« PreviousContinue »
be the Son of God, but that he actually was the Son of the most high God. This he affirms in the strongest manner: Certainly this was a righteous man; truly this was the Son of God.' Thus God confirms by this Pagan officer the declaration, which Christ had made before the Sanhedrim, and for which he had been condemned as a blasphemer. As the lips of the Jewish priests, which were to keep the knowledge of the Messiah,' (Mal. ii. 7.) foamed out blasphemies against Christ, God caused his glory to be proclaimed by the mouth of a Pagan soldier, for a pre sage that now he would make Him known among the Gentiles, whom the unbelieving Jews had rejected.
Secondly, The Pagan soldiers, who were under the command of this Centurion, and, in all appearance, had hitherto mocked Christ and insulted him in Pifate's hall of judgment, were among the spectators. The effect these miracles had on them was, that they also were afraid and terrified; for St. Matthew says, When the Centurion, and they that were with him watching Jesus, saw the earthquake and those things that were done, they feared greatly.' Hence it is evident, that not only the commanding officer felt such emotions in his heart; but that his example made an impression on the soldiers under his command, whose stony hearts the Almighty likewise rent, and kindled in them a light to discern the innocency and dignity of Jesus. This was not merely the effect of the prodigies which they saw, but likewise of our Saviour's gracious intercession which they had likewise heard, when he cried, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do ;" and which thus began already to be accomplished on Mount Golgotha.
Thirdly, There were Jews among the spectators, the greatest part of whom stood about the cross out of mere curiosity, either reviling Christ or gazing on him. Concerning these St. Luke makes the following observation: And all the people that came together to that sight,' where God so suddenly altered
the scene, and so unexpectedly glorified the abased and derided Jesus, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned." In this account two particulars are specified.
i. They smote their breasts. That action did not proceed only from wonder and amazement; but expressed their concern, their grief, and repentance for what they had done. They were greatly troubled that they had suffered themselves to be so far misled by the irrulers, as to reject this person, and had offered him so many injuries, indignities, and abuse. Then was fuifilled the saying of the blessed Jesus, (John viii. 28.) 'When ye have lift up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am He,' i. e, the Messiah, who was promised to your fathers.
2. They returned.' By this expression is meant not only that they returned to Jerusalem, to their homes, to reflect farther on these things by themselves; but likewise in some measure from their evil ways, into the good way which Jesus had preached unto them. All these people, we may be sure, were not of the same temper and disposition. In some this was no more than a transitory fright and fleeting emotion, which soon vanished again out of their minds, with out bring g forth any fruit. On the minds of others the impression was deeper, and consequently had a better effect. But it is remarkable, that we read not a word of the chief priests, pharisees, or rulers of the peopic, being in the least moyed at these wonderful phenomena. We do not hear of their beating their breasts, and returning. These hardened hypocrites regarded not the work of the Lord, neither considered the operation of his hands,' (Isaiah v. 12.) To avoid the appearance of having acted wrong, they would not own the God of Isreal to be in the right; and even after the death of our blessed Saviour, they exclaimed against him as a deceiver, (Matt. xxvii. 63.)
Fourthly, Among the spectators were also some of Christ's followers of both sexes. St. Luke observes,
that all his acquaintance were there, and the women that followed him from Galilee.'. St. Matthew and St. Mark particularly specify Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less, and the mother of Joses, and Salome, and the mother of John and James the Elder, the sons of Zebedee. The last of these, together with her sons, had declared, that they would also drink the cup which Jesus was to drink of, (Matt. xx. 22, 23.) Therefore she was now led by her love for him, to attend our Saviour to the last moment of his life, and by a sensible compassion must have tasted something of the bitterness of his sufferings and of his last agony. Of all these persons the Evangelists: observe,
1. That they stood afar off." Probably they could not with any conveniency come nearer, on account of the croud; but in this distance that prophecy in the Psalms (Psalm xxxviii. 11.) was likewise accom-. plished: My lovers and my friends stand aloof from. my sore; and my kinsmen stand afar off. Thou hast put away my acquaintance far from me,' (Psalm Ixxxviii. 8.) It is farther said of them,
2. That they were looking on; and consequently were witnesses both of the death of Christ, and of the miracles that attended it. Thus was the blessed seed of the woman, at his death, surrounded with devout
No mention is made by the Evangelists of the effect which these prodigies had on their minds.They had no occasion to beat their breasts, and to lament that they had injured the blessed Jesus. Their consciences witnessed better things to these devout women. Therefore, though the earth shook and trembled under their feet; yet they could lift up their. heads with confidence. But it is very probable that a violent conflict of hope and despair, of faith and unbelief, passed in their souls. They saw Jesus die of whom they had hoped that he was to redeem Israel, and whom they had accompained to Jerusalem with a
persuasion that the kingdom of God would immediately appear, (Luke xix. 11.) At this instant, the idea of the earthly kingdom of the Messiah must have been extinguished in their souls, and their hope of seeing it vanished at our Saviour's death. But their faith might derive a powerful encouragement from the miracles, with which God honoured this melancholy catastrophe. Here all nature, as it were, cried aloud in behalf of the innocence of Jesus, which had been oppressed by the many false accusations and calumnies of the Jewish rulers. What an impression must it have made on them, to see all the people beating their breasts and returning; and to hear even the Roman officer and the soldiers publicly owning the crucified person to be the son of God? They concluded from hence, that they had not followed Jesus, and ministered unto him with their substance in vain, and that possibly the matter might have quite another issue than his enemies expected. They saw how suddenly their invidious joy was interrupted by these dreadful prodigies at the death of Jesus; and concluded that God could still do greater things than these, and consequently that they might farther hope in his goodness.
We shall conclude this consideration with the following inferences from what has been said on the subject.
1. A Godly fear is usually the first effect of a serious consideration of the passion and death of Jesus Christ.
Thus the spectators of our blessed Saviour's death beat their breasts for trouble and remorse; and when our evil consciences accuses us, it can be no otherwise with us. When a person reflects, that his sins have been the cause of the crucifixion of the glorious Son of God, what violent emotions must it not awaken in his heart? Such emotions will mortify in us all natural pride, arrogance, and self-love. Hence we learn to humble ourselves before God, and stand in awe of his just displeasure.
By this the foundation of repentance is laid; so that afterwards the sufferings of Christ are viewed as a mirror of grace and felicity. But we are not to give over the work of conversion at these legal fears; which, it is to be apprehended, was the case of many of the spectators of our Saviour's passion. We must proceed farther, and dwell in contemplation on the affecting subject, till the heart is molified and changed, so as to conceive a hatred and abhorrence for sin.
2. As God has glorified his Son after his great abasement; so when his children have fought the good fight of faith, and endured sufferings, he will bring them also to glory.
Who would have conceived that our blessed Lord, while he was hanging on the cross covered with blood and reproach, would have received such an encomium as soon as he expired, and that from a Pagan soldier? Certainly this was a righteous man, truly this was the Son of God! yet such was the issue to which the providence of God brought this tragical affair. Thus, in the fight of afflic tion we must continue true to the end. Such a conduct will also make a happy impression on others; and even those who in our life time have hated, mocked, and persecuted us, will, at our death, bear witness that we have faithfully served our Lord and Saviour, and were his true disciples.
3. It is then only that the death of Christ produces its true effect in us, when it has kindled the spiritual life in our souls.
The spiritual life is, indeed, properly one of the fruits of the resurrection of our Lord: Hence St. Peter observes, 'That we are begotten again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,' (1 Peter i. 3.) However, the foundation of it is already laid in Christ's triumphant death. Thus, in the instance before us, at the death of our blessed Saviour, every good principle, which hitherto seemed dead in the hearts of the spectators, received new