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But Jesus gave him no answer. Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? Knowest thou not, that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou Couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: Therefore, he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin,' (John xix. 8—11.)
In these last words which Pilate spoke to the Lord Jesus, we may observe,
First, The occasion of this discourse: When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid, and went again into the judgment-hall. The chief priests, being disappointed in their first accusation, now brought a new article against the prisoner, and accused Jesus, saying, That he made himself the Son of God; and that consequently, according to their law, by which they were governed under the protection of the Romans, he ought to die. This new charge occasioned uncommon emotions in the mind. of the Roman judge. For it was the belief of both Romans and Greeks, that there were a multitude of gods and goddesses, who propagated their race, and begot children; who sometimes used a visible shape to come down from heaven, and converse with men. Thus the heathens at Lystra took Paul and Barnabas for such deities, and cried out, 'The gods are come down unto us, in the likeness of men,' (Acts xiv. 11, 12.) When Pilate heard that Jesus made himself the Son of God, he concluded, that if he was the offspring of the immortal gods, some dreadful vengeance would fall on him and his family. For he had already caused this Divine person to be scourged, and permitted his soldiers to insult him with all manner of indignities, and illegal abuses. His conscience now reproached him for what he had done, and excited in him that servile fear of which the Evange list takes notice above.
But by the words, he was the more afraid,' it appears that he had been very uneasy during the whole proceedings against Jesus, and that he had before been agitated with fear and terror, which he could not account for. For, notwithstanding all the meanness and ignominy which then surrounded the Lord Jesus, some majestic rays of his concealed glory beamed forth from him, and made such an impression on Pilate that he could not but conclude, that the person who now stood before his Tribunal was something more than human. He had before been struck with our blessed Lord's magnanimous silence; but now! he was quite disturbed, when he heard that he had to do with the Son of God; and at the same time recollected, that he had heard of many surprizing miracles which had been wrought by this Jesus.
Something like this has often happened to other Pagan judges, in the persecutions of the members of Christ. They have been made sensible that Christians are quite of a different spirit from other malefactors. They have been thrown into fear and consterna- · tion, and have felt violent emotions at the undaunted appearance, and noble behaviour of martyrs and confessors. This servile fear, which often, though not always, appears in unjust judges, who condemn the innocent witnesses of the truth, serves as a testimony of the majesty and veneration which true religion carries along with it; since it strikes unbelievers with awe and terror.
Secondly, We may observe the question put by. Pilate to the Lord Jesus. Pilate went again into the judgment-hall, that he might speak with Jesus apart and free from all noise and interruption, and said unto him, "Whence art thou?" He does not by these words enquire after his earthly country, namely, whether he was of Judea, or Galilee? For he could not but conclude from the former accusations of the Jews, that he was of Galilee, since he had, on that account, sent him to Herod, under whose government that
province was. But by this question, Pilate's design was to inform himself of our Saviour's lineage and descent, viz. whether he was of divine or human extraction? and if the former was true, from what branch or family of the gods he was descended? This question arose chiefly from a vain curiosity. Besides, he wanted to be rightly informed of this, in order to get rid of his servile fear, which now began greatly to disturb his mind, and was still growing on him; so that it is little to be wondered at, that Pilate did not receive any answer from the blessed Jesus. The next particular which here deserves our notice,
Thirdly, The silence of our blessed Lord. But Jesus, saith the evangelist, gave him no answer.' It is observable that, from the history of the Passion, we find, that the nearer the Lord Jesus approached to his death, the less he conversed with men. However, he had his particular reasons for not entering into dis course with Pilate on this head.
For 1. It was a question quite foreign to the purpose, and did not properly belong to any court of human judicature.
2. This question put by Pilate did not proceed from a sincere love of truth, nor from a desire of knowing it; but from a mixture of curiosity and fear.
3. As Pilate, instead of regarding the answer which Jesus had made to his former question, viz. Art thou the king of the Jews,' had left him abruptly, and in a contemptuous manner had asked, What was truth; he did not deserve any further information.
4. This judgment on Pilate was, however, accompanied with some indulgence. Our blessed Lord well knew, that his eternal generation from the Father was far beyond Pilate's comprehension: He there. fore saw, that it would only occasion him to sin further by insolently ridiculing that sacred truth, and by that means would aggravate his guilt, already very
great. Hence the benevolent Jesus, by his silence, prevented this increase of Pilate's condemnation.
5. Christ likewise confirmed his former command against giving sacred things to dogs, or throwing pearls before swine, (Matt. vii. 6.) by his silence on this occasion. Though wisdom be found of those that seek her, she is not to be allured or acquired by questions of mere curiosity. On the contrary, she turns aside from the frivolous, the self-sufficient, and the licentious. After this silence of the Lord Jesus, follows,
Fourthly, A fresh expostulation of Pilate with our blessed Lord. This just and discreet silence of Christ gave offence to Pilate, who construed it as a contempt of his dignity: Accordingly he says to Jesus, Speakest thou not unto me?" Thus he reproves him for not thinking him worthy of an answer, and adds, 'Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?' by which he gives him to understand that such behaviour at this crisis was contrary to all the rules of prudence. He hints to Jesus, that if he had a mind to be thought a son of God, he should shew himself a master of so much sense as to know that, instead of obstinately irritating his judge, he ought to endeavour to gain him over to his interest by humility and discretion. Thus Pilate vainly boasts of his power, notwithstanding the servile fear which sat so uneasy on his heart. He affects an air of grandeur, the better to conceal his inward trouble. He, on the contrary, ought to have exerted his power over the Jews, towards whom he behaves with a scandalous timerousness, and meanly complies with their unreasonable demands. But in this he acted after the manner of all the unjust magistrates of this world. When persecuted defenceless Christians are brought before them, they affect a great deal of state and grandeur, and boast of their extensive power and authority. Every petty judge then becomes a mighty potentate. But when they are cal,
led upon to exert their power in succouring the distressed, and protecting the innocent, against their potent oppressors, they are very silent on this head. Let us now consider,
Fifthly, Christ's answer to Pilate's last expostulation. As Pilate here encroached on the prerogative of heaven by vainly boasting of a power, which was not his own, but was intrusted to him by God, to whom he was accountable for it; the blessed Jesus found himself obliged by an inward impulse, to vindicate the honour of his Father by a short answer. He therefore addresses Pilate in these words: Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: Therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.' In this answer of our blessed Lord we may remark the following particulars.
1. He grants that Pilate, in quality of a judge, was invested with power and authority, but at the same time gives him to understand, that he derives power from God; so that, consequently, he ought not to act arbitrarily, but, instead of consulting only his own pleasure, to use the power which he had received from above according to the pleasure and precepts of God. If he acted otherwise, the account he was to give would be very grievous. Thus our blessed Lord here confirms the truth, which was afterwards inculcated by St. Paul in these words: There is no power but of God: 'the powers that be are ordained of God,' (Rom. xiii. 1.)
2. He acqaints Pilate, that his power in the ordinary course of things did not properly extend over his person; for he says, Thou couldest have no power over ME.' All the Jews, indeed, who then lived in Palestine were under the dominion of the Roman emperor, and consequently were subject to Pilate, as his deputy. The Lord Jesus therefore, by excepting himself alone from Pilate's jurisdiction, gives him to understand, that he is not to look upon him as another