves—
[What is more common than to reply, in justification of ourselves, ‘I must do so?’ One says, ‘I must be guilty of such and such frauds: it is not my fault, but the fault of the trade: one cannot carry on trade without it.’ Another, whilst he conforms to the sinful customs of the world, urges a similar excuse; ‘I must do so, else I shall incur the odium of singularity, and endanger both my reputation and interest. I acknowledge that the things are wrong; but I must do them.’ Know then, that, if you must do them, you must also answer for them at the tribunal of God: and that, in that day, “not he who acquitteth himself shall be approved, but he whom the Lord acquitteth [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:18.].”]
Let us now turn our attention to,
The people’s rash engagement—
The guilt and punishment of murder were, among the Jews, expressed by “the blood of the murdered person being upon them [Note: Matthew 23:35.].” By this imprecation, therefore, the people meant to relieve Pilate’s conscience, and to pacify his fears; engaging, that the crucifixion of Christ should never be considered as his act, but theirs; and that the consequences of it, if any, should come, not on him, but on them and their children. But,
What a rash engagement was this!
[What answer would it be to Cζsar, if, being summoned to give an account of the injustice committed, and the dishonour brought thereby upon the whole Roman empire, Pilate should say, ‘The people forced me to it?’ Were not the people his subjects? and had he not the Roman soldiers at his command, to keep them in awe? To what purpose was he entrusted with this power, if he did not exercise it? Would this promise, of taking the responsibility on themselves, remove it from him? Assuredly not: on him, and not on them, would Cζsar’s displeasure fall.
But, supposing they could protect him from Cζsar’s anger, could they heal the wound which this act would inflict upon his conscience? Would this stern monitor be silent at their bidding? No: its remonstrances would be heard in spite of them; and to his dying hour would the voice of innocent blood cry out against him.
Thus, as it respected him, their engagement was vain and nugatory; but not so as it respected themselves: God held them to it: and made them feel the fearful responsibility attaching to it. But a few days elapsed, before they expressed their fears lest their imprecations should be answered [Note: Acts 5:28.]: and before that generation passed away, the Divine judgments came upon them to the uttermost; insomuch that the Jewish historian, who was himself a spectator of the fact, declares, that such multitudes of the captive Jews were crucified during the siege of Jerusalem, that ‘there wanted room for the crosses to stand upon, and wood to make them of.’ Then was their request fulfilled: then was “the blood of Christ on them indeed, and on their children;” and, from that hour to the present moment, have they been “made an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations [Note: Jeremiah 25:9.].”]
And how much better are the engagements which many amongst us are ready to take upon themselves?
[When we endeavour to prevail on persons to act against the convictions of their conscience, we are ready to laugh at their scruples, and to ridicule their fears; and with great confidence to pledge our words, that their compliance with our advice will be attended with no bad consequence whatever. But, when we have prevailed over their credulity, can we fulfil our word? Can we in many cases avert even the temporal consequences of their conduct? How much less can we silence the clamours of their guilty consciences! — — — And least of all can we stand between God and their souls in the day of judgment — — —
But though we cannot fulfil our engagements to them, we must, together with them, answer for our conduct to God; and perish under the accumulated guilt of ruining their souls. “Their blood will be required at our hands” — — —]
Let us learn then from hence,
To discard the fear of man—
[You see how true is that declaration, that “the fear of man bringeth a snare [Note: Proverbs 29:25.].” Had Pilate in the first instance withstood, as he ought, the clamours of the people, he had never embrued his hands in the Saviour’s blood. He might have fallen a sacrifice to their rage, it is true; but he would have had reason to all eternity to rejoice that he had died in such a cause. And we would ask of you, What are your feelings now in reference to any sinful compliances you may have been drawn into, or any injuries you may have suffered in consequence of your non-compliance? Do you not even now see that it is better to regard God than man [Note: Acts 4:19.]? Then “fear not man, who can only kill the body; but God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell: yea, I say unto you, fear Him [Note: Luke 12:4-5.]” — — — Let the conduct of Levi be our pattern [Note: Deuteronomy 33:9.]—and the command of Jesus our rule [Note: Luke 14:26-27.]—.]
To maintain always a good conscience—
[God has given us a conscience, to be his vicegerent in the soul. It may be said, that Paul sinned in following his conscience [Note: Acts 26:9.]. We answer, that he sinned, not in following his conscience, but in having such a misguided conscience. We should by a constant study of the Scriptures, and by fervent prayer for the teachings of God’s Spirit, get our conscience enlightened and rectified. If we neglect to do this, we are answerable before God for all the errors we run into. But still we must follow the light we have. We must listen to the dictates of conscience at all times, and follow them without reserve. Every thing that it enjoins we must do [Note: James 4:17.], and nothing that it forbids [Note: Romans 14:22.]. If it even suggest a doubt, we must not proceed till that doubt be removed [Note: Romans 14:23.]. Nothing is more terrible than an accusing conscience [Note: Matthew 27:3-4.]; nothing more delightful than testimonies of its approbation [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:12.]. Labour therefore with all your might to acquire a good conscience, and “exercise yourselves night and day to maintain it [Note: Acts 24:16.].”]
THE INDIGNITIES OFFERED TO OUR LORD
Matthew 27:26-31. Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the Governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, king of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. And after they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him.
AT this season [Note: The Passion Week.] we are naturally led to contemplate the sufferings of our blessed Lord. In general, we think it desirable to fix your minds on some one point; because that, if duly opened, will afford ample matter for one discourse: but now we will rather call your attention to this assemblage of facts; not so much for the purpose of elucidating each particular indignity that was offered him, as, from a collective view of them, to shew you the Lord Jesus Christ,
As the predicted Messiah—
There was scarcely an incident relating to his death which was not the subject of a distinct prophecy—
[It was foretold that he should be scourged. The Prophet Isaiah says, that “the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed [Note: Isaiah 53:5.].” And though the Psalmist appears to speak of Israel at large, yet I think he has also an eye to God’s servant Israel, the Messiah, in particular, when he says, “The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows [Note: Psalms 129:3. with Isaiah 49:3.]. The various indignities of mocking and reproaching, and the spitting in his face, were also specifically mentioned: “I gave my back to the smiters, (where the scourging is again referred to,) and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting [Note: Isaiah 50:6.].” And the Prophet Micah says, “They shall smite the Judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek [Note: Micah 5:1.].” And, in reference to these things, the Psalmist says, “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none: and for comforters, but I found none [Note: Psalms 69:20.]. His crucifixion was plainly declared in the erection of the brazen serpent in the wilderness [Note: John 3:14-15.]; as was also the place where it should be carried into effect, by the burning of the sacrifices without the camp [Note: Leviticus 4:12.]. These things were also distinctly foreseen, and plainly predicted, by our blessed Lord; predicted, too, as subjects of prophecy, which were assuredly to be fulfilled: “He took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go to Jerusalem; and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on, and they shall scourge him, and put him to death [Note: Luke 18:31-33.].”]
And these things were all literally fulfilled in him—
[His scourging is first mentioned in my text. But this was inflicted to prevent his crucifixion. Pilate hoped, by scourging Jesus, to pacify the anger of the Jews against him, and to move them to compassion towards him [Note: Luke 23:16; Luke 23:22. with John 19:1; John 19:4; John 19:6.]: so that the very mercy of his judge, no less than the fury of his persecutors, contributed to fill up the destined measure of his sufferings.
The various insults and indignities that were offered him are next mentioned. And where were they inflicted? In the very hall of Pilate himself, and by the very soldiers who were under his command! The discipline maintained amongst the Roman soldiers was exceeding strict: yet did they, under the very eye of the Governor, not execute his wishes, but go in direct opposition to them, to please and gratify the Jews: and thus they, voluntarily, and of their own mind, and in direct violation of their military duty, at the risk of being called to a severe account for it, go beyond the laws, and add punishments which the law did not prescribe, that so the Scriptures of the prophets might, unwittingly indeed on their part, be in every thing fulfilled.
His crucifixion closes the scene. But that was not a Jewish punishment: it was a penalty inflicted only by the Roman law: yet, though the law by which he was judged was Jewish, the punishment inflicted on him was Roman. But so the prophecies had foretold: and it was not possible that one word of them should fail of its accomplishment. The Roman Governor, without whose authority it could not be executed, did all in his power to prevent it; but could not prevail. He would gladly have embraced the opportunity, which custom had sanctioned, of pardoning one of the prisoners: but the Jews chose rather to have a murderer spared, than Him; a murderer, whose guilt was fully proved, rather than Jesus, whom the judge himself, after the fullest investigation, affirmed to be innocent. But so God had ordained; and so it came to pass.
Behold, then, how clear and indisputable is his Messiahship! Things were foretold which had no relation to each other, and which, in the common course of events, were inconsistent with eachother. But in him they all combined; and they came to pass, not through the well-adjusted efforts of friends to fulfil them, but through the unwitting agency of enemies, and through the very efforts which were made to prevent the accomplishment of them. I ask, then, with confidence, “Is not He the Christ [Note: John 4:29.]?”]
Let us now view him in another light; namely,
As our surety and substitute—
Having undertaken for us, he must bear all that our sins had merited—
[Shame, and misery, and death, were our proper and deserved portion. Even in this world “the way of transgressors is hard,” and “there is no peace to the wicked;” and the sentence of death hangeth over us: and, in the eternal world, the wicked will “awake to shame and everlasting contempt [Note: Daniel 12:2.].” (Who can conceive the contempt and indignation that will then be felt against them by God himself, and by the saints who will sit with him as his assessors in judgment? The sentence that will be denounced against them in that day amply declares that point: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”) As for the misery that awaits us, no finite imagination can conceive it, when we shall lie down “in the lake of fire and brimstone, and spend a never-ending eternity in “weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.” In a word, the curse of the law [Note: Deuteronomy 21:23.], “the wrath of God,” and “the damnation of hell,” which are the bitter ingredients of “the second death,” are the sinner’s doom.]
Now these, as far as was necessary for our redemption, he bore for us—
[As for the idea of every individual part of his sufferings making an atonement for every corresponding circumstance in our sins, I look upon it as altogether fanciful and absurd. But the great leading points of his sufferings and of our deserts do fully correspond with each other. Every mark of ignominy was shewn him, both in these his preparatory sufferings, and in his death itself, which was inflicted only on slaves, and which was declared by the Jewish law accursed. And “who ever beheld sorrow like unto his sorrow [Note: Lamentations 1:12.]?” Truly beyond any other person that ever existed upon earth was he despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief [Note: Isaiah 53:3.]:” “the whole nation despised and abhorred him [Note: Isaiah 49:7.];” and “his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men [Note: Isaiah 52:14.].” Finally, in his death, “he became a curse for us, that he might deliver us from the curse” to which we were doomed [Note: Galatians 3:13.].” Thus did he not merely die in our stead, “the just for the unjust [Note: 1 Peter 3:18.],” as a common victim in the place of the offender, but he fully discharged our debt in every particular; so that neither law nor justice can demand any thing further at our hands. Methinks we were lying, like Isaac, bound upon the altar, the knife being lifted up to inflict the deadly stroke, and the wood and fire prepared ready to consume us; but Jesus, as the ram caught in the thicket, undergoes the whole for us, and restores us to the bosom of our Father and our God. “By his stripes we are healed [Note: 1 Peter 2:24.];” and by his death we live for ever [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:10.].]
Once more we may, in the midst of these sufferings, contemplate him,
As our great example—
What he endured shews us what we also shall have to bear—
[“God has predestinated us to be conformed to the image of his Son [Note: Romans 8:29.]:” and our blessed Lord has told us, that, as men hated and “persecuted him, so they will hate and persecute us [Note: John 15:20.].” “The servant cannot expect to be above his master: it is sufficient for him, if he be as his lord. If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household [Note: Matthew 10:24-25.].” We may see therefore, in the universality, contemptuousness, and acrimony of his persecutors, what his followers must expect, even unto death. We are expressly told, that “we are called to the same, because Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps [Note: 1 Peter 2:21.]:” and, seeing that he has suffered for us without the gates of Jerusalem, we must go forth to him without the camp, bearing his reproach [Note: Hebrews 13:12-13.].”]
It shews us, too, in what way we must bear it—
[In the whole of these sufferings, we hear not one word of complaint. No, verily: though “he was so oppressed and afflicted, yet opened he not his mouth. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so opened he not his mouth [Note: Isaiah 53:7.].” This especially is marked out for our imitation by St. Peter. “Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not, but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously [Note: 1 Peter 2:21-23.].” To this effect we are instructed by our Lord, and all his holy Apostles: instead of “rendering evil for evil unto any man,” we must “love our enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us, and pray for them that despitefully use us and persecute us [Note: Matthew 5:44.].” Nor let this be thought impossible. It was done by Stephen, in the very hour of martyrdom [Note: Acts 7:60.]: and it was nobly carried into effect by St. Paul, throughout the whole of his ministrations: “We are made a spectacle,” says he, “unto the world, and to angels, and to men. Even unto this present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place; and labour, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat. We are made as the filth of the world, and the off-scouring of all things, unto this day [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:9-13.].” Here you see practical Christianity: and, if you come from the hall where Jesus so meekly bare all his ignominious treatment, and learn “so to walk as he walked,” you will not have beheld this sight in vain. “Consider then, I pray you, brethren, Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself;” that you, under similar treatment, may never be weary nor faint in your minds [Note: Hebrews 12:3.].”]
Let me not conclude without further remarking on this subject,
How astonishing is the love of Christ to sinful man!
[Our blessed Lord, as I have shewn, foresaw from the beginning all that should come upon him: yet, instead of drawing back, he longed for the period even to be baptized with this bloody baptism, and was quite “straitened till it should be accomplished [Note: Luke 12:50.]. What manner of love was this! When shall we learn to estimate it aright? O, brethren, seek to comprehend its breadth and length, and depth and height!” for it is by that, and by that only, that you can be “filled with all the fulness of God [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.]” — — —]
How infatuated must they be who do not seek those blessings, for the obtaining of which all these things were endured!
[Who would believe that men professing to receive this record as true, and to hope for mercy through these very sufferings, should yet be as careless about their souls, as if they were of no value; and as indifferent about eternity, as if there were no future state of existence? Look at the Saviour, brethren, and reflect, Who he is; and what he has done; and what he has suffered; and for what end all these things have been effected! Had your souls been of little value, would all these things have come to pass? Had the future state of existence been a matter of such indifference, would the Son of the Living God have suffered all this for you? Go to the garden of Gethsemane; go to the hall of judgment; go to Mount Calvary; and learn the value of immortal souls: go, I say, and learn the folly and madness of neglecting this Saviour, through whom alone any soul of man can be saved. I pray you beloved, be in earnest, whilst yet the sufferings of God’s dear Son may avail for you. But if ye will not seek after him, then think what your portion must be in the eternal world. For, “if these things were done in the green tree, judge ye, what must be done in the dry [Note: Luke 23:31.]?”]
THE MOCKING OF CHRIST UPON THE CROSS
Matthew 27:38-44. Then were there two thieves crucified with him; one on the right hand, and another on the left. And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the Scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
SOME, from idle curiosity, are fond of attending upon public executions; whilst others, from a commendable sensibility, could not prevail upon themselves to be present at such a scene. But there is no room for the one or other of these feelings, in the scene now presented to our view. Our corporeal senses can neither be gratified nor shocked: it is by faith only that we can realize the transactions of this day: but if we have faith, we shall “look on Him whom we have pierced, and mourn, and be in bitterness, as for a first-born son.” In general, the behaviour of the condemned person is the chief object of contemplation; that of the spectators is never so much as thought of: it is taken for granted, that that will be decorous, and suited to the solemn occasion. But, in the present instance, we wish particularly to notice the conduct of those who attended the crucifixion of our Lord: and we shall find that their treatment of him is replete with instruction in a variety of views:
As an exhibition of man’s depravity—
[Much of the wickedness of man appears in the arrest, the prosecution, and the condemnation of our Lord: but in no part of his history do we behold such a mass of impiety as in that before us. For all that preceded his crucifixion, there was a reason: it was deemed necessary for the safety of the state that he should be put to death: and, till they had accomplished that object, we do not wonder at any thing they did to attain it. But, when they had attained it, and there was no further occasion for their hostilities, we are surprised beyond measure that there was no relaxation of their resentment. On all other occasions, the execution of criminals, however deservedly they suffer, calls forth a measure of compassion: but towards him the fury of all ranks of men raged with unabated force; and, like dogs, they seemed eager to devour the prey which they had already seized.
Had this ferocity been confined to soldiers, we might have supposed that it arose from their education and habits. But “the Chief Priests, with the Scribes and Elders, and even the Rulers,” all concurred in devouring the Lamb of God! They altogether forgot the demeanour which befitted their rank and office; yea, they lost sight of all the feelings of humanity; and encouraged by their example those atrocities, which policy, no less than humanity, should have led them to prevent. Even the malefactors caught the infernal flame; and, unmindful of their own agonies, or shame, or approaching dissolution, united in vilifying the Son of God: accounting themselves so much his superiors, that they might justly make him an object of derision and contempt.
Whatever had been a ground of accusation against him, they now made a subject of profane ridicule. Three years before, he had, in reference to his own body, said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” This had been alleged against him, though not substantiated, as an evidence of his hostility to the temple: and now they cast it in his teeth, challenging him, if he were able, to do a much smaller thing, namely, to come down from the cross. His relation to God as his Son, and his power over Israel as their King, he was also called upon to prove, by descending from the cross: and even his affiance in God was deemed so absurd, that God himself was challenged by them to his assistance. All this too was attended with such outward expressions of triumph as corresponded with the malignant feelings of their hearts. But who would have conceived that even his most benevolent miracles should now be made a matter of reproach against him? Yet were even these brought forward, to give the keener edge to their blasphemies: “He saved others; himself he cannot save.”
Now view this whole mass of savage cruelty, of base ingratitude, and of horrid impiety; view it as the offspring, not of one superlatively wicked individual, or of any particular class, but of a whole nation; and then you will be constrained to say, “Lord, what is man? Lord, what is man?”]
The conduct of the Jews on this occasion is instructive also,
As a trial of Christ’s perfection—
[The sacrifices under the law being required to be without spot or blemish, they were examined with the greatest care, that their fitness to be offered might be clearly ascertained. Now as Jesus was to be a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, it pleased God, that, previous to his being offered, he should undergo the strictest examination. Accordingly the severest scrutiny was instituted, and the result of every fresh examination was a stronger attestation of his innocence. But here we see him put into the hottest furnace, which must infallibly discover the alloy or dross, if any such were found in him. The most eminent of mankind had been subjected to far less trials, and had discovered that they were but men, weak, sinful, and corrupt. Moses had “spoken unadvisedly with his lips;” Job had “cursed the day of his nativity;” and Paul had “reviled the Ruler of God’s people.” But in Jesus there was not the smallest error or imperfection. Such was his patience, that “when he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” He complains indeed by the prophet, “Reproach hath broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness;” yet, as another prophet testifies, “He was altogether like a lamb led to the slaughter, and, like a sheep before her shearers, dumb.” Such was his forbearance too, that when he might justly have called fire from heaven to consume his enemies, as Elijah did, or caused the earth to open and swallow them up, as it did those who had rebelled against his servant Moses, he would not do it. Nor, on the other hand, would he, as well he might have done, accept their challenge, and prove his almighty power by descending from the cross. He knew that this would not convince them, even if he should do it: he intended also shortly to give them an infinitely stronger evidence of his Messiahship, (even that which he had so often promised them,) by rising from the dead; and he was determined that nothing should divert him from the work which he had undertaken to perform. He might well have said, “Seeing ye put me from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life,” I relinquish my work, and leave you to the judgments which you have so richly merited [Note: Acts 13:46.]. But he would not save himself, because he was bent on saving us; and “for the joy that was set before him,” of delivering a ruined world, “he endured the cross, and despised the shame,” till he could say, respecting the whole of his work, “It is finished.”
Here then we have ample proof of his sinless character, and that he truly was, what it behoved him to be, “a Lamb without blemish and without spot.”]
There yet remains one other view in which their treatment of him is instructive; namely,
As a proof of his Messiahship—
[The circumstance of his being crucified between two malefactors is declared by the Evangelist to have been an accomplishment of that prophecy, “He was numbered with the transgressors.” But it was not only in what they did, that his enemies fulfilled the Scriptures; they fulfilled them equally in what they said; insomuch that, if they had been ever so desirous to conform to the prophetic writings, they could not possibly have fulfilled them more accurately or more minutely. David, personating the Messiah, tells us how his enemies “wagged their heads” at him; and then specified the very words which the chief priests and elders used on this occasion [Note: Psalms 22:6-8.]. Now, if we consider how exactly this prophecy was fulfilled, and that there were a thousand years between the prophecy and its completion, we shall see that the most casual circumstances of our Lord’s humiliation, no less than those which were more plainly determined, attest, beyond a doubt, the truth of his Messiahship.
Let it not be thought, that the notice of these things is a needless repetition. It is by an appeal to prophecy that the Apostles prove the divine mission of their Lord; and therefore, the more fully we mark the accomplishment of Scripture in him, the more abundantly shall we be confirmed in the faith of the Gospel.]
Let us then learn from hence,
To believe in his name—
[It is not a mere assent to the history of the Gospel that we mean to recommend, but a belief in Jesus as the Saviour of the world. Many consider his death as nothing more than a confirmation of his doctrine; but if he died only to confirm his doctrine, his descent from the cross would have been a stronger confirmation of it than his death. It was as an atoning sacrifice that he died; and therefore his death was indispensable for the completion of his mediatorial work: and it is in this view that we call upon you to believe in him. Consider all this contempt and ignominy as endured for you, as “the chastisement of your peace,” and as the appointed means of rescuing you from “everlasting shame and contempt” — — —]
To follow his steps—
[Our Lord has taught us to expect the same treatment which he himself received. Indeed, it is reasonable to suppose, that “if they called the Master of the house Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household.” How then on such occasions should we behave? We answer, That he has purposely “set us an example, in order that we should follow his steps [Note: 1 Peter 2:21-23.];” and that therefore, whatever we may be called to endure, we should “possess our souls in patience [Note: Luke 21:19. James 1:4.],” “not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing [Note: 1 Peter 3:9.].” This is the express command of our adorable Saviour [Note: Matthew 5:44.]: and the nearer we can resemble him, the more will he be glorified in us. I know that we are apt to plead our weakness and irritability as an excuse for our impatience: but this is no excuse: it only shews how unlike we are to our blessed Lord, and how much we need both his mercy and grace. Paul was a man of like passions with us; and he tells us how he demeaned himself on such occasions; “being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:10-13.].” Let us remember then, that “the grace of Christ is equally sufficient for us;” that “through his strength we can do all things;” and that the greatest “ornament we can have on earth, is that of a meek and quiet spirit [Note: 1 Peter 3:4.].”]
THE SUPERNATURAL DARKNESS
Matthew 27:45. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.
IT might well be expected that the crucifixion of the Son of God should be accompanied with circumstances of a peculiar nature; sufficient, when properly understood, to remove the offence of his cross, and to distinguish him from all others who should suffer the same kind of death. The whole creation is at God’s command, and ready, in any manner that he sees fit, to display his power. The sun in particular has been made his instrument for that end. In the days of Joshua, it suspended its course for the space of a whole day [Note: Joshua 10:12-13.]. In the days of Hezekiah, it reversed its natural course, and went backwards ten degrees on the sun-dial of Ahaz [Note: 2 Kings 20:11.]. And now, at the death of Christ, when risen to its meridian height, it veiled its face in darkness [Note: The sixth hour corresponded with our noon.]. How far the darkness extended, whether over the whole earth, as some think, or over the land of Judζa only, as our translators thought, we do not take upon us to determine; though we incline to the latter: but, whether more or less, it could not proceed from a natural cause. It could not be an eclipse, because the moon at that time was at the full: and even if it had been an eclipse, it could not have been total for more than a quarter of an hour; whereas this continued for the space of three hours. It was manifestly a miraculous darkness, produced by the almighty power of God, and that too for ends worthy of a divine interposition. It was,
An attestation to our Saviour’s character—
[It was ordained of God, that every species of testimony should be given to his Son, in confirmation of his claims as the true Messiah. The particular kinds of testimony were, many hundreds of years before, made the subject of prophecy: and they were almost all of such a nature, as to be independent of his own followers, and consequently incapable of being brought to effect by any concerted plan of theirs. The miracle now exhibited was of that kind: for the whole creation could not have produced such a change in the face of nature: and as it could not be counterfeited, so neither could it be denied: it carried its own evidence along with it.
That this darkness was foretold, we cannot doubt [Note: Amos 8:9.]. The prophet Joel most indisputably refers to it [Note: Joel 2:30-32.]: for an inspired Apostle quotes his very words, and declares, that those words related to events which were to happen at that precise period, for the express purpose of attesting the Messiahship of Christ [Note: Acts 2:16; Acts 2:19-21.].
Behold then a proof which cannot reasonably be doubted. True it is, that the Jewish historian does not record the fact: but we well know how averse he was to mention any thing that tended to the honour of Christianity, and therefore can account easily for his omission of so extraordinary an interposition of the Deity in confirmation of our religion. But the fact itself is undeniable: and if the three days’ darkness in Egypt was a convincing testimony from God to the mission of Moses, so was this to the Messiahship of Christ.]
An emblem of his sufferings—
[“Darkness” is often used in Scripture as a figurative representation of affliction [Note: Isaiah 5:30; Isaiah 8:22.Ezekiel 32:7-8; Ezekiel 32:7-8.] — — — But it was peculiarly proper as an emblem on this occasion. Our blessed Lord was under the hidings of his Father’s face, and in the depths of dereliction cried, “My God, my God! why hast thou forsaken me?” His sufferings were such as no finite imagination can conceive. The torments which men inflicted on his body were small, in comparison of those which he now endured in his soul. All the hosts of hell were, as it were, let loose upon him; as He himself says, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness [Note: Luke 22:53.].” Above all, the wrath of God was now poured out upon him, as the Surety and Substitute of a guilty world; according to that declaration of the prophet, “It pleased the Lord to bruise him [Note: Isaiah 53:10.].” Under such circumstances, what in the compass of created nature could so fitly represent his sufferings as the event before us [Note: Compare Micah 3:6-7. with Psalms 22:1-2. where the image as applied to the false prophets corresponds with the fact as exemplified in our Lord.]? Hear the description given of those sufferings by the prophet David [Note: Psalms 88:3; Psalms 88:6-7; Psalms 88:14; Psalms 88:16.] — — — and no wonder “the sun went down over him, and the day was dark, when he had no answer from his God.”]
A prognostic of the judgments that should come upon his enemies—
[These were spoken of by Moses and all the prophets; and that too under the image which we are considering [Note: Isaiah 13:9-11.Jeremiah 15:1-3; Jeremiah 15:1-3; Jeremiah 15:9.] — — — The prophet Amos, in a fore-cited passage, connects the calamities which they should endure with the very event which prefigured them [Note: Amos 8:9-10.]. Our blessed Lord also foretold them in language not dissimilar [Note: Mark 13:24-26; Mark 13:30.]. And how awfully have these predictions been verified! Surely from the foundation of the world there has never been an instance of any nation suffering such various, accumulated, and continued calamities as they. The darkness of their minds too, no less than the wretchedness of their condition, shews to what an extent the wrath of God is upon them: for a veil is upon their hearts, thicker than even that which obscured the meridian sun. O that at last the veil might be taken away, and that the light of God’s countenance might be once more lifted up upon them!]
Though this subject may appear unconnected with practice, it may be justly improved,
For the humbling of the impenitent—
[How awful does the insensibility of man appear, when we see even the material creation more affected, as it were, at the death of Christ, than they! It is a fact, that many who have heard of the death of Christ times without number, and who profess to believe that he died for their sins, have yet never once mourned for those sins which nailed him to the accursed tree. Were they to hear of the slightest accident that had befallen their friend or relative, or any trifling loss which they themselves had sustained, they would be affected with it: but the crucifixion of the Lord of Glory is heard of by them without any emotion, even though they themselves were the guilty causes of his death. But let such ungrateful people know, that if ever they be brought to a just sense of their sins, they will “look on Him whom they have pierced, and mourn, and be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born [Note: Zechariah 12:10.].” The Lord hasten this penitential season to every one of us [Note: Jeremiah 13:15-16.]! — — —]
For the comforting of the afflicted—
[It is not uncommon to find persons deeply distressed on account of the hidings of God’s face. And we acknowledge that they have cause to be distressed; because it is the most afflictive of all events, and because it never takes place but for the correction of some evil in them. Our blessed Lord, though he had no sin of his own, had evil enough upon him, even the sins of the whole world: and Job, though in some sense he was “a perfect man,” had much to learn, and much to attain. Yet let not any one despond, as though the cheerful light of the sun should no more appear: but let those who “walk in darkness and have no light, learn to trust in the Lord, and to stay themselves upon their God [Note: Isaiah 50:10.]:” and then “their light shall rise in obscurity, and their darkness be as the noon-day.”]
For the encouraging of all—
[Reviving are those words of the Apostle John, “The darkness is past, and the true light now shineth [Note: 1 John 2:8.].” All that was obscure in the death of Christ is now made plain; and, blessed be God! the whole mystery of Redemption is now exhibited before our eyes. Yes, on us “the Sun of Righteousness has arisen with healing in his wings.” But as we know not how long the light shall continue with us, let us “walk in the light whilst we have it, lest darkness come upon us [Note: John 12:35.].” If any thing in the dispensations either of providence or of grace be dark to us at the present, let us contentedly say, “What I know not now, I shall know hereafter;” and let us wait in patience for that world, where “our sun shall no more go down, neither shall our moon withdraw itself; but the Lord will be our everlasting light, and the days of our mourning shall be ended [Note: Isaiah 60:20.].”]
SIGNS ATTENDANT ON OUR LORD’S DEATH
Matthew 27:51. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent.
THE incarnation and death of God’s co-equal, co-eternal Son are facts so incredible, that nothing but a concurrence of the most unquestionable proofs can justify us in believing the Scripture report concerning them. But God has been pleased to give us proofs equal to the occasion. The birth of Christ was attested by a multitude of angels, who were sent from heaven to announce and celebrate the event: and the death of Christ was attested by a variety of signs and wonders, which could not fail to impress all whose minds were open to conviction. The miraculous darkness for the space of three hours at mid-day has been already noticed: and we have now to notice two other phenomena, the earthquake, and the rending of the veil. We may suppose indeed that these two events might happen without any particular interposition of Providence to effect them, or any particular end to be answered by them: but such a construction is altogether precluded, both by the prophetic declarations respecting them, and by the light thrown upon them in the New Testament. It shall be our endeavour at this time,
To illustrate these phenomena—
These, like the miraculous darkness, may be considered as testimonies from God to the truth of Christ’s Messiahship: but we shall direct our attention to them rather as signs, or emblematic representations, of mysteries at that time accomplished. In this view let us notice,
[This had been predicted by the Prophet Haggai [Note: Haggai 2:6-7; Haggai 2:21.]: and though we might have justly regarded the expressions used by him as designating only some great political convulsion, yet we have reason to think that they had a literal accomplishment in the event before us. It must be remembered, that, at the giving of the Law, “the whole of Mount Sinai quaked greatly [Note: Exodus 19:18. Psalms 18:7.].” Thus at the termination of that, and the introduction of the Christian, dispensation, a similar miracle was wrought; “the earth quaked to its very centre; and the rocks were rent asunder:” and we are warranted by an inspired Apostle to declare, that that phenomenon shadowed forth the abolition of the whole Jewish economy, and the establishment of Christianity in its place [Note: Hebrews 12:26-27.]. It is observable, too, that the Apostle lays all the stress on one particular word of the prophet; (a word which superficial readers would have overlooked;) and shews, that it was intended by God himself to foretell, and to explain, the earthquake which we are now speaking of. The tabernacle and all the things belonging to it were “made” by the hands of men, and therefore were not intended to continue beyond a certain period: but, under the Christian dispensation, every thing is spiritual and of Divine origin, and consequently is destined to endure for ever: the removal of the former, therefore, and the establishment of the latter, being fixed in the Divine counsels, they were predicted by the prophet, and expressly marked in that one word which the Apostle so correctly notices; “This word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken, may remain.”
What obligations do we owe to God for the light which the New Testament reflects on the Jewish writings, and for the confirmation which it receives from them! No uninspired author could ever have discovered such mysteries in so obscure a passage; nor can any one who beholds this inspired exposition of it, withhold his admiration of the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom and knowledge.]
The rending of the veil—
[This was not a mere accident arising from the earthquake, but an appointment of God for the fuller manifestation of his own purpose and grace.
There were two veils in the temple; the one separating the holy place from the outer court, and the other separating the holy place from the holy of holies. This latter veil was for the purpose of screening from the view of men the ark and the shechinah, that bright symbol of the Deity. This was the veil that was “rent in twain from the top to the bottom:” and the rending of it denoted three things; first, That the rending of Christ’s body was the means of bringing us nigh to God; next, that the mysteries which had hitherto been hid in God were now fully revealed; and, lastly, that a new way of access to God was now opened for all people.
Christ speaks of his own body as being typified by the temple [Note: John 2:19; John 2:21.]: and well he might do so, since “in him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” But as opening a way for our admission to the Divine presence, it was more particularly typified by the veil; the rending of which marked the violent nature of his death, and the blessed effects resulting from it. This is declared by an inspired Apostle, who, speaking of our having “a way consecrated for us through the veil,” adds, “that is to say, his flesh.” And this accords with innumerable assertions of Holy Writ, which declare that “Christ hath made peace for us by the blood of his cross,” and that, whereas we were once “alienated from God, and enemies to him in our minds by wicked works, he hath now reconciled us to him in the body of his flesh through death [Note: Colossians 1:20-22.].”
Moreover, the mystical intent of all the types and figures was now exhibited in the clearest view. As the veil on the face of Moses intimated, that the Jews could not discern the end and reason of the ceremonial law, and “the taking away of that veil in Christ” enables us to “behold, as in a glass or mirror, the glory of the Lord;” so the rending of the veil shews us, that all the ends of the ceremonial law were fulfilled in Christ, and that to us is given the substance of what the Jewish Church possessed only in types and shadows. If we do not now comprehend the glorious designs of God in the work of Redemption, it is not because he has interposed a veil to hide them from us, but because we have a veil upon our own hearts, which we have not desired him to take away. It must be our fault, I say, and not his; for from that hour in which Christ died upon the cross, and especially from that hour when the Holy Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost, to reveal him unto men, “the face of the covering that had been cast over all people was destroyed, and the veil that had been spread over all nations was taken away [Note: Isaiah 25:7-8.].”
But that which was most fully and most immediately intended by the rending of the veil, was, to open for all people a free and personal access to God, that so they might obtain all his blessings for themselves, without the intervention of carnal sacrifices, and an earthly priesthood. To shew to men that no such access was allowed them under the law, was the use and intent of the veil [Note: Hebrews 9:7-8. “The Holy Ghost this signifying, &c.”]; and to make that way open both to Jews and Gentiles, was the design of God in rending the veil [Note: Hebrews 10:19-20. with Ephesians 3:18.]. This further appears from the time when the veil was rent: for it was at the time of the evening sacrifice, when the priests were in the holy place, trimming the sacred lamps, and offering incense before the Lord. They, of course, must have beheld the interior of the sanctuary; and therefore had in themselves an evidence, that God had opened for them a new way of access unto his throne. This is called “a new and a living way;” new, because it never was revealed before; and living, because it would secure eternal life to all who should come in it; whereas, if even the high-priest himself had presumed to enter through the veil on any other than the day of atonement, or in any other manner than that prescribed by the law, he would have been struck dead upon the spot, or have been put to death as a presumptuous transgressor: but now every person in the universe may come to God, and find acceptance with him at his mercy-seat: if only he take the blood of his great Sacrifice, and bring it by faith to the throne of God, he shall find that there no longer exists any difference between “Jew and Greek, bond and free, male and female, but that we are all one in Christ Jesus [Note: Galatians 3:28.].”]
Such is clearly the import of these phenomena: we now come,
To shew the improvement we should make of them—
Here we might suggest many things; but for brevity’s sake we shall confine ourselves to two, which are particularly suggested by the holy Apostle. We should,
Receive and honour the dispensation which God has introduced—
[Consider the nature of that dispensation which preceded it; how dark, how unsatisfactory, how burthensome! — — — Compare with it the dispensation under which we live, a dispensation of light and liberty, of peace and joy — — — See the two contrasted by the Apostle [Note: Hebrews 12:18-24.]; and then hear him declaring the abolition of the one, and the establishment of the other, and prescribing our duty in reference to that which we are privileged to enjoy [Note: Hebrews 12:25-29.]: hear too the argument with which he enforces an obedient attention to it: He reminds us of the judgments which fell on Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, for refusing to comply with God’s former appointments, which were carnal and earthly, and appeals to us respecting the impossibility of our escaping, if we disregard those which are spiritual and heavenly, since God, at this time, no less than formerly, is, to those who offend him, “a consuming fire [Note: Hebrews 12:29.].” Comply then with the commands of God, and “receive not the grace of God in vain.” Only remember wherein the main difference between the two dispensations consists: the one consisted altogether of forms and shadows; the other contains the substance: in the one, the sacrifices were beasts of the field, and the priests who offered them were guilty creatures like ourselves; in the other, Christ is our Sacrifice, and our great High Priest; and in his mediation and intercession must be all our salvation and all our hope. The earthquake shook the whole legal fabric, and removed it all, so that the Church is liberated from all its observances: in like manner must all legal principles be removed from us; and the freedom granted to the Church, must be realized in our hearts — — — In a word, we must be “new creatures in Christ Jesus: old things must pass away, and all things must become new.”]
Avail ourselves of the liberty which he has conferred upon us—
[God invites us all to come to him without fear: He says, “Draw nigh to me, and I will draw nigh to you” — — — But here is the difficulty. To be outward-court worshippers is easy enough: but to get within the veil, to approach God as seeing him that is invisible, to pour out our souls before him, to ask with a full assurance of obtaining whatsoever we stand in need of; to live in the habit of such intercourse with him as enables us to say, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ;” this requires continual watchfulness and unintermitted exertion. Yet this is the state to which we ought to aspire. The Apostle, after having, in a fore-cited passage, told us, that we have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an High Priest over the house of God;” adds, “Let us draw near with a true heart; in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience [Note: Hebrews 10:19-22.].” This is the glorious privilege to which we are brought. None need to stand at a distance: the golden sceptre is held out equally to all; and “we may ask what we will, and it shall be done unto us.” We are all, without exception, “a royal priesthood;” he who “hath loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, hath also made us kings and priests unto our God [Note: 1 Peter 2:9. Revelation 1:5-6.].” Let none then stand at a distance as unworthy to approach him, but let us go even to his throne, and “open our mouths wide that he may fill them” — — —]
THE GUARDING OF THE SEPULCHRE
Matthew 27:62-66. Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the Chief Priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way; make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.
THE enmity of the human heart against God will never cease to operate, till the heart itself be changed by divine grace. One would have hoped that, when so many wonders had been wrought during the crucifixion of Christ, when the whole multitude that were spectators of it smote their breasts with grief, when the Centurion and others of the heathen soldiers were constrained to attest his innocence, and to proclaim him to be the Son of God, and, lastly, when they had seen some of their own body, even members of the supreme council, paying the most marked respect to his dead body, and committing it to the tomb with funeral honours; one would have hoped, I say, that the malice of the chief priests and Pharisees would have somewhat abated. But they were still restless: not content with having put him to death, and thereby destroyed, as they imagined, all his influence in the world, they pretended to fear that his Disciples would come and take him from the tomb, and spread abroad a report that he had risen from the dead. They certainly had no reasonable ground for such a fear: for, to what purpose could it be for the Disciples to carry on such a delusion, when they could not gain any thing by it but misery in this world, and destruction in the world to come? But the chief priests wanted to pluck up by the very roots this dangerous heresy, as they esteemed it; and to prove to all that Jesus was an impostor. For this purpose they determined to secure the tomb, till the time of his predicted resurrection should be passed; and accordingly made their application to Pilate, for such assistance as they judged necessary.
Let us consider,
The precautions they used to secure the tomb—
[They remembered that Jesus had repeatedly foretold his resurrection on the third day: and they well knew, that, if the report of such an event should be circulated and credited, it would confirm his influence to such a degree that they should never be able to subvert it. They conceived that they had been guilty of a great error in suffering Jesus to live so long: and, if now they should leave it in the power of his Disciples to practise a deceit by stealing away the body, and affirming that he was risen, their “last error would be worse than the first.” They therefore, notwithstanding it was the Sabbath, went in a body to Pilate, to request that measures might instantly be taken to defeat any such plot: Yes, though they had often been filled with indignation against Jesus for performing acts of mercy on the Sabbath, they themselves felt no hesitation in violating the sanctity of it, in order to accomplish their malignant purposes.
In their address to Pilate, they designate our adorable Lord as a “deceiver,” whose imposture they are determined to detect. They branded him with this ignominious name, well knowing the influence which such appellations have in influencing the decisions of timid or ungodly men.
Pilate acceded to their request, and gave orders that a guard of soldiers from the castle of Antonia should be at their disposal. These therefore they placed around the sepulchre: and, lest any collusion should exist between them also and the Disciples, they put a seal upon the stone that closed the sepulcher; and thus secured themselves equally against fraud and violence: the Disciples could not overcome an armed guard; nor could the guard connive at their taking away the body without being immediately discovered.]
Let us next consider,
The advantage derived from thence to the cause of Christ—
[Not all the Disciples together could have devised a plan that should render such benefit to their own cause as this did. It is true, that Christ’s frequent appearances after his resurrection might remove all doubt from the minds of the Disciples; but still, if no precautions had been used to secure the tomb, there would ever remain some plausibility in the assertion, that the Disciples had stolen away the body, and that some other man had personated him in his various appearances, and thereby deceived the multitude. But behold, the enemies of Christ themselves destroy all foundation for such a conceit: and the very means they used to subvert the religion of Christ, have established it on a basis that can never be shaken. By the placing of a guard, the Roman soldiers themselves became witnesses of his resurrection; they immediately declared the event to the chief priests and Pharisees, who gave them large sums of money to conceal the matter [Note: Matthew 28:11-15.]; and thus the priests themselves, even the whole Sanhedrim, became witnesses of the same. They were forced to invent some story to justify their continued rejection of Christ; but the idea of the whole guard (it is thought of sixty soldiers) being asleep at once, when the penalty of death was annexed to that offence, and the Disciples being able to remove the large stone from the door of the sepulchre, and to take away the body without so much as waking one of the soldiers, is too ridiculous to obtain the smallest degree of credit. That this should be done, too, and no one of the soldiers be called to an account for it, when their neglect had, on this supposition, defeated the most ardent wishes of the Jewish rulers, is inconceivable, especially when we know what was the state of the rulers’ minds at that time.
Now we can easily conceive what would have been the effect, if Jesus had not risen, and the Jewish rulers had been able, at the expiration of the third day, to bring forth the body, and to shew it to the people: they would thus have proved indisputably that Jesus was an impostor, and would have destroyed in a moment all the influence of his name. But their defeat has established the truth of our religion beyond a possibility of contradiction: Yes, we desire no better evidences of its truth, than those which the Roman soldiers and the Jewish Sanhedrim have this unwittingly afforded us: so that we may well say, “Their last error was worse than the first:” for, if their forbearance gave Jesus an opportunity of propagating his religion, this device of theirs proved to demonstration the fact on which his religion rests; and has thereby precluded all excuse for their obstinate unbelief.]
We would now suggest,
Some general deductions from the subject—
Truly this is a triumphant subject to the Christian: for though we cannot but mourn at the idea that our blessed Lord should be treated with such indignities, we are constrained to triumph, when we see how all the efforts of his enemies were overruled for the manifestation of his glory. But there are two thoughts in particular which we would suggest as arising from this transaction:
How vain are the counsels of ungodly men!
[Doubtless the chief priests and Pharisees exulted in the hope that they had now attained complete success: but their devices were turned to their own confusion. It was thus throughout the whole history of our blessed Lord, and espepecially in the diversified events of his last hours: his enemies plotted together, and executed all their malignant purposes against him: but behold, in all that they did, they unwittingly “fulfilled the Scriptures [Note: Acts 13:27.]” so that not one word of all the prophecies was left unaccomplished. In one sense they were Satan’s agents; for it was “he who put it into their hearts” to reject and crucify their Messiah: but in another sense, they were instruments in the hands of God, to execute the things which “his hand and his counsel had determined before to be done [Note: Acts 4:25-28.].” Thus also it has been with all who have conspired against the Lord in every age: he has invariably “disappointed the devices of the crafty,” and “taken the wise in their own craftiness [Note: Job 5:12-13.].” Two objects his enemies always have in view; the one is, to injure his people, and the other is, to defeat his cause: but they are made, against their will, to advance the interests of both. In the history of Job we are informed, how Satan exerted himself in every possible way to ruin that holy man: but, after all his efforts, he only rendered Job the more exalted monument of grace, and augmented the happiness which he laboured to destroy [Note: Job 42:9-10. with James 5:11.]. In like manner, the enemies of the Church have been uniformly baffled in all their attempts against it. They put to death that eminent disciple, Stephen; and raised a persecution against the whole Church, so that none, except the Apostles, dared any longer to continue at Jerusalem: but the effect of their persecution was, to destroy one preacher, and to raise up a thousand in his stead [Note: Acts 8:1; Acts 8:4.]. At another time, having directed their hostility against the Apostle Paul, they prevailed so far as to get him confined in prison for two whole years. What a deadly blow must this, as we should think, have given to the Church! yet St. Paul himself tells us, that it “turned out rather to the furtherance of the Gospel;” since many in Cζsar’s palace, who would otherwise have never heard the word, were brought to the knowledge of it; and multitudes, when they saw his faith and patience, were stirred up to tread in his steps, and “to preach the word without fear [Note: Philippians 1:12-14.].” Thus it ever has been; and thus it ever shall be: for Solomon tells us, “There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord [Note: Proverbs 21:30.];” on the contrary, how “many soever devices there may be in the hearts of men, the counsel of the Lord, and that only, shall stand [Note: Proverbs 19:21.].” “The wrath of man shall praise him, and the remainder,” which would not subserve his purposes, “shall he restrain [Note: Psalms 76:10.].”]
How happy are they who have God on their side!
[Whilst the Jewish rulers were plotting together for the utter subversion of Christianity, the Disciples were unconscious of their machinations, or overwhelmed with despair. But God is the friend of all his people, “an ever-present help in the time of trouble.” He is pleased to characterize himself by this very name, “The Saviour of them that trust in him [Note: Psalms 17:7. Jeremiah 14:8.].” He permits indeed his enemies to triumph for a season; but he warns them of the fearful issue of their conspiracies against him [Note: Isaiah 8:7-10.]. As far as they prevail, they ascribe all their success to their own wisdom and power: but he reproves their folly, and visits upon them those very iniquities, which he has rendered subservient to the accomplishment of his own eternal counsels [Note: Isaiah 10:5-7; Isaiah 10:12; Isaiah 10:17.]. As for his own people, he encourages them to put their trust in him, without suffering themselves to be alarmed at the menaces of their enemies, or harbouring any fears about their ultimate success [Note: Isaiah 8:12-14.]. What their happy state should be, we see in the actual experience of David. He contemplates God in the character of an Almighty Protector [Note: Psalms 18:2.]; and, when urged by an alarmist to indulge desponding fears, he nobly replies, “The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven [Note: Psalms 11:1-4. N. B. To the end of the third verse is the speech of the Alarmist.].” He even appeals to the whole world, what cause he can have for fear, whilst he has such an Almighty Friend for his support [Note: Psalms 27:1.]. Such is the privilege of all his people: if “they believe in him, they shall not make haste through unbelieving fears [Note: Isaiah 28:16.]: on the contrary, “their very thoughts shall be established [Note: Proverbs 16:3.].” In a word, they shall, though beset with enemies on every side, be preserved as in a royal pavilion, and have such an inward sense of the Divine presence as shall comfort them under every trouble, or rather screen them from trouble, and fill them with joy unspeakable and glorified [Note: Psalms 31:20.].]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Matthew 27". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30