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REFLECTIONS ON THE CHARACTER OF JUDAS.
MATTHEW XXVII. 3, 4, 5.
Then Judas, which betrayed him, when he saw that he was con
demned, repented himself, &c.
In a former discourse, we considered the crime of Judas, with the motives leading to it, and the aggravations attending it; and we pointed out some instructions which the story suggests to us.
We shall now, as was proposed,
II. Consider the consequences of this transgression in the remorse which it awakened in his mind, and the end to which it brought him.
When he saw that his Lord was condemned, he repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and rulers, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood. When they replied, What is that to us? See thou to it, he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple.
It will naturally be asked, wherein lay the defect of his repentance? He confessed that he had sinned; he declared that Jesus, whom he had betrayed, was innocent; and he returned the reward of his iniquity, and doubtless solicited his Lord's release. What could he do more?
Truly, if we had heard nothing more concerning him, we should be inclined to hope, that his repentance was sincere, and that he obtained pardon. But we are told, that he was a son of perdition, that he destroyed his own life, that he is gone to his place, and that it had been good for him not to have been born. Hence, though he is said to have repented, we must conclude, that his repentance fell essentially short of that to which pardon is promised. But where was the defect ?
The story mentions two things wanting in his repentance to render it acceptable ; one is a proper principle or motive, and the other is faith or hope in God's mercy.
1. His repentance was not from a proper motive. It was not the effect of a godly sorrow, but a fruit of the sorrow of the world.
“When he saw, that Jesus was condemned, he repented him
It was a common opinion among the Jews, that the Messiah would not die. The disciples seem to have fallen into this error. They expected, that he would erect a temporal kingdom. So strong was this expectation, that after his resurrection they asked him, if he would now restore the kingdom to Israel. Judas, in the perpetration of his treachery, went on from step to step with cool deliberation and without one misgiving thought; quieting his mind, no doubt, with a persuasion, that his master would convey himself out of the hands of the soldiers, as he had before escaped the multitude who had sought to stone him, and the rabble who attempted to throw him down a precipice; or that in some miraculous way he would effect his own preservation, and soon set up his kingdom. Had Jesus done this, the traitor would have been satisfied. But here he was disappointed. He sees the soldiers take his Lord, bind him and lead him away to the assembled council; he sees false witnesses rise against him; he sees the council condemn him as worthy of death, and send him to the governor for a sentence to legalize his execution; and under all this he sees him still patient and submissive; and now, beginning to despair of his Lord's deliverance, he repents of what, by his means, had taken place. But he repented, not of the sin ; he repented only of the consequence of the sin. Whether Jesus had escaped the snare, or not, still the traitor's crime was the same. The essence of sin lies not in the event which follows from it, but in the nature of the action, and the evil temper with which it is performed. And the essence of repentance consists not in a sorrow for the unhappy consequences of a sinful action, but in a hatred of the action itself, and of the corrupt disposition which accompanied it. Godly sorrow is a sorrow for sin, as contrary to the will of God. This works repentance to salvation. The sorrow of the world, is a sorrow only for worldly disappointments and calamities; and this often works death.
2. Judas repented without hope of pardon, and his despair urged him to suicide. He had other views of his conduct, when he saw the issue of it, than he had while he was contriving it. As soon as he saw that his Lord was condemned, he, in the horror of guilt and the mortification of disappointment, went to the priests and rulers, returned the money he had received, confessed that he had sinned, and declared that his master was innocent.
By this restitution, confession and declaration, he probably hoped still to obtain his Lord's release. But when he found the rulers fixed in their resolution, and heard their reply, “What is that to us? see thou to it,” his despair was completed. He saw he could not recall his action, and without doing this, he imagined there could be no pardon for him. And he threw down the money, and went and hanged himself. He hanged himself, says St. Matthew. Peter, giving an account of his death, says, that “falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst and all his bowels gushed out.” It hence appears probable; that the traitor hanged himself on a tree, growing perhaps near the top of a precipice, and that the branch on which, or the cord by which he was suspended, giving way, he fell headlong, and was dashed in pieces by the fall.
There can be no genuine repentance without hope in divine mercy. The goodness of God is revealed to lead sinners to repentance. If under a conviction of sin, they shut their eyes against the discovery of divine grace, their conviction may produce horror and amazement, but will not draw their hearts to God, nor incline them to love and serve him. The true penitent, under the
iņost aggravating view of his guilt, still relies on the abundant mercy of God, which, he trusts, is ready to forgive the greatest, as well as the smallest sins—the sins for which reparation cannot be made, as well as those for which it can be made, to the persons injured, Judas imagined, that if he could prevail with his Lord's enemies to dismiss him, he should make some atonement for his treachery, and might possibly obtain forgiveness. Failing here, he viewed his case as hopeless.
But a real penitent, while he studies to make reparation for injuries where he can, and to recall, as far as is in his power, the wrongs which he has done, trusts not in these, or in any other works which he has done or can do, as an expiation of his guilt or a foundation of pardon, but, under a conscious sense of unworthiness, relies on the mercy of the Being whom he has offended.
It may be enquired, whether Judas' crime was not of such a nature as to exclude him from hope. The answer is, that as pardon is promised to all sin on repentance, no sin excludes from hope further than it is inconsistent with repentance. Judas' crime answers not to the description which Christ has given of the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost; and the apostle teaches us that even this sin is irremissible, only because the persons guilty of it, cannot be renewed to repentance.
The Jews, who made use of Judas' treachery to put Jesus to death, are called “his betrayers and murderers.” Some of these, pricked in their hearts with a conviction of their sin, enquired of the apostles, “What shall we do?” Is there any hope for us ? Peter answered, “Repent for the remission of sins, for the promise is to you.”
Despair of mercy is always unreasonable. There can be no reason for it, but in cases of such absolute stupidity, as admit no repentance. And in such cases the horrors of desperation cannot be felt.
It may further be asked, whether Christ's previous declaration concerning the traitor, that “it had been good for him not to have been born,” did not give Judas reason to conclude, that he could not be forgiven?
No; it did not. This is to be understood as a declaration of the great wickedness and consequent danger of such a sinner. But all threatenings of future punishment against particular guilty characters, are grounded on the supposition of continued and final impenitence. So was the threatening in this case. Jeremiah's explanation of God's threatenings applies to persons, as well as to nations. Christ foreknew Judas' impenitence, as well as his crime. But Christ's foreknowledge could be no reason with Judas either for his crime, or impenitence. Christ applied to the Jews in his day the words of Isaiah concerning their fathers, that they had closed their eyes, and hardened their hearts, lest they should be converted and healed. But neither the prophet's denunciation, nor Christ's application could be any reason for impenitence or despair either in the fathers, or the children.
Such is the mercy of God, the efficacy of Christ's atonement and the extent of gospel promises, that no man has reason for despair from any cause but his own hardness and impenitence. In proportion as a sinner finds himself more hardened in sin and more assimilated to the character of those who are given over to a reprobate mind, he has more reason to fear, that his case is growa ing desperate. But if this view of his case awakens in him a serious concern, this shows, that he is not forsaken of God, and may justly encourage his application to mercy.
But as God had ordained, that Jesus should die for our redemption, was not the act of Judas, in betraying him to his enemies, a necessary part of the divine plan? Was not this a necessary step to that end? We cannot say it was. It was certainly ordained in the divine counsel, that Jesus should die, and should die voluntarily, for the salvation of sinners; and as God foresaw the wickedness of Judas, and of the Jewish rulers, no other means were necessary to accomplish his purpose, than those which took place in consequence of that wickedness. But if the Jews had believed in Jesus, and if Judas had been faithful to his Lord, we have not any warrant to say, that God's purpose must have been defeated for want of means to accomplish it. “The spirit of the Lord is not straitened.” Judas involved himself in all the guilt of betraying his Lord. But he gave the token so hastily, that the