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The Trial and Death of Jesus Christ - A Devotional History of our Lord's Passion
by James Stalker
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IV.

How far Herod understood the silence of Jesus we cannot tell. It is too likely that he did not wish to understand. At all events he acted as if he did not; he treated it as if it were stupidity. He thought that the reason why Jesus would not work a miracle was because He could not: a pretender's powers generally forsake him when he falls into the hands of the police. Jesus, he thought, was discredited; His Messianic claims were exploded; even His followers must now be disillusioned.

So he thought and so he said; and the satellites round his throne chimed in; for there is no place where a great man's word is echoed with more parrot-like precision than in a petty court. And no doubt they considered it a great stroke of wit, well worthy of applause, when Herod, before sending Him back to Pilate, cast over His shoulders a gorgeous robe—probably in imitation of the white robe worn at Rome by candidates for office. The suggestion was that Jesus was a candidate for the throne of the country, but one so ridiculous that it would be a mistake to treat Him with anything but contempt. Thus amidst peals of laughter was Jesus driven from the presence.



[1] Josephus, "Ant.," XVIII., 3, 1.

[2] It may be questioned whether it was for trial he sent Jesus to Herod or only for advice, as Festus caused St. Paul's case to be heard by Agrippa.

[3] Called "die Gaenge des Dulders," in German devotional literature.



CHAPTER VI.

BACK TO PILATE

The sending of Jesus to Herod had not, as Pilate had hoped, finished the case, and so the Prisoner was brought back to the imperial palace.

Herod had affected to treat Jesus with disdain; but in reality, as we are now aware, he had himself been tried and exposed. And Jesus returned to do the same thing for Pilate—to make manifest what manner of spirit he was of; though Pilate had no conception that this was going to happen: he was only annoyed that a case of which he thought he had got rid was thrown on his hands again. He had reluctantly to resume it, and he carried it through to the end; but, before this point was reached, his character was revealed, down to its very foundations, in the light of Christ.

Herod's spirit was that of frivolous worldliness—the worldliness which tries to turn the whole of life into a pastime or a joke; Pilate's was that of strenuous worldliness—the worldliness which makes self its aim and subordinates everything to success. Of the two this is perhaps the more common; and, therefore, it will be both interesting and instructive to watch its self-revelation under the search-light of Christ's proximity.

I.

Pilate might perhaps have been justified in suspending the release of Jesus till after he received Him back from Herod; because, although he had himself found no fault in Him, his ignorance of Jewish laws and customs might have made him hesitate about his own judgment and wish, before absolutely settling the case, to obtain the opinion of an expert. When, however, he learned that the opinion of Herod coincided with his own, there was no further excuse for delay.

Accordingly he plainly informed the Jews[1] that he had examined the Prisoner and found no fault in Him; he had also sent Him to Herod with a like result. "Therefore," he continued. Therefore—what? "Therefore," you expect to hear, "I dismiss Him from the bar acquitted, and I will protect Him, if need be, from all violence." This would have been the only conclusion in accordance with logic and justice. Pilate's conclusion was the extraordinary one: "Therefore I will chastise Him and release Him." He would inflict the severe punishment of scourging as a sop to their rage, and then release Him as a tribute to justice.

Was a more unjust proposal ever made? Yet it was thoroughly characteristic of the man who made it as well as of the system which he represented. The spirit of imperial Rome was the spirit of compromise, manoeuvre and expediency; as the spirit of government has too often been elsewhere, not only in the State but also in the Church. Pilate had settled scores of cases on the same principle—or no principle; scores of officials were conducting their administration throughout the vast Roman empire in the same way at that very time. Only to Pilate fell the sinister distinction of putting the base system in operation in the case where its true character was exposed in the light of history.

But ought we not to believe that in all other cases, however obscure the victims, the spirit manifested by Pilate has been equally displeasing to God? In our Lord's picture of the Last Judgment one striking trait is that all are astonished at the reasons assigned for their destiny. Those on the right hand are credited with feeding Christ when He was hungry, giving Him drink when He was thirsty, and so forth; and they ask in surprise, Lord, when saw we Thee hungry and fed Thee, or thirsty and gave Thee drink? In like manner those on the left are accused of seeing Christ hungry but neglecting to feed Him, of seeing Him thirsty and refusing to give Him drink, and so forth; and they ask, Lord, when saw we Thee hungry or thirsty and ministered not to Thee? You perhaps think they say so to conceal the sins of which they are conscious? Not at all. They are really astonished: they think their identity has been mistaken and that they are about to be punished for sins they have never committed. They are only aware of having neglected a few children or old women not worth thinking about. But Christ says, Each of these stood for Me, and, when you neglected or injured them, you were doing it unto Me. Thus may all life at the last prove far more high and solemn than we now imagine. Take care how you touch your brother man; you may be touching the apple of God's eye: take care how you do an injustice even to a child; you may find out at the last that it is Christ you have been assailing.

II.

Pilate had cut himself loose from principle when he declared Jesus to be innocent and yet ordered Him to be chastised. He thought, however, that he could guide his course safely enough to the point at which he aimed. We are to see how completely he failed and at last suffered total shipwreck. Hands were stretched out towards him, as he advanced, some to save him, some to do the reverse; but the impulse of his own false beginning carried him on to the fatal issue.

The first hand stretched out to him was a loving and helpful one: it was the hand of his wife. She sent to tell him of a dream she had had about his Prisoner and to warn him to have nothing to do with "that just man."

Difficulties have been made as to how she could know about Christ; but there is no real difficulty. Probably, while Jesus was away at Herod's, Pilate had entered the palace and told his wife about the singular trial and about the impression which Jesus had made upon his mind. When he left her, she had fallen asleep and dreamed about it; for, though our version makes her say, "This night I have dreamed about Him," the literal translation is "this day"; and of course there might be many causes why a lady should fall asleep in the daytime. Her dream had been such as to fill her with a vague sense of alarm, and her message to her husband was the result.

This incident has taken a strong hold of the Christian imagination and given rise to all kinds of guesses. Tradition has handed down the name of Pilate's wife as Claudia Procula; and it is said that she was a proselyte of the Jewish religion; as high-toned heathen ladies in that age not infrequently became when circumstances brought the Old Testament into their hands. The Greek Church has gone so far as to canonise her, supposing that she became a Christian. Poets and artists have tried to reproduce her dream. Many will remember the picture of it in the Dore Gallery in London. The dreaming woman is represented standing in a balcony and looking up an ascending valley, which is crowded with figures. It is the vale of years or centuries, and the figures are the generations of the Church of Christ yet to be. Immediately in front of her is the Saviour Himself, bearing His cross; behind and around Him are His twelve apostles and the crowds of their converts; behind these the Church of the early centuries, with the great fathers, Polycarp and Tertullian, Athanasius and Gregory, Chrysostom and Augustine; further back the Church of the Middle Ages, with the majestic forms and warlike accoutrements of the Crusaders rising from its midst; behind these the Church of modern times, with its heroes; then multitudes upon multitudes that no man can number pressing forward in broadening ranks, till far aloft, in the white and shining heavens, lo, tier on tier and circle upon circle, with the angels of God hovering above them and on their flanks; and in the midst, transfigured to the brightness of a star, the cross, which in its rough reality He is bearing wearily below.

Of course these are but fancies. In the woman's anxiety that no evil should befall the Innocent we may, with greater certainty, trace the vestiges of the ancient Roman justice as it may have dwelt in the noble matrons, like Volumnia and Cornelia, whose names adorn the pristine annals of her race; while the wife's solicitude to save her husband from a deed of sin associates her with the still nobler women of all ages who have walked like guardian angels by the side of men immersed in the world and liable to be coarsened by its contact, to warn them of the higher laws and the unseen powers. We can hardly doubt that the hand of God was in this dream, or that it was outstretched to save Pilate from the doom to which he was hastening.

III.

Another hand, however, was now stretched out to him; and he grasped it eagerly, thinking it was going to save him; when it suddenly pushed him down towards the abyss. It was the hand of the mob of Jerusalem.

Up to this point the actors assembled on the stage of Christ's trial were comparatively few. It had been the express desire of the Jewish authorities to hurry the case through before the populace of the city and the crowds of Passover strangers got wind of it. The proceedings had accordingly gone forward all night; and it was still early morning. As Jesus was led through the streets to Herod and back, accompanied by so many of the principal citizens, no doubt a considerable number must have gathered. But now circumstances brought a great multitude on the scene.

It was the custom of the Roman governor, on the Passover morning, to release a prisoner to the people. As there were generally plenty of political prisoners on hand, rebels against the detested Roman yoke, but, for that very reason, favourites and heroes of the Jewish populace, this was a privilege not to be forgotten; and, while the trial of Jesus was proceeding in the open air, the mob of the city came pouring through the palace gates and up the avenue, shouting for their annual gift.

For once their demand was welcome to Pilate, for he thought he saw in it a way of escape from his own difficulty. He would offer them Jesus, who had a few days before been the hero of a popular demonstration, and as an aspirant to the Messiahship would, he imagined, be the very person they should want.

It was an utterly unjust thing to do; because, first, it was treating Jesus as if He were already a condemned man, whereas Pilate had himself a few minutes before declared Him innocent; and, secondly, it was staking the life of an innocent man on a guess, which might be mistaken, as to the fancy of the mob. No doubt, however, Pilate considered it kind, as he felt sure of the disposition of the populace; and, at all events, the chance of extricating himself was too good to lose.

The minds of the mob it turned out, however, were pre-occupied with a favourite of their own. Singularly enough his name also appears to have been Jesus: "Jesus Barabbas" is the name he bears in some of the best manuscripts of the gospel of St. Matthew.[2] He was "a notable prisoner," who had been guilty of insurrection in the city, in which blood had been spilt, and was now lying in jail with the associates whose ringleader he had been. A bandit, half robber half insurrectionary leader, is a figure which easily lays hold of the popular imagination. They hesitated, however, when Pilate proposed Jesus; and Pilate seems to have sent for the other prisoner, that they might see the two side by side; for they could not, he thought, hesitate for a moment, if they had the opportunity of observing the contrast.

But this brief interval was utilised by the Sanhedrists to persuade the multitude. It must be remembered that this was not the Galilean crowd by which Jesus had been brought in triumph into the city a few days before, but the mob of Jerusalem, with whom the ecclesiastical authorities had influence.[3] The priests and scribes, then, mingled among them and used every artifice they could think of. Probably their most effective argument was to whisper that Jesus was obviously the choice of Pilate, and therefore should not be theirs.

If Pilate actually placed the two Jesuses side by side on his platform, what a sight it was! The political desperado, stained with murder, there; the Healer and Teacher, who had gone about continually doing good, the Son of man, the Son of God, here. Now which will you have—Jesus or Barabbas? And the cry came ringing from ten thousand throats, "Barabbas!"

To Jesus what must that have meant! These were the inhabitants of Jerusalem, whom He had longed to gather as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings; they were the hearers of His words, the subjects of His miracles, the objects of His love; and they prefer to Him a murderer and a robber.

This scene has often been alleged as the self-condemnation of democracy. Vox populi vox Dei, its flatterers have said; but look yonder: when the multitude has to choose between Jesus and Barabbas, it chooses Barabbas. If this be so, the scene is equally decisive against aristocracy. Did the priests, scribes and nobles behave better than the mob? It was by their advice that the mob chose.

It is poor sport, on either side, to pelt opponents with such reproaches. It is better far to learn holy fear from such a scene in reference to ourselves, to our own party and to our country. What are we to admire? Whom are we to follow? In what are we to seek salvation? Certainly there are great questions awaiting the democracy. Whom will it choose—the revolutionist or the regenerator? And to what will it trust—cleverness or character? What spirit will it adopt as its own—that of violence or that of love? Which means will it employ—those which work from without inwards, or those which work from within outwards? What end will it seek—the kingdom of meat and drink, or the kingdom which is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost? But such questions are not for the democracy alone. All classes, all parties, every generation and every country have, from time to time, to face them. And so has the individual. Perhaps all the great choices of life ultimately resolve themselves into this one—Jesus or Barabbas?

IV.

To Pilate the choice of Barabbas must have been not only a surprise, but a staggering blow. "What then," he asked, "shall I do with Jesus?" Probably he expected the answer, Give us Him too; and there can be little doubt that he would willingly have complied with such a request. But, instead of this, there came, quick as echo, the reply, "Crucify Him!" and it was more a command than a request.

He was now made sensible that what he had considered a loophole of escape was a noose into which he had thrust his head. He might, indeed, have intimated that he had only given them the prerogative to save one of the two lives, not to take either of them away. But virtually he had put both prisoners at their disposal. In this way, at all events, the mob interpreted the situation; and he did not venture to contradict them.

He was, however, deeply moved, and he did a very unusual thing: calling for a basin of water, he washed his hands before them all and said, "I am innocent from the blood of this just Person; see ye to it." This was an impressive act; yet its impressiveness was too theatrical. He washed his hands when he ought to have exerted them. And blood does not come off so easily. He could not abnegate his responsibility and cast it upon others. Public men frequently think they can do so: they say that they bow to the force of public opinion, but wash their hands of the deed. But if their position, like Pilate's, demands that they should decide for themselves and take the consequences, the guilt of sinful action clings to them and cannot be transferred. This whole scene, indeed, is a mirror for magistrates, to show them down what dark paths they may be pushed if they resign themselves to be the mere tools of the popular will. Pilate ought to have opposed the popular will at whatever risk and refused to do the deed of which he disapproved. But such a course would have involved loss to himself; and this was the real reason for his conduct.

The populace felt their triumph, and in reply to his solemn dissociation of himself from Christ's death sent back the insulting cry, "His blood be on us and on our children." Pilate was afraid of the guilt, but they were not. Well might the heavens have blackened above them at that word, and the earth shuddered beneath their feet! Profaner cry was never uttered. But they were mad with rage and reckless of everything but victory in the contest in which they were engaged. Still, their words were not forgotten in the quarter to which they were directed; and it was not long before the curse which they had invoked descended on their city and their race. Meanwhile they gained their end: the will of Pilate was breaking down before their well-directed persistency.



[1] "On the return of Jesus from Herod, the Sanhedrists do not seem to have been present. Pilate had to call them together, presumably from the temple."—EDERSHEIM.

[2] See Keim's note. Westcott and Hort reject it. Some have further seen an impressive coincidence in the name Barabbas, interpreting it "son of the father." Jesus was by no means a rare name.

[3] Hence the contrast, common in popular preaching, between the multitude crying "Hosanna" and the same multitude crying "Crucify" is incorrect.



CHAPTER VII.

THE CROWN OF THORNS.

Pilate had failed in his attempt to save Jesus from the hands of His prosecutors, whose rage against their Victim was only intensified by the struggle in which they had engaged; and there was no course now open to him but to hand Jesus over to the executioners for, at least, the preliminary tortures of crucifixion.

It is not in accordance with modern Christian sentiment to dwell very much on the physical sufferings of Christ. Once the feeling on this subject was very different: in old writers, like the mystic Tauler, for example, every detail is enlarged upon and even exaggerated, till the page seems to reek with blood and the mind of the reader grows sick with horror. We rather incline to throw a veil over the ghastly details, or we uncover them only so far as may be necessary in order to understand the condition of His mind, in which we seek His real sufferings.

The sacred body of our Lord was exposed to many shocks and cruelties before the final and complicated horrors of the crucifixion. First, there was His agony in the garden. Then—not to speak of the chains laid on Him when He was arrested—there was the blow on the face from the servant of the high priest. After His condemnation by the ecclesiastical authorities in the middle of the night they "did spit in His face and buffeted Him;" and others smote Him with the palms of their hands, saying, "Prophesy unto us, Thou Christ. Who is he that smote Thee?" The present is, therefore, the fourth access of physical suffering which He had to endure.

First, they scourged Him. This was done by the Roman soldiers by order of their master Pilate, though the governor, in all likelihood, retired from the scene while it was being inflicted. It took place, it would appear, on the platform where the trial had been held, and in the eyes of all. The victim was stripped and stretched against a pillar, or bent over a low post, his hands being tied, so that he had no means of defending himself. The instrument of torture was a sort of knout or cat-o'-nine-tails, with bits of iron or bone attached to the ends of the thongs. Not only did the blows cut the skin and draw blood, but not infrequently the victim died in the midst of the operation. Some have supposed that Pilate, out of consideration for Jesus, may have moderated either the number or the severity of the strokes; but, on the other hand, his plan of releasing Him depended on his being able to show the Jews that He had suffered severely. The inability of Jesus to bear His own cross to the place of execution was no doubt chiefly due to the exhaustion produced by this infliction; and this is a better indication of the degree of severity than mere conjecture.

After the scourging the soldiers took Him away with them to their own quarters in the palace and called together the whole band to enjoy the spectacle. Evidently they thought that He was already condemned to be crucified; and anyone condemned to crucifixion seems, after being scourged, to have been handed over to the soldiery to be handled as they pleased, just as a hunted creature, when it is caught, is flung to the dogs. And, indeed, this comparison is only too appropriate; because, as Luther has remarked, in those days men were treated as only brutes are treated now. To us it is incomprehensible how the whole band should have been called together merely to gloat over the sufferings of a fellow-creature and to turn His pain and shame into brutal mockery. This, however, was their purpose; and they enjoyed it as schoolboys enjoy the terror of a tortured animal. It must be remembered that these were men who on the field of battle were inured to bloodshed and at Rome found their chief delight in watching the sports of the arena, where gladiators butchered one another to make a Roman holiday.

Their horseplay took the form of a mock coronation. They had caught the drift of the trial sufficiently to know that the charge against Jesus was that He pretended to be a king; and lofty pretensions on the part of one who appears to be mean and poor easily lend themselves to ridicule. Besides, in their minds there was perhaps an amused scorn at the thought of a Jew aiming at a sovereignty above that of Caesar. Foreign soldiers stationed in Palestine cannot have liked the Jews, who hated them so cordially; and this may have given an edge to their scorn of a Jewish pretender.

They treated Him as if they believed Him to be a king. A king must wear the purple. And so they got hold of an old, cast-off officer's cloak of this colour and threw it over His shoulders. Then a king must have a crown. So one of them ran out to the park in which the palace stood and pulled a few twigs from a tree or bush. These happened to be thorny; but this did not matter, it was all the better; they were plaited into the rude semblance of a crown and crushed down on His head. To complete the outfit, a king must have a sceptre. And this they found without difficulty: a reed, probably used as a walking-stick, being thrust into His right hand. Thus was the mock king dressed up. And then, as on occasions of state they had seen subjects bow the knee to the emperor, saying, "Ave, Caesar!" so they advanced one after another to Jesus and, bending low, said, "Hail, King of the Jews!" But, after passing with mock solemnity, each turned and, with a burst of laughter, struck Him a blow, using for this purpose the reed which He had dropped. And, though I hardly dare to repeat it, they covered His face with spittle!

What a spectacle! It might have been expected that those who were themselves poor and lowly, and therefore subject to the oppression of the powerful, would have felt sympathy and compassion for one of their own station when crushed by the foot of tyranny. But there is no cruelty like the cruelty of underlings. There is an instinct in all to wish to see others cast down beneath themselves; and, especially, if one who has aimed high is brought low, there is a sense of personal exultation at his downfall. Such are the base passions which lie at the bottom of men's hearts; and the dregs of the dregs of human nature were revealed on this occasion.

What must it have been to Jesus to look on it—to have it thrust on His sight and into contact with His very person, so that He could not get away? What must it have been to Him, with His delicate bodily organism and sensitive mind, to be in the hands of those rude and ruthless men? It was, however, necessary, in order that He might fully accomplish the work which He had come to the world to perform. He had come to redeem humanity—to go down to the very lowest depths to seek and to save the lost; and, therefore, He had to make close acquaintance with human nature in its worst specimens and its extremest degradation. He was to be the Saviour of sinners as bad and degraded as even these soldiers; and, therefore, He had to come in contact with them and see what they were.

Thus have I passed as lightly as was possible over the details; nor would my readers wish me to dwell on them further. But it will be profitable to linger on this spot a little longer, in order to learn the lessons of the scene.

First, notice in the conduct of the tormentors of Jesus the abuse of one of the gifts of God. In the conduct of the Roman soldiers from first to last the most striking feature is that at every point they turned their work into horseplay and merriment. Now, laughter is a gift of God. It is a kind of spice which the Creator has given to be taken along with the somewhat unpalatable food of ordinary life. It is a kind of sunshine to enliven the landscape, which is otherwise too dull and sombre. The power of seeing the amusing side of things immensely lightens the load of life; and he who possesses the gift of evoking hearty and innocent mirth may be a true benefactor of his species.[1]

But, while laughter is a gift of God, there is no other gift of His which is more frequently abused and converted from a blessing into a curse. When laughter is directed against sacred things and holy persons; when it is used to belittle and degrade what is great and reverend; when it is employed as a weapon with which to torture weakness and cover innocence with ridicule—then, instead of being the foam on the cup at the banquet of life, it becomes a deadly poison. Laughter guided these soldiers in their inhuman acts; it concealed from them the true nature of what they were doing; and it wounded Christ more deeply than even the scourge of Pilate.

A second thing to be noticed is that it was against the kingly office of the Redeemer that the opposition of men was directed on this occasion. It was different on a former occasion, when He was abused at the close of the ecclesiastical trial. Then it was His prophetic office that was turned into ridicule: "when they had blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face and asked Him, saying, Prophesy who is it that smote thee." Here, on the other hand, the ridicule was directed against Him entirely on the ground of His claiming to be a king. The soldiers considered it an absurdity and a joke that one apparently so mean, friendless and powerless should make any such pretensions.

Many a time since then has the same derision been awakened by this claim of Christ. He is the King of nations. But earthly kings and statesmen have ridiculed the idea that His will and His law should control them in their schemes and ambitions. Even where His authority is nominally acknowledged, both aristocracies and democracies are slow to recognise that their legislation and customs should be regulated by His words. He is King of the Church. Andrew Melville told King James: "There are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland; there is King James, the head of this commonwealth, and there is Christ Jesus, the King of the Church, whose subject James VI. is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member." The entire history of the Scottish Church has been one long struggle to maintain this truth; but the struggle has frequently been carried on in the face of opposition almost as scornful as that which assailed Jesus in Pilate's palace. Most vital of all is the acknowledgment of Christ's kingship in the realm of the individual life; but it is here that His will is most resisted. In words we acknowledge allegiance to Him; but in which of us has the victory over the flesh been so complete that His full claim has been conceded, to have the arrangement of our business and our leisure and to dictate what is to be done with our time, our means and our services?

A third lesson is to recognise that in what Jesus bore on this occasion He was suffering for us.

Of all the features of the scene the one that has most impressed the imagination of Christendom is the crown of thorns. It was something unusual, and brought out the ingenuity and wantonness of cruelty. Besides, as the wound of a thorn has been felt by everyone, it brings the pain of the Sufferer nearer to us than any other incident. But it is chiefly by its symbolism that it has laid hold of the Christian mind. When Adam and Eve were driven from the garden into the bleak and toilsome world, their doom was that the ground should bring forth to them thorns and thistles. Thorns were the sign of the curse; that is, of their banishment from God's presence and of all the sad and painful consequences following therefrom. And does not the thorn, staring from the naked bough of winter in threatening ugliness, lurking beneath the leaves or flowers of summer to wound the approaching hand, tearing the clothes or the flesh of the traveller who tries to make his way through the thicket, burning in the flesh where it has sunk, fitly stand for that side of life which we associate with sin—the side of care, fret, pain, disappointment, disease and death? In a word, it symbolises the curse. But it was the mission of Christ to bear the curse; and, as He lifted it on His own head, He took it off the world. He bore our sins and carried our sorrows.

Why is it that, when we think of the crown of thorns now, it is not only with horror and pity, but with an exultation which cannot be repressed? Because, cruel as was the soldiers' jest, there was a divine fitness in their act; and wisdom was, even through their sin, fulfilling her own intention. There are some persons with faces so handsome that the meanest dress, which would excite laughter or disgust if worn by others, looks well on them, and the merest shreds of ornament, stuck on them anyhow, are more attractive than the most elaborate toilets of persons less favoured by nature. And so about Christ there was something which converted into ornaments even the things flung at Him as insults. When they called Him the Friend of publicans and sinners, though they did it in derision, they were giving Him a title for which a hundred generations have loved Him; and so, when they put on His head the crown of thorns, they were unconsciously bestowing the noblest wreath that man could weave Him. Down through the ages Jesus passes, still wearing the crown of thorns; and His followers and lovers desire for Him no other diadem.

Fourthly, this scene teaches the lesson of patience in suffering.

I remember a saint whom it was my privilege to visit in the beginning of my life as a minister. Though poor and uneducated, she was a person of very unusual natural powers; her ideas were singularly original, and she had a charming pleasantness of wit. Though not very old, she knew that she was doomed to die; and the disease from which she was suffering was one of the most painful incident to humanity. Often, I remember, she would tell me, that, when the torture was at the worst, she lay thinking of the sufferings of the Saviour, and said to herself that the shooting pains were not so bad as the spikes of the thorns.

Christ's sufferings are a rebuke to our softness and self-pleasing. It is not, indeed, wrong to enjoy the comforts and the pleasures of life. God sends these; and, if we receive them with gratitude, they may lift us nearer to Himself. But we are too terrified to be parted from them and too afraid of pain and poverty. Especially ought the sufferings of Christ to brace us up to endure whatever of pain or reproach we may have to encounter for His sake. Many would like to be Christians, but are kept back from decision by dread of the laughter of profane companions or by the prospect of some worldly loss. But we cannot look at the suffering Saviour without being ashamed of such cowardly fears. If the crown of thorns now becomes Christ so well as to be the pride and the song of men and angels, be assured that any twig from that crown which we may have to wear will one day turn out to be our most dazzling ornament.



[1] A ministerial friend told me that he once, in the hearing of Dr. Andrew Bonar, made reference to some things in the life of St. Paul which seemed to him to betray on the part of the apostle a sense of humour. He was not very sure how Dr. Bonar might take such a remark, and at the close he asked if he agreed with him. "Not only," was the reply, "do I agree with you, but I go further: I think there are distinct traces of humour in the sayings and the conduct of our Lord;" and he proceeded to quote examples. Everyone is aware how Dr. Bonar himself knew how to combine with the profoundest reverence and saintliness a strain of delightful mirth; and the absence of this is the great defect of his otherwise charming autobiography.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE SHIPWRECK OF PILATE

We have lingered long at the judgment-seat of Pilate. Far too long. Pilate has detained us. He knew perfectly well, the first glance he bestowed on the case, what it was his duty to do. But, instead of acting at once on his conviction, he put off. Of such delay good seldom comes. Pilate gave temptation time to assail him. He resisted it, indeed; he fought hard and long against it; but he ought never to have given it the chance. And he miserably succumbed in the end.

I.

When Pilate delivered Jesus over to be scourged, it looked as if he had surrendered Him to the cross; and so in all probability the Jews thought, because scourging was the usual preliminary to crucifixion. He, however, had not yet abandoned the hope of saving Jesus: he was still secretly adhering to the proposal he had made, to chastise Him and then let Him go. Perhaps, if he retired into the palace while the scourging was taking place, his wife may have urged him to make a further effort on behalf of that Just Man.

At all events he came out on the platform, round which the Jews were still standing, and informed them that the case was not finished; and, as Jesus, whose scourging was now over, came forward, he turned round and, pointing to Him, exclaimed with deep emotion, "Behold the Man."

It was an involuntary expression of commiseration,[1] an appeal to the Jews to recognize the unreasonableness of proceeding further: Jesus was so obviously not such an one as they had tried to make Him out to be; at all events He had suffered enough.

But the Christian mind has in all ages felt in these words a sense deeper than Pilate intended. As Caiaphas was uttering a greater truth than he knew when he said it was expedient that one should die for the whole people, so in uttering this exclamation the governor was an unconscious prophet. Preachers in every subsequent age have adopted his words and, pointing to Jesus, cried, "Behold the Man!" Painters have chosen this moment, when Jesus came forth, bleeding from the cruel stripes and wearing the purple robe and crown of thorns, as the one in which to portray the Man of Sorrows; and many a priceless canvas bears the title Ecce Homo.

From Pilate's lips there fell two words which the world will never forget—the question, "What is truth?" and this exclamation, "Behold the Man!" And the one may be taken as the answer to the other. When the question, "What is truth?" is put with deep earnestness, what does it mean but this?—Who will make God known to us? who will clear up the mystery of existence? who will reveal to man his own destiny? And to these questions is there any answer but this; "Behold the Man"? He has shown to the sons of men what they ought to be; His is the perfect life, after which every human life ought to be fashioned; He has opened the gates of immortality and revealed the secrets of the other world. And, what is far more important, He has not only shown us what our life here and hereafter ought to be, but how the ideal may be realised. He is not only the image of perfection but the Saviour from sin. Therefore ought the world to turn to Him and "behold the Man."

II.

Pilate hoped that the sight of the sufferings of Jesus would move the hard hearts of His persecutors, as it had moved his own. But the only response to his appeal was, "Crucify Him, crucify Him." It is to be noted, however, that these cruel words now came from "the chief priests and officers." Apparently the common people were moved: they might have yielded, if their superiors had allowed them. But nothing could move those hard hearts; indeed, the sight of blood only inflamed them the more; and they felt certain that by sheer persistence they could break down Pilate's opposition.

He was at his wits' end and replied to them angrily, "Take ye Him and crucify Him; for I find no fault in Him"; meaning probably, that he was willing to yield the Prisoner up to their will, if they would take the responsibility of executing Him; if, indeed, he had in his mind any clear meaning and was not merely uttering an exclamation of annoyance.

They perceived that the critical moment had arrived, and at last they let out the true reason for which they desired His death: "We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God."

This was the ground on which they had condemned Him themselves, though up to this point they had kept it concealed. They had not mentioned it, because they thought that Pilate would jeer at it. It had on him, however, a very different effect. All the morning he had been feeling uneasy; and the more he saw of Jesus the more he disliked the part he was playing. But now at length the mention of His claim to be the Son of God caused his fears to take a definite and alarming shape. It revived in his mind the stories, with which his own pagan religion was rife, of gods or sons of the gods who had sometimes appeared on earth in disguise. It was dangerous to have to do with them; for any injury inflicted on them, even unconsciously, might be terribly avenged. He had discerned in Jesus something mysterious and inexplicable: what if He were the son of Jehovah, the native deity of Palestine, as Castor and Pollux were sons of Jupiter? and might not Jehovah, if He were injured, blast the man who wronged Him with a curse? Such was the terror that flashed through his mind; and, taking Jesus once more inside the palace, he asked Him, with a mixture of awe and curiosity, "Whence art Thou?"

Jesus gave him no answer, but again retired into the majestic silence which at three points already had marked His trial. In the whole conduct of the Saviour in His sufferings there is nothing more sublime than these pauses; but it is not easy at every point to gauge the state of mind to which they were due. Why was Jesus silent at this point? Some have said, because it was impossible to answer the question. He could not have said either Yes or No; for, if He had said that God was His Father, Pilate would have understood the statement in a grossly pagan sense; and yet, to avoid this, He could not say that He was not the Son of God. So it was best to say nothing.

The true explanation, however, is simpler. Jesus would say nothing about whether He was the Son of God or not, because He did not wish to be released on this ground. Not as a son of God, but as an innocent man, which Pilate had again and again acknowledged Him to be, was He entitled to be set free; and His silence called upon Pilate to act on this acknowledgment.

The judge was more than ever astonished; and he was irritated a little at being thus treated. "Speakest Thou not unto me?" he asked, flushing; "knowest Thou not that I have power to crucify Thee and have power to release Thee?" Poor man! it was to be seen before many minutes had passed how much power he had. And what was this power of which he boasted? He spoke as if he had arbitrary discretion to do whatever he pleased. No just judge would make such a claim: justice takes from him the power to follow his own inclination if it be unjust. It was of this Jesus reminded him when He now answered with quiet dignity, "Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, unless it were given thee from above." [2] He reminds him that the power he wields is delegated by Heaven, and therefore not to be used according to his own caprice, but according to the dictates of justice. Yet He added, "Therefore he that delivered Me unto thee hath the greater sin." He acknowledged that Pilate was in a position in which he was compelled to try the case: he had not taken it up at his own hand, as the Jewish authorities had done.

Thus Jesus recognised all the difficulties of His judge's position and was willing to make for him every allowance. This was He whom Pilate had, a few minutes before, given over to torture. Was there ever such sublime and unselfish clemency? Could there have been a more complete triumph over resentment and irritation? If the silence of Christ was sublime, no less sublime, when He did speak, were His words.

III.

Pilate felt the greatness and the magnanimity of his Prisoner, and came forth determined at all hazards to set Him free. The Jews saw it in his face. And at length they brought out their last weapon, which they had been keeping in reserve and Pilate had been fearing all the time: they threatened to complain against him to the emperor; for this was the meaning of what they now cried: "If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar."

There was nothing which a Roman provincial governor so much dreaded as a complaint lodged against him at Rome. And in Pilate's case such an accusation, for more reasons than one, would have been specially perilous. The imperial throne was occupied at the time by one who was a most suspicious master. Tiberius seemed to delight in humiliating and disgracing his subordinates. Besides, at this very period he was peculiarly dangerous. A diseased body, the punishment of vices long indulged, had made his mind gloomy and savage; in fact, he was little better than a madman—morose, suspicious and malicious. Nor was any charge so likely to inflame him as the one which they proposed to lay against Pilate. It was well known at Rome that the hope of a Messiah was spread throughout the East; and any provincial governor supposed to be favouring or even conniving at the claims of such a pretender would certainly be recalled, probably exiled, and possibly executed. Amicus Caesaris, "Caesar's friend," was one of the most coveted titles of a man in Pilate's position; and to be accused of acting as no friend of Caesar's could act was the most serious of all dangers.

But there was something else which lent point to the threat of the Jewish authorities: Pilate well knew that his administration could not bear the light of an investigation such as would inevitably follow a complaint from his subjects. It is a curious thing that in a secular writer of that age we find an account of another occasion on which this same threat was held over Pilate; and the writer who mentions it adds: "He was afraid that if a Jewish embassy were sent to Rome, they might discuss the many maladministrations of his government, his extortions, his unjust decrees, his inhuman punishments." [3] Such had been the character of Pilate's past life; and now, when he was going to do a humane and righteous act, it stayed his hand. There is nothing which so frustrates good resolutions and paralyzes noble efforts as the dead weight of past sins. Those who are acquainted with secret and discreditable chapters of a man's history are able, wielding this knowledge over his head, to say, Thou shalt not do this good act which thou wishest to do, or, Thou shalt do this evil and shameful thing which we bid thee. There are companies in which men cannot utter the fine, high-sounding things they would say elsewhere, because there are present those who know how their lives have contradicted them. What is it that mocks the generous thought rising in our minds, that silences the noble word on our lips, that paralyzes the forming energy of our actions? Is it not the internal whisper, Remember how you have failed before? This is the curse of past sin: it will not let us do the good we would.

But, if a man has thus committed himself by an evil past, what is he to do? What ought Pilate to have done? There is only one course. It is to summon together the resources of his manhood, defy consequences, and do the right forthwith, come what may. One step taken in loyalty to conscience, one word of confession spoken, and in a moment the power of the tyranny is broken, and the spellbound man is free to issue forth from the inglorious prison of the past.

Alas, Pilate was not equal to any such effort. For the sake of righteousness, for the sake of this impressive and innocent but obscure and friendless Galilean, to face a complaint at Rome and run the risk of exile and poverty—the man of the world's philosophy could not rise to any such height. He belonged to the world, whose fashion and favour, pleasures and comforts were the breath of his nostrils; and, when he heard the menace of his subjects, he surrendered at discretion.

Thus Jewish passion and persistency triumphed. Pilate resisted, but he was forced to yield inch by inch. He wished to do right; he felt the spell of Jesus; and it irritated him to have to go against his conscience, but his subjects compelled him to obey their wicked will. Yet the true reason of his failure was in himself—in the shallowness and worldliness of his own character, which this occasion laid bare to the very foundations.[4]

IV.

There was little more to do. The mind of Pilate was very savage and his heart very sore. He had been beaten and humiliated; and he would gladly inflict some humiliation on his opponents, if he could find a way. He ascended the judgment-seat, "in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew Gabbatha"—an act similar in significance, I suppose, with our judges' habit, before pronouncing a death sentence, of putting on the black cap. Pointing to Jesus, he exclaimed, "Behold your King!" It was as much as to say that he believed this really to be their Messiah—this poor, bleeding, mishandled Man. He was trying to cut them with a taunt. And he succeeded: smarting with pain they shouted, "Away with Him! away with Him! crucify Him!" "What," he proceeded, "shall I crucify your King?" And, borne away with fury, they responded, "We have no king but Caesar." What a word to come from the representatives of a nation to which pertained "the adoption and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the law and the service of God and the promises!" It was the renouncement of their birthright, the abandonment of their destiny. Pilate well knew what it had cost their proud hearts thus to forswear the hopes of their fathers and acknowledge the right of their conqueror; but to compel them to swallow this bitter draught was some compensation for the cup of humiliation they had compelled him to drink. And he took them at their word.



[1] Perhaps also of admiration. Pilate had never before seen so impressive a specimen of humanity; and the contrast between the sweetness and majesty of His appearance and the indignities which He had suffered drew from him this involuntary exclamation. One recalls Shakespeare's words about Brutus:

"His life was gentle, and the elements So mixed in him, that nature might stand up And say to all the world, This was a Man!"

[2] We are much tempted on account of the "therefore" to explain "from above" as referring to the Jewish tribunal.

[3] Philo.

[4] It is a striking illustration of the irony of history that Pilate was overtaken by the very fate to escape which he abandoned Jesus. Soon after the Crucifixion his subjects lodged a complaint against him at Rome. He was recalled from his province and never returned. Ultimately, it is said, he terminated his existence with his own hand, "wearied out with miseries." Many legends in subsequent centuries clustered about his name. Several spots were supposed to be haunted by his restless and despairing spirit, notably a spring in Switzerland on the top of Mount Pilatus, which was thought to have derived its name from him; but this is more than doubtful.



CHAPTER IX.

JUDAS ISCARIOT

To the civil trial of our Lord there is a sad appendix, as we have already had one to the ecclesiastical trial. Christ's great confession in the palace of the high priest was accompanied by the great denial of Peter outside; and the proceedings in the court of Pontius Pilate were accompanied by the final act of the treachery of Judas. Only in the latter case we are not able with the same accuracy to fix the circumstances of time and place.

I.

Judas is one of the darkest riddles of human history. In the Vision of Hell the poet Dante, after traversing the circles of the universe of woe, in which each separate kind of wickedness receives its peculiar punishment, arrives at last, in the company of his guide, at the nethermost circle of all, in the very bottom of the pit, where the worst of all sinners and the basest of all sins are undergoing retribution. It is a lake not of fire but of ice, beneath whose transparent surface are visible, fixed in painful postures, the figures of those who have betrayed their benefactors; because this, in Dante's estimation, is the worst of sins. In the midst of them stands out, vast and hideous, "the emperor who sways the realm of woe"—Satan himself; for this was the crime which lost him Paradise. And the next most conspicuous figure is Judas Iscariot. He is in the mouth of Satan, being champed and torn by his teeth as in a ponderous engine.

Such was the mediaeval view of this man and his crime. But in modern times opinion has swung round to the opposite extreme. Ours is an age of toleration, and one of its favourite occupations is the rehabilitation of evil reputations. Men and women who have stood for centuries in the pillory of history are being taken down; their cases are retried; and they are set up on pedestals of admiration. Sometimes this is done with justice, but is other cases it has been carried to absurdity. Nobody, it would appear, has ever been very bad; the criminals and scoundrels have been men whose motives have been misunderstood. Among those on whose behalf the attempt has thus been made to reverse the verdict of history is Judas Iscariot. Eighteen centuries had agreed to regard him as the meanest of mankind, but in our century he has been transmuted into a kind of hero. The theory is of German origin; but it was presented to the English public by De Quincey, who adorned it with all the persuasiveness of his meretricious genius.

It is held that the motive of Judas was totally different from the one hitherto supposed: it was not filthy lucre. The smallness of the price for which he sold his Master—it was less than four pounds of our money, though the value of this sum was much greater then—proves that there must have been another motive. The traditional conception is inconsistent with Christ's choice of him to be a disciple; and it is irreconcilable with the tragic greatness of his repentance. His view of Christ's enterprise was no doubt of a material cast: he expected Christ to be a king, and hoped to hold a high place in His court: but these ideas were common to all the disciples, who to the very end were waiting to see their Master throw off the cloak of His humble condition and take to Himself His great power and reign; only they left the time and the means in their Master's hands, not venturing to criticise His proceedings. Judas was not so patient. He was a man of energy and practicality, and he allowed himself to believe that he had discerned a defect in the character of his Master. Jesus was too spiritual and unworldly for the enterprise on which he had embarked—too much occupied with healing, preaching and speculating. These would be well enough when once the kingdom was established; but He was losing His opportunities. His delay had turned against Him the authoritative classes. One vast force, indeed, was still on His side—the enthusiasm of the populace—but even of it He was not taking advantage. When, on Palm Sunday, He was borne into the capital by a crowd throbbing with Messianic expectation, He seemed to have in His hand what Judas supposed to be the object of His life; but He did nothing, and the crowd dispersed, disappointed and disheartened. What Jesus required was to be precipitated into a situation where He would be compelled to act. He lacked energy and decision; but, if He were delivered into the hands of the authorities, who were known to be seeking His life, He could hesitate no longer. When they laid hands on Him, He would of course liberate Himself from them, and His miraculous power would exhibit itself in forms so irresistible as to awaken universal enthusiasm. Thus would His kingdom be set up in magnificence; and the man whom the king would delight to honour would surely be the humble follower by whose shrewdness and audacity the crisis had been brought about.

II.

Even if this were the true history of Judas, his conduct would not, perhaps, be as innocent as it looks. In the course of His life our Lord had frequently to deal with persons who attempted, from what appeared to themselves to be good motives, to interfere with His plans—to precipitate Him into action before His time or to restrain Him when His time had come—and He always resented such interference with indignation. Even His own mother was not spared when she played this part. To do God's will exactly, neither more nor less, neither anticipating it nor lagging behind it, was the inner-most principle of the life of Jesus; and He treated any interference with it as a suggestion of the Evil One.

Still the theory will not hold water. The Scriptures know nothing of it, and it is inconsistent with the tone of moral repulsion in which they speak of Judas. Besides, they assign a totally different motive. They affirm that Judas was a thief and stole out of the bag from which Jesus gave to the poor and supplied His own wants—a sacrilege which most thieves would have scorned. It is in entire accordance with this that the word with which he approached the Sanhedrim was, "How much will ye give me?" That he was willing to accept so little proves how strong his passion was.

It is altogether impossible that a character of this kind can have been combined with the generous although mistaken enthusiasm which the theory attributes to him.[1] But, on the other hand, the passion of avarice may easily have been nourished by brooding with disappointment on Messianic visions; and the theory of De Quincey may supply important hints for unravelling the mystery of his career.

There can be no doubt that at one time the life of Judas seemed full of promise. Jesus, who was so strict about permitting any to follow Him, would not have chosen him into the apostolic circle unless he had exhibited enthusiasm for His person and His cause. He well knew, indeed, that in his motives there was a selfish alloy; but this was the case with all His followers; and fellowship with Himself was the fire in which the alloy was to be purged out.

In the other apostles this process actually took place: they were refined by fellowship with Him. Their worldliness, indeed, remained to the end of His earthly career, but it was growing less and less; and other ties, stronger than their hopes of earthly glory, were slowly but surely binding them indissolubly to His cause. In Judas, on the contrary, the reverse process took place: what was good in him grew less and less, and at last the sole bond which held him to Christ was what he could make out of the connection.

When the suspicion first dawned on him that the hope of a Messianic kingdom was not to be fulfilled, the inner man of Judas underwent a critical change. This happened a year before the end, on the occasion when Christ resisted the attempt of His followers to take Him by force and make Him a king, and when many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him. At that time Jesus warned Judas against the evil spirit which he was allowing to take possession of his mind by the strong saying, "Have I not chosen you twelve? and one of you is a devil." But the disciple did not heed the warning. Perhaps it was at this stage that he commenced to steal from the bag which he carried. He felt that he must have some tangible reward for following Christ, and he justified his peculation by saying to himself that what he was taking was infinitely less than he had been led to expect. He regarded himself as an ill-used man.

Under the practice of this secret sin his character could not but rapidly deteriorate. Jesus dropped a word of warning now and then; but it had the reverse of the desired effect. Judas knew that Jesus knew; and he grew to hate Him. This was by far the worst aspect of the case. The other disciples were becoming more and more attached to their Master, because they felt increasingly how much they owed Him; but Judas did not feel that he owed Him anything: on the contrary, his feeling was that he had been betrayed. Why should he not betray in turn? There may even have been an element of scorn in selling Christ for so little.

More than one of the Evangelists seem to connect the treachery of Judas directly with the scene at Bethany in which Mary anointed Jesus with costly ointment. Apparently this beautiful act brought all the evil in his heart to such a head that an outbreak could no longer be deferred. His spite found vent in the angry contention that the money ought to have been given to the poor. It was a large sum, off which he could have taken an unusually large slice of booty. But probably there was more in the occasion to incense Judas. To him this feasting and anointing, at the moment when the crisis of Christ's fortunes had obviously come, appeared sheer folly; as a practical man he despised it. It was manifest that the game was up; a leader loitering and dreaming in this fashion at the crisis of his fate was doomed. It was time to get out of the ship, for it was clearly sinking; but he would do so in such a way as to gratify his resentment, his scorn and his love of money all at once.

Thus the master-passion of Judas was nourished from potent springs. But, indeed, avarice in itself is one of the most powerful of motives. In the teaching of the pulpit it may seldom be noticed, but both in Scripture and in history it occupies a prominent place. It is questionable if anything else makes so many ill deeds to be done. Avarice breaks all the commandments. Often has it put the weapon into the hand of the murderer; in most countries of the world it has in every age made the ordinary business of the market-place a warfare of falsehood; the bodies of men and the hearts of women have been sold for gold. Why is it that gigantic wrongs flourish from age to age, and practices utterly indefensible are continued with the overwhelming sanction of society? It is because there is money in them. Avarice is a passion of demonic strength; but it may help us to keep it out of our hearts to remember that it was the sin of Judas.

III.

The repentance of Judas is alleged as the sign of a superior spirit. Certainly it is an indication of the goodness which he once possessed, because it is only by the light of a spark of goodness that the darkness of sin can be perceived; and the more the conscience has been enlightened the severer is the reaction when it is outraged. Those who have in any degree shared the company of Christ can never afterwards be as if they had not enjoyed this privilege; and religion, if it does not save, will be the cruellest element in the soul's perdition.

It is not certain at what point the reaction in the mind of Judas set in.[2] There were many incidents of the trial well calculated to awaken in him a revulsion of feeling. At length, however, the retributive powers of conscience were thoroughly aroused—those powers which in all literature have formed the theme of the deepest tragedy; which in the Bible are typified by Cain, escaping as a fugitive and a vagabond from the cry of his brother's blood; which in Greek literature are shadowed forth by the terrible figures of the Eumenides, with gorgon faces and blood-dropping eyes, following silently but remorselessly those upon whose track they have been set; and which in Shakespeare are represented in the soul-curdling scenes of Macbeth and Richard III. He was seized with an uncontrollable desire to undo what he had done. The money, on which his heart had been set, was now like a spectre to his excited fancy. Every coin seemed to be an eye through which eternal justice was gazing at his crime or to have a tongue crying out for vengeance. As the murderer is irresistibly drawn back to the spot where his victim lies, he returned to the place where his deed of treachery had been transacted and, confronting those by whom he had been employed, handed back the money with the passionate confession, "I have betrayed innocent blood." But he had come to miserable comforters. With cynical disdain they asked, "What is that to us? See thou to that." They had been cordial enough to him when he had come before, but now, after the instrument has served their turn, they fling it contemptuously aside. The miserable man had to turn away from the scorn of the partners of his guilt; but he could keep the money no longer—it was burning in his hands—and, before escaping from the precincts, he flung it down. This is said to have happened in that part of the temple which could be entered only by the priests;[3] and he must either have made a rush across the forbidden threshold or availed himself of an open door to fling it in. Not only did he desire to be rid of it, but a passionate impulse urged him to leave with the priests their own share of the guilt.

Then he rushed away from the temple. But where was he going? Oh that it had been in him to flee to Christ—that, breaking through all obstacles and rules, he had rushed to Him wherever He was to be found and cast himself at His feet! What if the soldiers had cut him down? Then he would have been the martyr of penitence, and that very day he would have been with Christ in Paradise. Judas repented of his sin; he confessed it; he cast from him the reward of iniquity; but his penitence lacked the element which is most essential of all—he did not turn to God. True repentance is not the mere horror and excitement of a terrified conscience: it is the call of God; it is letting go the evil because the good has prevailed; it includes faith as well as fear.

IV.

The manner of his end is also used as an argument in favour of the more honourable view of Judas. The act of suicide is one which has not infrequently been invested with a glamour of romance, and to go out of life the Roman way, as it is called, has been considered, even by Christians, an evidence of unusual strength of mind. The very reverse is, however, the true character of suicide: except in those melancholy cases where the reason is impaired, it must be pronounced the most contemptible act of which a human being is capable. It is an escape from the burdens and responsibilities of existence; but these burdens and responsibilities are left to be borne by others, and along with them is left an intolerable heritage of shame. From a religious point of view it appears in a still worse light. Not only does the suicide, as even heathen writers have argued, desert the post of duty where Providence has placed him, but he virtually denies the character and even the existence of God. He denies His character, for, if he believed in His mercy and love, he would flee to instead of from Him; and he denies His existence, for no one who believed that he was to meet God on the other side of the veil would dare in this disorderly way to rush into His presence.

The mode of Judas' suicide was characteristically base. Hanging does not appear to have been at all usual among the Jews. In the entire Old Testament there is said to occur only a single case; and, strange to say, it is that of the man who, in the principal act of his life also, was the prototype of Judas. Ahithophel, the counsellor and friend of David, betrayed his master, as Judas betrayed Christ; and he came to the same ignominious end.

It would seem, further, that the hanging of Judas was accompanied with circumstances of unusual horror. This we gather from the account in the beginning of Acts.[4] The terms employed are obscure; but they probably signify that the suicidal act was attended by a clumsy accident, in consequence of which the body, being suspended over a precipice and suddenly dropped by the snapping of the rope, was mangled in a shocking manner, which made a profound impression on all who heard of it.[5]

And this sense of his end being accursed was further accentuated in the minds of the early Christians by the circumstance that the money for which he had sold Christ was eventually used for the purchase of a graveyard for burying strangers in. The priests, though they picked up the coins from the floor over which Judas had strewn them, did not, scrupulous men, consider them good enough to be put in the sacred treasury; so they applied them to this purpose. The public wit, hearing of it, dubbed the place the Field of Blood; and thus the cemetery became a kind of monument to the traitor, of which he took possession as the first of the outcasts for whom it was designed.

The world has agreed to regard Judas as the chief of sinners; but, in so judging, it has exceeded its prerogative. Man is not competent to judge his brother. The master-passion of Judas was a base one; Dante may be right in considering treachery the worst of crimes; and the supreme excellence of Christ affixes an unparalleled stigma to the injury inflicted on Him. But the motives of action are too hidden, and the history of every deed is too complicated, to justify us in saying who is the worst of men. It is not at all likely that those whom human opinion would rank highest in merit or saintliness will be assigned the same positions in the rewards of the last day; and it is just as unlikely that human estimates are right when they venture to assign the degrees of final condemnation. Two things it is our duty to do in regard to Judas: first, not so to palliate his sin as to blunt the healthy, natural abhorrence of it; and, secondly, not to think of him as a sinner apart and alone, with a nature so different from our own that to us he can be no example. But for the rest, there is only one verdict which is at once righteous, dignified and safe; and it is contained in the declaration of St. Peter, that he "went to his own place."



[1] Hanna, in The Last Day of Our Lord's Passion, attempts to combine both motives, but without being able really to unite them; they remain as distinct as oil and water.

[2] If, as St. Matthew seems to indicate, Judas disappeared from the scene long before the end of the trial, this is strongly against the theory of De Quincey, according to which he must have stayed to the last moment, hoping to see Jesus assert Himself.

[3] En to nao.

[4] St. Matthew knows best the beginning, St. Luke the end of the story.

[5] De Quincey's interpretation of the words as a description of mental anguish must be felt by every reader of the brilliant essay to be forced and unnatural.



CHAPTER X.

VIA DOLOROSA

We have finished the first part of our theme—the Trial of Jesus—and turn now to the second and more solemn part of it—His Death. The trial had been little better than a mockery of justice: on the part of the ecclesiastical authority it was a foregone conclusion, and on the part of the civil authority it was the surrender of a life acknowledged to be innocent to the ends of selfishness and policy. But at last it was over, and nothing remained but to carry the unjust sentence into execution. So the tribunal of Pilate was closed for the day; the precincts of the palace were deserted by the multitude; and the procession of death was formed.

I.

Persons condemned to death in modern times are allowed a few weeks, or at least days, to prepare for eternity; but Jesus was crucified the same day on which He was condemned. There was a merciful law of Rome in existence at the time, ordaining that ten days should intervene between the passing of a capital sentence and its execution; but either this was not intended for use in the provinces or Jesus was judged to be outside the scope of its mercy, because He had made Himself a king. At all events He was hurried straight from the judgment-seat to the place of execution, without opportunity for preparation or farewells.

Of course the sentence was carried out by the soldiers of Pilate. St. John, indeed, speaks as if Pilate had simply surrendered Him into the hands of the Jews, and they had seen to the execution. But this only means that the moral responsibility was theirs. They did everything in their power to identify themselves with the deed. So intent were they on the death of Jesus, that they could not leave the work to the proper parties, but followed the executioners and superintended their operations. The actual work, however, was performed by the hands of Roman soldiers with a centurion at their head.

In this country executions are now carried out in private, inside the walls of the prison in which the criminal has been confined. Not many years ago, however, they took place in public; and not many generations ago the procession of death made a tour of the public streets, that the condemned man might come under the observation and maledictions of as many of the public as possible. This also was the manner of Christ's death. Both among the Jews and the Romans executions took place outside the gate of the city. The traditional scene of Christ's death, over which the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built, is inside the present walls, but those who believe in its authenticity maintain that it was outside the wall of that date. This, however, is extremely doubtful; and, indeed, it is quite uncertain outside which gate of the city the execution took place. The name Calvary or Golgotha probably indicates that the spot was a skull-like knoll; but there is no reason to think that it was a hill of the size supposed by designating it Mount Calvary. Indeed, there is no hill near any gate corresponding to the image in the popular imagination. In modern Jerusalem there is a street pointed out as the veritable Via Dolorosa along which the procession passed; but this also is more than doubtful. Like ancient Rome, ancient Jerusalem is buried beneath the rubbish of centuries.[1] From the scene of the trial to the supposed site of the execution is nearly a mile. And it is quite possible that Jesus may have had to travel as far or farther, while an ever-increasing multitude of spectators gathered round the advancing procession.

One special indignity connected with the punishment of crucifixion was that the condemned man had to carry on his back through the streets the cross upon which he was about to suffer. In pictures the cross of Jesus is generally represented as a lofty structure, such as a number of men would have been needed to carry; but the reality was something totally different: it was not much above the height of a man,[2] and there was just enough of wood to support the body. But the weight was considerable, and to carry it on the back which had been torn with scourging must have been excessively painful.

Another source of intense pain was the crown of thorns, if, indeed, He still wore it. We are told that before the procession set out towards Golgotha the robes of mockery were taken off and His own garments put on; but it is not said that the crown of thorns was removed.

Most cruel of all, however, was the shame. There was a kind of savage irony in making the man carry the implement on which he was to suffer; and, in point of fact, throughout classical literature this mode of punishment is a constant theme of savage banter and derision.[3]

There is evidence that the imagination of Jesus had occupied itself specially beforehand with this portion of His sufferings. Long before the end He had predicted the kind of death He should die; but even before these predictions had commenced He had described the sacrifices which would have to be made by those who became His disciples as cross-bearing—as if this were the last extreme of suffering and indignity. Did He so call it simply because His knowledge of the world informed Him of this as one of the greatest indignities of human life? or was it the foreknowledge that He Himself was to be one day in this position which coloured His language? We can hardly doubt that the latter was the case. And now the hour on which His imagination had dwelt was come, and in weakness and helplessness He had to bear the cross in the sight of thousands who regarded Him with scorn. To a noble spirit there is no trial more severe than shame—to be the object of cruel mirth and insolent triumph. Jesus had the lofty and refined self-consciousness of one who never once had needed to cringe or stoop. He loved and honoured men too much not to wish to be loved and honoured by them; He had enjoyed days of unbounded popularity, but now His soul was filled with reproach to the uttermost; and He could have appropriated the words of the Psalm, "I am a worm and no man; a reproach of men and despised of the people."

The reproach of Christ is all turned into glory now; and it is very difficult to realise how abject the reality was. Nothing perhaps brings this out so well as the fact that two robbers were sent away to be executed with Him. This has been regarded as a special insult offered to the Jews by Pilate, who wished to show how contemptuously he could treat One whom he affected to believe their king. But more likely it is an indication of how little more Christ was to the Roman officials than any one of the prisoners whom they put through their hands day by day. Pilate, no doubt, had been interested and puzzled more than usual; but, after all, Jesus was only one of many; His execution could be made part of the same job with that of the other prisoners on hand. And so the three, bearing their crosses, issued from the gates of the palace together and took the Dolorous Way.

II.

Though He bore His own cross out of the palace of Pilate, He was not able to carry it far. Either He sank beneath it on the road or He was proceeding with such slow and faltering steps that the soldiers, impatient of the delay, recognised that the burden must be removed from His shoulders. The severity of the scourging was in itself sufficient to account for this breakdown; but, besides, we are to consider the sleepless night through which He had passed, with its anxiety and abuse; and before it there had been the agony of Gethsemane. No wonder His exhaustion had reached a point at which it was absolutely impossible for Him to proceed farther with such a burden.

One or two of the soldiers might have relieved Him; but, in the spirit of horseplay and mischief which had characterised their part of the proceedings from the moment when Christ fell into their hands, they lay hold of a casual passer-by and requisitioned his services for the purpose. He was coming in from the region beyond the gate as they were going out, and they acted under the sanction of military law or custom.

To the man it must have been an extreme annoyance and indignity. Doubtless he was bent on business of his own, which had to be deferred. His family or his friends might be waiting for him, but he was turned the opposite way. To touch the instrument of death was as revolting to him as it would be to us to handle the hangman's rope; perhaps more so, because it was Passover time, and this would make him ceremonially unclean. It was a jest of the soldiers, and he was their laughing-stock. As he walked by the side of the robbers, it looked as if he were on the way to execution himself.

This is a lively image of the cross-bearing to which the followers of Christ are called. We are wont to speak of trouble of any kind as a cross; and doubtless any kind of trouble may be borne bravely in the name of Christ. But, properly speaking, the cross of Christ is what is borne in the act of confessing Him or for the sake of His work. When anyone makes a stand for principle, because he is a Christian, and takes the consequences in the shape of scorn or loss, this is the cross of Christ. The pain you may feel in speaking to another in Christ's name, the sacrifice of comfort or time you may make in engaging in Christian work, the self-denial you exercise in giving of your means that the cause of Christ may spread at home or abroad, the reproach you may have to bear by identifying yourself with militant causes or with despised persons, because you believe they are on Christ's side—in such conduct lies the cross of Christ. It involves trouble, discomfort and sacrifice. One may fret under it, as Simon did; one may sink under it, as Jesus did Himself; it is ugly, painful, shameful often; but no disciple is without it. Our Master said, "He that taketh not his cross and followeth after Me is not worthy of Me."

III.

The one thing which makes Simon an imperfect type of the cross-bearer is that we are uncertain whether or not he bore the burden voluntarily. The Roman soldiers forced it on him; but was it force-work and nothing else?

Some have supposed that he was an adherent of Christ; but it is extremely improbable that, just at the moment when the soldiers needed someone for their purpose, one of the very few followers of Jesus should have appeared. The tone of the narrative seems rather to indicate that he was one who happened to be there by mere chance and had nothing to do with the proceedings till, against his will, he was made an actor in the drama.

He is said by the Evangelist to have been a Cyrenian, that is, an inhabitant of Cyrene, a city in North Africa. Strangers from this place are mentioned among those who were present soon after at the Feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Church in tongues of fire. And the probability is that Simon had, in a similar way, come from his distant home to the Passover.[4]

He had come on pilgrimage. Perhaps he was a devout soul, waiting for the consolation of Israel. In far Cyrene he may have been praying for the coming of the Messiah and, before setting out on this journey, pleading for a season of unusual blessing. God had heard and was going to answer his prayers, but in a way totally different from his expectations.

For apparently this rencontre issued in his salvation and in the salvation of his house. The Evangelist calls him familiarly "the father of Alexander and Rufus." Evidently the two sons were well known to those for whom St. Mark was writing; that is, they were members of the Christian circle. And there can be little doubt that the connection of his family with the Church was the result of this incident in the father's life. St. Mark wrote his Gospel for the Christians of Rome; and in the Epistle to the Romans one Rufus is mentioned as resident there along with his mother. This may be one of the sons of Simon. And in Acts xiii. 1 one Simeon—the same name as Simon—is mentioned along with a Lucius of Cyrene as a conspicuous Christian at Antioch: he is called Niger, or Black, a name not surprising for one who had been tanned by the hot sun of Africa. There are Alexanders mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament; but the name was common, and there is not much probability that any of them is to be identified with Simon's son. Still putting the details aside, we have sufficiently clear indications that in consequence of this incident Simon became a Christian.

Is it not a significant fact, proving that nothing happens by chance? Had Simon entered the city one hour sooner, or one hour later, his after history might have been entirely different. On the smallest circumstances the greatest results may hinge. A chance meeting may determine the weal or woe of a life. Doubtless to Simon this encounter seemed at the moment the most unfortunate incident that could have befallen him—an interruption, an annoyance and a humiliation; yet it turned out to be the gateway of life. Thus do blessings sometimes come in disguise, and out of an apparition, at the sight of which we cry out for fear, may suddenly issue the form of the Son of Man. But it was not Simon's own salvation only that was involved in this singular experience, but that of his family as well. How much may follow when Christ is revealed to any human soul! The salvation of those yet unborn may be involved in it—of children and children's children.

But think how blessed to Simon would appear in after days the cross-bearing which was at the time so bitter! No doubt it became the romance of his life. And to this day who can help envying him for being allowed to give his strength to the fainting Saviour and to remove the burden from that bleeding and smarting back? So for all men there is a day coming when any service they have done to Christ will be the memory of which they will be most proud. It will not be the recollection of the prizes we have won, the pleasures we have enjoyed, the discomforts we have escaped, that will come back to us with delight as we review life from its close; but, if we have denied ourselves and borne the cross for Christ's sake, the memory of that will be a pillow soft and satisfying for a dying head. In that day we shall wish that the minutes given to Christ's service had been years, and the pence pounds; and every cup of cold water and every word of sympathy and every act of self denial will be so pleasant to remember that we shall wish they had been multiplied a thousandfold.



[1] Interesting details in Ross's Cradle of Christianity.

[2] A soldier was able to reach up to the lips of Christ on the cross with a sponge on a reed.

[3] See Horace, S. ii. 7, 47; E. i. 16, 48.

[4] Many Jews, indeed, who had once been inhabitants of Cyrene lived in Jerusalem—old people, probably, who had come to lay their bones in holy ground; for we learn from an incidental notice in the Acts that they had a synagogue of their own in the city; and Simon may have been one of these. But the other is the more likely case.



CHAPTER XI.

THE DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM

There are many legends clustering round this portion of our Lord's history.

It is narrated, for example, that, when the divine Sufferer, burdened with the cross, was creeping along feebly and slowly, He leaned against the door of a house which stood in the way, when the occupier, striking a blow, commanded Him to hurry on; to which the Lord, turning to His assailant, replied, "Thou shall go on and never stop till I come again;" and to this day, unable to find either rest or death, the miserable man still posts over the earth, and shall continue doing so until the Lord's return. This is the legend of the Wandering Jew, which assumed many forms in the lore of other days and still plays a somewhat prominent part in literature. It is, I suppose, a fantastic representation, in the person of an individual, of the tragic fate of the Jewish race, which, since the day when it laid violent hands on the Son of God, has had no rest for the sole of its foot.

To another story of the Via Dolorosa as distinguished a place has been given in art as to the legend of the Wandering Jew in literature. Veronica, a lady in Jerusalem, seeing Christ, as He passed by, sinking beneath His burden, came out of her house and with a towel washed away the blood and perspiration from His face. And lo! when she examined the napkin with which the charitable act had been performed, it bore a perfect likeness of the Man of Sorrows. Some of the greatest painters have reproduced this scene, and it may be understood as teaching the lesson that even the commonest things in life, when employed in acts of mercy, are stamped with the image and superscription of Christ.

In Roman Catholic churches there may generally be seen round the walls a series of about a dozen pictures, taken from this part of our Lord's life. They are denominated the Stations of the Cross, because the worshippers, going round, stop to look and meditate on the different scenes. In Catholic countries the same idea is sometimes carried out on a more imposing scale. On a knoll or hill in the neighbourhood of a town three lofty crosses stand; the road to them through the town is called Via Calvarii, and at intervals along the way the scenes of our Lord's sad journey are represented by large frescoes or bas-reliefs.

But we really know for certain of only two incidents of the Via Dolorosa—that in which our Lord was relieved of His cross by Simon the Cyrenian and that, which we are now to consider, of the sympathetic daughters of Jerusalem.

I.

The reader of the history of our Lord in its last stages is sated with horrors. In some of the scenes through which we have recently accompanied Him we have seemed to be among demons rather than men. The mind longs for something to relieve the monstrous spectacles of fanatic hate and cold-blooded cruelty. Hence this scene is most welcome, in which a blink of sunshine falls on the path of woe, and we are assured that we need not lose faith in the human heart.

It was, indeed, a surprising demonstration. It would hardly have been credited, had it not there been made manifest, that Jesus had so strong a hold upon any section of the population of Jerusalem. In the capital He had always found the soil very unreceptive. Jerusalem was the headquarters of rabbinic learning and priestly arrogance—the home of the Pharisee and the Sadducee, who guided public opinion; and there, from first to last, He had made few adherents. It was in the provinces, especially in Galilee, that He had been the idol of the populace. It was by the Galilean pilgrims to the Passover that He was convoyed into the capital with shouts of Hosanna; but the inhabitants of the city stood coldly aloof, and before Pilate's judgment-seat they cried out, "Crucify Him, crucify Him!"

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