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Expositions of Holy Scripture by Alexander Maclaren

Part 11 out of 12

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say that many a maiden and old man, who drew all their fortitude
from Jesus, have gone to stake or gibbet for His sake, with a calm
which contrasts strangely with His agitation. Gethsemane is robbed
of its pathos and nobleness if that be all. But it was not all.
Rather it was the least bitter of the components of the cup. What
lay before Him was not merely death, but the death which was to
atone for a world's sin, and in which, therefore, the whole weight
of sin's consequences was concentrated. 'The Lord hath made to meet
on Him the iniquities of us all'; that is the one sufficient
explanation of this infinitely solemn and tender scene. Unless we
believe that, we shall find it hard to reconcile His agitation in
Gethsemane with the perfection of His character as the captain of
'the noble army of martyrs.'

II. Note the prayer of filial submission. Matthew does not tell us
of the sweat falling audibly and heavily, and sounding to the three
like slow blood-drops from a wound, nor of the strengthening angel,
but he gives us the prostrate form, and the threefold prayer,
renewed as each moment of calm, won by it, was again broken in upon
by a fresh wave of emotion. Thrice He had to leave the disciples,
and came back, a calm conqueror; and twice the enemy rallied and
returned to the assault, and was at last driven finally from the
field by the power of prayer and submission. The three Synoptics
differ in their report of our Lord's words, but all mean the same
thing in substance; and it is obvious that much more must have been
spoken than they report. Possibly what we have is only the fragments
that reached the three before they fell asleep. In any case, Jesus
was absent from them on each occasion long enough to allow of their
doing so.

Three elements are distinguishable in our Lord's prayer. There is,
first, the sense of Sonship, which underlies all, and was never more
clear than at that awful moment. Then there is the recoil from 'the
cup,' which natural instinct could not but feel, though sinlessly.
The flesh shrank from the Cross, which else had been no suffering;
and if no suffering, then had been no atonement. His manhood would
not have been like ours, nor His sorrows our pattern, if He had not
thus drawn back, in His sensitive humanity, from the awful prospect
now so near. But natural instinct is one thing, and the controlling
will another. However currents may have tossed the vessel, the firm
hand at the helm never suffered them to change her course. The will,
which in this prayer He seems so strangely to separate from the
Father's, even in the act of submission, was the will which wishes,
not that which resolves. His fixed purpose to die for the world's
sin never wavered. The shrinking does not reach the point of
absolutely and unconditionally asking that the cup might pass. Even
in the act of uttering the wish, it is limited by that 'if it be
possible,' which can only mean--possible, in view of the great
purpose for which He came. That is to be accomplished, at any cost;
and unless it can be accomplished though the cup be withdrawn, He
does not even wish, much less will, that it should be withdrawn. So,
the third element in the prayer is the utter resignation to the
Father's will, in which submission He found peace, as we do.

He prayed His way to perfect calm, which is ever the companion of
perfect self-surrender to God. They who cease from their own works
do 'enter into rest.' All the agitations which had come storming in
massed battalions against Him are defeated by it. They have failed
to shake His purpose, they now fail even to disturb His peace. So,
victorious from the dreadful conflict, and at leisure of heart to
care for others, He can go back to the disciples. But even whilst
seeking to help them, a fresh wave of suffering breaks in on His
calm, and once again He leaves them to renew the struggle. The
instinctive shrinking reasserts itself, and, though overcome, is not
eradicated. But the second prayer is yet more rooted in acquiescence
than the first. It shows that He had not lost what He had won by the
former; for it, as it were, builds on that first supplication, and
accepts as answer to its contingent petition the consciousness,
accompanying the calm, that it was not possible for the cup to pass
from Him. The sense of Sonship underlies the complete resignation of
the second prayer as of the first. It has no wish but God's will,
and is the voluntary offering of Himself. Here He is both Priest and
Sacrifice, and offers the victim with this prayer of consecration.
So once more He triumphs, because once more, and yet more
completely, He submits, and accepts the Cross. For Him, as for us,
the Cross accepted ceases to be a pain, and the cup is no more
bitter when we are content to drink it. Once more in fainter fashion
the enemy came on, casting again his spent arrows, and beaten back
by the same weapon. The words were the same, because no others could
have expressed more perfectly the submission which was the heart of
His prayers and the condition of His victory.

Christ's prayer, then, was not for the passing of the cup, but that
the will of God might be done in and by Him, and 'He was heard in
that He feared,' not by being exempted from the Cross, but by being
strengthened through submission for submission. So His agony is the
pattern of all true prayer, which must ever deal with our wishes, as
He did with His instinctive shrinking,--present them wrapped in an
'if it be possible,' and followed by a 'nevertheless.' The meaning
of prayer is not to force our wills on God's, but to bend our wills
to His; and that prayer is really answered of which the issue is our
calm readiness for all that He lays upon us.

III. Note the sad and gentle remonstrance with the drowsy three.
'The sleep of the disciples, and of these disciples, and of all
three, and such an overpowering sleep, remains even after Luke's
explanation, "for sorrow," a psychological riddle' (_Meyer_).
It is singularly parallel with the sleep of the same three at the
Transfiguration--an event which presents the opposite pole of our
Lord's experiences, and yields so many antithetical parallels to
Gethsemane. No doubt the tension of emotion, which had lasted for
many hours, had worn them out; but, if weariness had weighed down
their eyelids, love should have kept them open. Such sleep of such
disciples may have been a riddle, but it was also a crime, and
augured imperfect sympathy. Gentle surprise and the pain of
disappointed love are audible in the question, addressed to Peter
especially, as he had promised so much, but meant for all. This was
all that Jesus got in answer to His yearning for sympathy. 'I looked
for some to take pity, but there was none.' Those who loved Him most
lay curled in dead slumber within earshot of His prayers. If ever a
soul tasted the desolation of utter loneliness, that suppliant
beneath the olives tasted it. But how little of the pain escapes His
lips! The words but hint at the slightness of their task compared
with His, at the brevity of the strain on their love, and at the
companionship which ought to have made sleep impossible. May we not
see in Christ's remonstrance a word for all? For us, too, the task
of keeping awake in the enchanted ground is light, measured against
His, and the time is short, and we have Him to keep us company in
the watch, and every motive of grateful love should make it easy;
but, alas, how many of us sleep a drugged and heavy slumber!

The gentle remonstrance soon passes over into counsel as gentle.
Watchfulness and prayer are inseparable. The one discerns dangers,
the other arms against them. Watchfulness keeps us prayerful, and
prayerfulness keeps us watchful. To watch without praying is
presumption, to pray without watching is hypocrisy. The eye that
sees clearly the facts of life will turn upwards from its scanning
of the snares and traps, and will not look in vain. These two are
the indispensable conditions of victorious encountering of
temptation. Fortified by them, we shall not 'enter into' it, though
we encounter it. The outward trial will remain, but its power to
lead us astray will vanish. It will still be danger or sorrow, but
it will not be temptation; and we shall pass through it, as a
sunbeam through foul air, untainted, and keeping heaven's radiance.
That is a lesson for a wider circle than the sleepy three.

It is followed by words which would need a volume to expound in all
their depth and width of application, but which are primarily a
reason for the preceding counsel, as well as a loving apology for
the disciples' sleep. Christ is always glad to give us credit for
even imperfect good; His eye, which sees deeper than ours, sees more
lovingly, and is not hindered from marking the willing spirit by
recognising weak flesh. But these words are not to be made a pillow
for indolent acquiescence in the limitations which the flesh imposes
on the spirit. He may take merciful count of these, and so may we,
in judging others, but it is fatal to plead them at the bar of our
own consciences. Rather they should be a spur to our watchfulness
and to our prayer. We need these because the flesh is weak, still
more because, in its weakness toward good, it is strong to evil.
Such exercise will give governing power to the spirit, and enable it
to impose its will on the reluctant flesh. If we watch and pray, the
conflict between these two elements in the renewed nature will tend
to unity and peace by the supremacy of the spirit; if we do not, it
will tend to cease by the unquestioned tyranny of the flesh. In one
or other direction our lives are tending.

Strange that such words had no effect. But so it was, and so deep
was the apostles' sleep that Christ left them undisturbed the second
time. The relapse is worse than the original disease. Sleep broken
and resumed is more torpid and fatal than if it had not been
interrupted. We do not know how long it lasted, though the whole
period in the garden must have been measured by hours; but at last
it was broken by the enigmatical last words of our Lord. The
explanation of the direct opposition between the consecutive
sentences, by taking the 'Sleep on now' as ironical, jars on one's
reverence. Surely irony is out of keeping with the spirit of Christ
then. Rather He bids them sleep on, since the hour is come, in sad
recognition that the need for their watchful sympathy is past, and
with it the opportunity for their proved affection. It is said with
a tone of contemplative melancholy, and is almost equivalent to 'too
late, too late.' The memorable sermon of F. W. Robertson, on this
text, rightly grasps the spirit of the first clause, when it dwells
with such power on the thought of 'the irrevocable past' of wasted
opportunities and neglected duty. But the sudden transition to the
sharp, short command and broken sentences of the last verse is to be
accounted for by the sudden appearance of the flashing lights of the
band led by Judas, somewhere near at hand, in the valley. The mood
of pensive reflection gives place to rapid decision. He summons them
to arise, not for flight, but that He may go out to meet the
traitor. Escape would have been easy. There was time to reach some
sheltering fold of the hill in the darkness; but the prayer beneath
the silver-grey olives had not been in vain, and these last words in
Gethsemane throb with the Son's willingness to yield Himself up, and
to empty to its dregs the cup which the Father had given Him.


'And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou
come?'--MATT. xxvi. 50.

We are accustomed to think of the betrayer of our Lord as a kind of
monster, whose crime is so mysterious in its atrocity as to put him
beyond the pale of human sympathy. The awful picture which the great
Italian poet draws of him as alone in hell, shunned even there, as
guilty beyond all others, expresses the general feeling about him.
And even the attempts which have been made to diminish the greatness
of his guilt, by supposing that his motive was only to precipitate
Christ's assumption of His conquering Messianic power, are prompted
by the same thought that such treason as his is all but
inconceivable. I cannot but think that these attempts fail, and that
the narratives of the Gospels oblige us to think of his crime as
deliberate treachery. But even when so regarded, other emotions than
wondering loathing should be excited by the awful story.

There had been nothing in his previous history to suggest such sin,
as is proved by the disciples' question, when our Lord announced
that one of them should betray Him. No suspicion lighted on him--no
finger pointed to where he sat. But self-distrust asked, 'Lord, is
it I?' and only love, pillowed on the Master's breast, and strong in
the happy sense of His love, was sufficiently assured of its own
constancy, to change the question into 'Lord! who is it?' The
process of corruption was unseen by all eyes but Christ's. He came
to his terrible pre-eminence in crime by slow degrees, and by paths
which we may all tread. As for his guilt, that is in other hands
than ours. As for his fate, let us copy the solemn and pitying
reticence of Peter, and say, 'that he might go to _his own_
place'--the place that belongs to him, and that he is fit for,
wherever that may be. As for the growth and development of his sin,
let us remember that 'we have all of us one human heart,' and that
the possibilities of crime as dark are in us all. And instead of
shuddering abhorrence at a sin that can scarcely be understood, and
can never be repeated, let us be sure that whatever man has done,
man may do, and ask with humble consciousness of our own deceitful
hearts, 'Lord, is it I?'

These remarkable and solemn words of Christ, with which He meets the
treacherous kiss, appear to be a last appeal to Judas. They may
possibly not be a question, as in our version--but an incomplete
sentence, 'What thou hast come to do'--leaving the implied command,
'That do,' unexpressed. They would then be very like other words
which the betrayer had heard but an hour or two before, 'That thou
doest, do quickly.' But such a rendering does not seem so
appropriate to the circumstances as that which makes them a
question, smiting on his heart and conscience, and seeking to tear
away the veil of sophistications with which he had draped from his
own eyes the hideous shape of his crime. And, if so, what a
wonderful instance we have here of that long-suffering love. They
are the last effort of the divine patience to win back even the
traitor. They show us the wrestle between infinite mercy and a
treacherous, sinful heart, and they bring into awful prominence the
power which that heart has of rejecting the counsel of God against
itself. I venture to use them now as suggesting these three things:
the patience of Christ's love; the pleading of Christ's love; and
the refusal of Christ's love.

I. The patience of Christ's love.

If we take no higher view of this most pathetic incident than that the
words come from a man's lips, even then all its beauty will not be
lost. There are some sins against friendship in which the manner is
harder to bear than the substance of the evil. It must have been a
strangely mean and dastardly nature, as well as a coarse and cold one,
that could think of fixing on the kiss of affection as the concerted
sign to point out their victim to the legionaries. Many a man who
could have planned and executed the treason would have shrunk from
that. And many a man who could have borne to be betrayed by his own
familiar friend would have found that heartless insult worse to endure
than the treason itself. But what a picture of perfect patience and
unruffled calm we have here, in that the answer to the poisonous,
hypocritical embrace was these moving words! The touch of the traitor's
lips has barely left His cheek, but not one faint passing flush of
anger tinges it. He is perfectly self-oblivious--absorbed in other
thoughts, and among them in pity for the guilty wretch before Him.
His words have no agitation in them, no instinctive recoil from the
pollution of such a salutation. They have grave rebuke, but it is
rebuke which derives its very force from the appeal to former
companionship. Christ still recognises the ancient bond, and is true
to it. He will still plead with this man who has been beside Him long;
and though His heart be wounded yet He is not wroth, and He will not
cast him off. If this were nothing more than a picture of human
friendship it would stand alone, above all other records that the
world cherishes in its inmost heart, of the love that never fails, and
is not soon angry.

But we, I hope, dear brethren, think more loftily and more truly of
our dear Lord than as simply a perfect manhood, the exemplar of all
goodness. How He comes to be that, if He be not more than that, I do
not understand, and I, for one, feel that my confidence in the
flawless completeness of His human character lives or dies with my
belief that He is the Eternal Word, God manifest in the flesh.
Certainly we shall never truly grasp the blessed meaning of His life
on earth until we look upon it all as the revelation of God. The
tears of Christ are the pity of God. The gentleness of Jesus is the
long-suffering of God. The tenderness of Jesus is the love of God.
'He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father'; and all that life so
beautiful but so anomalous as to be all but incredible, when we
think of it as only the life of a man, glows with a yet fairer
beauty, and corresponds with the nature which it expresses, when we
think of it as being the declaration to us by the divine Son of the
divine Father--our loftiest, clearest, and authentic revelation of

How that thought lifts these words before us into a still higher
region! We are now in the presence of the solemn greatness of a
divine love. If the meaning of this saying is what we have
suggested, it is pathetic even in the lower aspect, but how
infinitely that pathos is deepened when we view it in the higher!

Surely if ever there was a man who might have been supposed to be
excluded from the love of God, it was Judas. Surely if ever there
was a moment in a human life, when one might have supposed that even
Christ's ever open heart would shut itself together against any one,
it was this moment. But no, the betrayer in the very instant of his
treason has that changeless tenderness lingering around him, and
that merciful hand beckoning to him still.

And have we not a right to generalise this wonderful fact, and to
declare its teaching to be--that the love of God is extended to us
all, and cannot be made to turn away from us by any sins of ours?
Sin is mighty; it can work endless evils on us; it can disturb and
embitter all our relations with God; it can, as we shall presently
have to point out, make it necessary for the tenderest 'grace of God
to come disciplining'--to 'come with a rod,' just because it comes
in 'the spirit of meekness.' But one thing it cannot do, and that
is--make God cease to love us. I suppose all human affection can be
worn out by constant failure to evoke a response from cold hearts. I
suppose that it can be so nipped by frosts, so constantly checked in
blossoming, that it shrivels and dies. I suppose that constant
ingratitude, constant indifference can turn the warmest springs of
our love to a river of ice. 'Can a mother forget her child?--Yea,
she may forget.' But we have to do with a God, whose love is His
very being; who loves us not for reasons in us but in Himself; whose
love is eternal and boundless as all His nature; whose love,
therefore, cannot be turned away by our sin--but abides with us for
ever, and is granted to every soul of man. Dear brethren, we cannot
believe too firmly, we cannot trust too absolutely, we cannot
proclaim too broadly that blessed thought, without which we have no
hope to feed on for ourselves, or to share with our fellows--the
universal love of God in Christ.

Is there a _worst_ man on earth at this moment? If there be,
he, too, has a share in that love. Harlots and thieves, publicans
and sinners, leprous outcasts, and souls tormented by unclean
spirits, the wrecks of humanity whom decent society and respectable
Christianity passes by with averted head and uplifted hands,
criminals on the gibbet with the rope round their necks--and those
who are as hopeless as any of these, self-complacent formalists and
'Gospel-hardened professors'--all have a place in that heart. And
that, not as undistinguished members of a class, but as separate
souls, singly the objects of God's knowledge and love. He loves all,
because He loves each. We are not massed together in His view, nor
in His regard. He does not lose the details in the whole; as we,
looking on some great crowd of upturned faces, are conscious of all
but recognise no single one. He does not love a class--a world--but
He loves the single souls that make it up--you and me, and every one
of the millions that we throw together in the vague phrase, 'the
race.' Let us individualise that love in our thoughts as it
individualises us in its outflow--and make our own the 'exceeding
broad' promises, which include us, too. 'God loves _me_; Christ
gave Himself for _me_. _I_ have a place in that royal, tender

Nor should any sin make us doubt this. He loved us with exceeding
love, even when we were 'dead in trespasses.' He did not begin to
love because of anything in us; He will not cease because of
anything in us. We change; 'He abideth faithful, He cannot deny
Himself.' As the sunshine pours down as willingly and abundantly on
filth and dunghills, as on gold that glitters in its beam, and
jewels that flash back its lustre, so the light and warmth of that
unsetting and unexhausted source of life pours down 'on the
unthankful and on the good.' The great ocean clasps some black and
barren crag that frowns against it, as closely as with its waves it
kisses some fair strand enamelled with flowers and fragrant with
perfumes. So that sea of love in which we 'live, and move, and have
our being,' encircles the worst with abundant flow. He Himself sets
us the pattern, which to imitate is to be the children of 'our
Father which is in heaven,' in that He loves His enemies, blessing
them that curse, and doing good to them that hate. He Himself is
what He has enjoined us to be, in that He feeds His enemies when
they hunger, and when they thirst gives them drink, heaping coals of
fire on their heads, and seeking to kindle in them thereby the glow
of answering love, not being overcome of their evil, so that He
repays hate with hate and scorn with scorn, but in patient
continuance of loving kindness seeking to overcome evil with good.
He is Himself that 'charity' which 'is not easily provoked, is not
soon angry, beareth all things, hopeth all things, and never
faileth.' His love is mightier than all our sins, and waits not on
our merits, nor is turned away by our iniquities. 'God so loved the
world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth
in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'

II. Then, secondly, we have here--the pleading of Christ's patient

I have been trying to say as broadly and strongly as I can, that our
sins do not turn away the love of God in Christ from us. The more
earnestly we believe and proclaim that, the more needful is it to
set forth distinctly--and that not as limiting, but as explaining
the truth--the other thought, that the sin which does not avert,
does modify the expression of, the love of God. Man's sin compels
Him to do what the prophet calls his 'strange work'--the work which
is not dear to His heart, nor natural, if one may so say, to His
hands--His work of judgment.

The love of Christ has to come to sinful men with patient pleading
and remonstrance, that it may enter their hearts and give its
blessings. We are familiar with a modern work of art in which that
long-suffering appeal is wonderfully portrayed. He who is the Light
of the world stands, girded with the royal mantle clasped with the
priestly breastplate, bearing in His hand the lamp of truth, and
there, amidst the dew of night and the rank hemlock, He pleads for
entrance at the closed door which has no handle on its outer side,
and is hinged to open only from within. 'I stand at the door and
knock. If any man open the door, I will come in.'

And in this incident before us, we see represented not only the
endless patience of God's pitying love, but the method which it
needs to take in order to reach the heart.

There is an appeal to the traitor's heart, and an appeal to his
conscience. Christ would have him think of the relations that have
so long subsisted between them; and He would have him think, too, of
the real nature of the deed he is doing, or, perhaps, of the motives
that impel him. The grave, sad word, by which He addresses him, is
meant to smite upon his heart. The sharp question which He puts to
him is meant to wake up his conscience; and both taken together
represent the two chief classes of remonstrance which He brings to
bear upon us all--the two great batteries from which He assails the
fortress of our sins.

There is first, then--Christ's appeal to the heart. He tries to make
Judas feel the considerations that should restrain him. The
appellation by which our Lord addresses him does not in the original
convey quite so strongly the idea of amity, as our word 'Friend'
does. It is not the same as that which He had used a few hours
before in the upper chamber, when He said, 'Henceforth I call you
not servants, but I have called you friends.--Ye are My friends if
ye do whatsoever I command you.' It is the same as is put into the
lips of the Lord of the vineyard, remonstrating with his jealous
labourer, 'Friend, I do thee no wrong.' There is a tone, then, of
less intimate association and graver rebuke in it than in that name
with which He honours those who make His will theirs, and His word
the law of their lives. It does not speak of close confidence, but
it does suggest companionship and kindness on the part of the
speaker. There is rebuke in it, but it is rebuke which derives its
whole force from the remembrance of ancient concord and connection.
Our Lord would recall to the memory of the betrayer the days in
which they had taken sweet counsel together. It is as if He had
said--'Hast thou forgotten all our former intercourse? Thou hast
eaten My bread, thou hast been Mine own familiar friend, in whom I
trusted--canst thou lift up thy heel against Me?' What happy hours
of quiet fellowship on many a journey, of rest together after many a
day of toil, what forgotten thoughts of the loving devotion and the
glow of glad consecration that he had once felt, what a long series
of proofs of Christ's gentle goodness and meek wisdom should have
sprung again to remembrance at such an appeal! And how black and
dastardly would his guilt have seemed if once he had ventured to
remember what unexampled friendship he was sinning against!

Is it not so with us all, dear brethren? All our evils are betrayals
of Christ, and all our betrayals of Christ are sins against a
perfect friendship and an unvaried goodness. We, too, have sat at
His table, heard His wisdom, seen His miracles, listened to His
pleadings, have had a place in His heart; and if we turn away from
Him to do our own pleasure, and sell His love for a handful of
silver, we need not cherish shuddering abhorrence against that poor
wretch who gave Him up to the cross. Oh! if we could see aright, we
should see our Saviour's meek, sad face standing between us and each
of our sins, with warning in the pitying eyes, and His pleading
voice would sound in our ears, appealing to us by loving
remembrances of His ancient friendship, to turn from the evil which
is treason against Him, and wounds His heart as much as it harms
ours. Take heed lest in condemning the traitor we doom ourselves. If
we flush into anger at the meanness of his crime, and declare, 'He
shall surely die,' do we not hear a prophet's voice saying to each,
'Thou art the man'?

The loving hand laid on the heart-strings is followed by a strong
stroke on conscience. The heart vibrates most readily in answer to
gentle touches: the conscience, in answer to heavier, as the breath
that wakes the chords of an Aeolian harp would pass silent through
the brass of a trumpet. 'Wherefore art thou come?'--if to be taken
as a question at all, which, as I have said, seems most natural, is
either, 'What hast thou come to do?'--or, 'Why hast thou come to do
it?' Perhaps it maybe fairly taken as including both. But, at all
events, it is clearly an appeal to Judas to make him see what his
conduct really is in itself, and possibly in its motive too. And
this is the constant effort of the love of Christ--to get us to say
to ourselves the real name of what we are about.

We cloak our sins from ourselves with many wrappings, as they swathe
a mummy in voluminous folds. And of these veils, one of the thickest
is woven by our misuse of words to describe the very same thing by
different names, according as we do it, or another man does it.
Almost all moral actions--the thing to which we can apply the words
right or wrong--have two or more names, of which the one suggests
the better and the other the worse side of the action. For instance
what in ourselves we call prudent regard for our own interest, we
call, in our neighbour, narrow selfishness; what in ourselves is
laudable economy, in him is miserable avarice. We are impetuous, he
is passionate; we generous, he lavish; we are clever men of
business, he is a rogue; we sow our wild oats and are gay, he is
dissipated. So we cheat ourselves by more than half-transparent
veils of our own manufacture, which we fling round the ugly features
and misshapen limbs of these sins of ours, and we are made more than
ever their bond-slaves thereby.

Therefore, it is the office of the truest love to force us to look at
the thing as it is. It would go some way to keep a man from some of
his sins if he would give the thing its real name. A distinct conscious
statement to oneself, 'Now I am going to tell a lie'--'This that I am
doing is fraud'--'This emotion that I feel creeping with devilish
warmth about the roots of my heart is revenge'--and so on, would
surely startle us sometimes, and make us fling the gliding poison
from our breast, as a man would a snake that he found just lifting
its head from the bosom of his robe. Suppose Judas had answered the
question, and, gathering himself up, had looked his Master in the face,
and said--'What have I come for?' 'I have come to betray Thee for
thirty pieces of silver!' Do you not think that putting his guilt into
words might have moved even him to more salutary feelings than the
remorse which afterwards accompanied his tardy discernment of what he
_had_ done? So the patient love of Christ comes rebuking, and
smiting hard on conscience. 'The grace of God that bringeth salvation
to all men hath appeared disciplining'--and His hand is never more
gentle than when it plucks away the films with which we hide our sins
from ourselves, and shows us the 'rottenness and dead men's bones'
beneath the whited walls of the sepulchres and the velvet of the coffins.

He must begin with rebukes that He may advance to blessing. He must
teach us what is separating us from Him that, learning it, we may
flee to His grace to help us. There is no entrance for the truest
gifts of His patient love into any heart that has not yielded to His
pleading remonstrance, and in lowly penitence has answered His
question as He would have us answer it, 'Friend and Lover of my
soul, I have sinned against Thy tender heart, against the unexampled
patience of Thy love. I have departed from Thee and betrayed Thee.
Blessed be Thy merciful voice which hath taught me what I have done!
Blessed be Thine unwearied goodness which still bends over me! Raise
me fallen! forgive me treacherous! Keep me safe and happy, ever true
and near to Thee!'

III. Notice the possible rejection of the pleading of Christ's
patient love.

Even that appeal was vain. Here we are confronted with a plain
instance of man's mysterious and awful power of 'frustrating the
counsel of God'--of which one knows not whether is greater, the
difficulty of understanding how a finite will _can_ rear itself
against the Infinite Will, or the mournful mystery that a creature
should desire to set itself against its loving Maker and Benefactor.
But strange as it is, yet so it is; and we can turn round upon
Sovereign Fatherhood bidding us to its service, and say, '_I will
not_.' He pleads with us, and we can resist His pleadings. He
holds out the mercies of His hands and the gifts of His grace, and
we can reject them. We cannot cease to be the objects of His love,
but we can refuse to be the recipients of its most precious gifts.
We can bar our hearts against it. Then, of what avail is it to us?
To go back to an earlier illustration, the sunshine pours down and
floods a world, what does that matter to us if we have fastened up
shutters on all our windows, and barred every crevice through which
the streaming gladness can find its way? We shall grope at noontide
as in the dark within our gloomy house, while our neighbours have
light in theirs. What matters it though we float in the great ocean
of the divine love, if with pitch and canvas we have carefully
closed every aperture at which the flood can enter? A hermetically
closed jar, plunged in the Atlantic, will be as dry inside as if it
were lying on the sand of the desert. It is possible to perish of
thirst within sight of the fountain. It is possible to separate
ourselves from the love of God, not to separate the love of God from

The incident before us carries another solemn lesson--how simple and
easy a thing it is to repel that pleading love. What did Judas do?
Nothing; it was enough. He merely held his peace--no more. There was
no need for him to break out with oaths and curses, to reject his
Lord with wild words. Silence was sufficient. And for us--no more is
required. We have but to be passive; we have but to stand still. Not
to accept is to refuse; non-submission is rebellion. We do not need
to emphasise our refusal by any action--no need to lift our clenched
hands in defiance. We have simply to put them behind our backs or to
keep them folded. The closed hand must remain an empty hand. 'He
that believeth not is condemned.' My friend, remember that, when
Christ pleads and draws, to do nothing is to oppose, and to delay is
to refuse. It is a very easy matter to ruin your soul. You have
simply to keep still when He says 'Come unto Me'--to keep your eyes
fixed where they were, when He says, 'Look unto Me, and be ye
saved,' and all the rest will follow of itself.

Notice, too, how the appeal of Christ's love hardens where it does
not soften. That gentle voice drove the traitor nearer the verge
over which he fell into a gulf of despair. It should have drawn him
closer to the Lord, but he recoiled from it, and was thereby brought
nearer destruction. Every pleading of Christ's grace, whether by
providences, or by books, or by His own word, does something with
us. It is never vain. Either it melts or it hardens. The sun either
scatters the summer morning mists, or it rolls them into heavier
folds, from whose livid depths the lightning will be flashing by
mid-day. You cannot come near the most inadequate exhibition of the
pardoning love of Christ without being either drawn closer to Him or
driven further from Him. Each act of rejection prepares the way for
another, which will be easier, and adds another film to the darkness
which covers your eyes, another layer to the hardness which incrusts
your hearts.

Again, that silence, so eloquent and potent in its influence, was
probably the silence of a man whose conscience was convicted while
his will was unchanged. Such a condition is possible. It points to
solemn thoughts, and to deep mysteries in man's awful nature. He
knew that he was wrong, he had no excuse, his deed was before him in
some measure in its true character, and yet he would not give it up.
Such a state, if constant and complete, presents the most frightful
picture we can frame of a soul. That a man shall not be able to say,
'I did it ignorantly'; that Christ shall not be able to ground His
intercession on, 'They know not what they do'; that with full
knowledge of the true nature of the deed, there shall be no wavering
of the determination to do it--we may well turn with terror from
such an awful abyss. But let us remember that, whether such a
condition in its completeness is conceivable or not, at all events
we may approach it indefinitely; and we do approach it by every sin,
and by every refusal to yield to the love that would touch our
consciences and fill our hearts.

Have you ever noticed what a remarkable verbal correspondence there
is between these words of our text, and some other very solemn ones
of Christ's? The question that He puts into the lips of the king who
came in to see his guests is, '_Friend, how camest thou_ in
hither, not having on a wedding garment?' The question asked on
earth shall be repeated again at last. The silence which once
indicated a convinced conscience and an unchanged will may at that
day indicate both of these and hopelessness beside. The clear vision
of the divine love, if it do not flood the heart with joy and evoke
the bliss of answering love, may fill it with bitterness. It is
possible that the same revelation of the same grace may be the
heaven of heaven to those who welcome it, and the pain of hell to
those who turn from it. It is possible that love believed and
received may be life, and love recognised and rejected may be death.
It is possible that the vision of the same face may make some break
forth with the rapturous hymn, 'Lo, this is our God, we have waited
for Him!' and make others call on the hills to fall on them and
cover them from its brightness.

But let us not end with such words. Rather, dear brethren, let us
yield to His patient beseechings; let Him teach us our evil and our
sin. Listen to His great love who invites us to plead, and promises
to pardon--'Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord:
though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.'


'And they that had laid hold on Jesus led Him away to
Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the
elders were assembled. 58. But Peter followed Him afar
off unto the high priest's palace, and went in, and sat
with the servants, to see the end. 59. Now the chief
priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false
witness against Jesus, to put Him to death; 60. But
found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet
found they none. At the last came two false witnesses,
61. And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy
the temple of God, and to build it in three days.
62 And the high priest arose, and said unto Him,
Answerest Thou nothing? what is it which these witness
against Thee? 63. But Jesus held His peace. And the
high priest answered and said unto Him, I adjure Thee
by the living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou be
the Christ, the Son of God. 64. Jesus saith unto him,
Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter
shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand
of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. 65. Then
the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken
blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses?
behold, now ye have heard His blasphemy. 66. What think
ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death.
67. Then did they spit in His face, and buffeted Him;
and others smote Him with the palms of their hands,
68. Saying, Prophesy unto us, Thou Christ, Who is he
that smote Thee?'--MATT. xxvi. 57-68.

John's Gospel tells us that Jesus was brought before 'Annas first,'
probably in the same official priestly residence as Caiaphas, his
son-in-law, occupied. That preliminary examination brought out
nothing to incriminate the prisoner, and was flagrantly illegal,
being an attempt to entrap Him into self-accusing statements. It was
baffled by Jesus being silent first, and subsequently taking His
stand on the undeniable principle that a charge must be sustained by
evidence, not based on self-accusation. Annas, having made nothing
of this strange criminal, 'sent Him bound unto Caiaphas.'

A meeting of the Sanhedrin had been hastily summoned in the dead of
night, which was itself an illegality. Now Jesus stands before the
poor shadow of a judicial tribunal, which, though it was all that
Rome had left a conquered people, was still entitled to sit in
judgment on Him. Strange inversion, and awful position for these
formalists! And with sad persistence of bitter prejudice they
proceeded to try the prisoner, all unaware that it was themselves,
not Him, that they were trying.

They began wrongly, and betrayed their animus at once. They were
sitting there to inquire whether Jesus was guilty or no; they had
made up their minds beforehand that He was, and their effort now was
but to manufacture some thin veil of legality for a judicial murder.
So they 'sought false witness, ... that they might put Him to
death.' Matthew simply says that no evidence sufficient for the
purpose was forthcoming; Mark adds that the weak point, was that the
lies contradicted each other. Christ's presence has a strange,
solemn power of unmasking our falsehoods, both of thought and deed,
and it is hard to speak evil of Him before His face. If His
calumniators were confused when He stood as Prisoner, what will they
be when He sits as a Judge?

Only Matthew and Mark tell us of the two witnesses whose twisted
version of the word about 'destroying the Temple and rebuilding it
in three days' seemed to Caiaphas serious enough to require an
answer. Their mistake was one which might have been made in good
faith, but none the less was their travesty 'false witness.' Their
version of His great word shows how easily the teaching of a lofty
soul, passed through the popular brain, is degraded, and made to
mean the opposite of what he had meant by it. For the destruction of
the Temple had appeared in the saying as the Jews' work, and Jesus
had presented Himself in it as the Restorer, not the Destroyer, of
the Temple and of all that it symbolised. We destroy, He rebuilds.
The murder of Jesus was the suicide of the nation. Caiaphas and his
council were even now pulling down the Temple. And that murder was
the destruction, so far as men could effect it, of the true 'Temple
of His body,' in which the fulness of the Godhead dwelt, and which
was more gloriously reconstituted in the Resurrection. The risen
Christ rears the true temple on earth, for through Him the Holy
Ghost dwells in His Church, which is collectively 'the Temple,' and
in all believing spirits, which are individually 'the temples' of
God. So the false witnesses distorted into a lie a great truth.

The Incarnate Word was dumb all the while. He 'was still and
refrained' Himself. It was the silence of the King before a lawless
tribunal of rebels, of patient meekness, 'as a sheep before her
shearers'; of innocence that will not stoop to defend itself from
groundless accusations; of infinite pity and forbearing love, which
sees that it cannot win, but will not smite. Jesus is still silent,
but one day, 'with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked.'
Caiaphas seems to have been annoyed as well as surprised at Jesus'
silence, for there is a trace of irritation, as at 'contempt of
court,' in his words. But our Lord's continued silence appears to
have somewhat awed him, and the dawning consciousness of his dignity
is, perhaps, the reason for the high priest's casting aside all the
foolery of false witnessing, and coming at last to the real point,--
the Messianic claims of Jesus.

Caiaphas was doing his duty as high priest in inquiring into such
claims, but he was somewhat late in the day, and he had made up his
mind before he inquired. What he wished to get was a plain assertion
on which the death sentence could be pronounced. Jesus knew this,
and yet He answered. But Luke tells us that He first scathingly
pointed to the unreality and animus of the question by saying, 'If I
tell you, ye will not believe.' But yet it was fitting that He
should solemnly, before the supreme court, representative of the
nation, declare that He was the Messiah, and that, if He was to be
rejected and condemned, it should be on the ground of that
declaration. Before Caiaphas He claimed to be Messiah, before Pilate
He claimed to be King. Each rejected Him in the character that
appealed to them most. The many-sidedness of the perfect Revealer of
God brings Him to each soul in the aspect that most loudly addresses
each. Therefore the love in the appeal and the guilt in its
rejection are the greater.

But Christ's self-attestation to the council was not limited to the
mere claim to the name of Messiah. It disclosed the implications of
that name in a way altogether unlike the conceptions held by
Caiaphas. When Caiaphas put in apposition 'the Christ' and 'the Son
of God,' he was not speaking from the ordinary Jewish point of view,
but from some knowledge, of Christ's teaching, and there are two
charges combined into one.

But Jesus' answer, while plainly claiming to be the Messiah, expands
itself in regard to the claim to be 'Son of God,' and shows its
tremendous significance. It involves participation in divine
authority and omnipotence. It involves a future coming to be the
Judge of His judges. It declares that these blind scribes and elders
will see Him thus exalted, and it asserts that all this is to begin
then and there ('henceforth'), as if that hour of humiliation was to
His consciousness the beginning of His manifestation as Lord, or, as
John has it, 'the hour that the Son of Man should be glorified.' Nor
must we leave out of sight the fact that it is 'the Son of Man' of
whom all this is said, for thereby are indicated the raising of His
perfect humanity to participation in Deity, and the possibility that
His brethren, too, may sit where He sits. Much was veiled in the
answer to the council, much is veiled to us. But this remains,--that
Jesus, at that supreme moment, when He was bound to leave no
misunderstandings, made the plainest claim to divinity, and could
have saved His life if He had not done so. Either Caiaphas, in his
ostentatious horror of such impiety, was right in calling Christ's
words blasphemy, and not far wrong in inferring that Jesus was not
fit to live, or He is the everlasting 'Son of the Father,' and will
'come to be our Judge.'


'Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He
hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of
witnesses?'--MATT. xxvi. 65.

Jesus was tried and condemned by two tribunals, the Jewish
ecclesiastical and the Roman civil. In each case the charge
corresponded to the Court. The Sanhedrin took no cognisance of, and
had no concern with, rebellion against Caesar; though for the time
they pretended loyalty. Pilate had still less concern about Jewish
superstitions. And so the investigation in each case turned on a
different question. In the one it was, 'Art Thou the Son of God?' in
the other, 'Art Thou the King of Israel?' The answer to both was a
simple 'Yes!' but with very significant differences. Pilate received
an explanation; the Sanhedrin none. The Roman governor was taught
that Christ's title of King belonged to another region altogether
from that of Caesar, and did not in the slightest degree infringe
upon the dominion that he represented. But 'Son of God' was capable
of no explanation that could make it any less offensive; and the
only thing to be done was to accept it or to condemn Him.

So this saying of the high priest differs from other words of our
Lord's antagonists, which we have been considering in recent pages,
in that it is no distortion of our Lord's characteristics or
meaning. It correctly understands, but it fatally rejects, His
claims; and does not hesitate to take the further step, on the
ground of these, of branding Him as a blasphemer.

We may turn the high priest's question in another direction: 'What
further need have we of witnesses?' These horror-stricken judges,
rending their garments in simulated grief and zeal, and that silent
Prisoner, knowing that His life was the forfeit of His claims, yet
saying no word of softening or explanation of them, may teach us
much. They are witnesses to some of the central facts of the
revelation of God in Christ. Let us turn to these for a few moments.

I. First, then, they witness to Christ's claims.

The question that was proposed to Jesus, 'Art Thou the Christ, the
Son of the living God?' was suggested by the facts of His ministry,
and not by anything that had come out in the course of this
investigation. It was the summing up of the impression made on the
ecclesiastical authorities of Judaism by His whole attitude and
demeanour. And if we look back to His life we shall see that there
were instances, long before this, on which, on the same ground, the
same charge was flung at Him. For example, when He would heal the
paralytic, and, before He dealt with bodily disease, attended to
spiritual weakness, and said, 'Thy sins be forgiven thee,' ere He
said, 'Take up thy bed and walk,' there was a group of keen-eyed
hunters after heresy sitting eagerly on the watch, who snatched at
the words in a moment, and said, 'Who is this that forgiveth sins?
No _man_ forgiveth sins, but God only! This man speaketh
blasphemies!' And they were right. He did claim a divine
prerogative; and either the claim must be admitted or the charge of
blasphemy urged.

Again, when He infringed Rabbinical Sabbath law by a cure, and they
said, 'This Man has broken the Sabbath day,' His vindication was
worse than His offence, for He answered, 'My Father worketh
hitherto, and I work.' And then they sought the more to kill Him,
because He not only brake the Sabbath, but also called God His own
Father, making Himself equal with God.' And again, when He declared
that the safety of His sheep in His hands was identical with their
safety in His Father's hands, and vindicated the audacious
parallelism by the tremendous assertion, 'I and My Father are One,'
the charge of blasphemy rang out; and was inevitable, unless the
claim was true.

These outstanding instances are but, as it were, summits that rise
above the general level. But the general level is that of One who
takes an altogether unique position. No one else, professing to lead
men in paths of righteousness, has so constantly put the stress of
His teaching, not upon morality, nor religion, nor obedience to God,
but upon this, 'Believe in Me'; or ever pushed forward His own
personality into the foreground, and made the whole nobleness and
blessedness and security and devoutness of a life to hinge upon that
one thing, its personal relation to Him.

People talk about the sweet and gentle wisdom that flowed from
Christ's lips, and so on; about the lofty morality, about the beauty
of pity and tenderness, and all the other commonplaces so familiar
to us, and we gladly admit them all. But I venture to go a step
further than all these, and to say that the outstanding
_differentia_, the characteristic which marks off Christ's
teaching as something new, peculiar, and altogether _per se_,
is not its morality, not its philanthropy, not its meek wisdom, not
its sweet reasonableness, but its tremendous assertions of the
importance of Himself.

And if I am asked to state the ground upon which such an assertion
may be vindicated, I would point you to such facts as these, that
this Man took up a position of equality with, and of superiority to,
the legislation which He and the people to whom He was speaking
regarded as being divinely sent, and said, 'Ye have heard that it
hath been said to them of old time' so and so; 'but I say unto you':
that this Man declared that to build upon His words was to build
upon a rock; that this Man declared that He--He--was the legitimate
object of absolute trust, of utter submission and obedience; that He
claimed from His followers affiance, love, reverence which cannot be
distinguished from worship, and that He did not therein conceive
that He was intercepting anything that belonged to the Father. This
Man professed to be able to satisfy the desires of every human heart
when He said, 'If any man thirst let him come to Me and drink.' This
Man claimed to be able to breathe the sanctity of repose in the
blessedness of obedience over all the weary and the heavy laden; and
assured them that He Himself, through all the ages, and in all
lands, and for all troubles, would give them rest. This Man declared
that He who stood there, in the quiet homes of Galilee, and went
about its acres with those blessed feet for our advantage, was to be
Judge of the whole world. This Man said that His name was 'Son of
God'; and this Man declared, 'He that hath seen Me hath seen the

And then people say to us, 'Oh! your Gospel narratives, even if they
be the work of men in good faith, telling what they suppose He said,
mistook the Teacher; and if we could strip away the accretion of
mistaken reverence, and come to the historical person, we should
find no claims like these.'

Well, this is not the time to enter into the large questions which
that contention involves, but I point you to the incident which
makes my text, and I say, 'What need we any further witnesses?'
Nobody denies that Jesus Christ was crucified as the result of a
combination of Sanhedrin and Pilate. What set the Jewish rulers
against Him with such virulent and murderous determination? Is there
anything in the life of Jesus Christ, if it is watered down as the
people, who want to knock out all the supernatural, desire to water
it down--is there anything in the life that will account for the
inveterate acrimony and hostility which pursued Him to the death?
The fact remains that, whether or not Evangelists and Apostles
misconceived His teaching when they gave such prominence to His
personality and His lofty claims, His enemies were under the same
delusion, if it were a delusion; and the reason why the whole
orthodox religionism of Judaism rejoiced when He was nailed to the
Cross was summed up in the taunt which they flung at Him as He hung
there, 'If He be the Son of God, let Him come down, and we will
believe Him.'

So, brethren, I put into the witness-box Annas and Caiaphas and all
their satellites, and I say, 'What need we any further witnesses?'
He died because He declared that He was the Son of God.

And I beseech you ask yourselves whether we are not being put off
with a maimed version of His teaching, if there is struck out of it
this its central characteristic, that He, 'the sage and humble,'
declared that He was 'likewise One with the Creator.'

II. Secondly, note how we have here the witness that Jesus Christ
assented always to the loftiest meaning that men attached to His

I have already pointed out the remarkable difference between the
explanations which He condescended to give to the Roman governor as
to the perfectly innocent meaning of His claim to be the King of
Israel, and His silence before the Sanhedrin. That silence is only
explicable because they rightly understood the meaning of the claim
which they contemptuously and perversely rejected. Jesus Christ knew
that His death was the forfeit, as I have said, and yet He locked
His lips and said not a word.

In like manner when, on the other occasion to which I have already
referred, the Pharisees stumbled at His claims to forgive sins, He
said nothing to soften down that claim. If He had meant then only
what some people would desire to make Him mean when He said, 'Thy
sins be forgiven thee'--viz., that He was simply acting as a
minister of the divine forgiveness, and assuring a poor sinner that
God had pardoned him--why in common honesty, in discharge of His
plain obligations of a teacher, did He not say so--not for His own
sake, but for the sake of preventing such a tremendous
misunderstanding of His meaning? But He let them go away with the
conviction that He intended to claim a divine prerogative, and
vindicated the assertion by doing what only a divine power could do:
'That ye may know that the Son of Man hath power enough on earth to
forgive sins, He saith unto the sick of the palsy, Take up thy bed
and walk.' There was no need for Him to have wrought a miracle to
establish His right to tell a poor soul that God forgave sin. And
the fact that the miracle was supposed to be the demonstration and
the vindication of His right to declare forgiveness shows that He
was exercising that prerogative which belongs, as they rightly said,
to God only.

And in precisely the same manner, the commonest obligations of
honesty, the plain duty of a misunderstood Teacher, to say nothing
of the duty of self-preservation, ought to have opened His lips in
the presence of the Jewish authorities, if they understood wrongly
and set too high their estimate of the meaning of His claims. His
silence establishes the fact that they understood these aright.

And so, all through His life, we note this peculiarity, that He
never puts aside as too lofty for truth men's highest interpretations
of His claims, nor as too lowly for their mutual relation the lowest
reverence which bowed before Him. Peter, in the house of Cornelius,
said, 'Stand up! for I myself also am a man.' Paul and Barnabas, when
the priests brought out the oxen and garlands to the gates of Lystra,
could say, 'We also are men of like passions with yourselves.' But
this meek Jesus lets men fall at His feet; and women wash them with
their tears and wipe them with the hairs of their head; and souls
stretch out maimed hands of faith, and grasp Him as their only hope.
When His apostle said, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,'
His answer was, 'Blessed art thou, for flesh and blood hath not revealed
it unto thee,' and when another exclaimed, 'My Lord and my God!' this
Pattern of all meekness accepted and endorsed the title, and pronounced
a benediction on all who, not having seen Him, should hereafter attain
a like faith.

Now I want to know whether that characteristic, which runs through all
His life, and is inseparable from it, can be vindicated on any ground
except the ground that He was 'God manifest in the flesh.' Either
Jesus Christ had a greedy appetite for excessive adoration, was a
victim to diseased vanity and ever-present self-regard--the most
damning charge that you can bring against a religious teacher--or He
accepted love and reverence and trust, because the love and the
reverence and the trust knit souls to the Incarnate God their Saviour.

III. And so, lastly we have here witness to the only alternative to
the acceptance of His claims.

He hath spoken 'blasphemy,' not because He had derogated from the
dignity of divinity, but because He had presumed to participate in
it. And it seems to me, with all deference, that this rough
alternative is the only legitimate one. If Jesus Christ did make
such claims, and His relation to the Jewish hierarchy and His death
are, as I have shown you, apart even from the testimony of the
Evangelists, strong confirmation of the fact that He did--if Jesus
Christ did make such claims, and they were not valid, one of two
things follows. Either He believed them, and then, what about His
sanity? or He did not believe them, and then, what about His
honesty? In either case, what about His claims to be a Teacher of
religion? What about His claims to be the Pattern of humanity? That
part of His teaching and character is either the manifestation of
His glory or it is like one of those fatal black seams that run
through and penetrate into the substance of a fair white marble
statue, marring all the rest of its pale and celestial beauty.
Brethren, it seems to me that, when all is said and done, we come to
one of three things about Jesus Christ. Either 'He blasphemeth' if
He said these things, and they were not true, or 'He is beside
Himself' if He said these things and believed them, or

'Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ;
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.'

Now I know that there are many men who, I venture to say, are far
better than their creed, and who, believing it impossible to accept,
in their plain meaning, the plain claims of Jesus Christ to
divinity, do yet cleave to Him with a love and a reverence and an
obedience which more orthodox men might well copy. And far be it
from me to say one word which might seem even to quench the faintest
beam of light that, shining from His perfect character, draws any
heart, however imperfectly, to Himself. Only, if I speak to any such
at this time, I beseech them to follow the light which draws them,
and to see whether their reverence for that fair character should
not lead them to accept implicitly the claims that came from His own
lips. I humbly venture to say that if we know anything at all about
Jesus Christ, we know that He lived declaring Himself to be the
Everlasting Son of the Father, and that He died because He did so
declare Himself. And I beseech you to ponder the question whether
reverence for Him and admiration of His character can be logically
and reasonably retained, side by side with the repudiation of that
which is the most distinctive part of His message to men.

Oh, brethren, if it is true that God has come in the flesh, and that
that sweet, gracious, infinitely beautiful life is really the
revelation of the heart of God, then what a beam of sunshine falls
upon all the darkness of this world! Then God is love; then that
love holds us all; did not shrink from dying for us, and lives for
ever to bless us. If these claims are true, what should our attitude
be but that of infinite trust, love, submission, obedience, and the
shaping of our lives after the pattern of His life?

These rejectors, when they said, 'He speaketh blasphemies,' were
sealing their own doom, and the ruined Temple and nineteen centuries
of wandering misery show what comes to men who hear Christ declaring
that He is the Son of the living God and the Judge of the world, and
who find nothing in the words but blasphemy. On the other hand, if
we will answer His question, 'Whom say ye that I am?' as the apostle
answered it, we shall, like the apostle, receive a benediction from
His lips, and be set on that faith as on a rock against which the
'gates of hell' shall not prevail.


'I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent
blood. And they said, What is that to us? See thou to
that. 24. I am innocent of the blood of this just
Person: see ye to it.'--MATT. xxvii. 4, 24.

So, what the priests said to Judas, Pilate said to the priests. They
contemptuously bade their wretched instrument bear the burden of his
own treachery. They had condescended to use his services, but he
presumed too far if he thought that that gave him a claim upon their
sympathies. The tools of more respectable and bolder sinners are
flung aside as soon as they are done with. What were the agonies or
the tears of a hundred such as he to these high-placed and heartless
transgressors? Priests though they were, and therefore bound by
their office to help any poor creature that was struggling with a
wounded conscience, they had nothing better to say to him than this
scornful gibe, 'What is that to us? See thou to that.'

Pilate, on the other hand, metes to them the measure which they had
meted to Judas. With curious verbal correspondence, he repeats the
very words of Judas and of the priests. 'Innocent blood,' said
Judas. 'I am innocent of the blood of this just Person,' said
Pilate. 'See thou to that,' answered they. 'See ye to it,' says he.
He tries to shove off his responsibility upon them, and they are
quite willing to take it. Their consciences are not easily touched.
Fanatical hatred which thinks itself influenced by religious motives
is the blindest and cruellest of all passions, knowing no
compunction, and utterly unperceptive of the innocence of its

And so these three, Judas, the priests, and Pilate, suggest to us, I
think, a threefold way in which conscience is perverted. Judas
represents the agony of conscience, Pilate represents the shuffling
sophistications of a half-awakened conscience, and those priests and
people represent the torpor of an altogether misdirected conscience.

I. Judas, or the agony of conscience.

'I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.' We do
not need to enter at any length upon the difficult question as to
what were the motives of Judas in his treachery. For my part I do
not see that there is anything in the Scripture narrative, simply
interpreted, to bear out the hypothesis that his motives were
mistaken zeal and affection for Christ; and a desire to force Him to
the avowal of His Messiahship. One can scarcely suppose zeal so
strangely perverted as to begin by betrayal, and if the object was
to make our Lord speak out His claims, the means adopted were
singularly ill-chosen. The story, as it stands, naturally suggests a
much less far-fetched explanation.

Judas was simply a man of a low earthly nature, who became a
follower of Christ, thinking that He was to prove a Messiah of the
vulgar type, or another Judas Maccabaus. He was not attracted by
Christ's character and teaching. As the true nature of Christ's work
and kingdom became more obvious, he became more weary of Him and it.
The closest proximity to Jesus Christ made eleven enthusiastic
disciples, but it made one traitor. No man could live near Him for
three years without coming to hate Him if he did not love Him. Then,
as ever, He was set for the fall and for the rise of many. He was
the 'savour of life unto life, or of death unto death.'

But be this as it may, we have here to do with the sudden revulsion
of feeling which followed upon the accomplished act. This burst of
confession does not sound like the words of a man who had been
actuated by motives of mistaken affection. He knows himself a
traitor, and that fair, perfect character rises before him in its
purity, as he had never seen it before--to rebuke and confound him.

So this exclamation of his puts into a vivid shape, which may help it to
stick in our memories and hearts, this thought--what an awful difference
there is in the look of a sin before we do it and afterwards! Before we
do it the thing to be gained seems so attractive, and the transgression
that gains it seems so comparatively insignificant. Yes! and when we
have done it the two change places; the thing that we win by it seems
so contemptible--thirty pieces of silver! pitch them over the Temple
enclosure and get rid of them!--and the thing that we did to win them
dilates into such awful magnitude!

For instance, suppose we do anything that we know to be wrong, being
tempted to it by a momentary indulgence of some mere animal impulse.
By the very nature of the case, that dies in its satisfaction and
the desire dies along with it. We do not wish the prize any more
when once we have got it. It lasts but a moment and is past. Then we
are left alone with the thought of the sin that we have done. When
we get the prize of our wrong-doing, we find out that it is not as
all-satisfying as we expected it would be. Most of our earthly aims
are like that. The chase is a great deal more than the hare. Or, as
George Herbert has it, 'Nothing between two dishes--a splendid
service of silver plate, and when you take the cover off there is no
food to eat--such are the pleasures here.'

Universally, this is true, that sooner or later, when the delirium
of passion and the rush of temptation are over and we wake to
consciousness, we find that we are none the richer for the thing
gained, and oh! so infinitely the poorer for the means by which we
gained it. It is that old story of the Veiled Prophet that wooed and
won the hearts of foolish maidens, and, when he had them in his
power in the inner chamber, removed the silver veil which they had
thought hid dazzling glory and showed hideous features that struck
despair into their hearts. Every man's sin does that for him. And to
you I come now with this message: every wrong thing that you do,
great or small, will be like some of those hollow images of the gods
that one hears of in barbarian temples--looked at in front, fair,
but when you get behind them you find a hollow, full of dust and
spiders' webs and unclean things. Be sure of this, every sin is a

That is the first lesson that lies in these words of this wretched
traitor; but again, here is an awful picture for us of the hell upon
earth, of a conscience which has no hope of pardon. I do not suppose
that Judas was lost, if he were lost, because he betrayed Jesus
Christ, but because, having betrayed Jesus Christ, he never asked to
be forgiven. And I suppose that the difference between the traitor
who betrayed Him and the other traitor who denied Him, was this,
that the one, when 'he went out and wept bitterly,' had the thought
of a loving Master with him, and the other, when 'he went out and
hanged himself,' had the thought of nothing but that foul deed
glaring before him. I pray you to learn this lesson--you cannot
think too much, too blackly, of your own sins, but you may think too
exclusively of them, and if you do they will drive you to madness of

My dear friend, there is no penitence or remorse which is deep
enough for the smallest transgression; but there is no transgression
which is so great but that forgiveness for it may come. And we may
have it for the asking, if we will go to that dear Christ that died
for us. The consciousness of sinfulness is a wholesome consciousness.
I would that every man and woman listening to me now had it deep in
their consciences, and then I would that it might lead us all to that
one Lord in whom there is forgiveness and peace. Be sure of this,
that if Judas Iscariot, when his 'soul flared forth in the dark,'
died without hope and without pardon, it was not because his crime
was too great for forgiveness, but because the forgiveness had never
been asked. There is no unpardonable sin except that of refusing the
pardon that avails for all sin.

II. So much, then, for this first picture and the lessons that come
out of it. In the next place we take Pilate, as the representative
of what I have ventured to call the shufflings of a half-awakened

'I am innocent of the blood of this just Person,' says he: 'see ye
to it.' He is very willing to shuffle off his responsibility upon
priests and people, and they, for their part, are quite as willing
to accept it; but the responsibility can neither be shuffled off by
him nor accepted by them. His motive in surrendering Jesus to them
was probably nothing more than the low and cowardly wish to humour
his turbulent subjects, and so to secure an easy tenure of office.
For such an end what did one poor man's life matter? He had a great
contempt for the accusers, which he is scarcely at the pains to
conceal. It breaks out in half-veiled sarcasms, by which he
cynically indemnifies himself for his ignoble yielding to the
constraint which they put upon him. He knows perfectly well that the
Roman power has nothing to fear from this King, whose kingdom rested
on His witness to the Truth. He knows perfectly well that unavowed
motives of personal enmity lie at the bottom of the whole business.
In the words of our text he acquits Christ, and thereby condemns
himself. If Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, he knew that he, as
governor, was guilty of prostituting Roman justice, which was Rome's
best gift to her subject nations, and of giving up an innocent man
to death, in order to save himself trouble and to conciliate a
howling mob. No washing of his hands will cleanse them. 'All the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten that hand. But his words let us
see how a man may sophisticate his conscience and quibble about his

Here, then, we get once more a vivid picture that may remind us of
what, alas! we all know in our own experience, how a man's
conscience may be clearsighted enough to discern, and vocal enough
to declare, that a certain thing is wrong, but not strong enough to
restrain from doing it. Conscience has a voice and an eye; alas! it
has no hands. It shares the weakness of all law, it cannot get
itself executed. Men will get over a fence, although the board that
says, 'Trespassers will be prosecuted' is staring them in the face
in capital letters at the very place where they leap it. Your
conscience is a king without an army, a judge without officers. 'If
it had authority, as it has the power, it would govern the world,'
but as things are, it is reduced to issuing vain edicts and to
saying, 'Thou shalt not,' and if you turn round and say, 'I will,
though,' then conscience has no more that it can do.

And then here, too, is an illustration of one of the commonest of
the ways by which we try to slip our necks out of the collar, and to
get rid of the responsibilities that really belong to us. 'See ye to
it' does not avail to put Pilate's crime on the priests' shoulders.
Men take part in evil, and each thinks himself innocent, because he
has companions. Half-a-dozen men carry a burden together; none of
them fancies that he is carrying it. It is like the case of turning
out a platoon of soldiers to shoot a mutineer--nobody knows whose
bullet killed him, and nobody feels himself guilty; but there the
man lies dead, and it was somebody that did it. So corporations,
churches, societies, and nations do things that individuals would
not do, and each man of them wipes his mouth and says, 'I have done
no harm.' And even when we sin alone we are clever at finding
scapegoats. 'The woman tempted me, and I did eat,' is the formula
universally used yet. The schoolboy's excuse, 'Please, sir, it was
not me, it was the other boy,' is what we are all ready to say.

Now I pray you, brethren, to remember that, whether our consciences
try to shuffle off responsibility for united action upon the other
members of the firm, or whether we try to excuse our individual
actions by laying blame on our tempers, or whether we adopt the
modern slang, and talk about circumstances and heredity and the
like, as being reasons for the diminution or the extinction of the
notion of guilt, it is sophistical trifling; and down at the bottom
most of us know that we alone are responsible for the volition which
leads to our act. We could have helped it if we had liked. Nobody
compelled us to keep in the partnership of evil, or to yield to the
tempter. Pilate was not forced by his subjects to give the
commandment that 'it should be as they required.' They had their own
burden to carry. Each man has to bear the consequences of his
actions. There are many 'burdens' which we can 'bear for one
another, and so fulfil the law of Christ'; but every man has to bear
as his own the burden of the fruits of his deeds. In that harvest,
he that soweth and he that reapeth are one, and each of us has to
drink as we ourselves have brewed. You have to pay for your share,
however many companions you may have had in the act.

So do not you sophisticate your consciences with the delusion that
your responsibility may be shifted to any other person or thing.
These may diminish, or may modify your responsibility, and God takes
all these into account. But after all these have been taken into
account there is this left--that you yourselves have done the act,
which you need not have done unless you had so willed, and that
having done it, you have to carry it on your back for evermore. 'See
thou to that,' was a heartless word, but it was a true one. 'Every
one of us shall give an account of himself to God,' and as the old
Book of Proverbs has it, 'If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for
thyself: and if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it.'

III. And so, lastly, we have here another group still--the priests
and people. They represent for us the torpor and misdirection of

'Then answered all the people and said, His blood be on us and on
our children.' They were perfectly ready to take the burden upon
themselves. They thought that they were 'doing God service' when
they slew God's Messenger. They had no perception of the beauty and
gentleness of Christ's character. They believed Him to be a
blasphemer, and they believed it to be a solemn religious duty to
slay Him then and there. Were they to blame because they slew a
blasphemer? According to Jewish law--no. They were to blame because
they had brought themselves into such a moral condition that that
was all which they thought of and saw in Jesus Christ. With their
awful words they stand before us, as perhaps the crowning instances
in Scripture history of the possible torpor which may paralyse

I need not dwell, I suppose, even for a moment, upon the thought of
how the highest and noblest sentiments may be perverted into
becoming the allies of the lowest crime. 'O Liberty! what crimes
have been done in thy name!' you remember one of the victims of the
guillotine said, as her last words. 'O Religion! what crimes have
been done in _thy_ name!' is one of the lessons to be gathered
from Calvary.

But, passing that, to come to the thing that is of more consequence
to each of us, let us take this thought, dear brethren, as to the
awful possibility of a conscience going fast asleep in the midst of
the wildest storm of passion, like that unfaithful prophet Jonah,
down in the hold of the heathen ship. You can lull your consciences
into dead slumber. You can stifle them so that they shall not speak
a word against the worst of your sins. You can do so by simply
neglecting them, by habitually refusing to listen to them. If you
keep picking all the leaves and buds off the tree before they open,
it will stop flowering. You can do it by gathering round yourself
always, and only, evil associations and evil deeds. The habit of
sinning will lull a conscience faster than almost anything else. We
do not know how hot a room is, or how much the air is exhausted,
when we have been sitting in it for an hour and a half. But if we
came into it from outside we should feel the difference. Styrian
peasants thrive and fatten upon arsenic, and men may flourish upon
all iniquity and evil, and conscience will say never a word. Take
care of that delicate balance within you; and see that you do not
tamper with it nor twist it.

Conscience may be misguided as well as lulled. It may call evil
good, and good evil; it may take honey for gall, and gall for honey.
And so we need something outside of ourselves to be our guide, our
standard. We are not to be contented that our consciences acquit us.
'I know nothing against myself, yet I am not hereby justified,' says
the apostle; 'he that judgeth me is the Lord.' And it is quite
possible that a man may have no prick of conscience and yet have
done a very wrong thing. So we want, as it seems to me, something
outside of ourselves that shall not be affected by our variations.
Conscience is like the light on the binnacle of a ship. It tosses up
and down along with the vessel. We want a steady light yonder on
that headland, on the fixed solid earth, which shall not heave with
the heaving wave, nor vary at all. Conscience speaks lowest when it
ought to speak loudest. The worst man is least troubled by his
conscience. It is like a lamp that goes out in the thickest
darkness. Therefore we need, as I believe, a revelation of truth and
goodness and beauty outside of ourselves to which we may bring our
consciences that they may be enlightened and set right. We want a
standard like the authorised weights and measures that are kept in
the Tower of London, to which all the people in the little country
villages may send up their yard measures and their pound weights,
and find out if they are just and true. We want a _Bible_, and
we want a _Christ_ to tell us what is duty, as well as to make
it possible for us to do it.

These groups which we have been looking at now, show us how very
little help and sympathy a wounded conscience can get from its
fellows. The conspirators turn upon each other as soon as the
detectives are amongst them, and there is always one of them ready
to go into the witness-box and swear away the lives of the others to
save his own neck. Wolves tear sick wolves to pieces.

Round us there stand Society, pitiless and stern, and Nature, rigid
and implacable; not to be besought, not to be turned. And when I, in
the midst of this universe of fixed law and cause and consequence,
wail out, 'I have sinned,' a thousand voices say to me, 'What is
that to us? See thou to that.' And so I am left with my guilt--it
and I together. There comes One with outstretched, wounded hands,
and says, 'Cast all thy burden upon Me, and I will free thee from it
all.' 'Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows!'
Trust in Him, in His great sacrifice, and you will find that His
'innocent blood' has a power that will liberate your conscience from
its torpor, its vain excuses, its agony and despair.


And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor
asked Him, saying, Art Thou the King of the Jews? And
Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest. 12. And when He was
accused of the chief priests and elders, He answered
nothing. 13. Then said Pilate unto Him, Hearest Thou
not how many things they witness against Thee? 14. And
He answered him to never a word; insomuch that the
governor marvelled greatly. 15. Now at that feast the
governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner,
whom they would. 16. And they had then a notable
prisoner, called Barabbas. 17. Therefore when they were
gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye
that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is
called Christ? 18. For he knew that for envy they had
delivered Him. 19. 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. 20. But the
chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that
they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. 21. The
governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the
twain will ye that I release unto you? They said,
Barabbas. 22. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do
then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say
unto him, Let Him be crucified. 23. And the governor
said, Why, what evil hath He done? But they cried out
the more, saying, Let him be crucified. 24. When Pilate
saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a
tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands
before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the
blood of this just Person: see ye to it. 25. Then
answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us,
and on our children. 26. Then released he Barabbas unto
them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him
to be crucified.'--ST. MATT. xxvii. 11-26.

The principal figures in this passage are Pilate and the Jewish
rulers and people. Jesus is all but passive. They are busy in
condemning Him, and little know that they are condemning themselves.
They are unconsciously exemplifying the tragic truth of Christ's
saying, 'Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken.' They
do not dislodge it, but their attempt to dislodge it wounds them.

I. Matthew gives a very summary account of our Lord's appearing
before Pilate, but, brief as it is, and much as it omits, it throws
up into strong light the two essential points,--Christ's declaration
that He was the King of the Jews, and His silence while a storm of
accusations raged around Him. As to the former, it was the only
charge with which Pilate was properly concerned. He had a right to
know whether this strange criminal was dangerous to Rome, because He
claimed kingship, and, if he were satisfied that He was not, his
bounden duty was to liberate Him. One can understand the scornful
emphasis which Pilate laid on 'Thou' as he looked on his Prisoner,
who certainly would not seem to his practical eyes a very formidable
leader of revolt. There is a world of contempt, amused rather than
alarmed, in the question, and behind it lies the consciousness of
commanding legions enough to crush any rising headed by such a
person. John's account shows the pains which Jesus took to make sure
of the sense in which the question was asked before He answered it,
and then to make clear that His kingship bore no menace to Rome.
That being made plain, He answered with an affirmative. Just as He
had in unmistakable language claimed before the Sanhedrin to be the
Messiah, the Son of God, so He claimed before Pilate to be the King
of Israel, answering each tribunal as to what each had the right to
inquire into, and thus 'before Pontius Pilate witnessing the good
confession,' and leaving both tribunals without excuse. Jesus died
because He would not bate His claims to Messianic dignity. Did He
fling away His life for a false conception of Himself? He was either
a dreamer intoxicated with an illusion, and His death was suicide,
or He was--what?

The one avowal was all that Pilate was entitled to. For the rest Jesus
locked His lips, and He whose very name was The Word was silent. What
was the meaning of that silence? It was not disdain, nor unwillingness
to make Himself known; but it was partly merciful--inasmuch as He knew
that all speech would have been futile, and would but have added to
the condemnation of such hearers as Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate--and
partly judicial. Still more was it the silence of perfect, unresisting
submission,--'as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth
not His mouth.' And it is a pattern for us, as Peter tells us in his
Epistle; for it is with regard to this very matter of taking unjust
suffering patiently and without resistance that the apostle says that
Jesus has 'left us an example.' There are limits to such silent
endurance of wrong, for Paul defended himself tooth and nail before
priests and kings; but Christ's followers are strongest by meek
patience, and descend when they take a leaf out of their enemies' book.

II. The next point is Pilate's weak attempt to save Jesus. Christ's
silence had impressed Pilate, and, if he had been a true man, he
would not have stopped at 'marvelling greatly.' He was clearly
convinced of Christ's innocence of any crime that threatened Roman
supremacy, and therefore was bound to have given effect to his
convictions, and let Jesus go. He had read the motives of the
priests, which were too plain for a shrewd man of the world to be
blind to them. That Jews should be taken with such a sudden fit of
loyalty as to yell for the death of a fellow-countryman because he
was a rebel against Caesar was too absurd to swallow, and Pilate was
not taken in. He knew that something else was working below ground,
and hit on 'envy' as the solution. He was not far wrong; for the
zeal which to the priests themselves seemed to be excited by devout
regard for God's honour was really kindled by determination to keep
their own prerogatives, and keen insight into the curtailment of
these which would follow if this Jesus were recognised as Messiah.
Pilate's diagnosis coincided with Christ's in the parable: 'This is
the Heir; come, let us kill Him, and the inheritance shall be ours.'

So, willing to deliver Jesus, and yet afraid to cross the wishes of
his ticklish subjects, Pilate, like other weak men, tries a trick by
which he may get his way and seem to give them theirs. He hoped that
they would choose Jesus rather than Barabbas as the object of the
customary release. It was ingenious of him to narrow the choice to
one or other of the two, ignoring all other prisoners who might have
had the benefit of the custom. But there is also, perhaps, a dash of
sarcasm, and a hint of his having penetrated the priests' motives,
in his confining their choice to Jesus or Barabbas; for Barabbas was
what they had charged Jesus with being,--a rebel; and, if they
preferred him to Jesus, the hypocrisy of their suspicious loyalty
would be patent. The same sub-acid tone is obvious in Pilate's twice
designating our Lord as 'Jesus which is called Christ.' He delights
to mortify them by pushing the title into their faces, as it were.
He dare not be just, and he relieves and revenges himself by being
cynical and mocking.

III. Having referred the choice to the 'multitude,' Pilate takes his
place on his official seat to wait for, and then to ratify, their
vote. In that pause, he perhaps felt some compunction at paltering
with justice, which it was Rome's one virtue to administer. How his
wife's message would increase his doubt! Was her dream a divine
warning, or a mere reflection in sleep of waking thoughts? It is
noticeable that Matthew records several dreams which conveyed God's
will,--for example, to Joseph and to the Magi, and here may be
another instance; or some tidings as to Jesus may have reached the
lady, though not her husband, and her womanly sense of right may
have shaped the dream, and given her vivid impressions of the danger
of abetting a judicial murder. But Matthew seems to tell of her
intervention mainly in order to preserve her testimony to Jesus'
innocence, and to point out one more of the fences which Pilate
trampled down in his dread of offending the rulers. A wife's
message, conveying what both he and she probably regarded as a
supernatural warning, was powerless to keep him back from his
disgraceful failure of duty.

IV. While he was fighting against the impression of that message,
the rulers were busy in the crowd, suggesting the choice of
Barabbas. It was perhaps his wife's words that stung him to act at
once, and have done with his inner conflict. So he calls for the
decision of the alternative which he had already submitted. His
dignity would suffer, if he had to wait longer for an answer. He got
it at once, and the unanimous vote was for Barabbas. Probably the
rulers had skilfully manipulated the people. The multitude is easily
led by demagogues, but, left to itself, its instincts are usually
right, though its perception of character is often mistaken. Why was
Barabbas preferred? Probably just because he had been cast into
prison for sedition, and so was thought to be a good patriot.
Popular heroes often win their reputation by very questionable acts,
and Barabbas was forgiven his being a murderer for the sake of his
being a rebel. But it was not so much that Barabbas was loved as
that Jesus was hated, and it was not the multitude so much as the
rulers that hated him. Many of those now shrieking 'Crucify Him!'
had shouted 'Hosanna!' a day or two before till they were hoarse.
The populace was guilty of fickleness, blindness, rashness, too easy
credence of the crafty calumnies of the rulers. But a far deeper
stain rests on these rulers who had resisted the light, and were now
animated by the basest self-interest in the garb of keen regard for
the honour of God. There were very different degrees of guilt in the
many voices that roared 'Barabbas!'

Pilate made one more feeble attempt to save Jesus by asking what was
to be done with Him. The question was an ignoble abdication of his
judicial office, and perhaps was meant as a salve for his own
conscience, and an excuse to his wife, enabling him to say, 'I did
not crucify Him; they did,'--a miserable pretext, the last resort of
a weak man, who knew that he was doing a wrong and cowardly thing.

V. The same nervous fear and vain attempt to shuffle responsibility
off himself give tragic interest to his theatrical washing of his
hands. The one thing that he feared was a riot, which would be like
a spark in a barrel of gunpowder, if it broke out at the Passover,
when Jerusalem swarmed with excited crowds. To avoid that, the
sacrifice of one Jew's life was a small matter, even though he was
an interesting and remarkable person, and Pilate knew Him to be
perfectly harmless.

But no washing of hands could shift the guilt from Pilate.

'Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No.'

His vain declaration of innocence is an acknowledgment of guilt, for
he is forced by conscience to declare that Jesus is a 'righteous
Man,' and, as such, He should have been under the broad shield of
Roman justice. We too often deceive ourselves by throwing the blame
of our sins on companions or circumstances, and try to cheat our
consciences into silence. But our guilt is ours, however many allies
we have had, and however strong have been our temptations; and
though we may say, 'I am innocent,' God will sooner or later say to
each of us, 'Thou art the man!'

The wild cry of passion with which the multitude accepted the
responsibility has been only too completely fulfilled in the
millennium-long Iliad of woes which has attended the Jews. Surely,
the existence, in such circumstances, for all these centuries, of
that strange, weird, fated race, is a standing miracle, and the most
conspicuous proof that 'verily, there is a God that judgeth in the
earth.' But it is also a prophecy that Israel shall 'turn to the
Lord,' and that the blood which has so long been on them as a crime,
carrying its own punishment, will at last be sprinkled on their
hearts, and take away their sin.


'And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha,
that is to say, a place of a skull, 34. They gave Him
vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when He had
tasted thereof, He would not drink. 35. And they
crucified Him, and parted His garments, casting lots:
that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the
prophet, They parted My garments among them, and upon
My vesture did they cast lots. 36. And sitting down
they watched Him there; 37. And set up over His head
His accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE
JEWS. 38. Then were there two thieves crucified with
Him, one on the right hand, and another on the left
39. And they that passed by reviled Him, wagging their
heads, 40. And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple,
and buildest it in three days, save Thyself. If Thou be
the Son of God, come down from the cross. 41. Likewise
also the chief priests mocking Him, with the scribes
and elders, said, 42. He saved others; Himself He
cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now
come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.
43. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He
will have Him: for He said, I am the Son of God.
44. The thieves also, which were crucified with Him,
cast the same in His teeth. 45. Now from the sixth hour
there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth
hour. 46. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a
loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that
is to say, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?
47. Some of them that stood there, when they heard
that, said. This Man calleth for Elias. 48. And
straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and
filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave
Him to drink. 49. The rest said, Let be, let us see
whether Elias will come to save Him. 50. Jesus, when He
had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.'
--MATT. xxvii. 33-50.

The characteristic of Matthew's account of the crucifixion is its
representation of Jesus as perfectly passive and silent. His refusal
of the drugged wine, His cry of desolation, and His other cry at
death, are all His recorded acts. The impression of the whole is 'as
a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth.'
We are bid to look on the grim details of the infliction of the
terrible death, and to listen to the mockeries of people and
priests; but reverent awe forbids description of Him who hung there
in His long, silent agony. Would that like reticence had checked the
ill-timed eloquence of preachers and teachers of later days!

I. We have the ghastly details of the crucifixion.--Conder's
suggestion of the site of Calvary as a little knoll outside the
city, seems possible. It is now a low, bare hillock, with a scanty
skin of vegetation over the rock, and in its rounded shape and bony
rockiness explains why it was called 'skull.' It stands close to the
main Damascus road, so that there would be many 'passers by' on that
feast day. Its top commands a view over the walls into the temple
enclosure, where, at the very hour of the death of Jesus, the
Passover lamb was perhaps being slain. Arrived at the place, the
executioners go about their task with stolid precision. What was the
crucifying of another Jew or two to them? Before they lift the cross
or fasten their prisoner to it, a little touch of pity, or perhaps
only the observance of the usual custom, leads them to offer a
draught of wine, in which some anodyne had been mixed, to deaden
agony. But the cup which He had to drink needed that He should be in
full possession of all His sensibilities to pain, and of all His
unclouded firmness of resolve; and so His patient lips closed
against the offered mercy. He would not drink because He would
suffer, and He would suffer because He would redeem. His last act
before He was nailed to the cross was an act of voluntary refusal of
an opened door of escape from some portion of His pains.

What a gap there is between verses 34 and 35! The unconcerned
soldiers went on to the next step in their ordinary routine on such
an occasion,--the fixing of the cross and fastening of the victim to
it. To them it was only what they had often done before; to Matthew,
it was too sacred to be narrated, He cannot bring his pen to write
it. As it were, he bids us turn away our eyes for a moment; and when
next we look, the deed is done, and there stands the cross, and the
Lord hanging, dumb and unresisting, on it. We see not Him, but the
soldiers, busy at their next task. So little were they touched by
compassion or awe, that they paid no heed to Him, and suspended
their work to make sure of their perquisites,--the poor robes which
they stripped from His body. Thus gently Matthew hints at the
ignominy of exposure attendant on crucifixion, and gives the measure
of the hard stolidity of the guards. Gain had been their first
thought, comfort was their second. They were a little tired with
their march and their work, and they had to stop there on guard for
an indefinite time, with nothing to do but two more prisoners to
crucify: so they take a rest, and idly keep watch over Him till He
shall die. How possible it is to look at Christ's sufferings and see
nothing! These rude legionaries gazed for hours on what has touched
the world ever since, and what angels desired to look into, and saw
nothing but a dying Jew. They thought about the worth of the
clothes, or about how long they would have to stay there, and in the
presence of the most stupendous fact in the world's history were all
unmoved. We too may gaze on the cross and see nothing. We too may
look at it without emotion, because without faith, or any
consciousness of what it may mean for us. Only they who see there
the sacrifice for their sins and the world's, see what is there.
Others are as blind as, and less excusable than, these soldiers who
watched all day by the Cross, seeing nothing, and tramped back at
night to their barrack utterly ignorant of what they had been doing.
But their work was not quite done. There was still a piece of grim
mockery to be performed, which they would much enjoy. The 'cause,'
as Matthew calls it, had to be nailed to the upper part of the
cross. It was tri-lingual, as John tells us,--in Hebrew, the
language of revelation; in Greek, the tongue of philosophy and art;
in Latin, the speech of law and power. The three chief forces of the
human spirit gave unconscious witness to the King; the three chief
languages of the western world proclaimed His universal monarchy,
even while they seemed to limit it to one nation. It was meant as a
gibe at Him and at the nation, and as Pilate's statement of the
reason for his sentence; but it meant more than Pilate meant by it,
and it was fitting that His royal title should hang above His head;
for the cross is His throne, and He is the King of men because He
has died for them all. One more piece of work the soldiers had still
to do. The crucifixion of the two robbers (perhaps of Barabbas'
gang, though less fortunate than he) by Christ's side was intended
to associate Him in the public mind with them and their crimes, and
was the last stroke of malice, as if saying, 'Here is your King, and
here are two of His subjects and ministers.' Matthew says nothing of
the triumph of Christ's love, which won the poor robber for a
disciple even at that hour of ignominy. His one purpose seems to be
to accumulate the tokens of suffering and shame, and so to emphasise
the silent endurance of the meek Lamb of God. Therefore, without a
word about any of our Lord's acts or utterances, he passes on to the
next group of incidents.

II. The mockeries of people and priests. There would be many coming
and going on the adjoining road, most of them too busy about their
own affairs to delay long; for crucifixion was a slow process, and,
when once the cross has been lifted, there would be little to see.
But they were not too busy to spit venom at Him as they passed. How
many of these scoffers, to whom death cast no shield round the
object of their poor taunts, had shouted themselves hoarse on the
Monday, and waved palm branches that were not withered yet! What had
made the change? There was no change. They were running with the
stream in both their hosannas and their jeers, and the one were
worth as much as the other. They had been tutored to cry, 'Blessed
is He that cometh!' and now they were tutored to repeat what had
been said at the trial about destroying the temple. The worshippers
of success are true to themselves when they mock at failure. They
who shout round Jesus, when other people are doing it, are only
consistent when they join in the roar of execration. Let us take
care that our worship of Him is rooted in our own personal
experience, and independent of what rulers or influential minds today
say of Him.

A common passion levels all distinctions of culture and rank. The
reverend dignitaries echoed the ferocious ridicule of the mob, whom
they despised so much. The poorest criminal would have been left to
die in peace; but brutal laughter surged round the silent sufferer,
and showers of barbed sarcasms were flung at Him. The throwers
fancied them exquisite jests, and demonstrations of the absurdity of
Christ's claims; but they were really witnesses to His claims, and
explanations of His sufferings. Look at them in turn, with this
thought in our minds. 'He saved others; Himself He cannot save,' was
launched as a sarcasm which confuted His alleged miracles by His
present helplessness. How much it admits, even while it denies!
Then, He did work miracles; and they were all for others, never for
His own ends; and they were all for saving, never for destroying.
Then, too, by this very taunt His claim to be the 'Saviour' is
presupposed. And so, 'Physician, heal Thyself,' seemed to them an
unanswerable missile to fling. If they had only known what made the
'cannot,' and seen that it was a 'will not,' they would have stood
full in front of the great miracle of love which was before them
unsuspected, and would have learned that the not saving Himself,
which they thought blew to atoms His pretensions to save others, was
really the condition of His saving a world. If He is to save others
He cannot save Himself. That is the law for all mutual help. The
lamp burns out in giving light, but the necessity for the death of
Him who is the life of the world is founded on a deeper 'must.' His
only way of delivering us from the burden of sin is His taking it on
Himself. He has to 'bear our griefs and carry our sorrows,' if He is
to bear away the sin of the world. But the 'cannot' derives all its
power from His own loving will. The rulers' taunt was a venomous
lie, as they meant it. If for 'cannot' we read 'will not,' it is the
central truth of the Gospel.

Nor did they succeed better with their second gibe, which made mirth
of such a throne, and promised allegiance if He would come down. O
blind leaders of the blind! That death which seemed to them to
shatter His royalty really established it. His Cross is His throne
of saving power, by which He sways hearts and wills, and because of
it He receives from the Father universal dominion, and every knee
shall bow to Him. It is just because He did not come down from it
that we believe on Him. On His head are many crowns; but, however
many they be, they all grow out of the crown of thorns. The true
kingship is absolute command over willingly submitted spirits; and
it is His death which bows us before Him in raptures of glad love
which counts submission, liberty, and sacrifice blessed. He has the
right to command because He has given Himself for us, and His death
wakes all-surrendering and all-expecting faith.

Nor was the third taunt more fortunate. These very religious men had
read their Bibles so badly that they might never have heard of Job,
nor of the latter half of Isaiah. They had been poring over the
letter all their lives, and had never seen, with their microscopes,
the great figure of the Innocent Sufferer, so plain there. So they
thought that the Cross demonstrated the hollowness of Jesus' trust
in God, and the rejection of Him by God. Surely religious teachers
should have been slow to scoff at religious trust, and surely they
might have known that failure and disaster even to death were no
signs of God's displeasure. But, in one aspect, they were right. It
is a mystery that such a life should end thus; and the mystery is
none the less because many another less holy life has also ended in
suffering. But the mystery is solved when we know that God did not
deliver Him, just because He 'would have Him,' and that the Father's
delight in the Son reached its very highest point when He became
obedient until death, and offered Himself 'a sacrifice acceptable,
well pleasing unto God.'

III. We pass on to the darkness, desolation, and death. Matthew
represents these three long hours from noon till what answers to our
3 P.M. as passed in utter silence by Christ. What went on beneath
that dread veil, we are not meant to know. Nor do we need to ask its
physical cause or extent. It wrapped the agony from cruel eyes; it
symbolised the blackness of desolation in His spirit, and by it God
draped the heavens in mourning for man's sin. What were the
onlookers doing then? Did they cease their mocking, and feel some
touch of awe creeping over them?

'His brow was chill with dying,
And His soul was faint with loss.'

The cry that broke the awful silence, and came out of the darkness,
was more awful still. The fewer our words the better; only we may
mark how, even in His agony, Jesus has recourse to prophetic words,
and finds in a lesser sufferer's cry voice for His desolation.
Further, we may reverently note the marvellous blending of trust and
sense of desertion. He feels that God has left Him, and yet he holds
on to God. His faith, as a man, reached its climax in that supreme
hour when, loaded with the mysterious burden of God's abandonment,
He yet cried in His agony, 'My God!' and that with reduplicated
appeal. Separation from God is the true death, the 'wages of sin';
and in that dread hour He bore in His own consciousness the
uttermost of its penalty. The physical fact of Christ's death, if it
could have taken place without this desolation from the
consciousness of separation from God, would not have been the
bearing of all the consequences of man's sins. The two must never be
parted in our grateful contemplations; and, while we reverently
abjure the attempt to pierce into that which God hid from us by the
darkness, we must reverently ponder what Christ revealed to us by
the cry that cleft it, witnessing that He then was indeed bearing
the whole weight of a world's sin. By the side of such thoughts, and
in the presence of such sorrow, the clumsy jest of the bystanders,
which caught at the half-heard words, and pretended to think that
Jesus was a crazy fanatic calling for Elijah with his fiery chariot
to come and rescue Him, may well be passed by. One little touch of
sympathy moistened His dying lips, not without opposition from the
heartless crew who wanted to have their jest out. Then came the end.
The loud cry of the dying Christ is worthy of record; for
crucifixion ordinarily killed by exhaustion, and this cry was
evidence of abundant remaining vitality. In accordance therewith,
the fact of death is expressed by a phrase, which, though used for
ordinary deaths, does yet naturally express the voluntariness of
Christ. 'He sent away His spirit,' as if He had bid it depart, and
it obeyed. Whether the expression may be fairly pressed so far or
no, the fact is the same, that Jesus died, not because He was
crucified, but because He chose. He was the Lord and Master of
Death; and when He bid His armour-bearer strike, the slave struck,
and the King died, not like Saul on the field of his defeat, but a
victor in and by and over death.


'And sitting down they watched Him there.'
--MATT. xxvii. 36.

Our thoughts are, rightly, so absorbed by the central Figure in this
great chapter that we pass by almost unnoticed the groups round the
cross. And yet there are large lessons to be learned from each of
them. These rude soldiers, four in number, as we infer from John's
Gospel, had no doubt joined with their comrades in the coarse
mockery which preceded the sad procession to Calvary; and then they
had to do the rough work of the executioners, fastening the
sufferers to the rude wooden crosses, lifting these, with their
burden, filing them into the ground, then parting the raiment. And
when all that is done they sit stolidly down to take their ease at
the foot of the cross, and idly to wait, with eyes that look and see
nothing, until the sufferers die. A strange picture; and a strange
thing to think of, how they were so close to the great event in the
world's history, and had to stare at it for three or four hours, and
never saw anything!

The lessons that the incident teaches us may be very simply gathered

I. First we infer from this the old truth of how ignorant men are of
the real meaning and outcome of what they do.

These four Roman soldiers were foreigners; I suppose that they could
not speak a word to a man in that crowd. They had no means of
communication with them. They had had plenty of practice in
crucifying Jews. It was part of their ordinary work in these
troublesome times, and this was just one more. Think of what a
corporal's guard of rough English soldiers, out in Northern India,
would think if they were bidden to hang a native who was charged
with rebellion against the British Government. So much, and not one
whit more, did these men know of what they were doing; and they went
back to their barracks, stolid and unconcerned, and utterly ignorant
of what they had been about.

But in part it is so with us all, though in less extreme fashion.
None of us know the real meaning, and none of us know the possible
issues and outcome of a great deal of our lives. We are like people
sowing seed in the dark; it is put into our hands and we sow. We do
the deed; this end of it is in our power, but where it runs out to,
and what will come of it, lie far beyond our ken. We are compassed
about, wherever we go, by this atmosphere of mystery, and enclosed
within a great ring of blackness.

And so the simple lesson to be drawn from that clear fact, about all
our conduct, is this--let results alone. Never mind about what you
cannot get hold of; you cannot see to the other end, and you have
nothing to do with it. You can see this end; make that right. Be
sure that the motive is right, and then into whatever unlooked-for
consequences your act may run out at the further end, you will be
right. Never mind what kind of harvest is coming out of your deeds,
you cannot forecast it. 'Thou soweth not that body that shall be,
but bare grain.... God giveth it a body as it pleaseth Him.' Let
alone that profitless investigation, the attempt to fashion and
understand either the significance or the issues of your conduct,
and stick fast by this--look after your motive for doing it, and
your temper in doing it; and then be quite sure, 'Thou shalt find it
after many days,' and the fruit will be 'unto praise and honour and
glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.'

II. Take another very simple and equally plain lesson from this
incident, viz., the limitation of responsibility by knowledge.

These men, as I said, were ignorant of what they were doing, and,
therefore, they were guiltless. Christ Himself said so: 'They know
not what they do.' But it is marvellous to observe that whilst the
people who stood round the cross, and were associated in the act
that led Jesus there, had all degrees of responsibility, the least
guilty of the whole were the men who did the actual work of nailing
Him to the cross, and lifting it with Him upon it. These soldiers
were not half as much to blame as were many of the men that stood
by; and just in the measure in which the knowledge or the
possibility of knowledge increased, just in that measure did the
responsibility increase. The high priest was a great deal more to
blame than the Roman soldiers. The rude tool that nailed Christ to
the cross, the hammer that was held in the hand of the legionary,
was almost as much to blame as the hand that wielded it. For the
hand that wielded it had very little more knowledge than it had.

In so far as it was possible that these men might have known
something of what they were doing, in so far were they to blame; but
remember what a very, very little light could possibly have shone
upon these souls. If there is no light there cannot be any shadow;
and if these men were, as certainly they were, all but absolutely
ignorant, and never could have been anything else, of what they were
doing, then they were all but absolutely guiltless. And so you come
to this, which is only a paradox to superficial thinkers, that the
men that did the greatest crime in the whole history of the world,
did it with all but clean hands; and the people that were to be
condemned were those who delivered 'the Just One' into the hands of
more lawless, and therefore less responsible, men.

So here is the general principle, that as knowledge and light rise
and fall, so responsibility rises and falls along with them. And
therefore let us be thankful that we have not to judge one another,
but that we have all to stand before that merciful and loving
tribunal of the God who is a God of knowledge, and by whom actions
are _weighed_, as the Old Book has it--not _counted_, but weighed. And
let us be thankful, too, that we may extend our charity to all round
us, and refrain from thinking of any man or woman that we can pronounce
upon their criminality, because we do not know the light in which they

III. And now the last lesson, and the one that I most desire to lay
upon your hearts, is this, how possible it is to look at Christ on
the cross, and see nothing.

For half a day there they sat, and it was but a dying Jew that they

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