Page images
PDF
EPUB

6 Pilate says

was made, he took water, and washed his hands be“ fore the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the “ blood of this just man : see you to it :" Matt. xxvii. 24. Which gives us a clear reason of the cautious and wary conduct of our Saviour, in not declaring himself, in the whole course of his ministry, so much as to his disciples, much less to the multitude, or to the rulers of the jews, in express words, to be the Messiah the King; and why he kept himself always in prophetical or parabolical terms (he and his disciples preaching only the kingdom of God, i. e. of the Messiah, to be come), and left to his miracles to declare who he was ; though this was the truth, which he came into the world, as he says himself, John xviii. 37, to testify and which his disciples were to believe.

When Pilate, satisfied of his innocence, would have released him ; and the jews persisted to cry out, “ Cru

. cify him, crucify him,” John xix. 6, “ to them, Take ye him yourselves, and crucify him : “ for I do not find any fault in him.” The jews then, since they could not make him a state criminal, by alleging his saying, that he was “ the Son of God," say, by their law it was a capital crime, ver. 7.

“ The jews answered to Pilate, We have a law, and by our " law he ought to die; because he made himself the “ Son of God,” i. e. because, by saying " he is the Son “ of God," he has made himself the Messiah, the prophet, which was to come. For we find no other law but that against false prophets, Deut. xviii. 20, whereby " making himself the Son of God,” deserved death. After this, Pilate was the more desirous to release him, ver. 12, 13. " But the jews cried out, saying, If thou “ let this man go, thou art not Cæsar's friend; whoso“ ever maketh himself a king, speaketh against Cæsar.” Here we see the stress of their charge against Jesus ; whereby they hoped to take away his life, viz. that he « made himself king.” We see also upon what they grounded this accusation, viz. because he had owned himself to be " the Son of God." For he had in their hearing, never made or professed himself to be a king. We see here, likewise, the reason why they were so de

sirous to draw from his own mouth a confession in express words, that he was the Messiah ; viz. That they might have what might be a clear proof that he did so. And, last of all, we see reason why, though in expressions which they understood, he owned himself to them to be the Messiah ; yet he avoided declaring it to them in such words as might look criminal at Pilate's tribunal. He owned himself to be the Messiah plainly, to the understanding of the jews; but in ways that could not, to the understanding of Pilate, make it appear that he had laid claim to the kingdom of Judea ; or went about to make himself king of that country. But whether his saying that he was “the Son of God,” was criminal by their law, that Pilate troubled 11t himself about.

He that considers what Tacitus, Suetonius, Seneca de benef. 1. 3. c. 26. say of Tiberius and his reign, will find how necessary it was for our Saviour, if he would not die as a criminal and a traitor, to take great heed to his words and actions; that he did or said not any thing that might be offensive, or give the least umbrage to the Roman government. It behoved an innocent man, who was taken natice of, for something extraordinary in him, to be very wary under a jealous and cruel prince, who encouraged informations, and filled his reign with executions for treason; under whom, words spoken innocently, or in jest, if they could be misconstrued, were made treason, and prosecuted with a rigour, that made it always the same thing to be accused and condemned. And therefore we see, that when the jews told Pilate, John xix. 12, that he should not be a friend to Cæsar, if he let Jesus go (for that whoever made himself king, was a rebel against Cæsar :) he asks them no more whether they would take Barabbas, and spare Jesus, but (though against his conscience) gives him up to death, to secure his own head.

One thing more there is, that gives us light into this wise and necessarily cautious management of himself, which manifestly agrees with it and makes a part of it: and that is, the choice of his apostles : exactly suited to the design and foresight of the necessity of keeping the declaration of the kingdom of the Messiah, which was

VOI, VI.

now expected, within certain general terms, during his ministry. It was not fit to open himself too plainly or forwardly to the heady jews, that he himself was the Messiah; that was to be left to the observation of those who would attend to the purity of his life, the testimony of his miracles, and the conformity of all with the predictions concerning him : by these marks, those he lived amongst were to find it out, without an express promulgation that he was the Messiah until after his death. His kingdom was to be opened to them by degrees, as well to prepare them to receive it, as to enable him to be long enough amongst them, to perform what was the work of the Messiah to be done ; and fulfil all those several parts of what was foretold of him in the Old Testament, and we see applied to him in the New.

The jews had no other thoughts of their Messiah, but of a mighty temporal prince, that should raise their nation into an higher degree of power, dominion, and prosperity than ever it had enjoyed. They were filled with the expectation of a glorious earthly kingdom. It was not, therefore, for a poor man, the son of a carpenter, and (as they thought) born in Galilee, to pretend to it. None of the jews, no, not his disciples, could have borne this, if he had expressly avowed this at first, and began his preaching and the opening of his kingdom this way, especially if he had added to it, that in a year or two, he should die an ignominious death upon the cross. They are therefore prepared for the truth by degrees. First, John the Baptist tells them, “ The kingdom of “ God” (a name by which the jews called the kingdom of the Messiah) " is at hand.” Then our Saviour comes, and he tells them “of the kingdom of God; times that it is at hand, and upon some occasions, that it is come; but says, in his public preaching, little or nothing of himself. Then come the apostles and evangelists after his death, and they, in express words, teach what his birth, life, and doctrine had done before, and had prepared the well-disposed to receive, viz. That “ Jesus is the Messiah."

To this design and method of publishing the gospel, was the choice of the apostles exactly adjusted; a com

some

pany of poor, ignorant, illiterate men; who, as Christ himself tells us, Matt. xi. 25, and Luke x. 21, were not of the “ wise and prudent” men of the world : they were, in that respect, but mere children. These, convinced by the miracles they saw him daily do, and the unblameable life he led, might be disposed to believe him to be the Messiah : and though they, with others, expected a temporal kingdom on earth, might yet rest satisfied in the truth of their master (who had honoured them with being near his person) that it would come, without being too inquisitive after the time, manner, or seat of his kingdom, as men of letters, more studied in their rabbins, or men of business, more versed in the world, would have been forward to have been. Men, great or wise in knowledge, or ways of the world, would hardly have been kept from prying more narrowly into his design and conduct; or from questioning him about the ways and measures he would take, for ascending the throne; and what means were to be used towards it, and when they should in earnest set about it. Abler men, of higher births or thoughts, would hardly have been hindered from whispering, at least to their friends and relations, that their master was the Messiah ; and that, though he concealed himself to a fit opportunity, and until things were ripe for it, yet they should, ere long, see him break out of his obscurity, cast off the cloud, and declare himself, as he was, King of Israel. But the ignorance and lowness of these good, poor men, made them of another temper. They went along, in an implicit trust on him, punctually keeping to his commands, and not exceeding his commission. When he sent them to preach the gospel, he bid them preach “ the kingdom of God” to be at hand; and that they did, without being more particular than he had ordered, or mixing their own prudence with his commands, to promote the kingdom of the Messiah. They preached it, without giving, or so much as intimating that their master was he: which men of another condition, and an higher education, would scarce have forborne to have done. When he asked them, who they thought him

65

to be; and Peter answered, “ The Messiah, the Son of

God,” Matt. xvi. 16, he plainly shows by the following words, that he himself had not told them so; and at the same time, ver. 20. forbids them to tell this their opinion of him to any body. How obedient they were to him in this, we may not only conclude from the silence of the evangelists concerning any such thing, published by them any-where before his death; but from the exact obedience three of them paid to a like command of his. He takes Peter, James, and John, into a mountain; and there Moses and Elias coming to him, he is transfigured before them, Matt. xvii. 9. He charges them, saying, “ See that ye tell no man what ye have seen,

until the Son of man shall be risen from the dead.” And St. Luke tells us, what punctual observers they were of his orders in this case, chap. ix. 36, “ They kept it

close, and told no man in those days, any of those “ things which they had seen.”

Whether twelve other men, of quicker parts, and of a station or breeding, which might have given then any opinion of themselves, or their own abilities, would have been so easily kept from meddling, beyond just what was prescribed them, in a matter they had so much interest in; and have said nothing of what they might, in human prudence, have thought would have contributed to their master's reputation, and made way for his advancement to his kingdom; I leave to be considered. And it may suggest matter of meditation, whether St. Paul was not for this reason, by his learning, parts, and warmer temper, better fitted for an apostle after, than during our Saviour's ministry : and therefore, though a chosen vessel, was not by the divine wisdom called, until after Christ's resurrection.

I offer this only as a subject of magnifying the admirable contrivance of the divine wisdom, in the whole work of our redemption, as far as we are able to trace it, by the footsteps which God hath made visible to hu

For though it be as easy to omnipotent power to do all things by an immediate over-ruling will, and so to make any instruments work, even contrary to

man reason.

« PreviousContinue »