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until he gave consent against his own conscience, that the sentence should be as the Chief Priests required. There was no sin in Pilate in acting as a Judge over our Saviour, for he was bound by his office to examine those accused before him. It is true, moreover, Pilate was a wicked man; but so was the woman taken in adultery, and to her Jesus said, “ Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more? :" and the Samaritan woman was living in a state of sin when Jesus conversed with her, so that her heart was opened, and she believed?
In short, that our Lord should in mercy have dealt with him, with a considerate watchfulness for his good, although he was very unworthy of the least of such merciful considerations, is but exemplifying a truth, for which the Psalmist was continually pouring forth praise. “Thy mercy, O LORD, reacheth unto the heavens ;” “The earth is full of Thy goodness.” “Thou, LORD, shalt save both man and beast; how excellent is Thy mercy, O LORD!”
But still greater and still more excellent are God's mercies in CHRIST JESUS. And as He died for all men, and for such among them as Pilate, would He not put all, to whom He drew near, in the way to know His saving health upon earth, that they should not sin against Him? “ For He is for salvation even to the end of the earth 4.”
It should be observed also, that, though we may be able to trace merciful forbearance and considerateness in a very high degree in our Lord's conduct, it does not follow we should be able to trace any good effect from it. As in the case of Judas, all His loving-kindness and long sufferance may become but aggravations of hardened guilt, being unheeded. For God per. mits us the exercise of a free will in respect of all the merciful opportunities He puts in our way, for our spiritual good. We may reject them utterly: we may make the things which “should have been for our peace an occasion of falling.” It is enough, if we are able to perceive, that, on an honest and sincere heart, these things could not have been without their effect for good.
And very remarkable it is, what an effect was produced on the mind of Pilate by our Lord’s bearing and words in his presence. It was probably not more than five hours from the time, when
1 John viii. 11. 2 John iv. 18. 3 Ps. xxxvi. 5.7. 4 Is. xlix. 6.
JESUS was first led away to Pilate to the passing sentence, that it should be as the Jews required. Moreover, Jesus came before him under circumstances of greatest disadvantage. Already He had suffered great violence and indignity from the servants and officers of the Chief Priests. His countenance was marred and bruised with blows and with the spitting; His bodily frame was feeble and exhausted. He had none to speak for Him, to maintain His cause; while His adversaries were many in number, and powerful, men of station and reputation, loud in their accusations, unscrupulous about the truth of them, or by what means established; and the accusations very grave and serious—namely, of sedition and of making HIMSELF a King.
Now let us observe our LORD's behaviour, and its effect upon Pilate. Having learned from the Chief Priests, that their charge against Jesus was for making HIMSELF a King, Pilate went into the judgment-ball and called JESUS : and Jesus stood before the governor. Pilate then questioned Jesos concerning this charge. “Art Thou the King of the Jews ?” And then, upon some further inquiry, as if quite satisfied from the answer, and from our Lord's pitiable appearance, that this was not the real ground against Him, he asked, “What hast Thou done?” Then, further convinced by our Lord's words, “My Kingdom is not of this world,” that the charge was vain and unfounded, went out and saith unto the Chief Priests and multitude, “I find no fault in Him.” But even in the judgment-hall, while our LORD stood as a culprit before him, so struck had Pilate been, that when JESUS spake those words, “Every one who is of the truth, heareth My Voice,” he for a moment forgets his office as a judge, and asks, “ What is truth?” as if he desired to be instructed'. But now the Chief Priests were clamorous against Him, and accused Him of many things, finding their first charge likely to fall to the ground. And again Pilate returned and told Jesus of what things they accused Him. “But Jesus answered not a word, so that Pilate marvelled ;” and to get rid of the case, hearing that Jesus was of Galilee, sent Him to Herod. Finding that He was again sent back to him, he proposed that since neither had Herod found any fault in Him, he would "chastise Him and then release Him,” according to the custom at the feast; offering them a choice between Jesus and Barabbas, the robber and murderer, in hope that by their choice he might set Jesus at liberty. And again, when they cried out “Crucify Him,” he said unto them the third time, “Why, what evil hath He done?” Next he “ delivered Him to be scourged,” fearing to release Him after the violence of the people: and after they had scourged Him he brought Him forth, bearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, and saith, “ Behold the Man;" trusting thus to move their pity as for one who had now been sufficiently punished. But still the savage cry was the same, “ Crucify Him!”
1 On the Passion, p. 198, 199.
And now once more Pilate brought Jesus into the judgmenthall, being “the more afraid," as it is said, and saith unto Him, “Whence art Thou?” “ Where dost Trou really come from?" for he had heard the Chief Priests say “that He made HIMSELF the Son of God." But Jesus gave him no answer. This silence a second time maintained, increased Pilate's fear and wonder. At length, upon his saying, “Speakest Thou not unto me? Knowest Thou not that I have power to crucify Thes, and have power to release Thee ?” Jesus answered, “Thou couldest have no power at all, except it were given thee from above ; therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.” And from thenceforth we read, Pilate thoroughly convinced of His innocence, and with a sort of indescribable awe and misgiving, as feeling there was some great mystery hanging over this prisoner, “sought to release Him."
But then came the threat of appealing unto Cæsar, if he let Him go, and Pilate gave way from fear, and condemned Jesus to death. But not yet was he suffered to commit the sin, without one more warning. For when he was set down on the judgmentseat and about to pass sentence, 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 Hım.” Thus again he was checked. But the fear of man prevailed with him more than the fears of the unseen world. For when Pilate saw that he prevailed nothing, in the way of persuasion, but that rather a tumult was made, having taken water, he washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am guiltless of the Blood of this Just Person. See ye to it.” And then delivered Him up to their will, that He might be crucified.
How wonderful was all this transaction! Is not the hand of God plain throughout ? Pilate was not a tender, scrupulous person, desirous to administer his office with uprightness. He was a covetous man, hated for his extortions and cruelties, and so profane and reckless about human life, that he had not long before ordered the slaughter of a number of persons, suspected of sedition, even in the very temple where they were engaged in offering sacrifice. This is alluded to by St. Luke (ch. xiii.) where he speaks of “those Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” This man, being such an one, was nevertheless, in the space of a few hours, so awed and impressed with a certain wonderful greatness about Jesus Christ, though in bonds, and brought before him as a criminal of the worst sort, with every manner of contempt and hatred on the part of His accusers, who were the chief men of the nation, that he repeatedly declared His innocence and sought to release Him; and at the last, though pressed by fear of Cæsar's displeasure, to whom the Jews threatened to appeal, dared not condemn Him directly, but tried to make himself believe that he put off the guilt upon them, allowing the act as emanating from his office, but seeking to shift the responsibility upon others.
And as the whole transaction is very wonderful, do we not also see in it our Lord's great considerateness and forbearance even towards Pilate, who was behaving so unfaithfully as a judge ? Did He not move him towards what was right, as well by His silence as by His words ? HE “ kept silence, yea, even from good words.” When He held His tongue, His silence struck Pilate with marvel and fear. When He spoke concerning His Kingdom and the truth, it seemed for a moment as if the heathen would have listened and sought instruction. Surely if Pilate had listened, would not JESUS “have led him into higher things, and opened his heart to the truth?” If He took such pains even with Judas, should we doubt that He would do all to recover an ignorant Gentile ?
But although the effect produced in Pilate's mind did not serve to his own benefit, it is worthy of remark how God turned it to the benefit of others, who should hereafter believe. For, first, we have it pronounced by the heathen governor, that he found no fault in Him; even His enemies being judges, no sin could be brought home against Him. Secondly, Pilate, in anger and contempt at the violence and hypocrisy of the Jews, wrote that title in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin, which was set over the Cross, “This is the King of the Jews.” Thus he “ told it out among the heathen, that the Lord is King;” that out of Judah went forth a Ruler, and that God had “set His King upon His holy hill of Sion.”
Thus God turns the acts of those who cast aside His mercies to the benefit of others, in ways not thought of; and opportunities which He gives to them, being rejected, become lessons of instruction to those that come after.
And do not wonder that every day I point out this same lesson of our Lord's forbearance and considerateness towards all, who approached His Presence, whether with good or evil purpose of heart. For this is the very subject I wish your thoughts to dwell much on at this time; how, having loved His own, (and all whom He came to redeem may be called His own,) “He loved them unto the end.” And so I have endeavoured to set forth this lesson, variously illustrated in respect to our blessed LORD's dealings with different persons, taken as types of like-minded classes in all times.
There are, however, two further remarks upon the case of Pilate in particular, with which I will conclude, well suited for our own careful consideration.
First. Our LORD was brought before Pilate to be judged by him. He was for several hours in Pilate's presence, seen and heard of him; and Pilate was obliged, as judge, to inquire of Him and of His doctrine. That once a great opportunity was brought before him, which he might have turned to inestimable benefit. That once, and only once. The same opportunity could not be repeated. His conscience, moreover, was touched. It prompted him in the right direction what to do: and he had the power and was in the place to follow its dictates. But he disregarded his conscience, and the opportunity passed away. He remained as before Christ stood before him, the corrupt, selfish, unprincipled heathen, only with something more to answer for, for this opportunity neglected and misused. Now, for aught we know any opportunity of doing good presented to us, may be of this nature. It may be, if we miss it, and let it pass now, we shall not have it again. It may be that in the nature of things it cannot