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1. Pilate exposes to the chance of being crucified a person of whose innocence he was convinced; and delivers Jesus up, and with him justice itself, to the caprice of the populace. Thus he departed from the plain direct path of justice, as laid down by the laws, and turned aside into a very slippery way, which was full of stumbling blocks. He knew that the High Priests had delivered him for envy.' Should not this have induced him to consider the great influence, which the rank and authority of the chief Priests and Elders gave them over the people? Ought he not, as a wise statesman, to have reflected on the lengths, which envy is known to run on its restlessness and rancour, and what infamous actions it causes men to perpetrate?
2. Pilate by this action obscure's the innocence of Christ, after having borne a public testimony of it, in the displaying of which Divine Providence, at this time more especially, was concerned. For had this artifice of Pilate succeeded, and the people demanded that Jesus might be released, it might have been said by the chief Priests, &c. that popular clamours had prevailed, and that it was not because of his innocence that Jesus had been released, but because he was favoured by the people; who had before opposed his being carried to prison, and consequently obstructed the course of justice. Thus Pilate, in this affair, seems to have been an engine of satan, who, above all things, wanted to fix a blemish on the innocence of his conqueror.
3. By this unjust expedient, he precludes himself from all opportunity of urging any thing further in behalf of our Saviour's innocence, with proper vigour and efficacy. For after the Jews had once desired Barabbas to be released to them, Jesus stood actually condemned, and rejected by the majority of the people.
4. He acted contrary to the true interest of the commonwealth; for by the hopes of escaping pu2
nishment he, as it were, encouraged persons of tur, bulent and seditious spirits, with which Judea then swarmed, to the commission of all kind of violence and outrages. This was manifestly running counter to the duty of his office; he being appointed by the Roman emperor to keep a watchful eye and a strict hand over all tumultuous proceedings. Hence we learn:
First, That he who consults other men in dubious cases, without any regard to God's will, which is the supreme rule for our behaviour and conduct, will be overcome by the first temptation that assaults him.
Pilate asks the people, Will ye that I release unto you Barabbas, or Jesus?' whereas he ought to have acted according to the Roman law, or the dictates of his own conscience, for both of them informed him that the innocent ought to be released. There are still too many nominal Christians, who are such slaves to men; many who, from a servile desire of pleasing others, stick at no kind of injustice in private life; many judges who accommodate themselves more to the corrupt taste of others than to the unalterable rule of rectitude. That these sins might be forgiven to those who are heartily sorry for them, the Supreme Judge and Prophet has suffered, and been sentenced to death, through his judge's pliableness to the will of others.
Secondly, Christ by these circumstances of his passion has expiated many sins committed by men, on condition of faith and repentance.
1. He has expiated our arrogant desires, when, seduced by self-love, we are for appearing better, more wise, more learned, or more pious, than we in reality are. We are fond of comparing ourselves with those that are worse than we are. In order therefore to atone for this haughty desire of our heart, Christ suffered himself to be shewn in public and ranked with the most abandoned malefactor.
2. Our blessed Saviour has expiated our desire of
reconciling light and darkness, Christ and Belial, God and the world, holiness and sin. The contrariety between these is no less than that of Christ and Barabbas.
3. He has expiated all indirect ways of wresting justice, all contrivances of carnal wisdom and worldly policy, which generally give an ill appearance to a good cause.
4. He has expiated that depravity which, from a desire of ingratiating oneself with men, and gaining their favour, gives up the cause of Christ and his members to the option of a licentious populace, from whom no justice is to be expected.
5. He has expiated that depravity by which men so frequently act contrary to conviction, and rather conform to the opinions of other people, than the dictates of their own conscience. As these sins contributed to aggravate the sufferings of the innocent Jesus, it should inspire us with an utter detestation and sincere repentance, of them.
III. We are further to observe the intimation which God gave Pilate on this occasion. The account of this remarkable incident is mentioned only by St. Matthew, who relates it thus: 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.' Thus God gave Pilate an admonition, and made his own wife the instrument to convey it, who in this affair was free from all prejudice or partiality; for she was not of the Jewish religion, nor did she know whether Jesus was guilty or innocent. But, as her husband had been disturbed in his rest by the early application of the High Priest and Elders, she continued in bed for some time af, ter; and falling asleep again, she had a very uneasy dream, in which she probably saw, as in a vision, the whole trial of Jesus before her husband; how a man perfectly innocent was brought before Pilate, and he
solicited to give orders for the execution of the sentence of death passed on him; and possibly she had some presage of the misfortunes that should fall on him and his whole family, should he so far give way to the clamours of the people as to commit such an act of injustice. In this dream she had suffered much, and was extremely disordered by the impression it had made on her mind. When she awaked out of her sleep, she heard an uncommon noise, and when she saw through the window what a crowd was ga thered before the house, she was seized with a dreadful apprehension that her dream would prove too true. Upon this, she instantly dispatched a person to her husband, who was sitting on the judgmentseat, to conjure him not to have any hand in the trial; adding, that the prisoner was an innocent just man, and that if he should be prevailed on to consent to his execution, he would be guilty of a most heinous crime.
This dream has been viewed in various lights by the learned. Some look on it as a work of satan, who imposed on Pilate's wife, in order to prevent our Saviour's death, and consequently the redemp tion of mankind, If this had been the case, satan would have acted inconsistently with himself, by endeavouring, at one and the same time, to hinder the condemnation of Christ, and to instigate the chief Priests, the elders, and all the people, with tumultuous clamours to insist on the execution of the sentence. From all the circumstances of this transaction, it may reasonably be concluded that the evil spirit was perplexed within himself, to find out what Jesus of Nazareth could be; and that he was not quite certain that he was the seed of the woman which was to bruise his head, thinking Christ's appearance much too mean and despicable for any such attempt. It is therefore probable, that satan had no concern in this dream; but that it was rather a vision sent from God or some good spirit, in order to ad
monish Pilate, who was now on the point of committing the most flagitious act of injustice, and at the same time to cast a lustre on our blessed Saviour's innocence; for it was then extremely wronged and obscured, by Pilate's injurious expedient of placing him in competition with a murderer, but was set in a very glorious light by divine providence, by means of this vision. Hence we may deduce the following truths:
1. Dreams of admonition are neither to be totally rejected, nor absolutely credited, so as to occasion any terror or mistrustful fears in the mind.
There are properly three kinds of dreams. Some may be called natural, which arise from the images that have occupied the mind in the course of the day, and consequently are the effect of a wakeful and busy. imagination. There are likewise dreams infused by satan, inciting, even in sleep, evil desires, by the representation of sinful objects. Lastly, there are divine dreams, when God, by the means of a good spirit, makes something known to a man in his sleep, as a pre-admonition, either of some misfortune, or of something that may tend to the good of himself or others. But, since it is not always very easy to distinguish between these different kinds of dreams, particularly the natural and divine, it behoves us not to be too hasty and credulous, so as to be driven to and fro by every airy representation of fancy; nor absolutely to reject such admonitions, since they may be the vehicle of some secret intimation from divine providence. This consideration, at least, should make us careful and circumspect, and in order to find, and walk in, this middle way, proper assistance and wisdom must be implored from above in all dubious cases.
2. The admonitions which God permits to hap pen to a man, in order to restrain him from the perpetration of sin, will be imputed to him, if disregarded, to his greater condemnation. This intimation