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fo, because the general voice of the people, efpecially of the ruling and influential men among the people, was. againft him. But Pilate, under all bis advantages to know the truth, and under all his prejudices against the prisoner, repeatedly de clared him innocent. And when sentence of condemnation was extorted from him by the chamours and threats of the people, he washed his hands in their presence, declaring himself pure from the blood of that just man; and when he delivered him tobe crucified, he fixed on the cross his own tesa timony, that this man, who was now suffering for having called himself the king of the Jews, was of right their king. This title of fo unusual a kind would naturally attract the attention, and excite the enquiry of the fpectators, and lead many to the knowledge of the extraordinary character of this wonderful sufferer, who otherwife might have been confidered by them merely as a common offender.
We may obferve farther, fecondly, This teftimony of Pilate was given in a moft con. spicuous place, and on a most publick occafion.
There was collected, at this time, a vaft multitude of people. It was the season of the pafsover, when the males throughout Judea, and many Jews and Profelytes from other parts, aflembled at Jer. ufalem. The execution of a person, who had be come so famous by his doctrines and works, and by the controversy concerning him, would natur. ally draw vaft numbers together. As he was put to death under the authority of the emperour, and as the Roman officers and foldiers, who were stationed at Jerufalem, were called out to preserve order on the occasion, there must have been many strangers, as well as Jews, present at the crucifixion. And as the execution was in a place nigh to
the city, we must suppose that almost all the inhabitants of the city, and the strangers occasionally there, went out to see the tranfactions of the day. So that Pilate's testimony to Chrift's kingly authority must have been generally known. was read of many." And it was of such singular tenor, that they who read it, would communicate it to others.
It is also remarked, thirdly, by the historians, That the inscription was written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, the three languages then in most common use. The Hebrew language was understood in Judea and the parts adjacent, and by many of the Romans, who had been conversant in Judea, since it became a province of the empire. The Latin was the native tongue of the Romans. The Greek was very extensively known. It was the learned language of the day. Most men of education were acquainted with it. So that this teftimony of Pilate was made as publick as possible. It was known almost as extensively, as the crucifixion itself.
This circumstance in our Lord's death will suggest to us fome profitable reflections.
1. We have reason to admire the divine wisdom in giving such striking evidence of the innocence and dignity of Jesus Chrift, even in the time of his greatest sufferings.
Jesus came into the world to be the Redeemer of our fallen race. • We are not redeemed with corruptible things ; but with the precious blood of Chrift himself, who was ordained before the foundation of the world, and was manifefted in these last times for us, who by him do believe in God.” The wisdom of God did not see fit to forgive guilty mortals without some adequate facrifice made for their fins. And to this grand purpose no sacVol. V.
rifice was adequate, but that of Jesus the son of God.
Death naturally indicates weakness; and judicially it indicates guilt. Mankind in seeing a perfon die, are led to view him as a poor impotent creature, and in feeing one suffer by the hand of the executioner, they are led to view him as a criminal. Now that the death of Christ might not be considered, either as the mere effect of nátural weaknefs, or as the judicial effect of personal guilt, God was pleafed at this time, to give some remarkable evidences of his innocence and dignity. Hence we are encouraged to trust in his facrifice as sufficient to expiate our guilt, and to commit ourselves to his power as sufficient to save us from destruction.
The meekness, ferenity, patience and benevo lence, which he exhibited in his sufferings, were proofs of his fuperior virtue and holiness. The foolish and inconsistent accusations, which his enemies brought against him, and the contradictory testimonies, by which they endeavoured to fupport their charges, were proofs of the purity and integrity of his life. The ample, repeated and folemn testimony, which the Roman governour gave in his favour, must have gone far to establith in the minds of the spectators a high opinion of his character. Besides all this, God interposed his own awful testimony, which nothing, but the most obftinate and determined incredulity, could refift. The heavens were wrapt in darkness, the frame of nature was convulsed, the rocks were rent in pieces, the monuments of the dead were burst open, the vail of the temple was torn from top to bottom, earth and sky were thrown into agonies, when Jesus bowed his head and gave up the ghoft,
Such a concurrence of circumstances, all fingular, and some ftupendous, in favour of the suffer. ing Saviour, forced conviction on many, and ftruck astonishment into all. One says, “Surely this was a righteous man.” Another exclaims, « This was the son of God.”
“And all the people, who came together to that fight, seeing what was done, smote their breasts, and returned.”
2. We see that there is a great inconsistency in the conduct of vicious men. They have understanding to discern, and conscience to feel their moral obligations, and yet by the interests, honours and pleasures of the world, they are drawn into actions palpably inconsistent with these obligations. They know what is right, and practise what is wrong. They see the good, and choose the evil.
This inconsistency appeared in Pilate. Though, as historians say, he was a man of great .cruelty and pride, yet the innocent and amiable character of Jesus struck his mind so powerfully, that he wished to discharge him. Hearing the people importunate to have him crucified, Pilate endeava oured to save him by proposing a lighter punishment. When this proposal was reječied, the gove ernour offered to release him in compliance with the custom of the feast, which required that one prisoner, whom the people demanded, should be fet at liberty. When this offer was refused, he next, to move their compassion, exhibited Jefus, suffering under the abuses of a brutal foldiery ; lacerated with thorns, mangled with stripes, besmeared with blood, bedaubed with spittal; and said, “Behold the man!” Has he not suffered enough ? Finding them still pertinacious, he yielded; and rather than hazard his place, he delivered Jesus to be crucified. His conscience dictated
the release of the innocent prisoner ; the love of honour urged his condemnation. The latter pre. vailed. Still Pilate is diffatisfied with himself. He knows, he has done wrong. And what shall he do next ? - To pacify his troubled mind, he takes water and wathes his hands, asserts his innocence, and cafts the whole guilt of the transaction on the Jews. Then, by a singular infcription on the cross, he proclaims Jesus the king of the Jews.
See what contradiction-what inconsistency there is in his conduct—what perplexity and dis. traction in his feelings ! He chose to do right; but the fear of lofing his place, and perhaps his life, interpofed. He facrificed a man, whom he knew to be innocent, rather than expofe himself to the danger of an impeachment. And when he has done, still he is restless, and contrives one expedient after another to quiet his guilty mind.
How much better it would have been to have acted right in the firft instance. This would have saved him from much perplexity and embarraffment. Had he not only declared Jesus innocent, but refused also to condemn him, he would have been clear from the guilt of his blood. But by deliv. ering him into the hands of his enemies, he stained his own hands with innocent blood; and though he washed them with foap and nitre, the ftain of his guilt remained.
Known wickedness leaves a burden on the mind, which can be removed only by deep repentance, and humble application to the mercy of God. Sinners often feel a struggle between virtue and vice-between a right and a wrong conduct. In the conflict the love of pleasure, a regard to interest, or some worldly motive steps in, decides the contest and gives the victory to vice. After the action is paft, there is time for cool reflection.