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Yet even that judge himself, who was so thoroughly convinced of the innocence of his prisoner, and actually used every means in his power to preserve him, even he had not the honesty and the courage to protect him effectually; and his conduct affords a most dreadful proof what kind of a thing public justice was among the most enlightened, and (if we may believe their own poets and historians) the most virtuous people in the ancient heathen world. We see a Roman governor sent to dispense justice in a Roman province, and invested with full powers to save or to destroy; we see him with a prisoner before him, in whom he repeatedly declared he could find no fault: and yet, after a few ineffectual struggles with his own conscience, he delivers up that prisoner, not merely to death, but to the most horible and excruciating torments that human malignity could devise. The fact is, he was afraid of the people, he was afraid of Cæsar; and when the clamorous multitude cried out to him, "if thou let this man go, thou art not Cæsar's friend," all his firmness, all his resolution at once forsook him. He shrunk from the dangers that threatened him, and sacrificed his conscience and his duty to the menaces of a mob, and the dread of sovereign power.
Could any thing like this have happened in this country? We all know that it is impossible. We all know that no dankers, no threats, no fears, either of Cæsar or of the people, could ever induce a British judge to condemn to death a man, whom he in his conscience believed to be innocent. And what is it that produces this difference between a Roman and a British judge? It is this: that the former had no other principle to govern his conduct but natural reason, or what would now be called philosophy; which, though it would sometimes point out to him the path of duty, yet could never inspire him with fortitude enough to persevere in it in critical and dangerous circumstances; in opposition to the frowns of a tyrant, or the clamours of a multitude. Whereas the British judge, in addition to his natural sentiments of right and wrong, and the dictates of the moral sense, has the principle of religion also to influ
ence his heart: he has the unerring and inflexible rules of evangelical rectitude to guide him; he has that which will vanquish every other fear, the fear of God, before his eyes. He knows that he himself must one day stand before the Judge of all; and that consideration keeps him firm to his duty, be the dangers that surround him ever so formidable and tremendous.
This is one, among a thousand other proofs, of the benefits we derive, even in the present life, from the Christian revelation. It has, in fact, had a most salutary and beneficial influence on our most important temporal interests. Its beneficent spirit has spread itself through all the different relations and modifications of human society, and communicated its kindly influence to almost every public and private concern of mankind. It has not only purified, as we have seen, the administration of justice; but it has insensibly worked itself into the inmost frame and constitution of civil societies. It has given a tinge to the complexion of their governments, and to the temper of their laws. It has softened the rigour of despotism, and lessened, in some degree, the horrors of war. It has descended into families, has diminished the pressure of private tyranny, improved every domestic endearment, given tenderness to the parent, humanity to the master, respect to superiors, to inferiors security and ease; and left, in short, the most evident traces of its benevolent spirit in all the various subordinations, dependencies, and connections of social life.
But to return to the Roman governor. Having thus basely shrunk from his duty, and, contrary to his own conviction, condemned an innocent man, he endeavoured to clear himself from this guilt, and to satisfy his conscience, by the vain ceremony of washing his hands before the multitude, and declaring, "that he was innocent of the blood of that just person." Alas! not all the water of the ocean would wash away the foul and indelible stain of murder from his soul. Yet he hoped to transfer it to the accomplices of his crime. ye to it," says he to the people. And what answer
did that people make to him? "His blood, said they, be on us and on our children." A most fatal imprecation, and most dreadfully fulfilled upon them at the siege of Jerusalem, when the vengeance of heaven overtook them with a fury enexampled in the history of the world; when they were exposed at once to the horrors of famine, of sedition, of assassination, and the sword of the Romans. And it is very remarkable, that there was a striking correspondence between their crime and their punishment. They put Jesus to death when the nation was assembled to celebrate the passover; and when the nation was assembled for the same purpose, Titus shut them up within the walls of Jerusalem. The rejection of the true Messiah was their crime, and the following of false Messiahs to their destruction was their punishment. They bought Jesus as a slave; and they themselves were afterwards sold and bought as slaves, at the lowest prices. They preferred a robber and murderer to Jesus, whom they crucified between two thieves; and they themselves were afterwards infested with bands of thieves and robbers. They put Jesus to death lest the Romans should come and take away their place and nation; and the Romans did come and take away their place and nation.* And what is still more striking, and still more strongly marks the judgment of God upon them, they were punished with that very kind of death which they were so eager to inflict on the Saviour of mankind, the death of the cross; and that in such prodigious numbers, that Josephus assures us there wanted wood for crosses, and room to place them in,†
The history then proceeds as follows: "Then released he Barabbas unto them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified." It was the custom of the inhuman Romans to scourge their criminals before they crucified them; as if the exquisite tortures of crucifixion were not sufficient without adding to them those of the scourge. But in
* Newton on Prophecy, vol. ii. p. 355.
† De Bell. Jud. 1. v. c. xi. p. 1247. Ed. Huds.
this instance the Roman soldiers went further still; they improved upon the cruelty of their masters, and to torments they added the most brutal mockery and insult. "Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers; and they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand; and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. And after they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to be crucified." One hastens over this scene of insolence and outrage with averted eyes, and can hardly bring one's mind to believe that any thing in the shape of man could have risen to this height of wanton barbarity. What a difference between this treatment of an innocent and injured man, to that of the vilest criminal in this country previous to his execution; and how strongly does it mark the dif ference between the spirit of Paganism and the spirit of Christianity! "And as they came out, they found a inan of Cyrene, Simon by name, him they compelled to bear his cross." It was usual for criminals to bear their own cross; but when they were feeble (as the blessed Jesus might well be after all his bitter sufferings) they compelled some one to bear it for him; and this Cyrenian was probably known to be a favourer of Christ. "And when they were come to a place called Golgotha, they gave him vinegar to drink, mingled with gall;" a kind of stupefying potion, intended to abate the sense of pain, and to hasten death. "And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots." This is a prediction of king David's, in the 22d Psalm. "And sitting down, they watched him there; and set up over him his accusation, written, This is Jesus, King of the
Jews;" for in extraordinary cases it was usual to place such inscriptions over the criminal; but with regard to this, a remarkable circumstance occurred. We learn from St. John, that many of the Jews read this inscription, which gave them infinite offence; as being a declaration to all the world that Jesus really was their king. The chief priests therefore came to Pilate, and begged of him to alter the inscription; and instead of writing, "This is the King of the Jews," to write, "He said I am the King of the Jews." Pilate, who put up this inscription out of mockery, now retained it, like a true Roman, out of obstinacy. "What I have written (says he, peevishly) I have written; and it shall stand;" unconscious of what he was saying, and of his being overruled all the while by an unseen hand, which thus compelled him to bear an undesigned testimony to a most important truth; that the very man whom he had crucified as a malefactor, did not merely say that he was the king of the Jews, the true Messiah, but that he really was so.
"Then were two thieves crucified with him, the one on the right hand, the other on the left." This was done with a view of adding to the ignominy of our Saviour's sufferings. But this act of malignity, like many other instances of the same nature, answered a purpose which the authors of it little thought of or intended. It was the completion of a prophecy of Isaiah, in which, alluding to this very transaction, he says of the Messiah, he was numbered with the transgressors." They then continued their insults upon him, even while hanging in agony upon the cross, as we find related in the five following verses: We are then told, that " from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour." The sixth hour of the Jews corresponds to our twelve o'clock, and their ninth hour of course to our three. There was therefore a darkness over all the earth, from twelve at noon till three in the afternoon. This darkness must have been supernatural and miraculous. It could not be an ** Isaiah, liii. 12.