Matthew 27:36). Shall we envy those spectators the scene they then witnessed? Shall we wish that we had lived when, with our mortal eyes, we could have seen the Savior crucified on our behalf? I think not. With this distance of time and space between us, we have a better, truer standpoint where we are. No doubt we lose much by that distance; but we gain at least as much as we lose. To those who "stood beholding," or who "sat and watched," there was -
I. AN EXCEEDINGLY SAD SPECTACLE. They saw:
1. A human being suffering the last extremity of pain and shame. Some among that company could look upon that scene with positive enjoyment, some with stolid indifference; but those of whom we think, the disciples, would witness it with intense, heart-piercing sympathy, with utmost agitation of spirit. His suffering must, in a large degree, have been theirs also - theirs in proportion to the love they bore him.
2. A Prophet who had failed to be appreciated, and was now a martyr nobly dying in attestation of the truth.
3. A sacred cause losing its Chief and Champion; a cause being wounded and almost certainly slain in the person of its Founder and Exponent. For who could hope that there would be found amongst his disciples any that would take the standard from his hands, and bear it on to victory? For Christ to die was for Christianity to perish. Such was the spectacle on which his disciples looked as they gathered about his cross. The scene was more vivid, more impressive, more powerfully affecting, as thus enacted before their eyes; but we see in reality more than they did. We have before us -
II. THE SUPREME VISION on which we can gaze on earth. We see:
1. One who once suffered and died, but whose agony is over; whose pain and sorrow are not now to him sources of evil, but, on the other hand, the ground and the occasion of purest joy and highest honor (see homily on vers. 27-31). Had we been present then, we must have shrunk teem the spectacle before us as too painful for sensitiveness to endure. Now we can bear to dwell on his dying and his death, because the element of overwhelming and blinding sympathy is happily withdrawn.
2. A grand spiritual victory. We do not see in the crucified prophet One that was defeated; we see One that told us all that he came to tell, communicating to us all the knowledge we need in order to live our higher life on earth, and to prepare for the heavenly life beyond; that was not prevented from delivering any part of his Divine message; that completed all he came to do; that was amply entitled to say, as he did before he died, "It is finished.
3. A Divine Redeemer ensuring, by his death, the triumph of his cause. Had he not died as he did, had he saved himself as he was taunted and challenged to do, had he not gone on to that bitter end and drunk that bitter cup even to the dregs, then he would have failed. But because he suffered unto death, he triumphed gloriously, and became the Author of eternal salvation to all them that believe." This is the supreme vision of human souls. We do well to gaze on nobility as we see it illustrated in human lives around us. We do well to look long and lovingly on human virtue as manifested in the lives and deaths of the glorious army of martyrs. But there is no vision so well worthy of our view; of our frequent, our constant, our protracted and intense beholding, as that of the merciful and mighty Savior dying for our sins, dying in wondrous love that he might draw us to himself and restore us to our Father and our home. Before our eyes Christ crucified is conspicuously set forth (Galatians 3:1); and if we would have forgiveness of sin, rest of soul, worthiness of spirit, nobility of life, hope in death, a blessed immortality, we must direct our eyes unto him who was once "lifted up" that he might be the Refuge, the Friend, the Lord, the Savior of the world to the end of time. Better than the saddest spectacle man ever saw is that supreme vision which is the hope and the life of each looking and trusting human heart. - C.
A superscription also was written over Him.
1. The character or description of Christ contained in that writing: "The King of the Jews."
2. The person who drew His character or title. Pilate, who was His judge, becomes now His herald to proclaim His glory.
3. The time when this honour was done Him. When at the lowest ebb; amid shame and reproach.
I. THE NATURE AND QUALITY OF CHRIST'S TITLE OR INSCRIPTION.
1. An extraordinary title. Instead of proclaiming Christ's crime, it vindicates His innocence.
2. Public. Written in three languages.
3. Honourable. Thus the cross became a throne of majesty.
4. A vindicating title.
5. A predicting and presaging title.
6. An immutable title.
II. WHAT HAND THE DIVINE PROVIDENCE HAD IN THIS BUSINESS.
1. In overruling the heart and hand of Pilate in the draught and style of it, and that contrary to his own inclination.
2. Herein the wisdom of Providence was gloriously displayed, in applying a present, proper, public remedy to the reproaches and blasphemies which Christ had then newly received in His name and honour. The superstitious Jews wound Him, and heathen Pilate prepares a plaster to heal Him: they reproach, he vindicates; they throw the dirt, he washes it off. Oh, the profound and inscrutable wisdom of Providence!
3. Moreover, Providence eminently appeared at this time, in keeping so timorous a person, a man of so base a spirit, that would not stick at anything to please the people, from receding or giving ground in the least to their importunities.
4. Herein also much of the wisdom of Providence appeared, in casting the ignominy of the death of Christ upon those very men who ought to bear it. Pilate was moved by Divine instinct at once to clear Christ and accuse them.
5. The Providence of God wonderfully discovered itself (as before was noted) in fixing this title to the cross of Christ, when there was so great a confluence of all sorts of people to take noticeInference
1. Hence it fellows that the Providence of our God can and often doth overrule the counsels and actions of the worst of men to His own glory. He is never at a loss for means to promote and serve His own ends.
2. Hence likewise it follows, that the greatest services performed to Christ accidentally and undesignedly, shall never be accepted nor rewarded of God. Pilate did Christ an eminent piece of service. He did that for Christ that not one of His own disciples at that time durst do; and yet this service was not accepted of God, because he did it not designedly for His glory, but from the mere overrulings of Providence.
3. Would not Pilate recede from what he had written on Christ's behalf? How shameful a thing is it for Christians to retract what they have said or done on Christ's behalf?
4. Did Pilate affix such an honourable, vindicating title to the cross? Then the cross of Christ is a dignified cross. How did the martyrs glory in their sufferings for Christ? Calling their chains of iron, chains of gold; and their manacles, bracelets. I remember it is storied of Ludovicus Marsacus, a knight of France, that when he, with divers other Christians of an inferior rank and degree in the world, were condemned to die for religion, and the jailor had bound them with chains, but did not bind him, being a more honourable person than the rest, he was offended greatly by that omission, and said, "Why do you not honour me with a chain for Christ also, and create me a knight of that illustrious order?"
5. Did Pilate so stiffly assert and defend the honour of Christ? What doubt can then be made of the success of Christ's interest, and the prosperity of His cause, when the very enemies thereof are made to serve it? Rather than Christ shall want honour, Pilate, the man that condemned Him, shall do Him honour. And as it fared with His person, just so with His interest also.
6. Did Pilate vindicate Christ in drawing up such a title to be affixed to His cross, then hence it follows that God will, sooner or later, clear up the innocence and integrity of His people who commit their cause to Him.
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