Series: The Suffering Savior: Meditations on the Last Days of Christ by F. W. Krummacher (1796-1868)
[learn_more caption=”Introduction and Preface”] CMC Editor’s Note: In the following preface are the words of F.W. Krummacher introducing his readers to his work. It is our intention to post all fifty three of his meditations. Krummacher is regarded as one of Germany’s greatest preachers and was often compared to Great Britain’s C.H. Spurgeon. The reader will learn much of Christ through this series of devotional meditations on the final scenes in the life of Christ on earth. The printed work (first published 1854) has been described as the greatest single volume of the entire nineteenth century on the last days of Christ’s earthly ministry. The meditations are structured around the Old Testament tabernacle. It’s our prayer that you will be richly blessed his writings.
In the following meditations I trust I have succeeded in displaying to my readers at least a portion of those riches which are contained in the inexhaustible treasury of our Savior’s sufferings. Unmutilated scriptural truth, such as I believe I promulgate, still finds a favorable reception in the world, which I have been permitted to experience in the most gratifying manner. I mention it, solely to the praise of God, and for the satisfaction of those who are like-minded, that my writings, or at least a part of them, are, as I hear, already translated into English, French, Dutch, Swedish, and as I am assured, though I cannot vouch for the fact, into the Danish language also. My “Elijah the Tishbite” has even appeared in a Chinese attire. But that which is of greater importance, is the news I am constantly receiving of the manifold blessing which the Lord of his great and unmerited favor has bestowed upon my labors. That in his condescension and loving-kindness, He would also deign to bless this my most recent work is so much the more my heartfelt wish and ardent prayer, since it has for its subject the chief supporting pillar of the whole church—the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The division of the work into the “Outer Court,” the “Holy Place,” and the “Most Holy Place,” is intended merely to point out the different stages of the Redeemer’s sufferings, from their commencement to their close, but by no means to attach a less or greater importance to them. Had the latter been the case, I would naturally have assigned the institution of the Lord’s Supper its appropriate place in the “Most Holy Place,” instead of the “Outer Court.” But in the plan of this volume, it falls among the class of events, which immediately precede the propitiatory work of the Mediator.
~ F. W. Krummacher [/learn_more]
THE SUFFERING SAVIOR
Meditation – XXXVI
The Close of the Proceedings
“The Jews answered him, We have a law,
and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.”
(John 19:7 ESV)
The judicial procedure against the Lord of Glory hastens to its close. Events crowd upon, and even overthrow each other. The great and decisive moment is at hand, and the occurrences which take place, claim our sympathy in an increasing degree.
“Crucify him!” was the people’s answer to the pathetic appeal of the more than half-vanquished governor, that the life of the Lord Jesus might be spared. This response completely dispossessed Pilate of his last and imaginary safe position. Behold him, now a mere object of compassion and pity, helpless, and wholly at a loss, inwardly torn and tortured by the scourge of his better-self; without faith, though not free from superstition, and therefore the football of human and infernal powers, which exert their influence over him. He again affirms the innocence of the accused, but instead of terminating the proceedings by the liberation of Jesus, as he ought to have done, he demeans himself so far as to give the cowardly advice to the Jews to take him and crucify him without his authority: really, our compassion for the weak-minded and unprincipled man begins greatly to diminish, and with respect to him, we are tempted to soften our reprobation of the people thus misled and strengthened in their delusion by Pilate’s weakness, and to transfer it entirely to him. Can we feel surprised that the people become more bold, the more they see the judge vacillate and give way? “We have a law,” they cry out very determinedly, “and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.” The people are not satisfied with simply putting Jesus to death, but in order to avoid the appearance of revolt, they desire that Jesus should be executed under all the forms of public justice.
The new accusation here brought by the Jews against Jesus, that he made himself the Son of God, is very deserving of notice. By this, they in fact assert that Jesus, in the proceedings against him, had assumed this high and honorable title. That they therefore consider him guilty of a capital crime, may serve us as a criterion of the extent and sublimity which they attached to that appropriation. How could it have occurred to them to regard the latter as anything impious, had they taken it for granted, that Jesus had declared himself to be a Son of God in no higher sense than that in which all men, and especially the pious and such as keep the law, might so call themselves? But it was quite clear to them, that by the title of Son of God, Jesus intended to place himself high above every creature, and even on an equality with the all-sufficient God himself. And if our Lord had intended less than this, it was his sacred duty, on this occasion, to reject the assertion of his accusers as false, or to rectify it as a great mistake. However, he neither does the one nor the other, but observes silence, and by it, openly confirms the accusation brought against him as well-founded.
“We have a law,” cried the people; and such they had, indeed—a positive law, revealed from heaven, and contained in the written word of God. A law, clearer than the sun, deeper than the sea, and as the pure reflection of the holiness of God, and the perfect expression of his unchangeable will, valid for the whole world for time and for eternity; and know, that until God shall become less holy than he is, and not until then, will the requirements of that law be lessened and mitigated. When the justice of God once begins to decline, and his truth to vacillate, then, and not until then, will the transgressing his law be of less moment, and the curse of the law be less feared. But as long as there is in God no shadow of a change, his law retains its majesty and implacable severity; and as long as justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne, he who continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law, is rejected of God and under the curse.
Hence the law of which we speak, cannot be a favored or welcome guest upon earth. As long as we live without union to Christ, we should rejoice if the law did not exist. For what does it effect, but show us in a clear light, our estrangement from God, and by means of its threatenings, cause a hell in our consciences? How many thousands has it robbed of their peace and all the enjoyment of life and imprisoned them, for the rest of their days, in the gloomy dungeons of terror and despondency! Where is the wonder, then, if they execrate the law, and are always endeavoring to unnerve and make it void. For if the law was not in the world, sin would be no longer sin, and men would imagine they could reach heaven as they listed. But to wish that there were no law, would be to desire that God should cease to exist. For if there is a God in heaven, he has a right over his creatures, and the will of God, as the personal abstract of every virtue, cannot be less holy than the law of the Scriptures, which requires a perfection, “even as the Father in heaven is perfect.”
The Jews of that day had still a consciousness of the existence of a divine law. The world in the present day has long ago lost this consciousness, and has swept away the positive command, by a reckless, arbitrary, self-chosen, and shallow morality. This substitute, which capitulates to our corrupt nature, does not hurl a curse, but unavoidably brings one after it. It is rebellion against the law to endeavor to weaken and neutralize it; and, believe me, in due time it will avenge itself on all such, and dreadfully vindicate its honor.
“We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.” Very true, presupposing that he had spoken falsely in the great things he asserted of himself. The charge of a treasonable blasphemy would then have lain upon him. Such, however, was not the case, for he was really what he gave himself out to be. But let us remember, that he was now appearing in our stead; and in this position the people’s sentence proves correct. You know, however, that he died, the just for the unjust, and thus he became the end of the law to all them that believe. We died with him, without personally feeling the suffering of death. In him we emptied the bitter cup, which was destined for us on account of our sins. Henceforward the law no longer stands in our way, but only ministers to us in offices of love. Henceforth it may only say to us, “Behold the righteousness reflected in my demands, and know that it is now yours in Christ Jesus. As personally holy as I require men to be, you shall eventually be presented before God.”
The law is also appointed to us, who delight in the law of God after the inward man, to live so as entirely to please him, who has bought us with his blood; to unfold to us, in every case, what is pleasing to the Lord, and with which we may infallibly serve him; and in addition to this, to show us its threatenings and its curses, as a conquered general shows to his victors, the ordnance, which, during the conflict, were dismounted by their superior fire. It is to such performances that the law is now enjoined. It is our friend, though occasionally disguised under a gloomy mask, and makes again the sound of its lifted rod to be heard by us. This it does, only to drive us back to the wounds of Jesus, or still deeper into them. But having again reached this city of refuge, it greets us in its true and wholly reconciled form. It has forever forsaken its hostile and menacing position with regard to us. “Christ is the end of the law;” and whoever is conscious of being a sinner in the sight of God, let him read these words to his complete satisfaction. In them lies the spring of my peace, as well as the dying song, with which I hope, at length, gently and blissfully to fall asleep.
“He made himself the Son of God,” cried the assembled crowd. “When Pilate heard that saying,” we are informed, “he was the more afraid.” We well understand the reason. The words were in unison with his deepest presentiment. He had long felt, while the Holy One was before him, as if transported into a supernatural region. The remembrance of his childish dreams of heavenly beings, who appeared as dispensing benefits to mankind, of sons of God, who favored the earth with their visits, awoke again in his soul, accompanied by more serious and gloomy thoughts; and although it did not occur to him to conceive of such a messenger from Olympus in the person of the Nazarene, yet the reality of a superior world impressed itself so strongly upon him, that, with his enlightened understanding, he felt himself greatly perplexed. Jesus had therefore declared himself to be the Son of God. This seemed to the governor to be something highly remarkable and significant. All that he had seen of the man with his own eyes seemed only to confirm this assertion respecting him. “The Son of God!” Pilate, had he been willing to have given vent to the feeling, which in single moments overpowered him, would have almost called him so; and what was there in the wondrous man to render it incredible that he should be of other descent and superior in nature to other men? Pilate is deeply affected. His mind feels a degree of mysterious apprehension of which it had never before been the subject. He is anxious to inquire more particularly who the Nazarene is, and for this purpose retires with him again into the interior of the palace.
Here a memorable conversation takes place between them. Pilate begins it with an inquiry, which includes within it nothing less than the vital question of the whole of the Christian religion. “Whence are you?” says he. You perceive that we have rightly judged of what had occurred within him. His inquiry does not refer to the city or town, but rather to the world, from whence Jesus proceeded. He wishes to know whether he is a son of earth, or has come from some other sphere of the universe. This of itself has become a problem to Pilate. How clearly, therefore, must the stamp of eternity have shone upon our Lord’s forehead, even in his menial form!
“Whence are you?” We perceive from the emphasis laid upon this question, that if the Lord had replied, “I am from heaven,” the governor would not have started back amazed, but would only have said, “Then my presentiment has not deceived me, for it has already seemed to me as if you were only a stranger and a pilgrim upon earth.” But the Lord gives him no such answer, and even thinks fit to leave him without any information. We must not regard this as strange; for what benefit would Pilate have derived, if the great mystery had then been revealed to him, that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh?” The heart of the heathen governor was not prepared for it, and his inquiry concerning the descent of Jesus, strictly regarded, must have proceeded more from vain curiosity than from a desire for salvation and a need of help. Besides this, such a disclosure respecting Christ’s true person and nature could only have increased Pilate’s responsibility, and have aggravated his condemnation at the last day, and hence it proceeded both from compassion and sparing mercy, that Jesus maintained a profound silence at his question.
How little Pilate would have felt inclined to bow to the scepter of the Son of God, had he recognized him as such, is sufficiently evidenced from the conduct which he observed immediately after the question. For on Jesus not at once replying to him, he feels offended, and addresses the Lord, in a tone of extreme excitement, with the arrogant and haughty words, “Speak you not unto me? Know you not that I have power to crucify you, and have power to release you?” Hear him, only! How evident he makes it appear what spirit he is of! Ah, the finest feelings and presentiments of the natural man are only like a rapid vernal vegetation upon a moral morass, which just as rapidly decays. The man must be born again, or else he continues sold under sin as from the first; and his life, however moral and pious it may appear, will only be an uninterrupted chain of relapses.
“Speak you not unto me?” Does not the man act as if the Lord committed high treason by not immediately giving him the desired information? What presumption! what price! “Know you not,” continues he, “that I have power to crucify you, and have power to release you?” Oh, what delusion, what ridiculous and beggarly pride in one who had just before, in the presence of his subjects, manifested a weakness which should not have allowed him to use any longer the word “power” without blushing, especially with reference to crucifying and releasing!
But let us listen to what the Lord says. With the majestic composure of his regal self-consciousness, he replies to the judge who so boldly boasted of his authority. “You could have no power at all against me, except it were given you from above; therefore he who delivered me unto you has the greater sin.” Admirable words, perfectly worthy of the Lord from heaven and the Son of God! According to them, Pilate appears, although acting, in his own estimation, as self-existent and independent, as an unconscious instrument in the hands of the living God for a sublime purpose, only moving within limits appointed and marked out by an invisible hand. He is unable to do anything but that which God enables him to do. Notwithstanding his cowardice and want of principle, he would not have delivered Jesus over to his murderers, if it had not been pre-determined in heaven. He walks, indeed, in his own way, but in leading-strings of which he is unconscious. He bears, indeed, his guilt; but, while acting thus culpably, he promotes a great and sacred object, of which he is ignorant.
The Lord immediately follows up what he has said, that was calculated to humble and put the governor to shame, with something different and more consolatory. “Therefore,” says he, “he who delivered me unto you has the greater sin.” Pilate had not understood our Lord’s words, when he spoke of a power given him from above, and had regarded the Lord with surprise and astonishment. It is not his misunderstanding his words, which evidenced itself in his gestures, to which the Lord refers. He intends to say, “Because you are ignorant of me, and know not why I am come into the world, your guilt is less than that of him who delivered me into your hands.” The latter was primarily the high priest Caiaphas, this son of Abraham, this master in Israel, who had grown up in the light of Moses and the prophets, and, therefore, knew what the title “Son of God” signified, and was in a position to recognize this Son of God in Christ. He, nevertheless, pronounced the sentence of death upon our Lord, as a blasphemer. This sin was the greater because committed in the daylight of scriptural illumination, and against superior light and knowledge. It was so, because it was not committed from weakness, but purposely; not from being taken by surprise, but considerately; not from cowardice, but from wickedness.
But observe how the Lord here again appears great. How he shows himself afresh as the king over all, yes, as the judge of the world. With the certainty of an infallible searcher of hearts, he weighs sin and guilt in the balances of the sanctuary, appoints the measure of future punishment, opens, at the same time, to the unhappy governor a prospect of mercy and possible forgiveness, and in the latter trait, again manifests the compassion of his heart, which thirsted for the salvation of sinners.
The Lord’s words have not entirely failed of their effect on the mind of the governor. He clearly feels in them the sublime as well as the benevolent and charitable motive which dictated them; and hence he is induced to return to the open court, and, with fresh zeal, to repeat the attempt to liberate Jesus. But he then hears from the crowd below the words which break the mast and rudder of the bark of his good-will, even on venturing out of the harbor. “If you let this man go, you are not Caesar’s friend; for whoever makes himself a king (like him for whom you are pleading) speaks against Caesar.”
This outcry hit the governor’s weakest and most vulnerable side. He knew his master, the Emperor Tiberius, too well, not to foresee that an accusation like that which had just been raised against him, if it reached his ear, would find only too strong a response in his suspicious mind, and would cost him, the governor, his office, and who knows what beside. He, therefore, felt assured that the emperor who, as we are informed by a contemporary writer, regarded the crime of leze majesty as the highest of all accusations, would, without previous inquiry, pronounce the severest sentence upon him so soon as he should be informed that his viceroy had set a man at liberty who had attempted to claim the title of king over Israel. But the emperor’s favor was everything to Pilate, for with it stood or fell his official dignity. No, the emperor’s anger would have endangered his liberty and life, and it was a grave question with Pilate whether he ought to sacrifice these blessings to justice and peace of conscience. He certainly judged differently in the sequel; like many among us, with whom it seems also a question whether the peace of God is the chief of blessings, who will afterward view the matter in a different light. God grant that the hour of their awaking from the devil’s snare may not come too late, that is, only when no choice will be left them, because, having too long and obstinately chosen the curse against their better knowledge, they are already given over to hardness of heart.
No sooner does Pilate hear the unfortunate words, “You are not Caesar’s friend,” than his little remaining ability to resist gives way. He does not indeed entirely give up his efforts to set Jesus at liberty; but what he undertakes for that purpose, is with the despairing consciousness that a successful result is no longer to be expected. With the instability of one who is completely driven from the field, he steps forward from the praetorium once more, again brings the accused with him upon the stage, ascends with assumed solemnity the judgment-seat, and then again begins to harangue the people. But all he now adduces, only proves the boundless confusion which reigns within him, and seems only to be calculated fully to frustrate his purpose. “Behold your king,” cries he, pointing to the suffering Savior, torn with stripes, and covered with ignominy. Who does not feel from this exclamation, that it was prompted by a mixture of compassion for the Man of Sorrows, and of bitter scorn toward the hated Jews? He wishes at one and the same time, to gain them over to favor Jesus, and to give them a very painful blow. The people naturally felt only the poisoned sting of his speech, and not its moving power, and that which Pilate might have foreseen occurs. The insulted multitude rise up, like an irritated viper, and cry out more resolutely, angrily, and furiously than before, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!”
Pilate now loses all self-possession. His passion even removes the object of his efforts from his view; like a madman destroying his furniture, so Pilate destroys the last hope of Jesus’ rescue, while pouring oil into the flame of the people’s rage already brightly burning; he calls out maliciously and with bitter sarcasm to the raging crowd, “Shall I crucify your king? You think,” is his meaning, “to blacken my character with the emperor as a protector of, and fellow-conspirator with a rebel; but you are the rebels; for here is your chief to whom you pay homage.” But he no longer knows what he is saying. Inward discomfiture and despair, accompanied by a powerless thirst for revenge, and ridiculous arrogance, render him beside himself. The chief priests, on the contrary, know better how to preserve their coolness.
To the ironical question, “Shall I crucify your king?” they have immediately an answer at hand, which, though it casts a horrible light upon themselves, could not have been more ably chosen, had it been their intention, through it, to give the governor a moral death-blow. With pretended loyalty and devotedness toward the Roman sovereignty, they cried briefly and forcibly, “We have no king but Caesar,” and thus give themselves, as regards Pilate, the menacing aspect as if it were they, and not he, who defended the endangered authority and sovereignty of the emperor. But the supposition that the matter might be regarded in the same manner by Tiberius, as well as the idea of the dreadful punishment, which would impend over him, if, in the emperor’s gloomy soul the suspicion should arise that the subjugated Hebrews were more faithful to him than his own servant, quite overpowered the governor. He now gives Jesus up to the people to do with him as they list. They have gained a complete victory; but woe, woe to the poor unhappy beings! While vociferating, “We have no king but Caesar!” in which they rejected the true Messiah, as well as their hopes in him, they verified Jotham’s parable of the trees, who chose for their king a fiery bramble-bush, and unconsciously pronounced sentence and predicted a curse upon themselves for thousands of years. To this hour the Jews have no king, but live without laws and without a home, as tolerated aliens under foreign dominion.
We take our leave of Pilate, and bid him farewell, not without sorrow. He was fitted for something better than that which we saw him display. But he wished to serve two masters—God, who spoke in his bosom, and the world at the same time; and hence his fall and his ruin. He was desirous of doing what was right, but not wholly. His sentiments were noble, but he did not make room for the Divine Spirit to confirm the feeling in him until it became a permanent conviction and resolute will. The seed of all the sanctifying impressions he received, fell under the thorns of his unbroken pride and worldly-mindedness, and these sprang up, and overpowered and choked it. Pilate fell a sacrifice to his want of decision and weakness of character, even as numberless others, though often the subject of fine feelings and resolutions, incessantly become a prey to the power of Satan.
We have very scanty intelligence respecting the governor’s subsequent fate. We merely know that his inward state became gradually more gloomy, and his severity increased; from whence we reasonably infer that his peace was at an end, because his conscience condemned him on account of the crying injustice committed upon the Holy One of Israel. In consequence of heavily oppressing the people, in which he afterward indulged, he was removed by the Syrian Proconsul, in the last year of the reign of Tiberius, and banished to France. It is a question whether, in his exile, he came to himself, and learned to know the King of the Jews in the glory of his mediatorship.
The curse which hovered over Pilate’s head was written clearly enough to induce us to hope that its contents would bring him to reflection, and kindle in him a desire for mercy and forgiveness. The primitive fathers speak of documents which Pilate sent to Tiberius respecting his judicial proceedings against Jesus, and his death, by which the latter was induced to cause Christ to be received among the gods. We have no reason to doubt the truth of this ancient tradition; and for the sake of those who cannot believe in the superhuman majesty of Christ, sincerely regret that these documents are lost. But to me, the whole conduct which Pilate, though a heathen, observed toward Jesus, seems sufficiently glorifying to him. Pilate occupies his place in the apostle’s creed as a witness for the holiness and superhuman dignity of the Lord from heaven, as well as that Christ was delivered up and crucified, not merely according to human will and design, but in accordance with the divine plan of redemption and mercy.
We conclude, while impressively calling to mind the words of the Lord, “He who is not with me is against me,” and those of the apostle, “It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace;” as also the prayer of the Psalmist, “Uphold my goings in your paths, that my footsteps slip not.”
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