The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death:Chapter 91
Almighty God, because the house is thine, there is peace in it, and a great light makes it glad with a morn bright as heaven. This is the day the Lord hath made: we will rejoice and be glad in it. We would fain dry our tears today and have nothing but joy dwelling in the heart and singing along all the range of the redeemed life. Thou hast redeemed us with blood, thou hast encountered the adversary in mighty battle, and behold the outshedding of the blood of the heart of Christ was the very victory of the Son of God. We are redeemed not with corruptible things, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ thy Son. We know not the price thereof: they only who have lived long as thyself can add up the mighty value. To us it is precious, redeeming blood, the blood which cleanseth from all sin, the answer of God to the wickedness of the world.
We have come up to thine house with all musical instruments making glad noises, with shoutings of the heart because of thy goodness, yea our whole life lifts itself up in anthems of joyous praise, because thou hast beset us behind and before and laid thine hand upon us. Thou hast held over us the lamp which thou hast set for thine anointed, and thou hast found for us a rod and a staff. We have come to render our whole life to thee in grateful return: Lord, accept the worthless gift, and make it worthy through him that was slain.
We have come to sign thy book again, to write our names upon the open pages, and publicly, in the light of noontide, to proclaim ourselves sinners saved by grace. We would be living sacrifices unto God, our life would rise up into the heavens daily as an acceptable incense. Lord, what are those impulses and desires of ours, but inspirations of the Holy Ghost? Herein do we feel the might gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit. These impulses are thy creation, these prayers come out of thine own wisdom, and this uplifting of the soul is the marvel of thy power.
Save us from the dust, from the trifles of time, from the vexations of earth, from seeking prizes that have no value, and grasping at that which perishes in the hand. Enable us to covet the true riches; may we be misers in the sanctuary, treasuring up all thou dost give, and loving it, and often counting it, and making ourselves wealthy because of thy daily revelation and grace. Enable us to turn our back upon the yesterdays that were poor and mean, and to set ourselves with glad faces and new desires towards the unborn time; inspired by the Holy Ghost, anointed daily with an unction from heaven, made clean by the blood which alone can cleanse, may the time to come be more profitable than the time that is gone, in all holiness of heart, consecration of spirit, and industry of hands.
We commend one another to thy benediction; great Father, give us a sense of fellowship in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, give us keen and clear insight into the holy mysteries of thy book and into the unwritten law of thy universe. Graciously help us to understand ourselves, our greatness, our littleness, thy purpose concerning us, the subtlety of temptation, the might of the enemy, the inexhaustibility of thy resource, and thus may we walk soberly, wisely, with all watchfulness of mind and heart, so that, come when thou mayest, we may be found ready.
Thou knowest what we are and what we need; what we pine for most and what we love the best. Thou knowest what is right for us, whether it be better to be on the hill-top, amid all the healthy wind, or to be down in the valley, suffering, crushed, hopeless. Where thou wilt, there it is best for us to be, and give us the peace of resignation where we cannot have the joy of triumph.
Regard the old and the young, the withered, and those who are in the vernal freshness of their beauty and youth. The busy man forget not, but remind him of the littleness of time and the greatness of eternity. The sick at heart, the ill at ease, do thou comfort with the hidden balm of heaven, wherewith thou hast comforted the saints of every age and made glad the holy men of every time—it is not exhausted, it is like thyself, without measure, without end. Do thou therefore bring from the hidden sanctuary the solaces so rich and tender, which the heart needs every day, and comfort those who trust in thee with the consolations of God.
Where thou hast smitten with heavy blows, thou wilt recover with great redemption and tenderness; where the darkness has been intolerable, thou wilt set a great wealth of light, and in the shining thereof the darkness shall be forgotten.
We commend to thee this day all who suffer personal loss, family bereavement, or national desolation. Let the mercy and the pity of the God of men and families and nations be not repelled from those who are in great sorrow. Magnify thyself in the darkness, let thy grace be greater than all human want, and may souls buried in the depths of night know how true it is that light is greater than all darkness.
Now that we set ourselves to our worship and to our study of thy book, looking behind we bless thee for all thy care and love and pity and sustenance, and looking before we commit ourselves lovingly, hopefully, to thy wisdom and thy power. Sanctify this reunion, re-establish our confidence in one another, cause our love to burn with a steadier glow, comfort us in all immediate distress or prospective trouble, and when the twilight shall come, and the eventide, and the farewell, may they all come, not in wrath but in mercy. At eventide may there be light, and may the night of earth be the beginning of the day of heaven. Amen.
1. When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel (held a council) against Jesus to put him to death:
2. And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor (the Procurator of Judea).
3. Then Judas, which had betrayed (the Greek participle is in the present tense) him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented (Greek—a simple change of feeling) himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,
4. Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.
5. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple (the part of it known as "the sanctuary,"—the money was thrown into the Holy Place), and departed, and went and hanged himself.
6. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury (Corban, or sacred treasure chest), because it is the price of blood.
7. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field (the type of the unseen Gehenna), to bury strangers in.
8. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day.
9. 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;
10. And gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me.
11. And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.
12. And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.
13. Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee?
14. And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.
15. Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people (a common incident in a Latin feast in honour of the gods) a prisoner, whom they would.
16. And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.
17. Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?
18. For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.
19. When he was set down on the judgment seat (the chair of Judgment, which was placed on a mosaic pavement), his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.
Christ Before Pilate
When the morning was come." Was ever morning invited to look upon so ghastly a spectacle? Morn and death! There is a grim irony in this conjunction of terms. God sends a fair day upon the earth, and we befoul the very dew that glistens upon the heavenly gift. We rise from sleep as men skilled in evil, and begin at once, with practised hands, to rub out the commandments written upon the rocks, and to pervert every promise hidden in the sweet flowers. We begin soon: we might have spent some little time in hesitation, but we are apt scholars in the school of evil; we soon cease to be scholars and become teachers. The morning that once had in it some gladness for us, and some hint of veneration and religiousness, and that came to us as a revelation, and a lifting up of the heart, now comes a new chance to serve the devil. What I say unto one, I say unto all, "Watch."
Judas went by night to seek the Lord. It was better. There was a kind of remnant of religion about the traitor when he chose the night for his villainy. He was not quite so bad as he might have been: he waited till torch-time. The chief priests and elders seized the morning—thus the whole day has been stained through and through with wickedness, the morning, the night, the shining of the sun and the trembling of the stars, the whole circle of the day has not had one degree of it left without taint of blasphemy and evil.
There are no particular times for sinning. If you want a chance it will come. Thus a God of pity has to take up every day like a spoiled thing, and baptize it and regenerate it and send it upon the earth as a new morning to us. But he never fails to do this. He giveth more grace, he will not cast us off for ever, he will yet rub out the evil of the day and of the night, and he will save us if he can. If lost, we shall be suicides; there shall be no imprint of the fingers of God upon us as having thrust us out, when we find ourselves in utter darkness. He lives to save!
The chief priests and elders held a council against Jesus to put him to death. They are still holding it: that council never rises.
Until Christ be killed and utterly slain, the chief priests and elders of history will have no peace—no priest can live peacefully on the same earth with Christ; he came to put down the priest, to destroy the elder, to abolish self-conceit, self-centring, self-sufficiency, and to reduce men to such a sense of sin and moral humiliation and personal guilt as would excite the cry in every heart, "God be merciful unto me a sinner." Jesus Christ is still bound, and is being led away to Pontius Pilate every morning, and is being crucified at high noon every day. Every third day, thank God, he stands up again, still there, still ready to teach, and still mighty to save. Disabuse yourselves of the foolish notion that this transaction occurred once for all. Any transaction that can occur once for all is a trifle. These are the solemn realities of history: they are continually repeating, and amidst those solemn realities there is none so stern, so grand, so tender, and so beneficent, as this whole transaction relative to the arrest, the trial, the death, the resurrection, and the ascension of him whom we publicly and loyally call Lord.
Our purpose in these studies, however, has been to find out how Christ deported himself under all the circumstances which from time to time gathered around him and constituted the story of the passing day. We have therefore only to do with these facts in their peculiar relation to the central Figure. The one question which we have to ask, and if possible to answer, is—How did Jesus Christ deport himself in these tragical circumstances?
He so acted as to rouse to very madness the conscience of the man who had betrayed him. Judas was appalled by the issue. No man can betray Christ without first betraying himself. Understand that. No man can give Christ away, or sell him, or play foully with any of the great verities of the sanctuary, without having first betrayed and sold and damned himself. These are not the actions of the hand, done for the moment, set down and forgotten as accidents of the transient day; you could never have spoken a word against the sanctuary, its Lord, its light and its revelation, until something had taken place in your own heart amounting to self-betrayal. The villainy is in the heart before it is in the hand. Not only does all history elucidate this, but much of our personal experience and observation goes to confirm it. Who has ever known a man play falsely with the balances of the sanctuary, with the light and spirit and truth of the holy place, who did not at some time—quickly it may be—afterward show that before he did so there had been a tremendous collapse in his own heart? Then he sought for excuses, then he would mortgage the future, then he would so lay his lines that they might be useful to him on the occasion which he too vividly foresaw. And they who look but with the eyes of the body only, and do not read moral mysteries and penetrate into spiritual secrets, are bewildered or misled, or are for the moment shocked into undeserved pity for the man who, having dug the pit, fell into it, instead of being allowed to bring others whose ruin he had contemplated into the tremendous catastrophe.
Judas always reveals himself. He never was so revealed to himself as when Christ acted as he did immediately after the betrayal. If Jesus Christ had taken any other course than the one which he then adopted, he would have justified the spirit and the policy of Judas Iscariot. Search into Christ's method of meeting the circumstances, and you will find here, as everywhere, the ineffable wisdom that is always at peace with itself, so complete in its range, and in its purpose, that it cannot be ruffled, and can never know the torment of vital disquiet. Jesus Christ will utter no words about Iscariot, but he will so conduct himself as to show Iscariot in his true light. This is his method of judgment with us all: he enters into no wordy controversy, he does not bandy terms with us, or set himself into weaving elaborate accusations: he so orders his providence, the whole method of his economy, as to bring out of us the reality of our soul.
Suppose Jesus Christ had betaken himself to personal resentment. Judas would have stood justified before the public, he would have been credited with the insight that this man only needed to be brought into certain circumstances to reveal the evil quality that lurked within him. But there was no anger,—anger, a sputter for a moment, an indignity inflicted upon the man who is himself angry! There was the appalling quietness which makes criminal men afraid. To speak to one who will not answer— why that silence? a fit of madness, a lull before the storm, a secret which tabernacles the very God of heaven himself! Why that persistent speechlessness? The man is thrown upon himself: he has to find the explanation in his own heart, he has to be forced to the conclusion that he has done something for whose accusation and impeachment there is nothing in human language to touch the tremendous matter.
Suppose Jesus Christ had proclaimed himself King of the Jews, in the vulgar sense which the disciples had conceived and acted upon so long—Judas would have stood justified: he would be hailed as the second man in the empire; his the crafty-headed-ness that forced the proclamation—his the high and subtle statesmanship that saw the hour had come for the coronation of the king! But there was no such proclamation: to Pilate's courteous question there was a courteous reply which carried with it a deeper mystery than it answered. What could be thought of a Man who to Pilate's inquiry "Art thou a king?" said to Pilate himself, "Thou sayest." An unexpected echo, a question turned into a confirmation, an enquiry made the starting-point of thought and a new set of actions!
Thus he answers our questions as if we ourselves had answered them, and thus he replies to our prayers as if we ourselves had uttered and answered both.
Suppose Jesus Christ had betaken himself to recantation. Seeing that the chief priests and elders of the people were really in earnest, and that death was meant, suppose that he had hung his head and said, "I have been wrong all this time and presumed upon your ignorance: I have cast myself upon the well-known credulity of the world, I have acted with the highest-handed empiricism ever attempted in all the history of time—now seeing anger in your faces and malice in your eyes, believing that you are about to cut me in twain and to pour out my blood upon the earth, pity me and forgive me." Judas would have stood justified: he was the man who had brought to a proper issue the most monstrous imposture that ever appalled the human imagination!
The man who betrayed Jesus actually gave him the highest compliment ever offered to his sacred name. What said Judas? "Innocent blood." He said it who had spent days and nights in the company of the accused Man; he said it who had heard the very whispers of the heart which he had sold; he said it who had followed him night and day, week and month, year and year, and who knew all there was to be known; and looking upon the whole circle of the wondrous life, among his last words were, "It is innocent blood." Had there been a flaw in that character Judas would have known it: had there been any temporizing or cunning arrangement of policy or expressed purpose in the most concealing whispers, Judas would have been well acquainted with the whole circumstances. If he could have gone back upon the three years' story and what had been done, thai was his time for the relation of scandalous anecdote or suspicious circumstance; standing there—himself to die before the Man he had offered to death—he said, "innocent blood."
So say we all, when we come to our true consciousness; we will not blame God's providence or God's way of conducting and developing life—we will vindicate his course, though in doing so we should write in bolder characters our own condemnation. Let God be just, and every man unjust before him; let God be true, and every man a liar. It may suit us for momentary purposes to seek to cast reflections upon the divine providence, but when we come to see the reality of things we shall say, "Innocent God, innocent blood, innocent sanctuary—the evil is in myself only."
Jesus Christ so acted as to call forth the real quality of the men who hated him. Outwardly he left them to themselves, but inwardly he plagued their hearts as with stings and torments of hell. He would give them no hold upon him: he gathered himself so intensely into himself that they could nowhere grasp the victim they would kill. This silence was meant as a judgment. This was a controversy not to be settled by the noise of anger or the sharpness of intellectual defence: it went down to the very heart of things, and carried before it the destiny of the whole world. He showed that the men who undertook to slay him knew exactly what they were doing; he made them say it in plain words, and those plain words are, "It is the price of blood."
He forces us into speech: he who can be so silent can make us so talkative! Men must be driven to say in plain words what they have been doing: there must be no making of haste over the matter, but a deliberation which brings out every accent and gives it ample scope to ring itself into the hearing of the soul and of the world, every man must state his own case and make plain his own sin.
They would call the field "a place to bury strangers in," but the common people would not be misled by any such euphemism—hence it was called "the field of blood." Trust the instincts of a great people for knowing how to name things rightly. The priests and the elders label them with fine terms, cunning men seek for classical terms in which to hide the iniquity of their lives, but there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding, and though the priests and elders might morning after morning call it "a place to bury strangers in," an act of beneficence, the great heart of the nation said, "Aceldama, blood-bought, blood-soaked, the field of blood!"
Until we name things properly, we cannot deal reformatively with them in any deep sense. Do not seek a great word to describe your course in life, use the little word—SIN. Let no man delude you by using long terms, empty polysyllables, in the sounding of which you lose the consciousness of your guilt, but say with plainness that cannot be misunderstood, "God be merciful unto me a sinner."
The men who were in charge of this base business paid no heed to the pain and sorrow of Judas. When he made his confession they said, "What is that to us? See thou to that." The bad man can co-operate only up to a given point: his policy always breaks itself up. What, would you trust a bad man? He will watch you, balance you, value you, drain you dry, study your character—and when he has brought you either to the extreme of remorse or to the humiliation of destitution, he will say to you, "See thou to that." There is no duration in evil, there is no health in Wickedness, there is no honour in the bad heart. Will you trust men who tell lies to you, will you trust men who can sell innocent blood? They will leave you to yourselves one day. "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not; if they say, Let us lurk privily for blood, let us have one purse, let us enter into a compact—O my son, consent thou not; they will rob thee, ruin thee, mock thee, disown thee, and send thee out to a felon's rope.
Jesus Christ developed the wickedness of the world. As the light shows all things, so the life of Christ showed human nature exactly as it was. But for this life of Christ we never should have known what human nature is, in reality. We should have seen it in parts and sections and aspects, but its inner self, its essential quality, we never could have known.
Jesus Christ allowed these men to lie to the top of their bent. Pilate himself listening, wonder-struck, said, "How many things they witness against thee!" They who did not know him, they who read only the outside, they who were eavesdroppers and not allowed to go into the inner sanctuary, they who were fertile in falsehood—how many things they witnessed against him! But the man who had come from the inside, with the odour of sanctity not quite exhausted, said, "Innocent blood." They dropped the word "innocent," and kept the word "blood." Jesus Christ allowed them to go to the full length of their tether, to show how base was their criminality, how mean their purpose, and how little they deserved the titles they wore.
So he does with us. He strips every man of unworthy garments, and forces every man to a confession and a revelation of his real quality. He is set for the fall and the rising of many. Judging ourselves by ourselves, we pronounce upon ourselves condemnation, and confer upon ourselves dying honours, but standing in the sanctuary, weighed in the balances divine, coming near to the Son of God, we can only say, if we speak the true word, "I abhor myself in dust and ashes."
What mystery and embarrassment Christ created in those circumstances! Pilate did not know what to make of him. No such case had ever come before him. What he heard by the ear was contradicted by what he heard in the spirit. He listened to witnesses against the Man, and all the while there was a spirit talking to his heart saying, "They are liars, do not heed them." They made out a fine case, and a Spirit said to his heart, "This is envy." "Pilate knew that for envy they had delivered him." And envy is a thing that cannot be legislated about. No man knows where it begins, where it operates, where it ends. It taints the speech, it perverts the spirit, it gives a twist to the look, it writes its base signature upon every feature of the countenance. There is no law for it, there is no whip made for the scourging of the envious man: he must be left to those subtle ministries of Providence which bring the jealous to the ground and torment the envious with intolerable pain.
Pilate's wife had a dream by day. If the chief priests and elders were busy in the morning, so the great God, watching over all, sent a day-dream upon a good woman. We lock up our dreams and make them night-visitants. God sends them at noon, closes the eye and makes an angel talk to us, shuts out the vulgar, visible world, and makes to pass before the mystical eyes of the soul a panorama of his purpose and meaning, and we come out of that trance with a new world swinging before our bewildered gaze. A dream is a lens through which we see into the bigger spaces and the ampler worlds. God speaks in visions of the night, in sudden appearances and disappearances, in marvellous contortions of circumstances which we had pronounced ordinary and regular.
Do not try to make your world less, try to make it bigger. There be those, indeed, victims of superstition, who have multiplied dreams of their own making, and brought the dream-part of our life into contempt; but God has used the dream, through every age of human history, and the vision of the night, singular circumstances, and flapping of wings in the air without any visible figure—and out of these have come strange issues and often beneficent endings. I will not therefore throw away any opportunity which history has given me of enlarging my outlook, and feeling that the world is bigger than that blue line that lies on the hills yonder, and which men call the horizon.
Mysterious Christ—saying nothing, yet speaking all the time: looking other people into speech, and maddening them by an unaccountable dumbness, making them play the fool because he will be no party to their base transactions. Rather be at peace than at war with such a man! Acquaint now thyself with him and be at peace, or he will bruise thee! No man can get the belter in battle of this Christ. He goes down that he may come up again with a fuller power. They who come out against him in battle are left dead upon the field of their choice. If this stone shall fall upon any man it will grind him to powder—if we fall upon it, in penitence and contrition and religious hopefulness, we shall be broken, but it will be the breaking which is the beginning and the seal of true and eternal healing. To this Christ I call all men. Why lift the little fist against him to have it bruised? Many there be who have struck at Christ, but he has wounded them to their destruction. Let us go to him, pray to him, confess everything to him, and there is room in that great heart of his for every one of us!
But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.Chapter 92
Almighty God, we come to thee through the crucified One as through the only way by which we can find access to thy throne. We stand by the cross, and as we look up into the eyes of the dying Sufferer, our sin finds out all the meaning of his great work. He was delivered for our offences, he was bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace was upon him. By his stripes are we healed. We know not all the mystery of this love: it is enough for us to know that it was love. God is love, infinite love: we need it all: we sin every day, and every day we need the cross. Blessed be thy name, the cross stands through all the light and through all the darkness; the night and the day are the same to it, for thy mercy endureth for ever. Where sin abounds, grace doth much more abound. Thy grace is greater than the law,—taking it up and causing it to be swallowed up in that which is greater than itself. We are saved by grace, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God—the grace, the favour, the mercy of God. In this grace we stand, by it we are saved, and in it is the secret of our hope, and the security of our being is in it also. Thou dost give more grace, thou dost give grace upon grace, till we are filled with thy love and made holy by thy presence.
We have come to worship thee in hymns and psalms and loud thanksgivings, for thy tender mercies are over all thy works, and the morning brings us a new revelation of thy lovingkindness. Thy faithfulness is as a great rock, and thy mercy as a boundless sea, and thy wisdom and thy love like a great shining heaven. We run into thine house and find security there. This is the day the Lord hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it. Recall to our memory, we humbly pray thee, all that is best, purest, tenderest in our recollection, and make our memory glow as it brings before its review thy wonderful tokens of patience and regard and love. May we omit nothing of the great sum; thou hast left no moment unbaptized: in every moment hast thou hidden some drop of thy dew. O thou who givest always, give us thy very self to reign in our hearts.
As for thy word, it is sweeter to us than honey, yea than the honeycomb; we found thy word and we did eat it; we sighed for some token from heaven, and behold we found it in the written word, full of light and love and redeeming messages, filled from end to end with the majesty and tenderness of the cross. We would live upon thy word as upon bread sent down from heaven; it would be unto us bread which the world knoweth not of, a light at midnight, a song in the storm, an angel always in the house. Grant us an inspiring spirit to read the inspired word—so shall we go beyond the letter and find out all the mystery of the music and all the blessedness of the eternal love.
What we are thou knowest, and what we would be none but thyself can tell. We are here for a few days, most of the time as a cloud overhead, and we see nothing but the great gloom. We struggle and wonder, we pray and blaspheme, we read thy word and forget it, and in the midst of all the rush of life thou dost lay us down in our last sleep. Man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. We all do fade as a leaf, and our iniquities like the wind have taken us away. O that we were wise, that we would consider our latter end. Lord, teach us the number of our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. May we be amongst those servants who shall be found waiting when their Lord cometh, having in their hearts a great expectancy, a noble and inextinguishable hope.
Look upon us now as needy suppliants at thy throne—needing light, grace, forgiveness, uplifting of heart, rekindling of all that is best which is of thine own creation. Thou wilt not spare any blessing which thy needy children ask at thy hands. When thou hast given all, then forgive—hear thou in heaven thy dwelling-place, and when thou hearest. forgive. May the power of the cross, its holy blood and great sacrifice, be realized in our consciousness of individual and complete pardon.
Grant to each of thy people what each most needs—guidance through the immediate perplexity, release from the day's embarrassment, an answer to the difficulty of the immediate time, solace under the deep wound which has touched the heart. Cover up our graves with flowers, make our bed in our affliction, lift up the weak in thine arms and give them rest and renewal of strength, and lead us all the way through to the very end, till we languish into life. Amen.
20. But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
21. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.
22. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified (the first direct intimation of the mode of death).
23. And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.
24. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands (Deuteronomy 21:6) before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.
25. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. (Madly inverting the law, Deuteronomy 21:8.)
26. Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged (flagellum: the Roman punishment with knotted thongs of leather) Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
27. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall (the Prætorium), and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers (the cohort, or subdivision of a legion).
28. And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. (Probably some cast-off cloak of Pilate's own.)
29. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand (representing the sceptre used symbolically both in the Republic and the Empire): and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!
30. And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.
31. And after that 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.
32. And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name (Mark mentions him as the father of Alexander and Rufus), him they compelled to bear his cross.
33. And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha (nigh unto the city, John 19:20), that is to say, a place of a skull,
34. They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall (wine mingled with myrrh, meant to dull the sufferer's pain), and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.
35. And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.
36. And sitting down they watched him there;
37. And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS (the titulus, or bill, or placard).
38. Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.
39. And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,
40. 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.
41. Likewise also the chief priests, mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,
42. 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.
43. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.
44. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
45. Now from the sixth hour (the place of execution was reached about 9 a.m.) there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.
46. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? (to the Roman soldiers and the Hellenistic Jews unintelligible), that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
47. Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias (probably a wilful perversion).
48. And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.
49. The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
50. Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
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;
52. And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
53. And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
54. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.
Barabbas or Jesus." That is the question, today, that question never changes. Our choice is not between things similar, but between things exactly and irreconcilably opposite. This does not always appear to be the case, but it is so in reality. We have shaded things now so much into one another that we delude ourselves with the notion that the distance between one action and another is merely nominal. We must get rid of that sophism, if we would begin the real work of life. There are but two spirits in the universe, both present at the opening of human history, and they rule the world today. Those spirits are good and evil, God and the devil, the pure and the impure, the heavenly and the infernal. To one or other of these we belong.
Yet we may not appear to belong to either of them decisively. In our motive and purpose we may be the very elect of God, whilst we are apparently the children of wrath. We are what we would be if we could. Our character is not in the broken deed, the unsaintly word, the passing temper: our character is in our heart of hearts, our secret motive, our supreme purpose. Herein are men misjudged, both on the one side and the other; herein has been found a considerable difficulty in the reading of the Bible itself to some, for they know not how a man can be said to be a man after God's own heart, when he has done thus and so—actions evidently contrary to the spirit of holiness and of justice. How can Peter be a disciple of Christ, when he has sworn with an oath that he knew not the man? Surely there must be some other standard of judgment by which we make our mistakes, for we make no true judgments. I find rest in the doctrine that we are in reality, all appearances to the contrary, what we really would be, in our holiest prayers and in our highest inspirations. If we can say, "Lord, thou knowest all things—thou knowest that I love thee," though ten thousand accusing voices ring from the very caverns of hell itself in impeachment of our life, God will know how to esteem us.
The doctrine holds good on the other side. We are not to be judged by our occasional goodnesses, our fits of charity, our studied actions of beneficence. We cannot pay the mighty debt of accusation which the law brings against us. Thrust we our hand never so deep into our resources, there is nothing in those resources themselves to answer the mighty claim. So let us be just on the one side as on the other. I do not value the momentary sigh, the mere cry of a calculating penitence, which is sorry for the result rather than for the sin. I must be understood as speaking to reality, to essences, to the very vitalities of things, and as holding the candle of the Lord over the thoughts and reins of the heart.
Is not some such word of cheering necessary to recover us from the leprosy of despair? We get into the way of adding up what we have done, and complaining of the little sum. There is a sense in which such action is perfectly proper—but what is your spirit, what is your supreme desire? Stripping yourselves of all commendation, false refuges, mistaken trusts, and fanciful conceptions of life, what is it that you really wish to be? If hidden in God's sanctuary, shut up with God face to face, you can truly say, "Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee: God be merciful unto me a sinner," then who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?" It is Christ that died—who is he that shall rub out the record of his sacrifice and blood? Stand in the temple of these infinite securities and let no man take thy crown.
"The chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas and destroy Jesus." The chief priests and elders are doing the same thing today. The priest is always a bad man; if he be not more than a priest, he is the worst of men. This was the irreligiousness of religion. Religion has done the very worst things that ever were done in human history. We must get rid of his word "religion" in some of the senses in which it is so often mistakenly and mischievously employed. Religion lay. at the bottom of the original FALL. Eve never could have been deceived by anything but religion. It was along the religious instinct she was approached, it was through the religious instinct she was destroyed. What said the tempter? "Ye shall be as gods."
That is the sophism which underlies the subtlest temptations which assail our life: to be as gods,—to break through the boundary line, to commit the final trespass, to include all things within the circle of our thought and movement! Religion may describe a merely outward attitude, religion may be nothing but a Latin name: what we want is.... Godliness. God is a Spirit.
We want an essential quality, a vital spirit, a holy inspiration. Religion may be irreligious, but godliness can never be less than divine.
In all the imprecatory psalms we have nothing but the irreligiousness of religion; religion pressed beyond its proper province; a partial and imperfect righteousness, a little and mean righteousness which thinks itself virtuous because it would bring down fire upon the vices of other people. The great righteousness is love. O that we could learn that lesson! then should we get rid of all censoriousness and cynicism, and all mutual criticism, and men would be silent where they are now noisy as to one another's faults. The imperfect man, the Old Testament saint, the man who thinks that righteousness consists in perpetual visitation of justice upon the head of the offender, is an irreligious religionist. He who sees righteousness rising in infinite glory into love, and shedding from its boundless firmament the dews of pity, upon a sinning world—he touches the very heart of Christ! Truly I know not where religion would lead some men; it makes them angry, sour, cynical, and foolish, and invests them with a power of doing incalculable mischief in the family and in the church.
The action of Pilate is described with infinite naturalness. There be many who condemn Pilate and laugh at him. I cannot join the unholy contempt. Pilate could have done nothing else. He has been condemned for vacillation by men who have not transformed themselves into his personality and made themselves reel under the tremendous pressure of the tumult which surged around him. He has been to them but a figure on a page; they have approached him with cold criticism; they have condemned where they should have sympathised and pitied. I honor Pilate. He was in a difficult position—he was not master: he suggested reasons and methods, which if accepted would have tended towards pity, release, and even justice of the noblest kind. But whilst I speak this word for the historical man Pilate, I have nothing but condemnation for modern Pilatism. Always distinguish between the historical man and the principle which has been modernized and named in his name. Cain is dead—Cainism never dies! Pilate is no more with us in the flesh, but Pilatism is the principal influence in the church today. What does Pilatism do? It affects friendship; it pays compliments; it transfers responsibility; it wants to be on both sides; it speaks a word and then does a contradictory deed; it washes its hands and shuts its eyes to the great murders of the times. It accepts a ritual, it avoids a discipline.
How far are we ourselves the subjects of this condemnation? Where is the honest follower of Christ? Not the blatant follower, but the steady, constant, loyal, loving follower whose life is a gospel written in the largest characters, and whose speech is eloquent with the messages of the cross itself? In what relation do we stand to modern controversies? Men are surging around Christ now who want to crucify him again on a literary cross, or a cross that is critical. How do we stand in relation to them— are we firm, clear, simple, not with the firmness of bigotry, not with the simplicity of ignorance, but with the steadiness of loving gratitude to Christ for every revelation of wisdom and every hope of redemption? Let the church be steady and it will become the centre of peace in a tumultuous world. The peaceful man brings peace into every scene.
The people answered Pilate with this great cry, "His blood be on us and on our children,"—a prayer with an unconscious meaning, a vulgarity with a sanctuary enclosing it! It is marvellous how many persons have uttered words with unconscious meanings, and how some of the greatest testimonies have come from men who did not know that they were uttering them. Take the case of Caiaphas, for example: he gave counsel to the Jews that it was "expedient that one man should die for the people": he did not know what he was saying, yet in that saying he uttered the very gospel of eternity. We cannot tell how far our words go and what they really do in the world, and what great meanings will be attached to words which we spoke with more or less of thoughtlessness or with more or less of merely local contraction and application.
How noble an eulogium might be wrought out by skilful eloquence out of the testimony of outsiders and enemies! I ask for no other testimonial to the spirit and character of Christ, and to the effect of his spirit and character, than that which has been unconsciously given by those who were outsiders, or who were supposed to be personal enemies. What said Judas? "Innocent blood." What said Pilate's wife? "Just person." What said the centurion amid all the darkness and terrible phenomena of the last hour—the Roman centurion, a participator in the great guilt? At the close of all he said, "Truly this Man was the Son of God." These are not the testimonies of personal allies or sworn supporters. Judas and Pilate and Pilate's wife and the centurion concur in writing under the name of Christ a testimony which is sufficient of itself to confirm his claim and to lift his character above all just suspicion. "He maketh the wrath of men to praise him, he drags the enemy at his chariot wheels." It is one of two things, a hearty, spontaneous, cordial union in the mighty anthem which bears his name above every name in its thunders of praise, or a reluctant testimony forced out of unwilling lips, but still tending in the direction of the lofty and immortal song.
Now we come to the last scene of all. Hear these words, "He delivered him to be crucified." The law that would find no fault in him was like an iron gate crushed down by an angry mob—the gate of law gave way, the last barrier fell, and the powers of darkness were triumphant. Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified. If wolves can be glad when they fasten their gleaming teeth in the flesh of their prey, then were those men glad when they laid their cruel hands on the unresisting Christ. From him there was no cry of pain, in him there was no shudder of mortal fear—he had died some time before, the bitterness of death was past, he had accomplished his sorrow, in all its higher aspects, in Gethsemane. Now he is "led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth." They could not touch him; they could tear down the house in which he lived, but himself was beyond the cruel act!
See the ingenuity of cruelty: see what hell can do at its best. Let us realize the scene so far as we know it. Let Christ be the central figure of our assembly; closing our eyes, as it were, let us look upon him with the inner vision and see what actually took place. They stripped him, they plaited a crown of thorns and put it upon him, they put a reed in his right hand, they mocked him, they spat upon him, they took the reed out of his hand and smote him on the head—they led him away to crucify him. The ingenuity of hell could go no further. They stripped him who said, "If thine enemy take thy coat, let him have thy cloak also." He who preached the great sermon lived it in every throb of its infinite passion. They plaited a crown of thorns for him who said, "My kingdom is not of this world." They mocked him who said, "Our Father, which art in heaven." They spat on him who kept the door open for the prodigal and would not begin the feast till the wanderer came back. They smote him on the head who never had one thought or wish but for the public good. They led him away to be crucified who never harmed a single living thing! The evil powers triumphed. When he hung upon the cross they said, "He trusted in God, let him deliver him now if he will have him. They that passed by wagged their heads and railed on him. The thieves also which were crucified with him cast the same in his teeth." And he, as if confirming the very triumph of hell, said with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, Lama, Sabachthani,—My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" There was darkness over the whole land—the earth did quake, and the rocks were rent, and the graves were opened, and the God-forsaken Sufferer hung there—the Victim without a friend, the Saviour of many without a voice to defend his fame!
O thou great hell, take the victory. Spirit of evil, damned from all eternity, mount the central cross and mock the dead as thou hast mocked the living! The night is dark enough—no such night ever settled upon the earth before. Will the light ever come again—is the sun clean gone for ever—will the blue sky ever more kiss the green earth? All the birds are dead, their music is choked; the angels have fled away and the morning stars have dropped their sweet hymn. This is chaos with an added darkness. What is happening?
May be God and Christ are communing in the secret places away beyond the mountains of night—may be that this murder will become the world's Sacrifice—may be that out of this blasphemy will come a Gospel for every creature. It cannot end where it is—that cannot be the end of all! What will come next? We must wait.
"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!" Did not the thorns come of the curse? "Cursed is the ground for thy sake;.....thorns shall it bring forth." Did he not, in the fullest sense, bear the curse for us? They put a reed in his right hand,—do not all insincere professors do the same? Partial sovereignty, often merely nominal sovereignty, is given to Jesus Christ even by those who avow his religion. The soldiers knelt before their victim in an attitude of mock worship; this, even more than crucifixion, is the uttermost depth of depravity; crucifixion may be a legal act, but mockery is the refinement of cruelty.
"And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head." Truly, it was the hour and power of darkness. The spiritual temptation having failed, the lower instrument of physical torture is employed without mercy. The soul was untouched,—why fear them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do? They smote him on the head—or into the head, είς κεφαλήυ, drove the thorns into his head with bats and blows."—(Trapp).
"They compelled Simon of Cyrene to bear his cross." The writer just quoted well says: "Not so much to ease Christ, who fainted under the burden, as to hasten the execution and to keep him alive till he came to it. Truly the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel! "They gave him vinegar—cold comfort to a dying man; but they did it in derision, q.d., Thou art a King, and must have generous wines. Here's for thee, therefore."
And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him:Chapter 93
Almighty God, how wonderful is thy way in light and in love. We cannot follow all thy going, but thou hast so wrought in us by the mighty power of the Holy Ghost, that we can wholly trust thy love, and be assured that thy way is light, though it be in the whirlwind, and the clouds be the dust of thy feet. Thou dost rise above us as the heaven is higher than the earth, yet thine eye is upon us for good, and thine hand is searching our life to find out where it may lay some other gift. Thou dost live to give; thou didst so love the world as to give, and in that giving we saw thy whole heart, all the love of thine eternity, and all the grace of thine infinitude. Thou didst give thine only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Thou hast no pleasure in the death of the wicked—thy purpose is life and immortality, and bliss and service that is rest, and expectation that is its own fulfilment. Enable us to lay hold upon the gift of thy Son, and to make it the chief and only treasure of our life. His blood cleanseth from all sin, the great answer of his love confounds every accusation of the law, so that we say, It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth?
Enable us more and more clearly to see the cross, to feel its gracious power, to answer its pathetic appeal. May we live in Christ because Christ lives in us, and may we serve Christ because of the inspiration of his own Spirit. May the secret of our energy be in the constraining love of Christ, may the mystery of our power and our industry be found in the love of our heart for the Son of God. He that spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? So would we have but one care, that we have Christ in us, and that we live in Christ—then shall all things needful and good be added unto us.
We now unanimously praise thee in cordial and loving song for all thy tender care over us from the first breath until now. We are thy children: thou didst make us and not we ourselves; we have in us thine own image and likeness, marred indeed and broken, not to be known by any eye but thine: yet still God is our Father in heaven. Thou wilt not shut the door until the prodigal returns, thou wilt welcome all who come to thee in penitence and hope and loving trust. Thou dost not turn away from the sons of men who cry unto thee contritely, thou dost further open the home-door and with broader welcomes call to those who are furthest off. Thy mercy endureth for ever: thy mercy is a great sea, thy love is without bound or limit which we can determine. Where sin abounds grace doth much more abound, for art not thou the all-filling One, and all-ruling, putting away everything contrary to thine own holiness and causing thy wisdom to be the light and peace of creation?
We come with our sins, but we shall not take them away again: we lay them down as a black and heavy burden at the foot of the cross. Lord, help us; Lord, pardon us; Lord lift up the light of thy countenance upon us and say, "Thy sins, which are many, are all forgiven." Thou dost not forgive little by little, thou dost not pardon partially, thou dost multiply to pardon, yea, thou dost pardon with pardons, as billow rolling upon billow, until our sins are like stones which are cast into the depths of the sea.
We come with our continual prayer for light, guidance, defence, and peace which passeth understanding. We know not how few our days, but we would make them the best days of our whole life. Hence on we would have no mistake or error; from this time forward may our life be complete in thy presence by reason of the holiness of its purpose and the sanctity of its prayer. Yet we know we shall fail, we shall be bruised again, the enemy shall yet overthrow us—yet surely thou wilt come in the end and bind us up with an eternal healing, and make us strong with immortality. We are in thine hands as we have always been; our sin shall not separate us from thee, if so be there rise in our heart the hatred of it and the desire to be belter.
We come asking for light upon thy page, holy page, divinely written, full of light and truth. Open our eyes that we may behold wondrous things out of thy law, give to our understanding the light that shall be as a lamp of thine own lighting, and may we see things afar off, and read with quick and sure vision all the writing of God concerning this life.
Hear any special hymn and any particular prayer now offered by those who bow before thee in morning worship. In some houses thou hast given new life, and with new life is a new song. Otherwhere thou hast put out the fire and blocked up the window into which the most light came, and made the house cold and drear. O visit thou the dwelling thus desolated, and make it glad again with some purer joy. Regard those whose life is now to them a perplexity and a wonder, not knowing how they shall spend the little remainder of their energy, and grant them unexpected answers of release and joy.
The Lord's blessing be upon us now as a worshipping people; give us the spirit of adoration, the spirit of supplication, and the spirit of hopefulness, and work in us that sacred and vigilant desire which looks out for blessings and hails them with joy in their descent.
As for those who are not with us, they are with thee—the sick, the afflicted, the helpless, the poor who dare not venture out in the light, but who wait for the darkness that they may seek even their Father's house. The Lord remember such, and make all heaven shine upon them with promise and blessing. Our dear ones on the water, the great abyss, voyaging homeward, with many a tender memory and many a sacred hope—the Lord himself navigate the ship and bring it to the desired haven.
Bless the stranger within our gate, the man unfamiliar with the place and institute, and give him comfort in the thought that this is his Father's house. In all our meetings and partings be thou with us, the one Light and the only joy, till we are gathered in the house that is above. Amen.
55. And many women (distinct from the "daughters of Jerusalem," Luke 23:28) were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him:
56. Among which was Mary Magdalene (the first mention of the name in Matthew), and Mary the mother of James (the Little) and Joses, and the mother (Salome, Mark 15:40) of Zebedee's children.
57. When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathæa (probably Ramah, the birthplace of Samuel), named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple;
58. He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.
59. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
60. And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.
61. And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.
62. Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,
63. Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.
64. 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 (better deceit, as corresponding with deceiver, ver. 63) shall be worse than the first.
65. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.
66. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch (the priests took part as well as the soldiers).
The Sayings on the Cross
These incidents are utterly trifling as compared with what had transpired on the cross itself, as indeed all incidents, except the Resurrection, must be. Nothing can occur, so soon after the scene upon the cross, which can, compared with that tragedy, be worthy of one moment's consideration. Whilst therefore these petty details are completing themselves, let us study the inner life of Christ as revealed in some of the Sayings which he uttered from the cross in his last agony. These Sayings will admit us into the very sanctuary of his soul. You remember that he called his sermon upon the mount "These sayings of mine,"—now that he is upon the higher mount, the cross, he utters Seven Sayings, which are really but a re-pronouncement of the first. The Sayings on the cross seem to be the solemn peroration of the Sayings on the mount. The great music is one. He returns, after many a wondrous and thrilling variation, to the note with which he opened the anthem. In such returns and such consonances, we find an argument for his Deity.
What said he on the cross? "Woman, behold thy son." He also said, "I thirst." Further, he said, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Again he said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And he cried, saying, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Finally he said, "It is finished." He laid the rock when he preached the sermon on the mount: on the cross he built the infinite fabric. Without professing to settle the order in which the Sayings are uttered, we can have no difficulty in discovering the meaning of the revelation. After we have studied that meaning awhile, we can come to these little incidents, and gather them up and show their greater meaning.
The Sayings upon the cross surely give a complete revelation of the humanity of Jesus Christ. It was no dramatic personage that quivered on the cross. It is of importance to say this. The voice was human, the confession of need was human, the sense of desolation was human, his filial affection was human. All these last proofs were needed to render absolutely impossible any theory, mythical, dramatic, or imaginary in any sense. On the cross was the man Christ Jesus. The humanity of Christ made his priesthood possible. We could not have a priest in a mere Deity. Deity does not pray. He must be a man, often as weak as I am; he must have a body as real, burning with the same fire, quivering under the same pain, answering the same great demands. He hungered, he thirsted, he slept, he rested because of weariness, he sat down on Jacob's well. Verily he took not on him the nature of angels, he took on him the seed of Abraham. Touch him, grasp him, look at him, watch him, and he is Man and Woman, male and female, the ideal man, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. "We have not a High Priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities: he was in all points tempted like as we are."
This is the tender power of his priesthood to my soul. Peter touches the exact music of the occasion when he says, "Casting all your care upon him, for..." O listen to the following and completing words. How grandly the sentence would have read had it stood thus, "Casting all your care upon him, for he is omnipotent." That would, however, have touched but a feeble chord. Only the few can respond to sublimity. The sunset is wasted upon most eyes. But all hearts can answer the sympathetic —so the glorious sentence stands not as I have suggested it, but, "Casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you." It is the moral sublimity, not the intellectual magnificence, that touches the universal heart!
Herein is the secret of the power of evangelical preaching, above all philosophical abstraction and ethical prelection. These touch but a few, but evangelical unction, sympathy, tenderness, grace, these belong to the universal heart, and the tone is detected as the tone of a universal speech. Be quite sure of your Lord's humanity. Do not allow any section of the theological church to steal that from you, as if it belonged to that section as a special possession. When a theologian of any school arises and says, "I believe in the humanity of Jesus Christ," we ought to answer, "And so do we." More fully, more pathetically, and more trustfully, we accept more from his blood than any school of theologians can accept, who doubt or hesitate concerning his divinity. A body was prepared for him: he interrupted no law of nature: whilst on the cross he said, "I thirst,"—what wonder, with his blood drained from his heart, what wonder if the peasant thirsted? The wonder was that he confessed the thirst. But it was a wonder of love, a wonder of condescension, a wonder that concealed a revelation. The words "I thirst" did not indicate a merely personal accident, they revealed and confirmed a sublime doctrine and fact, namely the humanity, and the priestly humanity, of the suffering Son of God. He suppressed no natural instinct—"Son," said he, "behold thy mother." He created new relationships whilst he was sundering old ones. "Woman," said he, "behold thy son, thy support, thy friend, thy refuge in time of bitterest loneliness and childlessness." He set up a new household whilst the temple of his body was being torn asunder, he made whilst he was being unmade. He smothered no natural emotion; "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" uttered in a strange language, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani." Hark, is it Hebrew? is it Syriac?—what is it? They could not tell. The bystanding Jews said, "He calls for Elias." He was always misunderstood! The Son of God calling for Elias? Always were his great magnificent words dragged down to little applications and accidental circumstances, by the mean interpreters who thronged around him, crowding him with their society, but not enlarging him with their thoughts.
These Sayings do more than reveal the complete humanity of Christ: they show the grandeur of his moral nature. I do not dwell on the tenderness of his care for his mother, but I would point to the sublimity of his forgiveness. It was his then to be the great Man, to work the last miracle, to mount a throne from the very head of the Cross itself. He would have his murderers forgiven! It is grander to forgive than to slay! we should have no enemies if we could really pray for them. They in themselves might continue to be enemies, but in our hearts there would be no sting of enmity. When did the Lord turn the captivity of Job—when he gave his most brilliant retort to his three comforters? No. The Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends!
It is always so: it is a subtle and beneficent law in the divine revelation, and the administration of human affairs, that we get our greatest blessings in our most religious moments. Examine what has been done to you, analyze it, weigh it in scales of your own making, measure it by standards of your own setting up, and then you will but aggravate the enmity which you have already deplored. But pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you, and though no answer fall upon them, the reply will surely enter your own heart, and in the sanctuary of your consciousness there will be rest, and even joy.
But I would dwell still more upon the magnificence of Christ's religious conceptions. He called himself "forsaken," but he did not therefore deny the existence of God; he did not allow the experience of a moment to becloud and destroy the eternal realities. That is where so many of us fail. God takes away the delight of our eyes, and we therefore turn our back upon him, and deny what is infinitely of more consequence than his existence —we deny his love! Of what avail is it to confess his existence if we deny his providence, his compassion, his mercy? What does it amount to if we have a theological God, but no God gleaming in the compassion which bedews every morning, and shining in the light which gladdens the whole day? Better deny his existence and shout blasphemous oaths into his blank heaven, than profess to acknowledge his existence and yet deny, or distrust or disown his love and his claims.
Let us read this cry of forsakenness in the light of the other Sayings, and we shall see what it meant. How many of us have taken out this dark expression and reasoned gloomily about it, instead of setting it in its right place, and allowing all the lights to shine upon it and illustrate its great sadness and mystery? "Forsaken," yet not without consciousness of God: calling him "Father," committing the spirit into the Father's hands. He is not "forsaken" who can in the darkness say, "Father." Forsaken, yet confident in prayer, spending his last breath in supplication—addressing the heavens, making no appeal to the earth: sending enough downwards to prove his humanity, but sending upwards the great breadth and force of his life. "Father, receive me, Father, forgive them"—he cannot be much forsaken who can thus trust his spirit to the Unseen One!
Forsaken, yet forgiving all; dying with the word of clemency upon his lips, anticipating and outblotting the great judgment about this solemn tragedy. He was not forsaken who thus prayed. "Why hast thou forsaken me?" ay, that is the question of the ages, and that cry was meant for our consideration rather than as an expression of his own loneliness. "Why hast thou forsaken me?" Let the ages answer that inquiry! let the church ponder it! let the world renounce all smaller inquiries, and answer this infinite perplexity! It is a question we must answer: God made no reply; we must find out why it was that for one moment Christ was orphaned and left alone. When we come to consider this question in other relations we may find that it was part of the grand priestly process that Christ should feel the woe of orphanage; we shall find that this was no reflection upon his purity or his purpose, but one of the infinitely solemn secrets of the impenetrable decrees of heaven. Maybe that sin explained the forsakenness, that sin wrought out this isolation; the Lamb must stand back in terrible loneliness to receive the last shock of the very storm which he came to silence and to sanctify.
Then mark how these Sayings show Christ's assurance of the completion of his work. He bowed his head and said, "It is finished." "It"—what? The sentence relates to something beside and beyond itself. "It is finished"—how much is signified by that meanest of the pronouns. Who can tell what visions enthralled his attention at that moment? how the eternal purpose stood before him like a tower on which the top stone had just been laid; how some immeasurable cycle of time completed itself and another cycle of vaster sweep and intenser light began its revolution. What decrees were fulfilled, what prophecies matured, what hearts enlightened, what worlds opened—none can tell. The atonement was completed, the answer to the law perfected, the way to the Father was opened, the love of God shone upon the world without a cloud to interrupt its light, and righteousness and peace kissed each other over the covenant fulfilled.
In the light of these reflections turn to the little incidents that make up the rest of this chapter, and in those incidents you find bewildered but undespairing love. "Many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him." They stood their ground, and were saying just what Christ was saying, in a sense their own. They said, "My Jesus, my Jesus, why hast thou forsaken me?" Had he forsaken them? No more than God had forsaken him. See in their loneliness some hint of the meaning of his own, "I will come again. After three days I will rise again. Destroy this temple and in three days I will build it again." It was a momentary forsakenness; it recalled an ancient prophecy—"For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with everlasting mercies will I gather thee."
Then here is what we always find in the whole Christian history, and perhaps in the individual story as well—Help from an unexpected quarter. "When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathæa, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple; he went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus." Help from an unexpected quarter! the evening having a star all its own! This star was not seen in the bright light, it shone "when the even was come." The evening brings us all together: morning scatters us, evening reconstitutes the household and resanctifies the home. Thank God for evening stars, for night glories, for jewellery gleaming through the darkness. We have seen some of God's bright stars when the night settled upon our houses, but what we have seen is but a dim hint of the glory that shall be revealed.
And here also we have a confession of human weakness. They—the chief priests and Pharisees—remembered what the disciples had forgotten. The disciples required to be reminded of the resurrection!—"Then remembered they the saying that he would rise again,"—but the enemies treasured it. Our enemies catch tones in our speech which our friends sometimes miss. Those who watch us most carefully with a view to our destruction write down in their note-books sentences which our friends hardly hear. "Sir," said they, "we remember that that deceiver said while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again." So they would have precautions taken. Pilate said unto them,—I wonder with how much of irony,—"Ye have a watch—go your way, make it as sure as ye can." As ye can: go your way—wave your hands to the rising sun, and forbid him to advance. What a fool's errand! Go your way: seal up the Spring, and tell it that this year we shall have no vernal wind and no vernal blossoming. What a fool's errand! Go your way and tell Arcturus and his sons to shine no more, and bid the Pleiades vanish from the heavens they have illumed so long. What a fool's errand!—but a philosopher's undertaking compared to sealing the tomb in which lay the Son of God.
So shall all our enemies be disappointed, if we ourselves be right; so all sealing and watching shall come to an ignominious end, if the thing buried be only the body, and not the soul that cannot die!