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What doubt can there be of the success of Christ's interest and the prosperity of his cause, when the very enemies thereof are made to serve it? Those people can never be ruined who thrive by their losses; conquer by being conquered; multiply by being diminished: whose worst enemies are made to do that for them which friends cannot or dare not do. See you a heathen Pilate proclaiming the honor and innocency of Christ; God will not want instruments by whom to honor Christ. If others cannot, his very enemies shall.
6. Did Pilate vindicate Christ in drawing up such a title to be affixed to his cross? Then God will, sooner or later, vindicate the innocency and integrity of his people, who commit their cause to him. Christ's name was clouded with many reproaches; wounded by the blasphemous tongues of his malicious enemies. He committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously. 1 Pet. 2: 23; and see how soon God vindicates him. That is sweet and seasonable counsel for us, when our names are clouded with unjust censures, "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noon day." Psalm 37:5, 6. Joseph was accused of incontinency; David, of treason; Daniel, of disobedience; Elijah, of troubling Israel; Jeremiah, of revolting; Amos, of preaching against the king; the apostles, of sedition and rebellion. But how did all these honorable names emerge from their reproaches, as the sun from a cloud! God vindicated their honor even in this world. "Slanders (saith one) are but as soap, which though it soils for the present, makes the garment more clean and shining." Scorn and reproach is but a little cloud, that is soon blown over. But suppose ye are not vindicated in this world, but die with a cloud upon your names; be sure God will clear it up, and that to purpose in the
great day. Then shall the righteous (even in this respect) shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
Be patient, therefore, my brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. "The Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him." Jude, 14, 15. Then shall they retract their censures, and alter their opinions of the saints. If Christ will be our advocate, we need not fear who are our accusers. If your name, for his sake, be cast out as evil, Christ will deliver it you again in that day whiter than snow.
7. Did Pilate give this title to cast the reproach of his death upon the Jews and clear himself? How natural is it to men to transfer the fault of their own actions from themselves to others! For when he writes, This is the King of the Jews, he wholly charges them with the crime of crucifying their King: and it is as if he had said, Hereafter let the blame and fault of this action lie wholly upon your heads, who have brought the guilt of his blood upon yourselves and your children. I am clear; you have extorted it from me. Oh where shall we find the ingenuous spirit, to take home to itself the shame of its own actions, and charge itself freely with its own guilt? It is the character of renewed, gracious hearts, to remember, confess, and freely bewail their own evils, to the glory of God.
THE SOLITARINESS OF CHRIST'S DEATH.
"Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones." Zech. 13: 7.
Having noticed the kind of death Christ died, and the vindication of his innocency by the honorable title providentially affixed to his cross, we are now to consider the manner in which he endured the cross; and that was solitarily, meekly, and instructively.
His solitude in suffering is plainly expressed in the scripture now before us. It cannot be doubted but the prophet in this place speaks of Christ, if you consider Matt. 26 31, where you find these words applied to Christ by himself: "Then said Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night, for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered." Besides, the title God here gives him, "The man that is my fellow," is too great for any creature in heaven or earth besides Christ. In these words we have,
1. The commission given to the sword. by the Lord of hosts, "Awake, O sword, and smite, saith the Lord of hosts." The Lord of hosts, at whose command all creatures exist, who, with a word of his mouth, can command what weapons and instruments of death he please, calls here for the sword; not the rod, gently to chasten, but the sword, to destroy. The strokes and thrusts of the sword are mortal; and he bids it to awake and smite." It is as if the Lord had said, Come forth out of thy scabbard, O sword of justice; thou hast been hid there a long time, now awake and glitter, thou shalt drink royal blood, such as thou never before didst shed.
2. The person against whom it is commissioned, "My shepherd, and the man that is my fellow." This shepherd can be no other than Christ, who is often in Scripture styled "a Shepherd, yea, the chief Shepherd, the Prince of pastors." Who redeemed, feeds, guides, and preserves the flock of God's elect. 1 Pet. 5:4; John, 10:11. This is he whom he also styles the man his fellow his other self. You have the sense of it in Phil. 26. He was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God. Against Christ his fellow, the delight of his soul, the sword here receives its commission.
3. You have here the consequence of this deadly stroke upon the Shepherd: the scattering of the sheep. By the sheep understand that little flock, the disciples, which followed this Shepherd till he was smitten, that is, apprehended by his enemies, and they were scattered; they all forsook him and fled. Thus Christ was left alone, amidst his enemies. Not one dare make a stand for him, or own him in that hour of his danger.
4. Here is a gracious mitigation of this sad dispersion, "I will turn mine hand upon the little ones." By little ones he means the same that before he called sheep; but the expression is designedly varied, to show their feebleness and weakness, which appeared in their relapse from Christ. And by turning his hand upon them, understand God's gracious restoration, and gathering of them again after their sad dispersion, so that they shall not be lost, though scattered for the present. For after the Lord was risen, he went before them into Galilee, as he promised, Matt. 28: 10; and gathered them again by a gracious hand, so that not one of them was lost but the son of perdition. Hence I observe that Christ's dearest friends forsook and left him alone, in the time of his greatest distress and danger. And here let us inquire who were the sheep that
were scattered from their Shepherd, and left him alone? what was their sin in so doing; and what the causes, and the issue of it?
I. Who were the sheep thus dispersed and scattered from their Shepherd when he was smitten? It is evident they were those precious ones that he had gathered to himself, who had long followed him, and dearly loved him, and whom he loved. They were persons that had left all and followed him, and, till that time, faithfully continued with him in his temptations, Luke, 22:28; and were all resolved so to do, though they should die with him. Matt. 26: 35.
II. But did they indeed adhere faithfully to him? No, they all forsook him and fled. These sheep were scattered. This was not indeed a total and final apostasy, yet it was a very sinful and sad relapse. For,
1. It was against the very articles of agreement which they had sealed to Christ at their first admission into his service; he had told them, in the beginning, what they must resolve upon; If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple." Luke, 14:26, 27. Accordingly they submitted to these terms, and told him they had left all and followed him. Mark, 10:28. Against this engagement made to Christ, they now sin.
2. It was against the very principles of grace implanted by Christ in their hearts. They were sanctified persons, in whom dwelt the love and fear of God. By these they were strongly inclined to adhere to Christ in the time of his sufferings, as appears by the honest resolves they had made. Grace strongly inclined them to duty; their corruptions swayed them the contrary way. Grace bade them stand; corruption bade them fly. Grace