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He who has not yet comprehended this mystery, let him hasten to study the wonderful picture which we are contemplating to-day ; wonderful, because delineated by no mortal hand.
“ And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required." These words in our text we shall most especially consider, because they describe the most important moment in the whole scene, and point out the theme to which we are about to dedicate our present contemplation :-"The condemnation of our great Pledge in his people's stead.” Let us now direct our attention to this condemnation, to its mighty consequences, and to the enjoyment and appropriation of its fruits.
I. We stand before the judgment-seat of the Roman governor, where a terrible scene is just taking place. The tumult has reached its height, and the fiery sea of human passion, whose waves are dashing against the tribunal, now displays its utmost terrors. Pilate has just cried a second time to the people, “I find no fault in this man !” but this only adds oil to their wrath and hatred. The more earnestly he exerts himself to save the accused, the more terrible and satanic becomes the cry of the raging multitude, “Crucify him! crucify him!” One stifles his awakening conscience, another refuses to listen to the voice of compassion which is beginning to whisper in his bosom, and a third will not give ear to the mysterious warnings which are momentarily repeated. Many feel in their hearts, “ Pilate is right, and the man is guiltless !" Others say to themselves, “ He deserves a better fate
than what we are preparing for him !" And some feel already the sting of that horrible imprecation which they have drawn down upon their heads—" His blood be on us and on our children!" But these better feelings are soon stifled, for their consciences are deadened, and he is doomed to be offered a sacrifice to their hatred. A thousand voices now shriek wildly together, “Crucify him! crucify him!” The high priests join with the people—and men, women, and children, all are unanimous in desiring his death. Pilate now asks, " What evil hath he done?” and repeats,
" I have found no cause of death in him ; I will therefore chastise him, and let him go !” But the storm of their evil passions here breaks loose again, and, “Away with him ! away with him !” is thundered from every side: “To the cross with the rebel and blasphemer of God! Release unto us Barabbas, and let Jesus bleed and die !" Pilate once more strives to interpose ; he does it again and again ; but in vain : his voice is unheard amidst the roars of the populace. His firmness gives way, and he yields to the solicitations of the infuriated rabble : he condemns Jesus to be crucified, and the murderer he sets at liberty.
This is the scene which we contemplate to-day; but there is a higher point of view in which we must regard the narrative of our Redeemer's passion, particularly his trial before a court of justice. Ye know that what outwardly takes place is but the symbolical representation of a far higher criminal process between Christ and the Eternal Father. The
of “ Crucify him! crucify him !" is the repetition of a sound which
is heard beyond the clouds; and in the sentence of death which Pilate, along with the high priests and the Jews, pronounced against Jesus, there lies another and far more terrible one enveloped—the sentence of death pronounced by the Ruler of the world upon his beloved Son! Are you astonished, my brethren, at what I have been saying? If so, accompany me, I entreat you, through the following observations.
In the first place, call to mind that we are not alone in this world; for there is a God that surrounds us, and there is an Eternal Majesty upon the throne. Remember that we are not by ourselves upon the earth, for our fellow-subjects exist on every side. We live in a kingdom governed by God, and it is not the flag of a republic, far less of anarchy, which is suspended above us from the clouds. It is the flag of monarchy; the banner of an all-glorious and righteous King. Either no God exists, or else God is a God of order, justice, and holiness: a God that hates the wicked, punishes transgression, and, cursing the sin along with the sinner, casts them both from his presence. The Disposer of the universe has his laws, to which he keeps ; his court of justice, where he brings guilt to light; his day of trial, when he passes sentence; and his book, according to whose irrevocable articles he decides. For transgressors he has his chains and his prisons; his cells for confinement, and his scaffold; his reapers at the last day, as well as his executioners, Satan and his host. Thus there is a tribunal behind the clouds, which is represented and mirrored in the forms of earthly justice. “The Lord shall endure for
ever; he hath prepared his throne for judgment; and he shall judge the world in righteousness, he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness.” “Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.” “ The Lord is known by the judgment which he executeth: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands."
This court of judgment concerns us all, my brethren -all without exception. “For we must all,” says the apostle Paul, “appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” But who will be able to stand before this judgment-seat, who has felt even the least inclination to sin ? And who can promise himself a favourable sentence, from the court which judges ac, cording to the maxim, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all ?" My brethren, our cause seems in great danger before this tribunal: and why do I say in danger ? because, apart from Christ, there is nothing more certain than that it will be irretrievably lost. There are many men, who, when they behold this state of things, hasten to anticipate the condemnation of God by humble self-accusation. But this will not do. Many have entirely banished the idea of eternal justice from their souls, and pronounce sentence on themselves. But woe to these rebels! Others who feel guilty, and seem to stand already before the bar of that awful tribunal, take refuge in lies, and seek to make excuses. Some resemble criminals pursued by warrants of the
law; they know the danger in which they stand, and look for safety in flight; or seek hiding-places amidst the noise and bustle of life. Others are evil-doers, who have long remained undiscovered; but to whom some passer-by having cried out, “ We know you !" a heavy misgiving, and a dull sense of insecurity, has ever since weighed down their souls. Many hasten calmly and peacefully to meet the judgment; because they do not measure themselves according to the law by which they shall be measured above, but according to a law of their own. Thus, there are different ways in which men prepare themselves for the awful tribunal of Almighty God: but the day will come when they shall all appear alike; when the fugitives shall be caught, the liars confounded, and the hidden ones brought to light. Then we shall see all assembled before one throne, in the presence of one Judge, and standing round one open book : then every veil and every mask shall fall from our faces; each shall behold his own life in the light of truth; and each shall receive his last and irrevocable sentence, which decides his fate for ever.
Every being in existence, my brethren, who has any thing to say against us, is now permitted by God to appear before his throne. No matter who it
be that accuses us, God will listen to them; for the Eternal will appear in righteousness unto all his creatures, and not the faintest suspicion of unlawful partiality will attach to him. The lowest demon, as well as the most glorious seraph, will have it in his power to accuse us before his awful throne : and should any one