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Secondly, The criminal, whom Pilate designed to make use of to compass his end, deserves our notice; he is thus described: And there was at that time one named Barabbas, a notorious prisoner, who lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection.' This man is described,
1. By his name. He was called Barabbas, a name at that time common among the Jews, which signifies a 'son of the father.'“
2. He is described by his crimes, two of which are here specified, namely, sedition and murder. This was a time when the spirit of sedition prevailed among the Jews; so that the least pretence sufficed to make them take up arms against the Roman government, when they used to commit all manner of crimes and outrages. In one of these commotions, Barabbas had distinguished himself by heading a gang of seditious persons, and had even killed a man in the tumult. As the Roman governor had sent a party of soldiers to disperse the revolters, he had probably killed one or two of them in the encounter, so that both these crimes rendered him utterly unworthy of any favour or intercession.
3. This criminal is described by the circumstances he was in. Barabbas was in prison, and very probably, when the feast was over, was to be executed. as on example to others, who were of the same turbulent spirit. Pilate had also at that time other prisoners, (since two other malefactors were crucified with Jesus) but he pitched upon this notorious criminal to be put in competition with the Lord Jesus; flattering himself that the people would never sue for the discharge of such a wretch; for a man-slayer, according to their law, was to die without mercy. As to the chief Priests and Elders, Pilate did not imagine. that they would so far debase themselves, and, by interceding for a rebel, render themselves obnoxious: to the court of Rome, by seeming to favour popular
tumults. But Pilate was greatly mistaken in his expectations, as will be shewn at large in the following Consideration. From what has been here said, we shall deduce these truths:
First, Christ, by this circumstance of his passion, was to expiate our sins of several kinds. He has,
1. Expiated the culpable improbity of many thousands, who act contrary to their own conviction, and in their behaviour, do violence to the dictates of their own consciences. For instance, every one is convinced that lying is an infamous sin, brought into the world by the devil, who is the father of lies; yet for the hopes of a small profit, many do not stick at adding lie to lie. Many thousands are convinced that drunkenness excludes men from the kingdom of God, (Gal. v. 21.) yet, on every slight temptation, are drawn into it. Many thousands are convinced that evil company is one of Satan's most dangerous snares; and yet they easily suffer themselves to be entangled in it, so as to be unable to extricate themselves.
2. He has expiated the sins of those who act against their conscience, in order to please others.
3. He has expiated the sins of evil customs, as this of releasing a malefactor on account of the feast. Such customs, like an impetuous torrent, draw many from their integrity, and hurry them away into sin.
4. He has expiated the sins of those who do not behave in their office with probity and unshaken firmness; but sometimes from fear, sometimes from the hope of any worldly advantage, turn aside from the right way. Now, as all these, and the like sins, had a share in the sufferings of Christ, it behoves us to detest and abhor them; and if we are conscious that we are guilty of all or any of them, we ought sincerely to repent of such sins, to amend our lives, and by a lively faith, to make Christ our refuge to screen us from the rigour of the divine justice.
Secondly, Evil customs, especially those which have a specious appearance, in time acquire such veneration, that no man dares to act or speak against them. It is said here, that Pilate must of necessity release a prisoner at the feast. As this custom had been once established, Pilate might have reason to apprehend very great disturbances, had he taken upon him to supersede it, and introduce an innovation, This is generally the case in pr vate evil habits.When a man is accustomed to any evil, which by long practice is become a habit, it tyrannizes over him; so that he becomes a miserable slave to it, and is led by it as an ox to the slaughter. Whoever therefore finds himself entangled with the snares of satan; whoever is conscious that he suffers sin to gain dominon over him, let him throw himself at the feet of his Redeemer. What seems impossible to corrupt nature is possible with God.
Thirdly, It is a very critical and dangerous point to commit the least injustice.
This was Pilate's case. He thought that it was more safe to scourge an innocent man, than to crucify him and put him to death. But by his example we may be taught, what a slippery path this is; since, afterwards, for want of the firmness becoming his office, he was carried to commit a greater, which he was for preventing by doing a smaller act of injustice. For at length 'he released Barabbas unto them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified,' (Matt. xxvii. 26.) To think it advisable to commit a small sin, in order to prevent a greater, is a false way of reasoning, If a person finds himself unable to prevent the commission of two sins at once, he must indeed chiefly exert himself to avoid the greater sin: but he is not to give his consent to, or by any means to promote, the smaller. If we are by faith united to Jesus Christ, and strengthened by his spirit, we shall choose to lay down our lives, rather than offend our Saviour by the deliberate
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 COMPETI TION 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. 17— 21. 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.
Fourthly, The effect of this proposal made by Pilate to the people.
I. As to what preceded this incident we shall ob
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