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at the same time, to put us in a condition of laying hold on Christ's innocence, as our own, and pleading it at the divine tribunal.
2. Charity requires that we should clear our neighbour when he is slandered, and bear witness to his innocence.
A christian is bound to love his neighbour as himself. Now, as we are all ready enough to justify our own innocence, when aspersed by calumnies and malicious reports, it is therefore likewise our duty to be concerned for our neighbour's innocence, and, as much as in us lies, to protect it from injuries. In the instance before us, Pilate publicly clears our blessed Saviour's character before all the people, and by his testimony of Christ's innocence, contradicts the rulers of the Jewish nation, who charged him with being a malefactor. This public testimony of Christ's innocence, given by the Roman governor, is to be considered as a prelude of what was afterwards to come to pass in the Roman empire. For several of the emperors bore witness to the innocence of the followers of Christ, in publie instruments, and mandates to the governors of provinces, enjoining them to forbear molesting the Christians, and putting them to death. The very persecutors and executioners of those harmless persons were often sensible of their innocence, and could not forbear giving testimony of it.
But this heathen governor will rise in judgment against many Christians, who have behaved very differently towards the innocent members of Christ, from what he did towards cur Saviour with regard to his innocence. Many are convinced of the innocence of the faithful servants of Christ, when the world asperses them with the most virulent slanders; but will not speak a single word in their defence, from a pusillanimous fear of being suspected to have any connection with them. Others are still more culpable, who are so far from taking the part of innocence,
that they concur in reviling and loading it with calumnies. There is a third class still more abandoned than either of these, who, like Herod, make a mock of suffering innocence; and others again, who in the gall of bitterness, like Pilate, contrary to their own knowledge and conscience, join in oppressing truth and innocence. All these offend grossly against the ninth commandment, though some sin with more aggravated guilt than others.
Pilate, having thus publicly borne witness to the innocence of the blessed Jesus, makes use of two unwarrantable expedients, in order to procure his re-leasement. If he had acted agreeably to the conviction of his conscience, he would have discharged this: innocent person, notwithstanding the accusations of the chief Priests, and have resolutely protected him against their malice and rage. But a mean, abject fear of man, and worldly policy, led him into crooked ways; so that he attempted to gain his point by craft, that he might not make the chief Priests his enemies, by an open affront. To this purpose he makes two proposals to them.
The first proposal of Pilate was, to chastise Jesus, and to let him go. The rules of justice required, that he should discharge the innocent; but to offer to scourge him, was the height of injustice. If Jesus was guilty, why should he release him? And if he was innocent, why should he offer to scourge him ? Thus Pilate was prompted by his carnal wisdom to have recourse to a most iniquitous method. He was for satisfying his troubled conscience, and therefore scrupled to execute the sentence. But he was, at the same time, willing to humour the inveterate hatred of the Jews against the blessed Jesus, and to support the reputation of his venerable accusers: He therefore proposed to scourge him, that it might not be thought that the person accused was found entirely innocent. This he concluded to be the best expedient, on the one side for paying some regard to jus
tice, and on the other as a salvo for the honour of the chief Priests and elders; who now might clear themselves to the people, by saying, that Jesus of Nazareth had been found in a great measure guilty, though Pilate, out of his clemency, &c. was pleased to spare his life. Besides, he imagined, that the chief Priests would the rather be contented with this proceeding: since by being scourged, which was an ignominious punishment inflicted only on slaves, Jesus would be rendered contemptible; so that he would lose all his credit with the people, and be deserted by all his adherents. Had this proposal of Pilate been accepted, it would have been matter of great triumph to the infernal powers, as some kind of blemish would have remained on the oppressed innocence of our blessed Lord. But God directed this circumstance contrary to the intention of this heathen governor. The innocence of the blessed Jesus was destined to shine forth with unsullied lustre on this day. It was not only made known, that he had done nothing worthy of death; but a certain person was likewise to declare, that he had done nothing amiss; nothing that deserved the slightest punishment. Thus God brought this affair to quite another issue, than what Pilate in his worldly policy had projected.
Pilate's second proposal was as follows. He He put the Lord Jesus on the same footing with a notorious malefactor, and offered the people the privilege of choosing which of the two they would have released. Hereby Pilate, who wavered in his mind, like a reed shaken by the wind, was for trying whether he could get Jesus released without any chastisement. This scheme was more likely to succeed than the former, as it put it in the power of the people to release Jesus for many of them had received extraordinary benefits from him, and they were in general more favourably disposed towards him than the chief Priests and elders; who, as Pilate well knew, had delivered him out of enyy, (Matth, xxrii. 28.) This subtle politician shiv
commission of any presumptuous sin. The Lord give us this resolution, and so establish and strengthen it in us, that the gates of hell may never be able to prevail against us.
AND now, O faithful and ever-living Saviour, praised be thy name for condescending to permit that, through the tyranny of evil customs, thy sacred person should be rejected by the whole Jewish nation, and an infamous murderer be preferred before thee. May we with grateful hearts acknowledge the benefits derived to us from it; and may we be constrained by this instance of thy love, willingly to renounce all the evil customs of the world, and all those sins which brought thee down into such an abyss of humiliation and sufferings. Grant this for the sake of those meritorious sufferings which thou didst endure for us. Amen.
THE MURDERER BARABBAS PUT IN COMPETITION WITH THE LORD JESUS.
< AND when they were gathered together, Pilate saith unto them, Ye have a custom, that I should release one unto you at the passover. Then the multitude, crying aloud, began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them. But Pilate answered them, saying, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ? Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews? For he knew that the chief Priest had delivered him for envy. And when he was set down on the judgment-seat, 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. But the
chief Priests and Elders persuaded and moved the multitude, that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. They then cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas! Now Barabbas was a robber.' (Matt. xxvii. 1721. Mark xv. 8.-11. Luke xxiii. 18, 19. John xviii. 39, 40.)
In the last Consideration we have observed, how Pilate had recourse to various by-ways, and unjust expedients, for promoting the releasement of the innocent Jesus; how he proposed scourging him; how he put it to the people's choice, whether they would have Jesus released, or Barabbas a notorious rebel and murderer, being in hopes that the multitude would prefer our blessed Saviour to such an odious criminal. But this affair turned out contrary to Pilate's expectations, as appears from that part of the history of our Saviour's passion which is cited above; where we are informed that the murderer Barabbas was publicly set in competition with the blessed JeIn this account we shall consider,
First, What preceded this incident.
Secondly, Pilate's management of the affair. Thirdly, The intimation God gave Pilate on this occasion.
Fourthly, The effect of this proposal made by Pilate to the people.
I. As to what preceded this incident we shall ob serve,
1. What happened on Pilate's side.
2. What happened with regard to the people.
1. On Pilate's side it was preceded by a proposal. For the Jews being gathered together, Pilate said unto them, "Ye have a custom that I should release one unto you at the Passover.' The people, who were come to Jerusalem from all parts on the account of the Passover, had, some out of hatred against Christ, and some out of curiosity to see the issue of the affair, assembled in great numbers in the court