which we may observe a particular providence. For it being foretold, that the Messiah should be crucified,-if Christ had died by the hands of the Jews, or for any offence against their law, this could not have been accomplished; because crucifixion was not a Jewish, but a Romish, punishment. When, therefore, he had acquitted himself before their council, they pursue him with a fresh accusation, bring him before the governor, and there charge him with treason against Cæsar, in making himself a king. This Pilate soon discovered to be merely the effect of envy: but not daring to provoke the people, by an act of justice, that might call his zeal for Cæsar into question, he yielded to their clamours, and gave command that the prisoner should be crucified, according to their desire. This punishment was enough, one would think, to gratify the most inveterate malice: but to make the pomp of it the greater, and give their rage its full scope, they first divert themselves with his misery, and barbarously insult over their supposed malefactor. The King of heaven and earth was arrayed in purple, and made a spectacle to the people, as if he had pretended to a royalty, which belonged not to him: a mock crown and sceptre are given him, and obeisance made to him in jest and wantonness; that he might be the gazing and the laughing-stock of the beholders:-royal salutations, seconded by spittings in his face, were intended to render him more ridiculous and contemptible. Malice was then let loose, and all the instruments of hell set on work, to make the injury more black and detestable. This was Satan's hour, and the power of darkness; and it appeared to be so, by such unrelenting cruelties as could never have been exercised, had not the committers of them been carried beyond the common corruptions of nature, and for that time ceased to be men. For though the nature of civil constitutions requires great severities upon such, as are found to have grievously offended; yet no laws pretend to countenance barbarity and insolence, and we can scarce prevent ourselves from pitying the worst of criminals. But here was a person declared wholly blameless; the very judge, who partially condemned him, washed his hands publicly, and disclaimed the having anything to do in taking him off: and yet this just man found no compassion, but all possible industry was used to add to his torment, and to render him more vile, more odious, and more unworthy of compassion.

But, though insolence and cruelty be detestable upon all occasions, and more so yet to the innocent and injured, yet is there something of difference, with regard to the dignity of the person against whom it is exercised; and the more exalted his character is, the more cutting it is in him that endures, and the more villanous in them that commit, it. The best and holiest of the sons of men are not pure in the sight of Christ; nor ought to be compared with his innocence, even as men; and the greatest and most glorious monarchs are yet infinitely beneath his divine majesty and perfections. Yet even this unblemished virtue, even this almighty King permitted himself to be made, as it was written of him long before, 'A worm and no man, a very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people; all they that saw him, laughed him to scorn.' [Psal. xxii. 6, 7] When they had entertained themselves with reproaching and ridiculing him, they then resolved to glut their fury with his blood. Yet still they proceed to observe their former method, of giving scoffs and stripes together; to wound his soul, as well as bruise his body. For, after they had mocked him, they led him away to crucify him: a death, the most dreadful of all others, both for the shame, and for the pain of it.

First. Crucifixion was a death full of shame: so scandalous, that it was inflicted, as the last mark of detestation, upon the vilest of people, peculiar to the meanest condition, and to the most heinous offences. It was the punishment of robbers and murderers, provided that they were slaves too: but otherwise, if they were free, and had the privileges of the city of Rome, this was then thought a prostitution of that honour, and too infamous a penalty for such a one, let his misdemeanour have been what it would. Accordingly we see what companions our Saviour had in his death, and how he was numbered amongst the worst of transgressors.' [Isaiah liii. 9.]

Secondly, this death was terrible above others, not only for the disgrace, but for the extreme pain and torture of it. And of this, the very manner is enough to convince us. For, the form of a cross, being that of two posts cutting one another at right angles, on that which stood upright, the body was fastened, by nailing the feet to it; and to the other transverse piece, by nailing the hands on each side. The pain must needs be most acute, because these parts of the body, being the in

struments of action and motion, are provided by nature with a much greater quantity of nerves than others have occasion for. And since all sensation is performed by the spirits in these nerves, wheresoever they are bound, the sense must needs, in proportion, be more quick and tender. And, in this case, we are to consider, not only the hands and feet, as pierced through with iron nails, and these so large, that Thomas required, for his conviction, to thrust his finger into the print of them:? but the weight of the whole body hanging upon those fastenings, and those tormenting distortions of the limbs, which the Psalmist signified, when (speaking in the person of our Saviour) he complains, They pierced my hands and my feet; I may tell all my bones.' [Psal. xxii. 17.] If the bitterness of this pain had been in any degree recompensed by the shortness, it had yet been more tolerable. But, alas! it was a very slow and lingering, as well as an exceeding sharp, death. For, though the misery was so great, yet none of the vitals were immediately affected. But the body continued thus stretched out, till excess of anguish had by degrees quite exhausted the spirits, and driven out the soul. Our blessed Saviour, we are told expressly, continued thus three long hours, in languishings and thirsts, and leisurely pangs of approaching death. And, a last, with strong cries and groans, gave up the ghost. What a tedious torment is this in comparison of those executions, that malefactors commonly undergo; where the seat of life is immediately assaulted, and the sense of pain can be but very short! The Romans themselves, who used this punishment, were frequently so compassionate, as to strangle the party first, and content themselves with exposing the dead body upon the cross. But in our Saviour's case, there was no relenting, no remains of humanity, for his ease and relief. Death attacked him in its most frightful shape, and wreaked its utmost spite upon him. Certainly, never any person died with such variety, such bitterness of torments, of studied, malicious torments. Never any was sensible of such exquisite misery, nor had cause to utter such a doleful complaint, as he, who though the Son of God, felt himself so destitute of consolation and support, as to cry out, with a passion that looked almost like despair, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!"


Such were the sufferings of our dying Redeemer; such, and


infinitely greater than it is possible to express, or to conceive. But so much of them, as we are capable of apprehending, will, if duly considered, be of great use to us. Particularly, it may be very proper on this occasion, to observe,

II. 1. First, The expedience that our Saviour, who came to expiate the sins of mankind, should die under all the most aggravating circumstances of shame, and scorn, and detestation. This, no doubt, was done, to expose the heinousness of sin; to prove how just an object it is of the wrath of God; how vilely it degrades the committers of it; and that no disgrace or punishment can be too great for such. All which we see exemplified in him, who only stood in the place of sinners, and yet was loaded with all the sufferings and indignities capable of being undergone by a person perfectly innocent, and by the human united to the divine nature.

So was it expedient, too, for manifesting the tenderness of his love, the incomparable greatness of his humility and condescension, and his boundless generosity and zeal for accomplishing his noble designs; a zeal which did not disdain even the most difficult terms of working out the salvation of souls.

So was it, once more, for instructing us in the nature of the like reproaches and sufferings: for this example teaches us, that we are not to measure men's virtue, or the state of their souls, with regard to the favour of God and another world, by such marks as these, since the Son of his love endured them, without forfeiting the one, or staining the other.

And so it was, lastly, for setting us an example of meekness, and patience, and forgiveness of the wicked instruments of such inhuman treatment, if at any time it shall be permitted to befal us.

II. 2. The last particular, on which I shall insist, is the disappointment and guilt of our great Master's persecutors; and, in proportion, of all who depend upon human force and subtlety, for compassing of wicked designs. For who can sufficiently admire the wisdom of Almighty God, who thus ordered the great work of man's redemption, in despite of all the malice and subtlety of Satan, the envy of the chief priests and pharisees, the fury of the common people, the insolence of the soldiers, the profligate consciences of false witnesses, the treachery and avarice of one of Christ's own disciples, the timorousness of a corrupt and time-serving judge, the barbarity of those

who derided, and scourged, and crucified him, and `eath, in over his dying agonies and pains: all these were over-rulewith Providence, so as to bring about those very purposes, whing the actors laboured to defeat. If Christ had not been put to such a death, he could not have suffered the shame and torment, which the divine Justice required as a satisfaction for the sins of men: had not the proceedings against him been very injurious and unreasonable, that death would not have possessed the merit of a sacrifice, and expiation for the guilty, whose persons he bore: in a word, had he not died, he would not have conquered death, nor led captivity captive. For St. Paul tells us expressly, that the Son of God was made like unto us, and took a mortal nature upon him, 'that by death, he might destroy him that had the power of death, even the devil,' and release them who, through 'fear of death, were all their life long subject to bondage.' [Heh. ii. 14, 15.] So vain and blind are all the counsels of men, so impotent all the cunning and subtlety of hell itself, when they undertake to fight against God. And (which was eminently visible in the death of our blessed Saviour) the prophecies they minutely fulfilled, while they did all in their power to frustrate them; the divine counsels which they unawares accomplished; though it be the most glorious, the most conspicuous, yet is far from being the only instance of a wonderful, wise, and Almighty providence bringing good out of evil, and beneficial events out of most malicious intentions. Therefore, how successful or formidable soever the enemies of goodness may seem in our eyes, yet they cannot bind the hands of the great Governor of the world. He will assert his own honour, and do right to his injured servants; and even then, when the wicked think themselves most secure, will blast them with the breath of his displeasure. Blessed, therefore, be his wise and watchful providence, which turns even the obstinacy of wicked men, and their attempts against religion, into means of promoting it! Blessed for ever be that amazing goodness, which turned an unexampled murder into a most precious sacrifice; transformed the ignominy of the cross into a banner of honour and triumph; and, when the princes and rulers, with Herod and Pontius Pilate, were gathered against him and his Christ, looked down from heaven with scorn, and had them in derision; put a hook in their nose, and a bridle in their lips; and, while they gratified their

« ElőzőTovább »