Suffered under Pontius Pilate
Now followeth the third and last point which is to be considered in the description of Christ; namely, the estate of Christ after His birth, which is twofold: the estate of humiliation and the estate of exaltation.
The estate of humiliation is the condition of Christ the Mediator in which he abased Himself even to the death of the cross, that by that means He might perform the office of a priest in making satisfaction to the justice of His Father.
This estate agrees to the whole Person of Christ according to both natures. For first of all His manhood was abased and humbled in that it was made subject to the infirmities of manŐs nature, as also to the miseries and punishments which were due unto man for sin. Secondly, His Godhead was abased; not as it is considered in itself, for so it admits no alteration or change; but in respect of the flesh or manhood assumed; under the which, as under a veil, the Godhead lay hid from the first moment of the incarnation to the time of His resurrection, without any great manifestation of His power and majesty therein.
The order of these two estates must be marked. The first is the estate of humiliation, and in the second place follows the estate of exaltation. As Christ saith of Himself (Luke 24:25,26), O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory? And here, we for our part must learn a lesson. The same which was true of Christ the Head, must be verified in all His members; they must all have their twofold estate: first, in this life the estate of humiliation; secondly, after this life the estate of glory. And as Christ first entered into the state of His humiliation and then into glory; so it is with His members, first they must be abased in this life, and secondly exalted in the world to come. He that will reign with Christ and be exalted, must first suffer with Him and be humbled. He that will wear a crown of glory must wear first a crown of thorns; they that will have all tears wiped from their eyes, must here first in this life shed them. And the children of God before they can sing the song of Moses and of the servants of God and of the Lamb, must first swim through the sea of burning glass; whereby is signified that those which after this life would sing songs of praise to Christ, must in this life be cast into a sea of misery. And if this be true, then we may here learn that it is a wretched case for a man in this life to have perpetual ease, rest and quietness both in body and soul, goods and good name; for we see by ChristŐs example, that through adversity we must come to happiness; and if a man would have rest and peace in the life to come, then in this life he must look for trouble, persecution and sorrow. Indeed in the judgment of the world, they are blessed that always live at rest; but before God they are most miserable, and (as oxen which are made fat in the best pasture) ready for the slaughterhouse every day. Secondly, here is an excellent consolation for those which profess the gospel of Christ; in the time of trouble and persecution they must rejoice, because the state of humiliation in this life is a sign that they are in the plain and right way to salvation and glory. A man is to take his journey into a far country, and enquiring for the way it is told him that there are many plain ways, but the straight and right way is by woods, and hills, and mountains, and great dangers. Now when he is travelling and comes in to those places, he gathereth certainly that he is in the right way; so the child of God that is going to the kingdom of heaven, though there be many ways to walk in, yet he knows that there is but one right way; which is very strait and narrow, full of trouble, sorrow and persecution; full of all manner of crosses and afflictions; and when in this life he is persecuted and afflicted for good causes, whether in body or in mind, if he be content to bear his cross, it argueth plainly that he is in the right way to salvation; for (Acts 14:22), Through many afflictions we must enter into the kingdom of heaven.
The humiliation of Christ is first of all set down in the Creed generally, and secondly by his parts and degrees.
Generally, in these words: Suffered under Pontius Pilate. Where we must consider two things: the passion itself, and under whom it was.
For the first, that we may the better conceive the passion in His own nature, seven special points must be opened:
1. The cause efficient. The principal cause of the passion, as it is the price of our redemption, was the decree and providence of God; as Peter saith expressly (Acts 2:23) that Christ was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. The impulsive cause that moved God to work our salvation by this means was nothing in man (for all mankind was shut up under unbelief, and therefore unable to procure the least favour at GodŐs hands), but the will and good pleasure of God within Himself. The instrument which the Lord useth in His business were the wicked Jews and Gentiles, and the devil himself, by whom He brought to pass the most admirable work of redemption, even then when they according to their kind did nothing else but practise wickedness and malice against Christ.
2. The matter of the passion, is the whole malediction or curse of the law, containing in it all manner of adversities and miseries both of body and mind. All which may be reduced to three heads: the temptations of Christ, His ignominies and slanders, His manifold sorrows and griefs, especially those which stand in the apprehension of the unsupportable wrath of God.
3. The form of the passion, is that excellent and meritorious satisfaction which in suffering, Christ made unto His Father for manŐs sin. We do not rightly consider of the passion, if we conceive it to be a bare and naked suffering of punishment, but withal we must conceive it as a propitiation, or a means satisfactory to GodŐs justice. The passion considered as a passion ministers no comfort; but all our joy and rejoicing stands in this: that by faith we apprehend it as it is a satisfaction or a means of reconciliation for our offences. In this very point stands the dignity of the passion, whereby it differs from all other sufferings of men whatsoever. Therefore most damnable and wicked is the opinion of the papists, who besides the alone passion of Christ, maintain works of satisfaction, partly of their own, and partly of the saints departed; which they add to the passion as an appendage thereof.
4. The end of the passion, is that God might bring to pass a work in which He might more fully manifest His justice and mercy than He did in the creation; and that is the reconciliation between God and man. And here remember with the passion to join the active obedience of Christ in fulfilling the law; for Christ in suffering obeyed, and in obeying suffered. And they must be jointly conceived together for this cause. In reconciliation with God, two things are required: the removing of sin in regard of the guilt, of the fault and of the punishment, and the conferring or giving of righteousness. Now the passion of Christ considered apart from His legal obedience, only takes away the guilt and punishment, frees man from death, and makes him of a sinner to be no sinner; and that he may be fully reconciled to God and accepted as righteous to life everlasting, the legal obedience of Christ must also be imputed. And therefore in the Scriptures, where all our redemption is ascribed to the death and passion of Christ, this very obedience which stands in the perfect love of God and man must be included and not excluded.
5. The time of the passion was from the very birth of Christ to His resurrection; yet so as the beginning only of His sufferings were in the course of His life, and the accomplishment thereof to the very full upon the cross.
6. The Person that suffered was the Son of God Himself; concerning whom in this case two questions must be resolved: The first: How can it stand with GodŐs justice to lay punishment upon the most righteous man that ever was, and that for grievous sinners, considering that tyrants themselves will not do so? Answer: In the passion, Christ must not be considered as a private person, for then it could not stand with equity that he should be plagued and punished for our offences; but as one in the eternal counsel of God set apart to be a public surety or pledge for us, to suffer and perform those things which we in our own persons should have suffered and performed. For this cause God the Father is said to give His Son unto us (John 3:16), and the Son again to give His life for His friends (John 15:13). The second question is: How by the short and temporary death of the Son of God, any man can possibly be freed from eternal death and damnation which is due unto him for the least sin? Answer: When we say that the Son of God suffered, it must be understood with distinction of the natures of Christ, not in respect of the Godhead, but in respect of the assumed manhood; yet nevertheless the passion is to be ascribed to the whole Person of Christ, God and man; and from the dignity of the Person which suffered ariseth the dignity and excellency of the passion, whereby it is made in value and price to countervail everlasting damnation. For when as the Son of God suffered the curse for a short time, it is more than if all men and angels had suffered the same for ever.
7. The difference of the passion of Christ and the sufferings of the martyrs; and that stands in two things: First, ChristŐs passion was a cursed punishment, the sufferings of the martyrs are no curses but either chastisements or trials. Secondly, the passion of Christ is meritorious for us even before God, because He became our Mediator and surety in the Covenant of grace; but the sufferings of the martyrs are not of value to merit for us at GodŐs hand, because in suffering they were but private men, and therefore they nothing appertain to us. By this, it appears that the treasury of the church of Rome, which is as it were a common chest containing the overplus of the merits of the saints mingled with the merits of Christ, kept and disposed by the pope himself, is nothing else but a senseless dotage of manŐs brain. And whereas they say that Christ by His death did merit, that saints might merit both for themselves and others, it is as much as if they should say the Son of God became Jesus, to make everyone Jesus. And it is a manifest untruth which they say; for the very manhood of Christ considered apart from the Godhead, cannot merit properly; considering whatsoever it is, hath or doth; it is, hath and doth the same, wholly and only by grace; whereas therefore Christ merits for us, it is by reason He is both God and man in one person. For this cause it is not possible that one mere man should merit for another.
The uses of the passion followeth.
1. It is the manner of friars and Jesuits in the church of Rome to use the consideration of the passion of Christ as a means to stir up compassion in themselves, partly towards Christ, who suffered grievous torments, and partly towards the virgin Mary, who for the torments of her dear Son was exceedingly troubled, and withal to kindle in their hearts an indignation towards the Jews that put Christ to death. But indeed this kind of use is mere human, and may in like manner be made by reading of any human history. But the proper and special use of the passion indeed is this: first of all, we must set it before our eyes as a looking glass, in which we may clearly behold the horribleness of our sins that could not be pardoned without the passion of the Son of God; and the unspeakable love of Christ that died for us, and therefore loved His own enemies more than His own life; and lastly, our endless peace with God and happiness; in that, considering the Person of our Redeemer, who suffered the pangs of hell, we may after a sort find our paradise even in the midst of hell.
2. Secondly, the meditation of ChristŐs passion serves as a most worthy means to begin and to confirm grace, specially when it is mingled with faith; and that two ways:
(i) For first, it serves to breed in our hearts a godly sorrow for our sins past, when we do seriously with ourselves consider that our own sins were the cause of all the pains and sorrows and calamities which He suffered in life and death. (Lev. 4:4,29), When any man had sinned under the law, he brought unto the temple or tabernacle some kind of beast for an offering, according as he was prescribed, laying his hand upon the head of it, and afterwards slaying it before the Lord. Now by the ceremony of laying on the hand, he testified that he for his part had deserved death, and not the beast; and that it being slain and sacrificed, was a sign unto him of the sacrifice of Christ offered upon the cross for his sins. And hereby we are taught that so often as we remember the passion of Christ, we should lay our hands as it were upon our own heads, utterly accusing and condemning ourselves, evermore keeping this in our hearts: that Christ suffered not for Himself, but for our offences, which were the proper cause of all His woe and misery. And as ChristŐs passion was grievous and bitter unto us, let us always remember this; otherwise we shall never reap any sound benefit by the passion of Christ.
(ii) Again, the passion of Christ is a notable means to stir up in our hearts a purpose and a care to reform ourselves, and live in holiness and newness of life, on this manner: Hath the Son of God so mercifully dealt with me as to suffer the curse of the whole law for my manifold iniquities, and to deliver me from just and deserved damnation? Yea, no doubt He hath, I am resolved of it. If I should go on in mine old course, I should be the most ungrateful of all creatures to this my loving Saviour. I will therefore by His grace return and reform my life. And in this very point of reformation, the passion of Christ is set before us as a most lively pattern and example to follow. Forasmuch (saith St Peter (1 Pet. 4:1)) as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind, which is that he which hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; where he teacheth that there must be in us a spiritual passion answerable to the passion of Christ. For as His enemies did lade Him with miseries even to the death of the cross; so should we lade our own flesh, that is, the corruption of our natures, with all such means as may subdue and weaken, crucify and kill it. To the doing of this, three things especially are required:
(a) First, we must consider that the corruption of our rebellious nature is like the great and mighty Goliath, and the grace of God, which we receive like young and little David; and therefore if we desire that grace should prevail against corruption, we must disarm the strong man, and strip him of all his weapons; which is done by giving all the members of our bodies to be instruments of the service of God in righteousness and holiness.
(b) Secondly, we must endeavour to keep in the corruption of nature as it were choking and smothering it in the heart; that by it neither the world nor the devil prevail against us. And this must be done by having a narrow regard unto all the powers and faculties of body and soul, setting a watch before our eyes, ears and lips, and all other parts of the body that are in any action the instruments of the soul, and above all, as Solomon saith (Prov. 4:23), By counterguarding the heart with all diligence. By the outward senses of the body, as through open windows, the devil creeps into the heart; and therefore our duty is to stop all such ways of entrance.
(c) Thirdly, when original corruption begins to rebel either in mind, will, or any of the affections, then must we draw out the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God and encounter with that hideous giant, laying load upon him by the judgment and threatenings of the law, and as it were beating him down with clubs (2 Cor. 10:5), as Paul speaketh. And if it fall out that concupiscence begin to conceive and bring forth any sin, we must bruise it in the head, and dash it against the ground, as a bird in the shell, lest it grow up to our utter confusion.
These are the duties which we should learn by the passion of Christ. But lamentable are our days in which all for the most part goes contrary; for commonly men are so far from killing and subduing the rebellion of the natural concupiscence, that all they study and care is how they may feed and cherish it, and make it stronger than the mighty Goliath. But let us for our parts be conformable to Christ in His passion, suffering in our flesh as He suffered in body and soul for us. And let us daily more and more by the hand of faith, apprehend and apply to our hearts and consciences the passion of Christ that it may as a fretting corrosive eat out the poison of our sinful natures and consume it.
Now follows the second point concerning the passion of Christ, which is, under whom He suffered, namely under Pontius Pilate. And Christ may be said to suffer under him in two respects:
1. First, because he was then president of Jewry. For a little before the birth of Christ, the kingdom of the Jews was taken away by the Roman emperor and reduced into a province, and Pontius Pilate was placed over the Jews, not as king, but as the Roman emperorŐs deputy. And this circumstance is noted in the history of the gospel, and here specified in the Creed, to shew that the Messiah was exhibited in the time foretold by the prophets. Jacob foretold (Gen. 49:10) that Shiloh must be born after the sceptre is removed from Judah; Isaiah saith (Isa. 11:1) that the family of Jesse shall be worn as it were to the root before Christ as a branch shall spring out of it.
2. Again, Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate as he was a judge; whereby we are given to understand of a wonder; namely, that Christ the Son of God, King of heaven and earth, was arraigned at the bar of an earthly judge and there condemned. For this much the words in meaning import: that Pontius Pilate sat as a judge upon Christ, to examine Him, to arraign Him, and give sentence against Him.
Wherefore, before we come to speak of the degrees of the passion of Christ, we must needs entreat of His arraignment upon earth. In handling whereof, we must generally consider these points:
(1) First, that when He was arraigned before Pilate, He was not a private man, but as a pledge and surety that stood in the place and stead of us miserable sinners (Heb. 7:22), as the prophet Isaiah saith (Isa. 53:4), He bare our infirmities, and carried our sorrows; and withal in Him was mankind arraigned before God.
(2) Secondly, this arraignment was made not privately in a corner, but openly in the public court, and that in a great feast of the Jews, as it were in the hearing of the whole world.
(3) Thirdly, though Pilate in citing, examining and condemning Christ, intended not to work any part of manŐs redemption, yet was this wholly set down in the counsel and good pleasure of God, in whose room Pilate sat, and whose judgment was exercised.
The general use of ChristŐs arraignment is twofold:
1. First, it is a terror to all impenitent sinners; for there is no freedom or protection from the judgment of God, but by the arraignment of Christ; and therefore such as in this life receive Him not by faith, must at the end of this world be brought out to the most terrible bar at the last judgment, there to be arraigned before the King of heaven and earth. And mark the equity hereof. Christ Himself could not have been our Saviour and Redeemer unless He had been brought out to the bar of an earthly judge and arraigned as a guilty malefactor; and there is no man upon earth that lives and dies out of Christ, but he must, whether he will or not, hold up his hand at the bar of the great Judge of all mankind, where he shall see hell underneath him burning red hot and opening itself wide to swallow him up; and on the right hand of God standing all the prophets, apostles and saints of God giving judgment against him; on the left hand, the devil and all his angels accusing him; and within him a guilty conscience condemning him. And thus one day shall the arraignment of those persons be, that with full purpose of heart cleave not to Christ; and yet, alas, huge and infinite is the number of those which make more account of transitory and earthly matters, even of their pigs with the Gaderenes, than of Him and His benefits; and such persons should rather be pitied than despised of us all, considering their estate is such that every day they are going as traitors pinioned to their own judgment, that they may go hence to eternal execution.
2. Secondly, ChristŐs arraignment is a comfort to the godly. For He was arraigned before Pilate, that all such as truly believe in Him might not be arraigned before God at the day of the last judgment. He was accused before an earthly judge that they might be cleared and excused before the heavenly Judge. Lastly, He was here condemned on earth that we might receive the sentence of absolution and be eternally saved in heaven.
The arraignment of Christ hath three parts: His apprehension, His accusation and His condemnation.
1. In the apprehension we must consider two things: (1) the dealing of Christ; and (2) the dealing of Judas and the Jews.
(1) The dealing and proceeding of Christ was this: when He saw that the time of His apprehension and death was near, He solemnly prepared Himself thereto. And His example must teach every one of us who know not the shortness of our days, every hour to prepare ourselves against the day of death that then we may be found ready of the Lord. What? Shall the Son of God Himself make preparation to His own death and shall not we most miserable sinners do the same, who stand in need of a thousand preparations more than He? Wherefore let us continually think with ourselves that every present day is the last day of our life that so we may address ourselves to death against the next day.
(i) The first thing which Christ doth in this preparation is to make choice of the place in which He was to be apprehended, as will appear by conferring the evangelists together. St Matthew saith (Matt. 26:36), He went to the place called Gethsemane; St Luke saith (Luke 22:39), He went to the Mount of Olives as He was accustomed. And that we might not imagine that Christ did this that He might escape and hide Himself from the Jews, St John saith (John 18:2), that Judas which betrayed Him knew the place, because oftentimes He resorted thither with His disciples; whereas if He had feared apprehension, He would have rather gone aside to some other secret and unwonted place. This then is the first point to be considered: that Christ knowing the time of His own death to be at hand, doth willingly of His own accord resort to such a place in which His enemies in all likelihood might easily find Him and have fit opportunity to attack Him. For if He should have still remained in Jerusalem, the Scribes and Pharisees durst not have enterprised His apprehension because of the people whom they feared; but out of the city in the garden, all occasion of fear is cut off. By this it is manifest that Christ yielded Himself to death willingly, and not of constraint; and unless His sufferings had been voluntary on His part, they could never have been a satisfaction to GodŐs justice for our sins.
Here a question offers itself to be considered: whether a man may lawfully flee in danger and persecution, seeing Christ Himself doth not. Answer: When good means of flying and just occasion is offered, it is lawful to flee. When the Jews sought to kill Paul at Damascus (Acts 9:15), the disciples took him by night, and put him through the wall, and let him down in a basket to escape their hands. When Moses (Exod. 2:15) was called by God to deliver the Israelites, after he had slain the Egyptian and the fact was known, and Pharaoh sought to kill him for it, he fled to the land of Midian. And our Saviour Christ sundry times (John 8:20; John 10:31, 39; John 11:54) when He was to be stoned and otherwise hurt by the Jews, withdrew Himself from among them. It is lawful then to flee in persecution, these caveats observed: (i) If a man find not himself sufficiently strengthened to bear the cross. (ii) His departure must be agreeable to the general calling of a Christian, serving to the glory of God, and the good of his brethren and the hurt of none. (iii) There must be freedom at the least for a time from the bond of a manŐs particular calling. If he be a magistrate, he must be freed from ruling; if a minister, from preaching and teaching; otherwise he may not flee. And in this respect, Christ, who withdrew Himself at other times, would not flee at this time; because the hour of His suffering was come, wherein He intended most willingly to submit Himself to the good pleasure and will of His Father.
(ii) The second part of the preparation is the prayer which Christ made unto His Father in the garden. And herein His example doth teach us earnestly to pray unto God against the danger of imminent death, and the temptations which are to come. And if Christ who was without sin, and had the Spirit above measure, had need to pray, then much more have we need to be watchful in all kinds of prayers, who are laden with the burden of sin and compassed about with manifold impediments and dangerous enemies.
In this prayer, sundry points worthy of our marking are to be considered:
(a) First, Who prayed? Answer: Christ the Son of God; but still we must remember the distinction of natures and of their operations in one and the same Christ. He prays not in His Godhead, but according to His manhood.
(b) The second is, For whom doth He pray? Answer: Some have thought that this and all other His prayers were made for His mystical body the church; but the truth is, He now prays for Himself, yet not as He was God, for the Godhead feels no want; but as He was a man abased in the form of a servant; and that for two causes: First, in that He was a man, He was a creature, and in that respect was to perform homage to God the Creator. Secondly, as He was man, He put on the infirmities of our nature, and thereupon prayed that He might have strength and power in His manhood to support Him in bearing the whole brunt of the passion to come.
(c) The third point is, To whom doth He pray? Answer: To the Father. Neither must this trouble us, as though Christ in praying to the Father should pray to Himself, because He is one and the same God with Him. For though in essence they admit no distinction, yet in person or in the proper manner of subsisting they do. The Father is one Person, the Son another; therefore as the Father saying from heaven, This is my well-beloved Son, spake not to Himself but to the Son; so again the Son when He prayeth, He prays not to Himself but to the Father.
(d) The fourth point, What was the particular cause of His prayer? Answer: His agony in which His soul was heavy unto death; not because He feared bodily death, but because the malediction of the law, even the very heat of the fury and indignation of God was poured forth upon Him, wherewith He was affected and troubled, as if He had been defiled with the sins of the whole world. And this appears first by the words whereby the evangelists express the agony of Christ, which signify exceeding great sorrow and grief (Matt. 26:37). Secondly, His doleful complaint to His disciples in the garden (v.38), My soul is heavy unto the death. Thirdly, by His fervent prayer thrice repeated, full of doleful passions. Fourthly, by the coming of an angel to comfort Him. Fifthly, by His bloody sweat, the like whereof was never heard. And herein lies the difference between ChristŐs agony and the death of the martyrs. He put on the guilt of all our sins, they in death are freed from the same; He was left to Himself void of comfort, they in the midst of their afflictions feel the unspeakable comfort of the Holy Ghost; and therefore we need not marvel why Christ should pray against death, which nevertheless His members have received and born most joyfully. Again, the most bitter agony of Christ is the ground of all our rejoicing, and the cause why Paul bids all the faithful in the person of the Philippians, to rejoice always in the Lord, and again to rejoice (Phil. 4:4). And here we are further taught that when we are plunged into a sea of most grievous afflictions and overwhelmed with the gulfs of most dreadful temptations, even then, then I say, we should not be discouraged, but lift up our hearts by fervent prayer to God. Thus did Christ when in the garden He was about to drink the cup of the wrath of God, and to suck up the very dregs of it. And David saith (Psa. 130:1), that out of the deeps he called on the name of the Lord and was heard.
(e) The fifth point, What is the matter and form of this prayer? Answer: Christ prays to be delivered from the death and passion which was to come, saying on this manner (Mark 14:35), Father, let this cup pass from me; yet with two clauses added thereto: If it be possible, and, Not my will but thy will be done. But it may be demanded: How it could be that Christ, knowing that it was His FatherŐs will and counsel that He should suffer death for man, and also coming into the world for that end, should make such a request to His Father without sin? Answer: The request proceeds only of a weakness or infirmity in ChristŐs manhood without sin, which appears thus: We must still consider that when He made His prayer to His Father, the whole wrath of God, and the very dolours and pangs of hell seized upon Him; whereby the senses and powers of His mind were astonied, and wholly bent to relieve nature in His agony. For as when the heart is smitten with grief, all the blood in the body flows thither to comfort it; so when Christ was in this astonishment, the understanding and memory, and all the parts of His human nature (as it were for a time suspending their own proper actions) concurred to sustain and support the spirit and life of Christ, as much as possibly might be. Now Christ being in the midst of this perplexed estate, prays on this manner: Father, if it be possible let this cup pass. And these words proceed not from any sin or disobedience to His FatherŐs will, but only from a mere perturbation of mind (John 12:27), caused only by an outward means, namely, the apprehension of GodŐs anger; which neither blinded His understanding nor took away His memory, so as He forgot His FatherŐs will, but only stopped and stayed the act of reasoning and remembering for a little time; even in the most perfect clock that is, the motion may be stayed by the air, or by manŐs hand, or by some outward cause without any defect or breach made in any part of it. It may be objected that ChristŐs will is flat contrary to the will of His Father. Answer: ChristŐs will as He is man and the will of His Father in this agony, were not contrary, but only diverse, and that without any contradiction or contrariety. Now a man may will a diverse thing from that which God willeth, and that without sin. Paul desired to preach the Word of God in Asia and Bithynia (Acts 16:6,7), but he was hindered by the Spirit. For all this, there is no contrariety between Paul and the Spirit of God; but in shew of discord great consent. For that which Paul willeth well, the Spirit of God willeth not, by a better will; though the reason hereof be secret, and the reason of PaulŐs will manifest. Again, the minister in charity reputing the whole congregation to be elect, in holy manner seeks and wills the salvation of everyone, which nevertheless the Lord in His eternal counsel wills not. Now between both these wills there may be and is a difference without contrariety. For one good thing as it is good, may differ from another, but it cannot be contrary unto it. It may further be alleged that in His prayer there seems to be a combat and fight in the mind, will and affections of Christ, and therefore sin. Answer: There be three kinds of combats: the one between reason and appetite, and this fight is always sinful, and was not in Christ; the second is between the flesh and the spirit, and this may be in GodŐs child who is, but in part regenerate; but it did not befall Christ who was perfectly holy; the third is the combat of divers desires, upon sundry respects drawing a man to and fro. This may be in manŐs nature without fault; and was in Christ, in whom the desire of doing His FatherŐs will, striving and struggling with another desire whereby nature seeks to preserve itself, caused Him to pray in this manner.
(f) The sixth point is, In what manner Christ prayed? Answer: He prayed to His Father partly kneeling, partly lying on His face, and that with strong cries and tears, sweating water and blood, and all this He did for our sins. Here then behold the agony of Christ, as a clear crystal in which we may fully see the exceeding greatness of our sins, as also the hardness of our hearts. We go vaunting with our heads to heaven as though it were nothing to sin against God, whereas the horror of the wrath of God for our rebellions, brought down even the Son of God Himself, and laid Him grovelling upon the earth. And we cannot so much almost as shed one tear for our iniquities, whereas He sweats blood for us. Oh let us therefore learn to abase ourselves and to carry about us contrite and bleeding hearts, and be confounded in ourselves for sins past.
(g) The last point is the event of the prayer which is to be heard, as the author to the Hebrews saith (Heb. 5:7), Christ Jesus in the days of His flesh, did offer up unto His Father prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save Him; and was also heard in that thing which He feared. But some will say, How was Christ heard, seeing He suffered death and bare the pangs of hell and the full wrath of God? If He had been heard, He should have been delivered from all this. Answer: We must know that God hears our prayers two ways: When He directly grants our requests; and when knowing what is good for us, He gives not us our requests directly, but a thing answerable thereunto. And thus was Christ heard; for He was not delivered from suffering; but yet He had strength and power given Him whereby His manhood was made able to bear the brunt of GodŐs wrath. And in the same manner, God heareth the prayers of His servants on earth. Paul prayed to be delivered from the angel of Satan that buffeted him (2 Cor. 12:9), but the Lord answered that it should not so be, because His grace whereby he was enabled to resist his temptation, was sufficient; and Paul finding the fruit of his prayers on this manner, protests hereupon that he will rejoice in his infirmities. Others pray for temporal blessings as health, life, liberty etc., which notwithstanding God holds back, and gives instead thereof spiritual graces, patience, faith, contentment of mind. Augustine saith, God hears not our prayers always according to our wills and desires, but according as the thing asked, shall be for our salvation. He is like the physician, who goes on to lance the wound, and hears not the patient though he cry never so, till the cure be ended.
(2) Now followeth the second thing to be considered in ChristŐs apprehension, namely, the dealing of the Jews; wherein we must consider four things:
(i) How they consult together concerning ChristŐs apprehension.
(ii) How they came to the place and met Him.
(iii) How they laid hands upon Him.
(iv) How they bound Him and took Him away.
(i) For the first, before they enterprised this matter, they did wisely and warily lay their heads together to consult of the time and place; and also of the manner of apprehending Him. So St Matthew saith (Matt. 26:3-5), There assembled together the chief priests and the scribes, and the elders of the people into the hall of the chief priest called Caiaphas; and consulted how they might take issue by subtilety. Whence we learn two good instructions:
(a) First, the Jews having a quarrel against Christ, could never be at rest till they had His blood; and therefore they consult how they might take Him; but God did so order the matter, and dispose of their purposes and consultations, that even thereby He did confound them, and their whole nation. For by reason of this heinous sin against Christ, came the just wrath of God upon them, and so remaineth unto this day. Whereby we see that the Lord will overthrow such in their own wisdom that will be wise without direction of GodŐs Word, and against Christ. And thus it was with Ahithophel, who for wisdom was as the oracle of God; yet because he rebelled against the LordŐs anointed, God confounded him in his own wisdom. For when his counsel which he gave against David was not followed, he thought himself despised, as the text saith (2 Sam. 17:23), and saddled his ass, and rose and went home into his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself; and in this action he shewed himself more senseless than a brute beast. And in our days the Leaguers that have bound themselves by oath to root out the church of God; by His most wonderful providence turn their swords against themselves, and destroy each other. Therefore, if we would be wise, we must learn to be wise in Christ; for else our counsel will be our own confusion.
(b) Secondly, hence we learn that if any shall live in stubbornness and rebellion against Christ, the Lord will so carry and order those men, or that people, that in the end they shall be the very causes of their own perdition. This we see most plainly in the example of these Jews; for they evermore envied Christ, and now they go on to take counsel against Him; but God so disposed thereof that even by this means they brought destruction upon themselves and their country. This must teach thee to take heed how thou livest in thy sins; for if thou do so, the Lord hath many ways to work thy confusion; as, thy conscience to condemn thee; thy friends to forsake thee; the devil and his angels to torment and molest thee; and His creatures to annoy thee. Yea, the Lord can leave all these, and make thine own self to be the direct means of working thine own confusion both in body and soul eternally; and that even then when thou art most wary and wise in thine own behalf; and this is the reward of all those that walk on in their evil ways without any true conversion.
(ii) Having consulted, in the next place they come into the garden, where Christ was to be apprehended. And here we are to consider who they were that came (Matt. 26:47; Luke 22:47; John 18:3), namely, the scribes and Pharisees, the high priests and their servants, a band of soldiers and the servants of Pontius Pilate, and the elders of the Jews; all which came with one consent to the place where Christ was, that they might attack Him. Where we learn a good lesson, that all sorts of wicked men disagreeing among themselves, can agree against Christ. The scribes and Pharisees were two contrary sects, and at discord one with another in matters of religion; and Judas was one of ChristŐs disciples; the elders differed from them all; the soldiers were Gentiles; all these were at variance among themselves and could not brook one another. So also we read (Luke 23:12) that Herod and Pontius Pilate were not friends; but at the same time when Christ was apprehended, Pilate sent Him to Herod, and they were made friends. Now as these wicked men did conspire against Christ; so do the wicked ones of this world in all countries and kingdoms band themselves against the church of Christ at this day. And howsoever such be at discord among themselves, yet they do all join hand in hand to persecute Christ in His members. And the reason is plain: because Christ and His religion is flat opposite to the corrupt disposition of all men, as light is to darkness.
Again, whereas we see so many sorts of men so amiably consenting to take Christ; we may note how all men naturally do hate and abhor Him and His religion. And look as then it was with Christ, so hath it been with all His members, and will be to the end of the world. They are accounted as the offscouring of the world, men not worthy to live on the face of the earth; as Christ told His disciples (Matt. 10:22), Ye shall be hated of all nations for my nameŐs sake.
Let us also mark how all these came furnished to apprehend Christ. The text saith (Luke 22:52), They came with clubs and staves as unto a thief. All the whole nation of the Jews knew right well that Christ was no man of violence, but meek and lowly; and yet they came armed to apprehend Him as though He had been some mighty potentate that would not have been apprehended but have resisted them. Where we see the property of an evil conscience, which is to fear where there is no cause at all. This causeth some to be afraid of their own shadows; and if they see but a worm peep out of the ground, they are at their wits end, as Solomon saith (Prov. 28:1), The wicked flee when none pursueth them.
After that they are now come to Christ, we are to consider two things in their meetings: (a) ChristŐs communication with them; (b) The treason of Judas.
(a) Concerning their conference, it is said (John 18:4-6), Jesus knowing all things that should come unto him, went forth and said unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth; Jesus answered, I am he. Now as soon as He has said, I am he, the stoutest of them fell to the ground, as being astonished at the majesty of His Word. Where, note that the Word of God is a Word of power. The same power was in His Word when He raised up Lazarus; for when he had lien in the grave and entered into some degrees of corruption, He did no more but said, Lazarus come forth (John 11:43). And hence we may also mark what a wonderful might and power is in the Word preached; for it is the very Word of Christ, and therefore being preached by His ministers lawfully called by Him thereunto, hath the same power and force in it which Christ Himself shewed when He spake on earth. It is the savour of life unto life (2 Cor. 2:16), to save those that hear it; or the savour of death unto death. It is like a vapour or perfume in the air, which in some menŐs nostrils is savoury and pleasant and doth revive them; and others again it striketh dead. And therefore everyone that either now or heretofore hath heard this Word preached, shall find it to be unto them either a Word of power to save their souls, or through their corruption the ministry of death and condemnation. Again, if a Word spoken by Christ, being in a base or low estate, be able to overthrow His enemies, then at the last day when He shall come in glory, and power, and majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, what power shall His Words have (Matt. 25:41), Go ye cursed of my Father, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels. The consideration of this, that the Word of Christ shall even be as powerful in that day, must be a motive to everyone of us to cause us to come unto Him; and, while we have time in these days of grace and mercy, to seek to be reconciled unto Him for all our sins, lest at the day we hear that dreadful voice of Christ sounding against us, Go ye cursed into everlasting fire etc.
(b) And thus much for the communication. Now followeth Judas his treason; wherein we are to observe these things:
i. The qualities and conditions of the man that did the treason. He was called a disciple, chosen to be an apostle, which is the chiefest in ecclesiastical callings; and among the disciples he was in some account, because he was as it were a steward in ChristŐs family, and bare the bag; but yet he was a traitor, and did more against Christ than all the Jews did. For he brought them to the place where they might apprehend Him; and when they were come, did point Him out unto them, and deliverd Him into their hands; nay, he gave them a sign and token, saying (Mark 14:44), Whom I kiss, he it is; take him and lead him away warily. Here we see the cause why Christ called Judas a devil (John 6:70), for He said, Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? He became to be a devil and a traitor by nourishing a wicked and covetous heart. And here we are taught that the ministers of the Word, if they make no conscience of sin, by the just judgment of God do prove devils incarnate. This example of Judas doth manifest the same; and the reason is plain, for the more knowledge a man hath, the more wicked he is, if he want grace. They are like in this case unto a man that hath meat and drink enough, but no stomach to digest meat; whereby the more he eateth, the more it turneth to his hurt. This I spake not to deface the calling of ministers, but that those which preach GodŐs Word should not do it with impenitent hearts, living in their own sins. For it is a fearful thing for a man to speak unto the people of the pardon of their sins, and yet himself not to apprehend the same by faith. A lump of wax, if you keep it from heat, or from the fire, it keeps his own form still; but if it be held to the fire, it melts and runs abroad; so ministers who by reason of their callings come near God, if they be lumps of iniquity and live in their sins, they shall find that the corruptions of their hearts will melt abroad as wax at the fire. And therefore everyone that is designed to this calling, must first purge himself of his own sin, or else GodŐs judgments shall fall upon him, as they did on Judas that betrayed Christ.
ii. Secondly, let us consider what moved Judas to betray his master; namely, the desire of wealth and gain. And this covetousness, which is an insatiable desire of money, is the root of all sin (1 Tim. 6:10); not that all sins came from it, but because where it is, there all other sins are preserved and do get strength. The desire of thirty pieces of silver caused Judas to make an agreement with the Jews to betray his master. Some man will haply say that this practice of Judas was very strange, and that no man now living would do the like for any money. Answer: Judas is dead indeed, but his practice is yet alive; for in the high and weighty calling of the ministry, he hath charge of souls, and either cannot teach and feed his flock, or else will not, though he betray not Christ in His own person, yet he betrays the members of Christ unto the devil. If a nurse should take a manŐs child to bring up and yet seldom or never give it milk, in so much that the child pineth away for very hunger; is not she the very cause of the death of it? Yes, verily. And so it is with him that taketh upon him the charge of GodŐs people, and never feeds them with the milk of GodŐs Word, or else so seldom that their souls do famish; he is the murderer of them, and hath betrayed them into the hands of their enemies; and shall be condemned for them as a traitor unto God unless he repent. Besides those that live by traffic in buying and selling, make gain by lying, swearing and breaking the LordŐs Sabbath; and they also are very Judases; for they chop away their souls with the devil for a little gain. And more lamentable is their case, because it is hard to find one of an hundred in the world that makes conscience of a lie, or of any bad dealing; if any gain at all may come thereby. Men used to cry out on Judas for betraying Christ; and they do well; yet they themselves for a little worldly pelf betrayeth their own souls. If such would not be counted Judases, they must leave off sin, and keep a good conscience in GodŐs worship and the works of their callings.
iii. Thirdly, let us consider what course Judas took in betraying Christ. He as very submissive, saying (Matt. 26:49), Hail, master, and kissed him. Why did he so? Herein he played the most palpable hypocrite; for having gotten a piece of money, he thought that neither Christ nor any of his fellow disciples should have known of it (though Christ knew it well enough) and therefore he comes in this manner to Him thinking that Christ would have conveyed Himself from amongst them at the very pinch as He had done sometimes before. And this practice also of Judas is common in the world. Judas an enemy unto Christ speaks Him fair and salutes Him; and so do most of our secure and drowsy Protestants in England; they salute Christ, both by hearing His Word and receiving His sacraments; and as the prophet saith (Isa. 29:13) They honour God with their lips, but their hearts are far from him. We may see daily experience of this. Every man will say, Lord, Lord, but in their lives and conversations, few there be that deny Him not, both in their duties which they owe unto God, as also in their duties towards their brethren. Many come to hear GodŐs Word because they are compelled by the magistrateŐs laws; but when they are come, they worship not God in their hearts, which is plainly seen by the breach of GodŐs holy Sabbath in every place; and that they make more account of a mess of pottage with Esau, than of their birthright; and of thirty pieces of silver, than of Christ Himself.
(iii) The third point to be handled in ChristŐs apprehension, is that they lay hold on Him; wherein we must consider two things: (a) the resistance made by ChristŐs disciples; (b) their flight.
(a) For the first, ChristŐs disciples resisted, and specially Peter drawing his sword, struck one of the high priestŐs servants and cut off his ear. This fact our Saviour Christ reproves; and that for these causes: First, because His disciples were private men; and they that came to apprehend Him were magistrates. Secondly, He was to work the work of manŐs redemption. Now Peter by this fact did what he could to hinder Him. And from this practice of Peter we may learn that nothing in the world is so hard to a man as to take up his cross and follow Christ. One would think it should be a hard matter for him to encounter with his enemies, especially they being stronger than he; but Peter stoutly resisting makes nothing of it; whereas a little before when Christ told him and the rest concerning His passion, they were so heavy with grief that they could not hold up their heads; so hard a thing it is to bear the cross; and for this very cause afterward when Christ reproved him for striking, both he and all the rest of the disciples fled away. Secondly, Peter in all manŐs reason was to be commended, because he struck in the defence of his master; but Christ reproves him for it. Whence we learn that if a man be zealous for Christ, he must be zealous within the compass of his calling; and not be zealous first and then look for a calling, but first look for a calling and then be zealous. Which thing if Peter had marked, he had not deal so rashly; for being without the compass of his calling he could not but do amiss. Here it may be demanded whether Christ and His religion may not be maintained by the sword? I answer: that the magistrate, which is the vicegerent of the Lord, is the keeper of both tables; and therefore is to maintain religion with the sword; and so may put to death atheists, which hold there is no God, of which sort there are many in these days; and heretics, which maliciously maintain and hold anything that overthrows the foundation of religion in the churches whereof they are members. But some object that in the parable of the field, the servants are commanded not to pluck up the tares from the wheat, but to suffer both to grow till harvest; and that therefore there must be no separation of heretics and true Christians before the last day of judgment. Answer: The scope of that place is not to forbid the execution of heretics; but it speaks only of the final separation which must be in the end of the world. For there the master of the family doth signify God Himself, and the field, the church militant spread over the face of the whole earth; and by tares is meant not only heretics, but also those that are forth of the church; the servants are GodŐs holy angels, and the harvest is the last judgment. Here further it may be demanded, Who may use the sword? Answer: All men may use the sword to strike and to kill, into whose hands God putteth the sword. Now God putteth it into the hand, first and principally of the public magistrate, who when just occasion serves, may draw it out. And again, it is put into a private manŐs hand sometimes. A private man when he is assailed of his enemy, may take the sword in way of his own defence, and may kill his enemy therewith (if there be no other help) not doing it upon malice, but because he can no otherwise escape and save his own life; and so for want of a magistrate, he is a magistrate unto himself.
(b) In the flight of the disciples, we may consider two things: the time and the quality of the persons.
i. The time was at the apprehension of our Lord and Saviour. And this came to pass not without the special providence of God; that it might be known that Christ had no helper or fellow in the accomplishment of the work of our redemption; and that, whereas we for our sins deserved to be forsaken of all creatures, He being our pledge and surety might be forsaken for us.
ii. As for the quality of the persons that flee, they were the chosen disciples of Christ, such as had believed in Him, confessed Him, and preached in His name. And this serveth to teach us that God will otherwhiles forsake His own children and servants, and leave them to themselves in some part, that they may feel their wants and miseries and their weakness in themselves, and by that means be humbled thoroughly, and be touched with an hungering desire for Christ. As a mother sets down her child and hides herself, suffering it to cry, fall and break the face, not because she hates it, but that she may teach it to depend upon her and love her; so God giveth grace to His children, and yet again sometimes He doth in part withdraw it from them, and then they fail in their duty sundry ways; and this He doth to make them ashamed of themselves, and to cause them to put all their confidence out of themselves in the merits of Christ.
(iv) The fourth thing to be considered in ChristŐs apprehension is their binding of Him. In which action of theirs we are to observe first of all the circumstances of time when this binding was. When our Saviour Christ had said unto them (John 18:5-12), I am he, they being astonished fell to the ground; and withal, when Peter had smitten off MalchusŐ ear with a sword, Christ healed the same miraculously. Yet for all this, though they had seen His wonderful power both in word and deed, they proceed in malice against Him; and lay hands on Him, and bind Him as a malefactor. In this we note what a fearful sin hardness of heart is; the danger whereof appeareth in this: that if a man be overtaken with it, there is nothing that can stay or daunt him in his wicked proceedings; no, not the powerful words and deeds of Christ Himself. And indeed among GodŐs judgments there is none more fearful than this; and yet (how fearful soever it be) it is a rife sin amongst us in these our days. For it is very evident by common experience that the more men are taught the doctrine of the law and of the gospel, the more hard and senseless are their hearts; like unto the stithy [forge]; which, the more it is beaten upon with the iron hammer, the harder it is. And again, it is hard to find men that sorrow for their sins and feel the want of Christ; which argueth the exceeding deadness of spirit. And let us be resolved that it is a most terrible judgment of God, the rather to be feared, because it is like a pleasant sleep into which, when a man is fallen, he feels neither pain nor grief. And therefore we for our parts must look unto it with fear and trembling, lest it take such hold of us that we be past all hope of recovery.
Furthermore, this binding of Christ was prefigured unto us in the sacrifices of the Old Testament; for the beast that was to be sacrificed was tied with cords and bound, and so brought to the altar. And whereas Christ was bound, we must not consider Him in His own Person; but as He standing in our room and stead, bears the person of all sinners; and therefore whereas He is thus taken captive by His enemies to be brought before a mortal judge, there to be arraigned for us; hence we learn two good instructions:
(a) First, here is a comfort to all the people of God. Christ was bound by His enemies that they might be unloosed from the bondage of Satan, sin and their own corruptions (under which they lie bound by nature) and might have free liberty in and by Him.
(b) Secondly, all impenitent sinners are taught hereby to reform and amend their hearts and lives. For what exceeding madness is this, that they by ChristŐs bonds being set at liberty, will yet live and die in their sins, and take pleasure to lie bound hand and foot under the power of sin and Satan. And indeed this shews unto us the fearful and dangerous estate of all those that go on still in their sins. For what can they say for themselves at the day of judgment, when as now they have freedom offered and will not accept of it?
2. Thus much of ChristŐs apprehension; now followeth the indictment. For they proceed against Him judicially, after the custom of the Jews. ChristŐs indictment was twofold: One before Caiaphas the High Priest in the great council at Jerusalem; the second before the civil judge Pontius Pilate, as is plainly set forth by all the evangelists.
(1) And ChristŐs arraignment before Caiaphas was a preparation to the second before Pontius Pilate that the Jews might throughly proceed against Him. In the first, we are to consider these points: (i) the time in which Christ was indicted; (ii) the end of His indictment; (iii) the whole tenor and proceeding thereof.
(i) For the first; Christ was indicted early in the morning at the break of the day; for He was apprehended in the night, and with all haste brought into CaiaphasŐ hall, where they kept Him all night; and at the break of the day Caiaphas the High Priest and the elders with the scribes and Pharisees held a solemn council against Him; and there received accusations and condemned Him before morning, at which time they sent Him to the common hall, as St Matthew saith (Matt. 27:1,2), When the morning was come, all the chief priests, and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put Him to death; and led Him away bound and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate. In which action of theirs we are to mark two points:
(a) First, the diligence of ungodly men, and the quickness of their nature to practise sin and wickedness; as it was said of the old Jews (Isa. 59:7), Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. When the Israelites would sacrifice to the golden calf which they had made, it is said (Exod. 32:6) they rose up early in the morning. Hence it appears that if God leave us to ourselves, we are as ready to practise any mischief as the fire is to burn without delay, and that with much violence. Now the consideration of this must move every one of us to take heed of all occasions and provocations to sin whatsoever they be, that the corruption of our nature break not forth in any way.
(b) Secondly, in the circumstance of the time of this council, we may mark the rashness of this solemn assembly in judicial proceedings; whereas they examine Him both of His doctrine and also of His disciples, omitting such circumstances as should have been used; as the serious examining of witnesses and the weighing of His contrary answers; for He is taken and brought before the judge and condemned on the sudden. Now as this was the practice of the council, so on the contrary the common complaint of these times is of the slow dispatch of matters in law, and of the long delay; insomuch that some be almost undone before their suits be ended; whereas judicial proceedings were ordained by God, not for menŐs undoing, but for the maintenance of the common peace and liberty and wealth. And therefore justice ought to be dispatched with such speed as men thereby might be furthered and not hindered.
(ii) The end of ChristŐs indictment was directly to kill Him and put Him to death (Matt. 26:59; Mark 14:55). Here is no indifferent proceeding to be looked for, but plotting on every hand for the very blood of Christ. Where, note that in the hearts of all wicked men there is an engrafted hatred of Christ, and as it were bred in the bone; and the same affection the world carrieth to the members of Christ. This hatred is manifest in the first giving the promise (Gen. 3:15), I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed. It appears in the hatred that Cain bare to his brother Abel; Ishmael towards Isaac; Esau towards Jacob; and the Gentiles that were without the Covenant towards the church of God at all times. And to come near to ourselves, this engrafted hatred that is in the heart of the wicked against Christ and His members, is as plentiful and as evident as ever it was, even in these our days. For among all men none are more maligned and hated than those that profess Christ; and for none other cause than because they profess Christ. And hereupon the very profession of religion is laden with nicknames and reproachful terms by all sorts of men.
(iii) And thus much of the end and intent of their council. The proceeding in judgment stands in these points: (a) they examine Christ; (b) they bring witnesses against Him; (c) they adjure Him to tell them who He is. Of these in order:
(a) First, they examine our Saviour Christ of His doctrine, suspecting Him to be a false prophet; secondarily, of His disciples, as suspecting Him seditiously to raise up a new sect unto Himself, to make a faction amongst the Jews. Now to this examination let us mark ChristŐs answer (John 18:20,21), in which He saith nothing at all concerning His disciples; whereas notwithstanding He might have said that one of them betrayed Him, another denied Him and the rest fled away. Whereby we note that it is not our duty at all times, and in all places, to speak of the faults and wants that we know by others. Secondly, the answer which He makes is only concerning His doctrine; whereby the ministers of God and all men else are taught that being called before their enemies to give a reason of their doctrine, they are (as St Peter saith (1 Pet. 3:15)) to be always ready to give an account of the hope that is in them. And further, we are to consider the wisdom that Christ useth in answering, for He said nothing of His doctrine in particular, but said, I spake openly in the world, I ever taught in the synagogue and in the temple whither the Jews resorted; in secret have I taught nothing. Ask them therefore what I said, which heard me; behold, they can tell you what I said. Now the reason why He answered thus sparingly in general terms, is because their examination served only to entangle Him, and out of His words to gather matter of accusation. After whose example we may learn that being called to make answer of our faith and doctrine before our enemies, we are to do so, as thereby we do not entangle ourselves, nor give any advantage unto our enemies; and hereof we have a notable example in the apostle Paul (Acts 23:6). Again, in the words of ChristŐs answer we must observe two things:
i. First, that the place where Christ taught was public. Now hence it may be demanded whether ministers may handle the Word of God privately or no? Answer: The state of GodŐs church is twofold: peaceable or troublesome. In the time of peace, ministers must preach the Word publicly; but in time of persecution, for the safety and preservation of the church of God, they may with good warrant preach privately; and indeed at such times the assemblies of the church make private places public. And hence we learn that in time of peace all those that are called to the office of the ministry, must (if it be possible) spend their labours publicly, so as they may do most good. Secondly, whereas Christ saith, He preacheth in their synagogues and temple, which at that time were places full of disorder; insomuch as he called the temple a den of thieves (Matt. 21:13); and the scribes and Pharisees had corrupted the doctrine of the law (Matt. 15:3) transgressing the commandments of God by their own traditions; and they taught justification by the works of the law, as Paul saith (Rom. 10:3), They being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and going about to establish their own righteousness, which is by works, had not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. Besides all this, they were loose and wicked men in their lives and conversations; and therefore Christ commanded the people that they should observe and do whatsoever the scribes and Pharisees bid them, sitting in MosesŐ chair (Matt. 23:2,3); but after their works they must not do; because they say and do not. Now although these corruptions and deformities were in the Jewish church, yet our Saviour Christ made no separation from it, but came and preached both in their temple and synagogues, where these seducers and false teachers were. And hence we gather that the practice of all those men in our church which separate themselves from all assemblies for the wants thereof, holding that our church is no church; that the grace which is wrought by the preaching of the Word among us is nothing else but a Satanic illusion; that sacraments are no sacraments; I say that their practice is condemned by our Saviour ChristŐs conversing among the Jews. For if Christ should have followed their opinion, He ought to have fled from amongst the Jews, and not so much as once to have come into the temple or taught in their synagogues; but contrariwise He joined Himself with them; and therefore we cannot in good conscience disjoin ourselves from the church of England.
ii. The second thing to be observed in ChristŐs answer, is that He refers Caiaphas to the judgment of His hearers, being resolved of the truth of His own doctrine; though sundry of them were His utter enemies. Behold then a good example for all the ministers of GodŐs Word to follow; teaching them to deliver GodŐs Word so purely and sincerely that if they be called into question about the same, they may be bold to appeal to the consciences of their hearers although they be wicked men.
Now after this answer, one of the servants of Caiaphas smites Christ with a rod (John 18:22); in whom the saying is verified, Like master, like servant; that is, if the masters be wicked, servants commonly will be wicked also; if the master be an enemy to Christ, his servants will be ChristŐs enemy also. And this is the cause why there are so many lewd apprentices and servants, because there are so many lewd masters. Many masters complain of servants nowadays; but there is more cause why they should complain of themselves; for usually servants will not become obedient to their masters till their masters first become obedient unto Christ; therefore let masters learn to obey God, and then their servants will obey them also.
Further, Christ being smitten, makes this answer (John 18:23), If I have evil spoken, bear witness of the evil; but if I have well spoken, why smitest thou me? Making complaint of an injury done unto Him. Now hereupon scoffing Julian the Apostate saith, Christ keeps not His own laws, but goes against His own precept, whenas He said (Matt. 5:39), If one strike thee on the one cheek, turn to him the other also. But we must know that in these words, ChristŐs meaning is that a man must rather suffer a double wrong than seek a private revenge. And before Christ spake in His own defence, which a man may lawfully do, and not seek any revenge; for it is one thing to defend His own cause, and another to seek revenge.
(b) Now follow the second point in their proceeding, which is the producing of false witnesses against Him, as St Matthew saith (Matt. 26:60), the whole council sought false witness against Him, and though many came, yet found they none; for they could not agree together because they alleged false things against Him which they could not prove. And thus the members of Christ have often such enemies as make no bones shamefully to avouch that against them which they cannot be able to justify. The ten persecutions which were in the first three hundred years after Christ, arose oftentimes of shameless reports that men gave out which said that: i. Christians lived on manŐs flesh, and therefore slew their own children; ii. That they lived on raw flesh; iii. That they committed incest one with another in their assemblies; iv. That they worshipped the head of an ass; v. That they worshipped the sun and moon; vi. That they were traitors and sought to undermine the Roman empire; and vii. Lastly, wheresoever was thunder or earthquakes, seditions or tumults, or any disquietness or trouble, Christians were accused as the authors thereof. Such enemies have they had in all ages; and in these our days the same is practised, and will be to the worldŐs end. Now when the first witnesses could not agree among themselves, then two other false witnesses came forth, which avouched that Christ said (Mark 14:58), I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days will build another made without hands. Indeed, Christ said some such words; for saith He (John 2:19,21), Destroy this temple, and within three days I will build it up again. But He spake this of the temple of His body; whereas they maliciously did interpret Him to have spoken of the temple in Jerusalem. And again, they change the words, for Christ said, Destroy this temple etc., but these witnesses affirm He said, I will destroy this temple made with hands etc. And thus they change both words and meaning; and therefore the Holy Ghost called them false witnesses. By this we must be advertised to take heed how we report menŐs words; for if we change the meaning, though in part we retain the words, we may soon become slanderers and false witnesses; and as this duty must be performed towards all men, so especially towards the ministers of the gospel; and the neglect of this duty procureth many slanders to them in this our church; whereof indeed the reporters are the cause, and not the ministers themselves.
Now at this false accusation, Christ was silent, so as Caiaphas asked Him (Mark 14:60,61) why He answered nothing. Herein we are to consider many things. Why was Christ silent? The causes be two: First, He was to shew Himself a pattern of true humility and patience; therefore even then would He be silent, when He was most falsely accused of His adversaries. Secondly, He is silent, that standing before the judge to be condemned, the sentence might proceed against Him, and He might suffer the death appointed which was due unto us, and so become our Redeemer. And in ChristŐs example we must note that it is a special duty to know when to speak and when to be silent. The ordering of the tongue is a rare gift, and few attain unto it. Some will peradventure ask what rule we have to direct us herein? Answer: The general rule for the ordering of the tongue is the law of God. We are commanded to seek the glory of God in the first table; and in the second the good of our neighbour. When thy speech therefore will serve either for GodŐs glory or the good of thy neighbour, then thou must speak; if it serves for neither, then be silent. Again, if thy silence be either for GodŐs glory or the good of thy neighbour, then be silent; if it will not, then speak. And because it is hard for a man to know when his speech or silence will serve for these two ends; therefore we must pray unto God that He will teach and direct us herein; as David doth (Psa. 141:3), Set a watch (saith he) O Lord, before my mouth, and keep the door of my lips; and again (Psa. 51:15), Open thou my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
(c) Thus much for the false witnesses produced. Now followeth the third point, which is the adjuring of Christ; for Caiaphas the High Priest charged Him to tell him whether He were the Christ the Son of God or no (Matt. 26:63). To adjure a man, is to charge and command him in the name of God to declare a truth, not only because God is witness thereof, but also because He is a judge to revenge, if he speak not the truth. Thus Paul adjureth the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:27), charging them in the Lord that his epistle should be read unto all the brethren the saints. And the like doth Caiaphas to Christ. And here is a thing to be wondered at, Caiaphas the High Priest adjuring Him in the name of God, who is very God, even the Son of God. And this shews what a small account he made of the name of God; for he did it only to get advantage on ChristŐs words. And so do many nowadays, who for a little profit or gain make a matter of nothing to abuse the name of God a thousand ways.
Christ being thus adjured, though silent before, now in reverence to GodŐs majesty, answered and said, first (Matt. 26:64), Thou hast said it; and in St Mark (Mark 14:62), I am He. In this answer appears the wonderful providence of God. For though Caiaphas takes hence the occasion of condemning Christ, yet hath he withdrawn from Him a most excellent confession, that He is the Son of God and our alone Saviour (John 19:7). And by this means he proceeds to shut heaven against himself, and to open the same for us.
(2) Thus we have ended the first indictment of Christ before Caiaphas. Now followeth the second, which was before Pontius Pilate, in the common hall at Jerusalem. The history of it is set down at large in all the evangelists (John 18:29; Luke 23:2; Matt. 27:2; Mark 15:1). In the second indictment of Christ (that we may refer every matter to his place) we are to observe four things: (i) The accusation of Christ before Pilate; (ii) His examination; (iii) PilateŐs policy to save Christ; (iv) PilateŐs absolving of Him; and then the condemnation of Christ in both courts, ecclesiastical and civil. Of these in order:
(i) In ChristŐs accusation, we must consider many points:
(a) The first is, who were His accusers, namely, the high priests, the scribes, and Pharisees, and elders of the people, and the common people; all these conspired together to accuse Him. The cause that moved the Pharisees, and elders of the people hereunto is note by St Matthew, who saith (Matt. 27:18), of envy they delivered Him. Envy is nothing but a sadness in manŐs heart at the prosperity of his better. And it reigned in the scribes and Pharisees, and the occasion was this: Christ had taught most heavenly doctrine, and confirmed the same by most wonderful miracles, and did greatly exceed them all, and was in more account among the people; and for this cause the scribes and Pharisees and high priests repined and grudged at Him. Now their example serves to admonish us to take heed of this sin, as being the mother of many mischiefs. And we must rather follow the example of Moses, who when Joshua desired him to forbid Eldad and Medad to prophesy, answered (Num. 11:26-28), Enviest thou for my sake? Yea, I would to God all the LordŐs people were prophets. And we must be of the same mind with John Baptist, who, hearing by his disciples that the people left him and followed Christ, said (John 3:30) his joy was fulfilled, for Christ must increase, and he must decrease. And so we must be glad and content when we see the prosperity of our neighbours any way. Now the cause why the common people join with them, was because the chief priests and the scribes and elders had persuaded them to a bad conceit of Christ (Matt. 27:20). Hence it appears that it is most requisite for any people, be they never so good, to have good magistrates and godly rulers to govern them by wise and godly counsel. The necessity hereof was well known to Jethro, MosesŐ father in law, though he were an heathen man (Exod. 18:21); for he biddeth Moses to provide among the people men of courage, fearing God, men dealing truly, hating covetousness, and appoint them to be rulers over the people. Teaching us that if covetous, malicious and ungodly men, not fearing God, go before the people, they also shall in all likelihood be carried into the like sins by their example.
(b) The next point concerns the place where they accuse Him, which was at the door of the common hall (John 18:28); for having brought Him before the council at Jerusalem, and there condemned Him of blasphemy, afterwards they bring Him into the common hall where Pilate sat judge. Yet did they not enter in, but stayed without at the door, lest they should be defiled, and made unfit to eat the Passover. In which practice of theirs, we are to mark an example of most notable superstition, and most gross hypocrisy. For they make no bones to accuse and arraign a man most just and innocent, and yet are very strict and curious in an outward ceremony. And in like manner they make no conscience to give thirty pieces of silver to betray Christ; but to cast the same into the treasury, they make it a great and heinous offence. And for this cause, Christ pronounceth (Mark 7:6) a woe unto the scribes and Pharisees, calling them hypocrites; for, saith He (Matt. 23:23), you tithe mint, anise and cumin, and leave the weightier matters of the law, as judgment and mercy. And the very same thing we see practised of the church of Rome at this day, and of sundry papists that live amongst us; they will not eat flesh in Lent, or upon any of the popeŐs fasting days for anything; and yet the same men make no conscience of seeking the blood of the LordŐs anointed, and their dread Sovereign. And in this we see the most palpable, and most gross hypocrisy of those that be of that church. But shall we think that our own church is free from such men? No, assuredly; for take a view of the profession that is used among the people of England, and it will appear that they place their whole religion for the most part in the observation of certain ceremonies. The manner of most men is to come to the place of assemblies, where God is worshipped, and they mumble up the LordŐs prayer, the Commandments and the Belief instead of prayers, which being done, God is well served think they; whereas in the mean season they neglect to learn and practise such things as are taught them for their salvation by the ministers of GodŐs Word. At the feast of Easter, every man will be full of devotion and charity, and come to receive the LordŐs supper, as though he were the holiest man in the world; but when the time is past, all generally turn to their old bias again; and all the year after live as they list, making no conscience of lying, slandering, fraud, and deceit in their affairs among men. But we must know that there is no soundness of religion, but gross hypocrisy in all such men; they worship God with their lips, but there is no power of godliness in their hearts.
(c) The third point is concerning the party to whom they make this accusation against Christ, namely, not to a Jew but to a Gentile; for having condemned Him in their ecclesiastical court before Caiaphas the High Priest, they bring Him to Pontius Pilate the deputy of Tiberias Caesar in Judea. Where we must observe the wonderful providence of God in that not only the Jews, but the Gentiles also had a stroke in the arraignment of Christ, that that might be true which the apostle saith (Rom. 11:32), God shut up all under sin, that He might have mercy upon all.
(d) The fourth point is the matter of their accusation. They accuse our Saviour Christ of three things: i. That He had seduced the people; ii. That He forbad to pay tribute to Caesar; iii. That He said He was a king. Let us well consider these accusations, especially the two last, because they are flat contrary, both to ChristŐs preaching and to His practice. For when the people would have made Him a king (John 6:15), after He had wrought the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes, the text saith, He departed from among them, unto a mountain Himself alone. Secondly, when tribute was demanded of Him for Caesar, though He were the kingŐs Son, and therefore was freed, yet saith He to Peter (Matt. 17:27), Lest we should offend them, go to the sea, and cast in an angle; and take the first fish that cometh up, and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of twenty pence; that take, and give it unto them for thee and me. And when He was called to be a judge to divide the inheritance between two brethren, He refused to do it, saying (Luke 12:14), Who made me a judge between you? Therefore in these two things they did most falsely accuse Him. Whereby we learn that nothing is so false and untrue but the slanderers dare lay it to the charge of the innocent; the tongues of the slanderers are (Psa. 120:4) sharp swords and venomous arrows, to wound their enemies; (Psa. 5:9) their throats are open sepulchres, the poison of asps is under their lips. If a man speak gracious words, his tongue is touched with the fire of GodŐs Spirit; but as St James saith (Jam. 3:6), the tongue of the wicked is fire, yea, a world of wickedness, and it is set on fire with the fire of hell.
(e) The fifth point is the manner of their accusation, which is diligently to be marked; for they do not only charge Him with a manifest untruth, but they beseech Pilate to put Him to death, crying (Matt. 27:22,23) Crucify Him, Crucify Him, insomuch that Pontius Pilate was afraid of them; where we see how these shameless Jews go beyond their compass, and the bounds of all accusers; whose duty is to testify only what they know. Now in the matter of this their accusation, appears their wonderful inconstancy. For a little before, when Christ came to Jerusalem riding upon an ass, shewing some signs of His kingly authority, they cut down branches from the trees, and strewed them in the way crying, Hosanna, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord (Matt. 21:9; Mark 11:9; John 12:13); but now they sing another song, and instead of Hosanna, they cry, Crucify Him, Crucify Him. And the like inconstancy is to be found in the people of these our times. They used to receive any religion that is offered unto them; for in the days of King Edward the sixth, the people of England received the gospel of Christ; but shortly after, in Queen MaryŐs time, the same people received the wretched and abominable doctrine of the church of Rome. And not many years after, when it pleased God to bring again the light of His glorious gospel by our gracious prince, the same people turned from popery, and embraced the true religion again. And thus with the Jews; one while they cry Hosanna to Christ, and receive His gospel; and shortly after they cry, Crucify Him, Crucify Him, by embracing idolatrous popery. Let us therefore learn in the fear of God, by the fickleness of the Jews that sing two contrary songs in so short a space, to acknowledge our inconstancy and weakness in the matter of religion; whereby if God leave us but a little to ourselves, we shall straightway forsake Christ, His gospel and all.
(ii) Thus much of the accusation. Now follows ChristŐs examination before Pontius Pilate, for when the Jews had thus falsely accused Him, then Pontius Pilate took Him and brought Him into the common hall and asked Him this question (Luke 23:3): Art thou the king of the Jews? Now Christ being thus examined, made, as Paul also testifieth (1 Tim. 6:13), a good confession. The sum thereof stands in four heads:
(a) The first is that He confesseth Himself to be a king (John 18:36,37); not such an one as they accused Him to be, yet a true king. Whence we may learn diverse instructions: First, that every Christian man in the midst of his misery and affliction, hath one that is most sufficient every way to defend him against all his enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil. For this king can do whatsoever He will; and therefore when the legion of devils would enter into a herd of swine (Matt. 8:31), they could not without His leave. And when the centurionŐs daughter was dead (Mark 5:41,42), He but spake the word, and she arose. And when Lazarus was dead (John 11:43,44), and had lien in the grave four days, He but said, Lazarus, come forth, and he came forth bound hand and foot. Yea, even hell and death give place to His Word, and nothing can resist His power. And therefore, he that is a true member of Christ needs not to fear any enemies, be they never so great or many. And again, as Christ is able, so is He ready and willing to defend all that believe in Him. For He it is that gave His life for His subjects, which no king would do, and shed His blood for their redemption; which He would never have done, if He had not desired their salvation. Secondly, whereas Christ is a mighty king, which can do whatever He will, let all such among us that have hitherto lived in ignorance, and by reason of ignorance live in their sins, at length begin to come unto Him, and do Him homage, and with penitent hearts fall down before Him; otherwise if they continue in their old rebellion, let them know whatsoever they be, high or low, that He hath a rod of iron in His hand to bruise them in pieces (Psa. 2:9; Psa. 110:2); their souls shall smart for it; as both Pilate, Caiaphas, and the rest of the Jews were with a full cup rewarded for crucifying the Lord of life. And if Christ cannot draw thee in this life from thy crooked ways, be sure at the hour of death He will break thee in pieces like a potterŐs vessel. This must we learn in regard of the first point, that He said plainly, He was a king.
(b) Now follows the second point of His confession, namely that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). Where he sets down what kind of king He is. He is no earthly king. His kingdom stands not in the power of men, nor in earthly and outward government; but His kingdom is spiritual, and His government is in the very hearts and consciences of men. His kingdom is not outward to be seen of men, but inward in the heart and soul; and therefore it is only begun in this life, and is continued and accomplished in the world to come in the kingdom of glory; where Christ shall be all in all in the hearts and consciences of all the elect. Now then, if this be so, howsoever Satan have heretofore reigned in us, and made our hearts as it were his palaces, yet now let us prepare a room for Christ that He may come and dwell in us; let Him rule in our hearts, wills and affections, that they may become conformable to His will; let us resign ourselves wholly to be ruled by Him, that His spiritual kingdom may be in us. This kingdom in the heart and conscience is the pearl and hidden treasure (Matt. 13:46) which, when a man findeth, he selleth all he hath and buyeth it. Let us therefore in the fear of God, esteem it as the most precious thing that may be, and so live in this world, as that Christ may rule inwardly in us by His Word and Spirit. And again, seeing this regiment of Christ is heavenly, and the full manifestation of it is reserved till the life to come; we must therefore use this world and all things in it, as honour, wealth, ease and liberty, as though we used them not (1 Cor. 7:31). As a traveller useth his staff in his journey; as long as it doth further him, so long will he carry it with him; but when it hinders him, then he casts it away; so must we use the things of this life, namely, as long as they are helps to further and make us fit for the kingdom of heaven; but if they be any hindrance to this spiritual regiment of Christ, we must renounce them and cast them away be they never so precious to us.
(c) The third part of ChristŐs confession is concerning the means whereby He governeth His kingdom. I came (saith He (John 18:37)), into this world to bear witness of the truth, that is, to preach the gospel and doctrine of salvation; and hereby he teacheth that the outward administration of His kingdom stands specially in the preaching of the Word; which is a principal ordinance of His, serving to gather His church from the beginning of the world to the end thereof. And for this cause, He hath in all ages set apart chosen ministers for the publishing of the doctrine of the gospel. And hence it is manifest that the gift of prophecy is the greatest gift that God bestows on His church for the building thereof. And therefore it ought to be most highly esteemed as a most precious jewel. And for this cause also the schools of learning are to be reverenced and maintained, and all other means used for the furthering of them; because they are under God the fountains and well-springs of this gift of prophecy.
(d) The last point is concerning the subjects of ChristŐs kingdom, expressed in these words: They which are of the truth hear my voice (John 18:37). In which He sets down the true mark of His servants and subjects, that they are hearers of that heavenly and saving Word which He revealed from the bosom of His Father. It may be alleged, the most wicked men upon earth, yea, the devils themselves may be hearers of the truth of Christ. Answer: There be two kinds of hearers: one, which heareth only the outward sound of the Word with his bodily ears, and he, having ears, doth not hear (Matt. 13:9); the second, is he that doth not only receive the doctrine that is taught with his ears, but also hath his heart opened to feel the power of it, and to obey the same in the course of his life. This distinction is notably set forth by David (Psa. 40:6), saying, Sacrifice and burnt offerings thou wouldest not have; but my ears hast thou pierced; whereby he insinuates as it were two kinds of ears: one that is deaf and cannot hear; and thus are the ears of all men by nature in hearing the doctrine of salvation; the other is a new ear pierced and bored by the hand of God, which causes a manŐs heart to hear the sound and operation of the Word, and the life to express the truth of it. Now the subjects of ChristŐs kingdom are such as with the outward hearing of the Word, have an inward hearing of the soul, and grace also to obey; and therefore all those that make no conscience of obedience to the Word of God preached unto them, are no less than rebels to Christ. We may persuade ourselves that we are good subjects because we hear the Word and receive the sacraments, but if our lives abound with sin, and if our hearts be not pierced through by the sword of GodŐs Spirit, whether we be high or low, rich or poor, let us be what we will be, we are no right subjects indeed, but rebels and traitors unto the everlasting God. It may be hereafter God will give further grace; but as yet all impenitent persons, though living in the midst of GodŐs church, are no obedient and faithful subjects; and therefore while we have time, let us labour to perform indeed that which we do in word profess.
(iii) Thus much of the examination and confession of Christ. Now followeth the third point, concerning the policies which Pilate used to save Christ; and they are three:
(a) First, when he heard Christ was of Galilee, he took occasion to send him to Herod, thinking thereby to shift his hands of Him, and not to shed His blood. In which policy, though he seem unwilling to put Christ to death, yet herein he is a most unjust judge; for having given testimony of Christ, that he is innocent, he ought to have acquitted Him, and not have sent Him to Herod for further judgment. In HerodŐs dealing with Christ, we may observe these points:
i. The first, that he is wonderfully glad of his coming. Why so? The text saith (Luke 23:8), because he was desirous to see Him of a long season, because he had heard many things of Him, and trusted to have seen some sign done by Him. Here, mark how he rejoiced, not in Christ because He was Christ, that is, his Messiah and Redeemer, but because He wrought miracles, signs and wonders. And so it is among us at this day; it is a rare thing to find a man that loves Christ because He is Christ; some love Christ for honour, some for wealth, and others for praise; that is, because they get honour, wealth and praise by confessing His name. Again, many profess Christ only because it is the law and custom of their nation. But we must learn to be of this mind: to love Christ because He is Christ, even for Himself; not for any other sinister respect; and we must rejoice in Christ, even for Himself, though we never have profit nor pleasure, neither honour nor wealth by Him. And if we love Him for wealth or pleasure, or for any other end but for Himself alone, when these things are taken away, then we shall utterly forsake Christ in like manner.
ii. The second point is that Herod desires Christ to work a miracle. He can be content to see the works of Christ; but he cannot abide to hear His Word and to bear His yoke. Like to him are many in these days, which gladly desire to hear the gospel of Christ preached, only because they would hear speech of some strange things, laying aside all care and conscience to obey that which they hear. Yet many in England delight to read the strange histories of the Bible; and therefore can rehearse the most part of it (and it were to be wished that all could do the like), yet come to the practice of it, the same persons are commonly found as bad in life and conversation, yea rather worse than others. Let us therefore labour that with our knowledge we may join obedience, and practice with our learning, and as well to be affected with the Word of Christ, as with His works.
iii. The third point is that Herod derides Christ, and sends Him away clothed in a white garment. This is that Herod whom Christ called a fox (Luke 13:32); who also when he heard John Baptist preach, did many things, and heard him gladly (Mark 6:20). How then comes Herod to this outrage of wickedness, thus to abuse Christ? Answer: We must know that although Herod at the first heard John preach, yet withal he followed his own affections, and sought how to fulfil the lusts of his flesh. For when John told him that it was not lawful for him to have his brother PhilipŐs wife, he cast him into prison and afterward cut off his head for it; after which offence he is grown to this height of impiety that he now despiseth Christ, and cannot abide to hear Him. Where we learn that as we are willing to hear GodŐs Word preached, so withal we must take heed that we practise no manner of sin; but make conscience of everything that may displease God. Thou mayest, I grant, be one that feareth and favoureth John Baptist for a time, wallowing in thy old sins; but after a while, yielding to the swing of thy corrupt heart, thou wilt neither hear John, nor Christ Himself, but hate and despise them both. This is the cause why some which have been professors of religion heretofore, and have had great measure of knowledge, are now become very loose persons, and cannot abide to hear the Word preached unto them; the reason is because they could not abide to leave their sins. Therefore that we may begin in the Spirit and not end in the flesh, let everyone that calls on the name of the Lord depart from iniquity (2 Tim. 2:19).
(b) Now follows the second policy of Pilate. For when he saw the first would not prevail, then he took a new course; for he took Jesus into the common hall and scourged Him, and the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple garment and said, Hail, King of the Jews, and smote Him with their rods (John 19:2,3). And thus he brought Him forth before the Jews, persuading himself that when they saw Him so abased and so ignominiously abused, they would be content therewith and exact no greater punishment at his hands thinking thus to have pacified the rage of the Jews, and so to have delivered Christ from death, by inflicting upon Him some lesser punishment. This policy is as it were a looking glass in which we may behold of what nature and condition all plots and policies of men are, which are devised and practised without the direction of GodŐs Word. In it we may observe two things:
i. The first is the ground thereof; which is a most silly, simple, or rather senseless argument. For he reasoneth thus: I find no fault in this man, therefore I will chastise Him and let Him go (Luke 23:14-16). A man would hardly have thought that one having but common sense, would have made such a reason, much less a great judge sitting in the room of God. But in him we may behold and see the ground of all human policy which is beside the Word of God, namely, the foolish and blind reason of men.
ii. The second thing to be considered is the proceeding and issue of this policy. Pilate must either whip Christ being innocent, or put Him to death; which are both sins and great offences. Now he makes choice of the lesser, which is to whip Him, and is persuaded that he ought to do so; whereas of two sins or evils, a man ought to do neither. And in doing this, Pilate begins to make a breach in his conscience; and that is the fruit that all politics reap of their devices, which proceed by the light of their own reason without the Word of God. By this example we are admonished of two things: first, that before we enterprise any business, we must rectify our judgments by GodŐs Word. David was a most wise king, and no doubt had withal a grave and wise counsel, but yet he preferred the Word of God before all, saying (Psa. 119:24), Thy testimonies are my counsellors. Secondly, in our proceedings, we must keep an upright, pure and unblameable conscience, as Paul exhorteth Timothy (1 Tim. 3:9) to have the mystery of faith in a pure conscience; giving us thereby to understand that a good conscience is as it were a chest or cupboard in which we are to keep and lock up our religion, and all other graces of God, as the most precious jewels that can be; and that if we suffer this chest to be broken up, all our riches and jewels are gone.
But let us yet view the dealing of Pilate more particularly: he whips Christ, puts on Him a purple garment, puts a reed in His hand, sets a crown of thorns upon His head, and causes the soldiers to mock Him and spit in His face. Now in this that Christ standing in our room, was thus shamefully abused, we must consider what was due unto every one of us for our sins, namely, shame and reproach in this life, and in the life to come endless confusion. And we see the confession of Christ to be true which He made to Pilate (John 18:36) that His kingdom was not of this world; for if it had been so, they would have put a crown of gold upon His head, and not a crown of thorns, which nothing at all beseemed an earthly king; and instead of a reed they would have put a sceptre into His hand; and instead of buffeting and spitting on Him, they would have adored Him and fallen down before Him. Again, whereas Christ our Head in this world, wore no other crown but one made of thorns, it serveth to teach all those that are the members of Christ, that they must not look for a crown of glory in this life, because that is reserved for the life to come. And if we would then wear the crown of glory with Christ, we must here in this life wear a crown of thorns, as He did; for St Paul saith (2 Tim. 2:12), If we suffer with Christ, we shall also reign with Him; and that which was fully verified in Christ the Head, must in some sort be verified in every true member of Christ.
(c) PilateŐs third policy was this: when he saw that neither of the two former would prevail, he comes forth unto the Jews (Matt. 27:15-18) and makes an oration to this effect: that now was the feast of the Passover, and that they had a custom that the Governor should then deliver unto the people a prisoner whom they would; therefore he asked them whether he should let loose unto them Barabbas or Jesus which is called Christ. This Barabbas was a notable malefactor that with insurrection had committed murder. And thus Pilate cunningly matches Christ with Barabbas, thinking that the Jews would rather choose Him than Barabbas, being a notorious malefactor, not worthy to live on the face of the earth; and by this means he thought to have delivered Christ from death, though otherwise he accounted Him as a malefactor. The ground of this policy (as we see) is an old custom of the Jews that a prisoner should be let loose at Easter. And it may be the end of this custom was to increase the solemnity of the feast. But whatsoever in truth the end was, the fact itself was but profanation of the time, and an abomination before the Lord; for Solomon saith (Prov. 17:15), He that justifieth the wicked and condemneth the just, even they both are an abomination before the Lord. The like practice takes place with many in these days who think that the LordŐs day never well spent unless they may add solemnity thereunto by revel and riot, by frequenting of taverns and alehouses. And furthermore (Matt. 27:21) where Pilate matcheth Christ being innocent with Barabbas, and the people prefer him before Christ, having liberty to choose either; it shews that God in His providence had appointed that Christ should not stand in His own room before Pilate, but in our room and stead, as a Mediator between God and us. And in this fact of the people we see how sin by degrees takes hold of men, and that speedily. Who would have thought that these Jews, who a little before had cried, Hosanna and spread their garments before Christ in the way, would ever have preferred a murderer before Him? But it was the doing of the high priests, the scribes and Pharisees, who did animate and stir them up to this wickedness; and hereupon when they had yielded first to attack Him and then to accuse Him, they are carried to a higher degree of impiety, namely, to seek His blood; and then lest He should escape their hands, they plunge themselves deeper yet, preferring a wretched murderer, even seditious Barabbas before Him. This must teach every one of us to take heed of the beginnings even of the least sins; for the devil is cunning, he will not plunge a man into the greatest sins at the first; but his manner is by little and little to creep into the heart; and having once possession thereof, by steps to bring men to the height of sin, and that with speed. We must therefore in the fear of God prevent sin betimes, and at the first motion cut off all occasions hereof; that which Paul saith of heresy (2 Tim. 2:17), comparing it to a canker or gangrene, may be said of all sin. The nature of the gangrene is to run from one joint to another, from the toe to the foot, from the foot to the leg, and from the leg to the thigh, till it have wasted and destroyed the life of the body; so give any sin but an entrance, and it will soon overspread the whole man; and if the devil may be suffered but to put one talon into thy heart, he will presently wind himself into thee, his head, his body and all. The psalmist saith (Psa. 137:9) that he is blessed that takes the children of the Babylonians and dasheth them against the stones; and as truly it may be said, Blessed is the man that dasheth the head of his sins against the ground while they are young, before they get strength to overmaster him.
(iv) Thus have we seen the policies of Pilate; now followeth the absolution of Christ; for when Pilate had used many means to deliver Him and none would prevail, then he absolves Him by giving divers testimonies of His innocency (Matt. 27:23,24; Mark 15:14; Luke 23:14-22; John 18:38, 19:4); for he came forth three times and bare witness; and last of all he testified the same by washing of his hands; which rite signifieth properly the defiling of the hands before, but as yet Pilate had not defiled his hands, and therefore he used it as a token to shew that Christ was innocent and that he would not defile his own hands with innocent blood. There were three causes that moved Pilate to absolve Christ:
(a) First, he saw that He was a just man, as St Matthew noteth (Matt.27:19,20), and that the high priests and people had delivered Him up of envy, as St Mark saith (Mark 15:10). By this it is plain that a very pagan or infidel may in some things go beyond such as be in GodŐs church, having better conscience and dealing more justly than they. Pontius Pilate was a heathen man, and a Gentile, the Jews were the church and people of the living God; yet he sees plainly that Christ was a just man, and thereupon is moved to absolve Him; whereas the Jews, which should be men of conscience and religion, seek His death. And thus a very pagan may otherwhiles see more into a matter than they that be reputed of the church. And this must admonish all such as profess the gospel, to look unto their proceedings, that they do all things with upright conscience; for if we deal unjustly in our proceedings, we may have neighbours, men of no religion, that will look through us and see the gross hypocrisy of our profession, which also would be loath to do those things which we do.
(b) The second cause that moved Pilate to absolve Christ, was his wifeŐs dream; for when he was set down upon the judgment seat, she sent unto him, saying (Matt. 27:19), Have thou nothing to do with that just man; for I have suffered many things in a dream by reason of Him. Dreams are of three sorts: natural, rising from the constitution of the body; diabolical, such as come by the suggestion of the devil; and divine, which are from God. Some have thought that this dream was of the devil; as though he had laboured thereby to hinder the death of Christ, and consequently our salvation; but I rather think it was occasioned by the things which she had heard before of Christ, or that it was immediately from God, as the dreams of Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar, and served for a further manifestation of ChristŐs innocency. Here it may be asked whether we may regard our dreams now, as PilateŐs wife did, or no? Answer: We have the books of the Old and New Testament to be our direction, as Isaiah saith (Isa. 8:20), To the law and to the testimony, they must be our rule and guide. In these days we must not look to be taught by visions and dreams; yet shall it not be amiss to observe this caveat concerning dreams, that by them we may guess at the constitution of our bodies, and oftentimes at the sins whereunto we are inclined.
(c) The last motive which caused Pilate to absolve Christ was a speech of the Jews; for they said (John 19:7,8) that Christ ought to die by their law, because He said He was the Son of God. And the text saith, when Pilate heard that, he was afraid. Mark how a poor pagan that knew not GodŐs Word, at the hearing of the name of the Son of God is stricken with fear. No doubt He shall rise in judgment against many among us that without all fear rend the name of God in pieces by swearing, blaspheming, cursed speaking. But let all those that fear the Lord learn to tremble and be afraid at His blessed name.
Thus much for the causes that moved Pilate to absolve Christ; as also for the second part of ChristŐs arraignment, namely, His accusation.
3. Now follows the third part, which is His condemnation; and that is twofold:
(1) The first, by the ecclesiastical assembly and council of the Jews at Jerusalem in the high priestŐs hall before Caiaphas. The tenor of His condemnation was this (Matt. 26:65,66): He hath blasphemed. What have we any more need of witnesses? He is worthy to die. The cause why they say not He shall die, but He is worthy to die, is this: The Jews had two jurisdictions (Deut. 17:7-9), the one ecclesiastical, the other civil, both prescribed and distinctly executed by the commandment of God till the time of the Maccabees, in which both jointly together came into the hands of the priests; but afterward about the days of Herod the Great the Roman Emperor took away both jurisdictions from the Jews and made their kingdom a province, so as they could do no more but apprehend, accuse and imprison; as doth appear by the example of Saul (Acts 9:2), who took letters from the high priest to Damascus, that if he found any either man or woman that believed in Christ, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem and imprison them; but kill or condemn they could not.
By the fact of this council we learn sundry points:
(i) First, that general councils, and the pope himself sitting judicially in his consistory, may err. If there were any visible church of God at the time of ChristŐs arraignment upon the face of the whole world; it was no doubt the church of the Jews. For Caiaphas the high priest was a figure of Christ, the scribes and Pharisees sat in MosesŐ chair, and Jerusalem is called by Christ the holy city (Matt. 4:5; 27:53). Yet for all this, that which was foretold is now verified, namely, that the chief corner-stone should be rejected of master builders. For by the general consent of the council of Jerusalem, Christ the Head of the catholic church and the Redeemer of mankind, is accused of blasphemy, and condemned as worthy of death. Wherefore it is a mere dotage of manŐs brain to avouch that the pope cannot possibly err in giving a definitive sentence in matters either of faith or manners. Neither can the church of Rome plead privilege, for Jerusalem had as many prerogatives as any people in the world could have (Rom. 9:3).
(ii) Again, by this we see, there is no reason why we should ascribe to any man or to oecumenical councils themselves, absolute and sovereign power to determine and give judgment in matters of religion, considering they are in danger to be overtaken with notable slips and errors. And therefore the sovereignty of judgment is peculiar to the Son of God (Matt. 23:10), who is the only doctor and law-giver of the church; and He puts the same in execution in and by the written Word. As for the speech of the papists, calling the Scriptures a dumb judge, it is little to be regarded; for the Scriptures are, as it were, a letter of the living God, sent from heaven to His church upon earth; and therefore they speak as plainly and as sufficiently unto us of all matters of faith, as a man can speak unto his friend by letter, so be it, we have the gift of discerning. Yet do we not bar the church of God from all judgment. For the ministerial power of giving judgment both publicly and privately is granted unto it of God; and that is to determine and give sentence of matters in question according to the Word, as the lawyer gives judgment, not according as he will, but according to the tenor of the law.
(iii) Thirdly, we learn that personal succession is no infallible mark of the true faith, and of true pastors; unless withal be joined succession in the doctrine of the prophets and apostles. For Caiaphas held his office by succession from Aaron; and yet in public assembly condemned the Messiah spoken of by Moses and the prophets. Therefore the succession of bishops of Rome from Peter is of no moment, unless they can prove that their religion is the religion of Peter, which they can never do.
(2) And thus much of ChristŐs first condemnation. The second was by Pontius Pilate, who sat in another court as a civil judge, and the tenor of his sentence was that the Jews should take Him and crucify Him. Here we must consider the reasons that moved Pilate to determine this:
(i) The first was the impatience of the Jews. He for his part was loath to defile his hands with innocent blood, but the Jews (Matt. 27:25) cried, His blood be upon us, and our children; which according to their wish came upon them within a few years after, and so remaineth still unto this day. By the which we are taught to take heed of imprecations against ourselves, our children, our servants, or any other creatures; for God heareth menŐs prayers two ways: either in mercy, or in His wrath and anger. If thou curse thyself or any other, except thou turn unto the Lord by speedy repentance, He may hear thy prayer in His wrath, and verify thy curse upon thee to thy utter confusion.
(ii) The second reason that moved Pilate to condemn Christ was because he feared men more than God; for being deputy under Tiberias Caesar over the province of Judea, for fear of losing his office and of displeasing the Jews (John 19:12,13), he condemned Christ after he had absolved Him; whereby we see that it is a grievous sin to fear dust and ashes more than the living God. And therefore St John saith (Rev. 21:8) that the fearful shall have their portion in the burning lake; that is, such as are more afraid of man than God. And this sin in Pilate wanted not his just reward; for not long after he lost his deputyship and CaesarŐs favour, and fled to Vienna; where living in banishment, he killed himself. And thus God meets with them that fear the creature more than the Creator. That we may therefore avoid the heavy hand of God; let us learn to fear God above all; else we shall dishonour God and shame the religion which we profess.
The proper end of ChristŐs condemnation set down, though not in PilateŐs will yet in GodŐs eternal counsel, was that He might be the cause of absolution at the bar of GodŐs justice unto all those whatsoever they are which shall come to life eternal. For we must still remember that when Christ was condemned by mortal judges He stood in our place, and in Him were all our sins condemned before God. Therefore to conclude this point, if this were the end of the counsel of God, to have His own Son condemned by Pontius Pilate, a mortal judge, that we might not be condemned but absolved before GodŐs judgment seat; let us all labour to have this absolution sealed up in our hearts by the testimony of GodŐs Spirit. For one day we must come to the bar of GodŐs judgment; and if we have not an absolution by ChristŐs condemnation at PilateŐs earthly bar, let us look for nothing else but the fearful sentence of condemnation at the celestial bar of GodŐs justice, to be uttered at the day of the last judgment. If a man should commit such an heinous offence as that he could no other way escape death but by the princeŐs pardon, he neither would, nor could, be at rest till by one means or other he had obtained the same, and had gotten it written and sealed; which done, he would carry it home, lock it up safe and sound, and many times look upon it with great joy and gladness. Well, this is the case of every one of us; by nature we are rebels and traitors against God and have by our sins deserved ten thousand deaths. Now our only stay and refuge is that Christ the Son of God was condemned for us; and therefore in Christ we must sue for pardon at GodŐs hands, and never rest till we have the assurance thereof sealed up in our hearts and consciences; always remembering that ever after we lead a new life, and never commit the like sins against God any more. It were a blessed thing if this would enter into our hearts; but alas, we are as dead in our sins as a dead carcass in the grave. The ministers of God may teach this often to us, and we may also hear the same; but Satan doth so possess menŐs hearts that they seldom or never begin to believe or receive it till it be too late. Everyone can say, God is merciful, but that is not enough; for Christ being most righteous was condemned, that thou being a wretched sinner might be saved; and therefore thou must labour for thyself to have some testimony of thine absolution by ChristŐs condemnation, sealed up in thine own conscience, that thou mayest more assuredly say, God is and will be merciful unto thee.