Paths To Power - The Phantasm Of Power And The Reality Of Power
( Originally Published 1905 )
"Knowest Thou not that I have power to crucify Thee and power to release Thee? Thou couldst have no power against Me except it were given thee from above." John xix. 10, 11.
IT would be a strangely inadequate study of spiritual power which could neglect to consider, by contrast, the phantasm of power which so often struts for a brief day upon the stage of life and, the reality of power which, at length, holds the center of the stage by right of divine permanency and radiates its influence everywhere throughout the theater of human life. If now, at this time, there exists that defect in our consideration of the subject of power, begun and continued here from morning to morning, it is well that we look at once into the scene and event which the words of my text have recalled to you. Surely, if we are searching for an opportunity to discern, by means of instructive contrast, what is the behavior of the phantasm of power which confuses a man, and what is the reality of power which commands, calms and guides a man, there can be no episode in human history more rich and valuable than this chapter in the chronicle of the trial of Jesus Christ, in which we see Christ brought before Pilate at the first, and then the drama fitly concluded when all is changed, and Pilate is on trial before Christ.
All these things come about logically and naturally. That is a strong declaration of Jesus, made when He is explaining the new and mystifying phenomena of judgment which sincere men observed as they remained in the range of His influence, and He said, "Light has come into the world." There are no terrible judgments except the judgments of light. The shadows which are flung apparently by huge masses owe the density of their darkness, not more to the thickness of the mass, than to the intensity of light which projects the shadow. The light beating vainly upon the mass emphasizes it quite as much as the thing which impedes the light. As we come near to the close of the earthly life of Jesus, we discover, in the thick shadows made by Judas, Caiaphas, and Pilate, how white and overwhelming is the light which they impede, and to which their shadows are witnesses. We must not be surprised, therefore, at the awful contrast which deepens and widens between any pre-tense at power upon the part of one man, and the thorough-going experience which demonstrates and reveals the very essence of power in another.
But, my brother, let us not fail to get, each man for himself, personal teaching out of this episode and these events. Do not permit the blackness which you name Pilate, as his shadow quivers there on the ground, to become a far-away, impersonal thing. He is very human, it is true, but he is not more human than you are. The shadow he throws upon the pavement is not darker than the shadow which you throw upon the pavement, when the same intense and awful glory called Christ is impeded by your standing disobediently against the flood of His influence. Let us learn, from Pilate, how any pretense of power is inevitably and utterly weakening. But shall we not learn something from Christ, also? Do not permit Him to be lost in the thin air of any fancied theological adoration. Let Him be God Himself manifested unto you; but remember also, that He is the "first-born among many brethren, " and that He has just been saying, "The glory which thou gayest unto Me, O Father, I have given unto them, that they may be one, even as we are one." Be sure that, just as the sources and methods of all and any growing, self-revealing, and efficient moral energy were found, in His experience of temptation, to be the same in Jesus of Nazareth as they are in the mind and heart and soul of any other man, so here, if spiritual power shall make any demonstration of itself by contrast, we will see that its origin, its method, its destiny, are the same in the experiences and the life of all ordinary human beings as they are in those of the Master of men, even Jesus Christ. Any other way of approaching the valuable teaching and guiding which Jesus has for His disciples, is not the way of reverence, but of irreverence. He reveres Christ the most who permits Him to brother Him into harmony with the Father-hood universal, of which Fatherhood Jesus spoke clearly, when He said, "I ascend unto My Father, and your Father, and unto My God and your God."
And now just a remark as to the manner of our looking into this contrast, from which I hope we may get much of practical advantage. I will ask you to put yourself in the place of an entirely unprejudiced man, if that be possible. You will go with Him on that April morning into Jerusalem and follow the fortunes of this kindly, loving, and, it may be, entirely mistaken and disturbing human factor, as Jesus has to do with the life of Jerusalem. Go with Him as Jesus, the peasant of Galilee, who has been arrested and has been pushed along from the ecclesiastical Court of Caiaphas, the high priest, toward the civil or political court which naturally was presided over by Pilate, the representative of Rome in Jerusalem. If you wish to know the reality of power as distinct from the pretense at power, just open-mindedly relive that day, in so far as it is possible for you to do it.
Reflect a little. When Jesus was brought before the assembly of elders and priests, at whose head was Caiaphas, they were forced to remember that, years before, they had ceased to pronounce judgment in cases like this one of Jesus. This was one of the great days on which a capital sentence would certainly out-rage Jewish modes of procedure. It was too near their July 4th, to lay any patriot in the dust, and without propriety. The Sanhedrin was not, however, totally perplexed, for, while it might not sentence Jesus, with the shrewd Caiaphas in their lead, it might hunt Him to the death. There were no precedents for such a case; for this man, whose influence was proving itself already potent enough to put all opposition on trial, had never had a predecessor. Nothing could be done by Caiaphas and his ecclesiastical commission which would be legal, and which, at the same time, would probably accomplish the death of Jesus, save to send Him to Pilate. This appeared a happy issue out of difficulty. They could thus make Rome aid in the execution of One who was certainly the foe of a corrupt ecclesiasticism and a tyrannical state policy. Caiaphas, the ecclesiast, had first asked Jesus as to His doctrine, and Jesus answered him with a frankness which made His account of the method a most effective illustration thereof, "I have spoken openly to the world; I ever taught in synagogues, and in the Temple, where all the Jews come together; and in secret spake I nothing. Why askest thou Me? Ask them that have heard Me, what I spake unto them; behold, these know the things which I said." The priestly Caiaphas was silent in the presence of facts. Facts are stubborn things, only to fictions. But Jesus had ever been frank. The only reply which an underling of Caiaphas could make to Jesus was a vicious stroke with the palm of his hand, as the officer said, "Answerest thou the high priest so?" Jesus answered him, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou Me?" There is no argument in a blow of the flesh.
Now the day had fully come, and the council had sought in vain for any scrap of evidence by which Jesus might be sent to Pilate, in the confidence that He would be put to death. O how mere churchman-ship desires to get rid of a living and commanding Christ! Two witnesses, the falsity of whose testimony was manifest in the fact that they had distorted what Jesus really did say, and that even then they did not agree, came forward, and said, "This fellow said, I am able to destroy the Temple of God, and to build it in three days." The high priest, glad even of this doubtful aid, and displeased with the silence of Jesus, said, "Answerest Thou nothing to what these witness against Thee?" The question was asked in such a way as to invite an explanation on the part of Jesus; and that might provide Caiaphas with something which would rouse the ire of Pilate. Jesus said nothing. Observe the silence of power.
This scheme of Caiaphas having failed, some more effective method had to be employed to get out of Jesus a word which would make His condemnation sure. Caiaphas might mount to his fancied height by adjuring Him by the living God. He did this. O pretense of power! He might thus quicken the atmosphere, until the answer of Jesus should run upon its waves to the ends of the earth. But, at last, the moment for a word from Jesus would come, and it did come. Caiaphas had said, "Tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God." The emphasis of past, present, and future was in the reply of Jesus. Jesus saith unto him, "I am: and hereafter ye shall see the Son of Man." He does not use the theological phrase, "Son of God"; still He clings to this oft-repeated phrase, "Son of Man," which is so definitive of His method of revealing divinity. "Ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven." The high priest, who was himself a candidate for Messianic honors and ready to be jealous of Messianic powers, of course flies into a rage. Is this power? Caiaphas is rending his garments now. The petty law demands it; but his soul is rent also, because the highest law of the universe demands that also. Nothing further is needed, as Caiaphas says, "He hath spoken blasphemy, and we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth." Jesus' frank method, of which He told them, is appreciated, and Jesus is condemned. Condemnation of Jesus can never beat back the tides of music which He has organized and set moving in the common air by His word, and which the human heart keeps on repeating. Their melody judges the discord and makes it appear hideous. The only answer that can be made to Jesus at such moments is the answer they made. "And some began to spit on Him, and to blindfold Him, and to buffet Him, and to say unto Him, prophesy Who it was that struck Thee, and the officers received Him with the blows of their hands. " This was their sole way of judging of divinity.
The day grows more luminous against an eternal night which deepens for the pretenders to power. Caiaphas and his fellow conspirators have left the Temple. Jesus must be brought before Pilate. These who had tried Jesus and these whom He had been trying are of one fiber and have one point of view. The man into whose presence He is now coming has a different attitude toward Him and his soul is of a different texture. Pilate was the officer of Rome over a province. He was skillful, callous, luxurious, corrupt, imperious, and politic. He had nothing but the severity of iron for popular opposition which he always feared; he had nothing in his heart but superb contempt for the religious peculiarities of the Hebrews he ruled. He had been cold and brutal, but now he found it desirable to be judicious and shrewd. As Jesus comes near to him, we feel that Pilate is squaring himself to deal with influences of a more sovereign sort than any which have appealed to him heretofore. O pause here, my soul, for thou hast both Caiaphas, the man of cant, and Pilate, the hard and cold, in thine own self. How dost thou deal with the Christ?
It is full day time everywhere, except in the hearts o'ercome of the moral night time. The Jewish conspirators who were just now assembled in the palace of Caiaphas have reached the only result possible for them, namely, this, to bind the prisoner over and to get Him to Pilate on the general charge of being a malefactor. Of course, they must avoid definiteness in their accusation. When you become definite, you are in danger of being right. The Jewish trial has failed to do anything save to compel the high priest to rend his garment. It was a confessed failure. The chief priests have held a hurried consultation with the elders and scribes, to procure justice? No; their confession lies in the words, "to put Him to death." Everything must now be made to demonstrate that Jesus is a political, rather than a religious, offender, else Pilate will have no interest in Him. Jesus Christ never has a fair trial with a man who is wrong. Men who are hateful of such a glorious expression of goodness as He was, have unfortunately decided, as did these Jews. You and I are like unto them. If even they have a good case, there is another- embarrassment. O how cantingly we muse, when we refuse to do right! These piously scented religionists have scruples that prevent them from entering the Praetorium, where Rome flaunts herself. A Caiaphas, wherever he is, must hold to the petty formalities with the same iron grip with which he seizes the throat of inspired holiness. It is always difficult for evil or bigotry to succeed with itself. Why? Because we, the victims, are so truthless and insincere.
Daytime had now flung its full radiance over the quarters occupied by the representatives of Rome. We do not know their exact location. It may be that Pilate and his wife were staying in the royal apartments of Herod, and that these are not the walls of the fortress Antonia. It matters not to any soul where it judges of Jesus Christ, if, like Pilate, it does not know what to do with Jesus who is called Christ. The result will be the same in moral disaster, unless He be taken as King and Lord and loved by the heart. Behold the pretense of moral power! Caiaphas and his henchmen must not be defiled. I never knew a hypocrite who was not a sacramentarian. But they must eat the Passover. Others would stay with the Passover Lamb whose name was Jesus, and Him they lead to Pilate. What a contrast!
It is now seven o'clock, and Pilate has gone out to an apparently good and gentle man, who, by private procedure, has been pushed forward as a friend-less prisoner into the presence of Roman justice. Procurator Pilate and the Christ confront each other in the Praetorium. Pilate has known enough of the affair which now is culminating, to warrant -his putting a military force at the disposal of the conspirators, and, in the presence of the man who was arrested by the help of his constabulary, it is not inappropriate to the situation that Pilate should straighten himself up and make a full exhibition of the Roman type of man and ruler. "What accusation bring ye against Him?" he gravely inquired. Here are exhibited the old notions of truth and justice which made Roman law fundamental to legal jurisprudence in all modern nations. For all these Pilate stands, cold and imperious. The chilly air strikes the face of the Nazarene peasant at the very moment when Pilate makes it clear that, first of all, these proceedings must be entirely public, and, secondly, the accusation must be definite. A shade of disappointment flits across the faces of those Jews who had too eagerly relied upon Pilate, when they reflect that only last night he let them have a Roman guard to arrest the offender, and now he seems only a Roman provincial officer and very Roman indeed who has forgotten that the Jews expect more favors at his hands. Yet they have answered Pilate, "If He were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered Him up to thee."
We always blunder in our attempt to get rid of Jesus Christ as our Lord. Where is the old charge of blasphemy which Caiaphas and his conspirators made so much of last night? Ah, humiliated and maddened religionists! what does Roman Pilate care for any blasphemy against your local Jewish God? Pilate shows also how embarrassing a problem is Jesus, when he seeks to rid himself of Him, by saying to them, "Take ye Him and judge Him according to your law." "Our law?" The defeated ecclesiastics acknowledge, "By our law we may not put any man to death." Law has failed to compass the doom of Love. The air is still quivering with Pilate's demand for a definite accusation. He himself is very glad, for some reason, to consume time. But time here is loaded with eternity, and he cannot put a pawn against that. He stands on the proposition that the Jews ought to handle their own problem, but at the moment he intimates that their authorities have acted from motives of envy, that ground has gone out from under him, and the thing becomes Roman and human. They are criminals. Besides, Pilate's heart and conscience revolt at the idea that any man should get helplessly into the hands of the Jews, on such an accusation as that of calling himself Messiah. This Roman knows that the Jewish Messiah, even as he conceived Him, will prove Himself a revolutionist against Rome. After all, then, this is not a religious question, but it is a political one.
Things are getting very tangled now, for Pilate has straying over his soul the fresh recollection of his wife's dream. His wife may have been a convert to Judaism, through the influence of some unknown evangelist, possibly; or she may have been worthy of the place given her by the Greek Church in the list of Christian saints. One thing is certain, this man Jesus has gotten into Pilate's household, through his wife's dreams, and has touched not only the Roman, but the human, at his hearthstone. The words of his wife come back to Pilate, "Have thou nothing to do with that religious man. " What an enormous weight Jesus becomes, in the scales of Pilate's judgment, when once the tenderness that is in woman touches the scale, or the man!
Now the capital charge is formulated, so that it must appeal to Pilate. He is not interested because of anything Jesus may have said about His ruling men's hearts by love, or Sabbath-work; he is taken at once by the statement that Jesus said that He Him-self was Christ and a King. Besides, they have now dragged the name of Caesar in, and they have told him that Jesus forbade to give tribute to the Emperor. There stands Jesus; and the guards are still about Him. Pilate is determined to observe and save these five things: truth, justice, and mercy, Rome, Pilate. This will test his power.
"Thou art the King of the Jews?" he says, inquiringly. Who can tell how wonder and bitterness struggled in his voice? Did he put the emphasis on the word King, with his cynicism, or on the word Jews, with his contempt? We do not know; but we look at Jesus. If Pilate will let Him, Jesus will prove now that He is the King of humanity, by saving Pilate's soul. In this instant Pilate himself is on trial; for Jesus then asked him, if the question is his or the pitiful echo of what his Jewish advisers have told him to say. The ground was shifting beneath the governor's feet. Almost too anxiously he asserts to Jesus that this thing is not a personal affair with him. But Jesus always is a personal affair. If Jesus Christ is not a personal matter with every man, that man is only a chip on the foam; and he will be cast backward and forward from the trough of the sea to the crest of its waves. There is no escape from the command of Jesus' moral divineness. "Am I a Jew?" asked the stern Roman. Then he cries out, "Thine own nation and the ecclesiastical authorities have delivered Thee to me. What hast Thou done?" The reply of Jesus makes the matter more fundamental than Rome or Judaism. He said, "My Kingdom is not of this world. If My Kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is My Kingdom not from hence." The Procurator saw lineaments of a true King in one glance. "So Thou are a King, then?" he said. O yes, my soul! Jesus is a criminal, or the thing which antagonizes Him is criminal; surely one or the other is criminal, not only against the Jews, but against this truth and this justice and mercy, and this Rome, and Pilate himself all of which Pilate is trying to save. O what a trial for true power!
The human in Pilate has now met Jesus. But the only way Pilate sees for escape from the chaos into which his mind has been thrown, is by playing on that word "king." So, with his fatal incapacity for seeing its lofty meaning for his human soul, the Roman is content, for the moment, with his puerile efforts at sarcasm, "So, then, a King art Thou?" he says. Pilate is working for a position, as we say. Jesus instantly takes his words, and He makes it clear even to Pilate's thought that the large kingdom of eternal truth is His. "Thou sayest it," answers Jesus. Jesus knows that Pilate is trying to protect truth, as a Roman officer. He is standing for the old Roman idea of truth; and Jesus tells him that it is His business to "testily o l the truth," and He does not leave the topic until He tells Pilate, "Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice. " That is kingly enough. O how weak is human power in the presence of a human revelation of Divine power!
This is not the moment for an abstract discussion, but it is the moment for the concrete regeneration of Pilate's soul; yet Pilate asks, with all philosophical coldness, "What is truth?" and he is alone with Jesus. The moments in which men see with joy the towers of the heavenly city, or fall blindly back from its glory, are moments in which they are alone with Jesus. These only are crises of the soul. Magnificently personal was this relationship of Pilate with Christ. The whole operation has cleared itself of Caiaphas, Sanhedrin, Praetorium, Rome. He is alone with Jesus. There is nothing but the living Truth and the quivering man asking of Truth itself to tell him "what is Truth." Intellectually Pilate apprehends Jesus; but his heart is untrue; and therefore the man is untrue, and he who set himself up just a moment ago as an arbiter, to look after the interests of Truth, has now let Truth slip from his grasp. Why and how? The answer is, he has not been true.
"His honor rooted in dishonor stood
but he who is falsely true is truly false. Truth is gone now, at least to Pilate. Truth always goes, when we do not accept it as Him, and make Him our Lord and Saviour. It will not do for Pilate to say, "O Truth, I will not kill you. I do not find any fault with you." That is not enough for the virtue of a soul. Truth is such an angel as must either be loved or hated. It will not do to say to Truth, after a trial, "Guiltless!" for that leaves Pilate guilty of not taking Truth to his very heart and making Truth his Lord. You must make Truth your all and in all if you wish to be true to Truth or true to yourself.
The noisy mob is outdoors; for Pilate has dismissed Him, and he has said, "I find no fault in Him." Ah, yes, but Truth is gone.
But then there is something left to Pilate yet, as that sunlight deepens in its gold. He has a sense of justice. True, the Sanhedrin now, in a conspiracy of hateful noise, are besieging Pilate with a perfect tumult of charges against Jesus. The clamor shakes the portals of the Praetorium, within which Christ is standing, but He meets it with His silence. "Dost Thou not hear the frightful and innumerable charges they are making against Thee?" says Pilate. What reply? Jesus is still silent. Pilate again addresses the mob, "I find no fault in this man." "He stirreth up the Jewish people, beginning from Galilee," cries the mob. "Galilee?" that word echoes in Pilate's heart. Why so? Pilate has gotten upon his feet again, so far, at least, that he is amazed at the calmness of the prisoner, and there steals across his heart a hope of escaping from further embarrassment with this evidently innocent man who is caught in the toils of injustice. "Galilee?" Fortunately he has thought of Herod, who has come up from Galilee, to humor the Jews. Herod's jurisdiction surely extends over the prisoner, for He is a Galilean! The mob has uttered the word "Galilee"; and Pilate is very thankful that Herod is over there in the Maccabean palace, with others who have come to town for the Feast, and to that palace he is glad to send Jesus. O what a confession of powerlessness in the presence of power we make, when we grasp at what we hate in order to get rid of the commanding Christ!
But we can never entirely send Christ away. Herod or any other man fails to give us a receipt in full, intellectually and spiritually, for Jesus. O what a pretense to power all this is! He will return to our rebellious heart, most certainly after we have sent the Saviour to Herod. The Herod of to-day may be as, glad to see Him as was that Herod Antipas, but He is as troublesome to Herod, the curious and ostentatious, as He was to Pilate, the chill-hearted and luxurious, who now is both flattering the Tetrarch of Galilee and lifting a load from the conscience of him-self as the Roman Governor. The chief prosecutors have come also, and they propound their questions. Herod, the sensuous, is desirous of a miracle. We always desire a spectacular Jesus Christ, when we love Him least. We become men like Herod himself. His senses must be played upon. He does not know that miracles do not prove divinity; he does not know that divinity illustrates itself through humanity, and that miracle is the incident thereof. There is no miracle upon which Christ ultimately risks Himself, save the miracle of Himself. A fusillade of questions, such as Herod asked, will always fall like broken darts from the shield of the Christ. They are deprived even of the sting with which Herod would fill them, because Jesus is divinely calm. Such a silence, as is Christ's before the religious curiosity-hunter, Herod, is rewarded only by insults. Herod is incapable in every way, and every Pilate gets Jesus back on his hands, arrayed in the many-colored robe in which Herod has woven his, contempt.
Just at the moment, Pilate is perhaps walking for his pleasure in the Praetorium. Contrasts are everywhere; for the miserable Judas, just a little time since, has brought his newly acquired and hated thirty pieces of silver to the Jewish officers and begged them to take them back, crying out as he presented the coins, "I have sinned, in that I have betrayed innocent blood." They have answered him, as the wrong always answers its slaves, "What is that to us? See thou to that." Down on the marble pavement of the Temple the wretch throws the coins, but ecclesiasticism dare not pick them up. They are heavy with innocent blood. The priests must be ceremonially clean, and the Temple also, even though in their name and in the name of the Temple a frightful crime is now being accomplished upon Jesus, the only man who has ever truly purified that great fane. While the authorities debate as to what they may do with the money, which even Judas's guilty hands cannot touch, more than will their priestly fingers, Judas himself decides. He is freed from the fire of the coins that burned his hands; he now resolves to get rid of himself. Yonder is the clay pit of a potter. Soon Judas has suicided there. So swift are his preparations for the deed, that the too slight cord which he uses breaks; and he falls, a horrible mass, upon the ground. The difficulty of the priests is solved. With the money of betrayal they purchase the clay yard, and it was called "The Field of Blood."
You say, "I am no Judas!" No; but you are Pilate, and are you sure that Pilate has not committed moral suicide? At the last, Judas may have hoped that Jesus would free Himself; but Pilate is dull to all the desperate agony experienced by a betrayer of the Judas kind; Pilate's body will never hang on a branch in the dark valley yonder. He is not earnest enough, being only a connoisseur of the moral heroism which a Roman may see. But Pilate's soul has seen Truth go, and now Justice and Mercy must make their last stand with the Procurator, in the presence of this man Jesus. Pilate also may be a betrayer. He is not freed from the impression once received from the moral splendor of Jesus; and he ventures to say to the authorities, to whom he repeats their own charge against Jesus, in a manner bringing out its insidious falsehood, that neither he, nor Herod, has found any crime in the Galilean peasant. When a man's conscience is nearly gone, it is one of its last pathetic efforts at proving its existence, to lean up against the conscience of somebody else. Then only has a Pilate use for even Herod's conscience. "I find no fault in Him! no!" he says, "nor yet Herod." Poor Pilate! The long-hated Herod has become his friend at last. The exigencies of the situation have swallowed up their animosities. "No, nor yet Herod." A week ago, and Pilate would have spurned the thought of quoting the hated Herod. Such a man as was Pilate and such a man as was Herod are certain to be enemies, until it is necessary to sacrifice the consummate good; and only on such a bloody and horrible platform as that can they be made friends. What though the last gasp of such a friendship is a timid word for the King of kings? It will soon be Iost in the swirl of other currents. O what abomination we allow in the holy name of friendship, when we push the true Christ of our lives toward crucifixion!
Pilate and Herod compromised. Conscience is first wounded by a compromise. Compromises never do the things they promise to do. Down, through the poorly built bridges which we call our compromises, conscience goes into the deep and is lost. Jesus is back on Pilate's hands, as truly as if He had never been sent to Herod. Herod and Pilate together may decide other questions. They cannot decide this. Nobody can decide for any man, about Jesus, except the man himself. He enters each man's soul with the moral commandment of love. The Christ is a personal fact, and His appeal is to Pilate's personality. Pilate may well be rehearsing to his heart now what he will soon cry out to the overmastering mob, "What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" That is the main question in every man's life. That question with Pilate is tangled up with two other questions: "What shall I do with the people here? I, the time server?" and "What shall I do with myself ?" the man who certainly is being tried, while he tries Jesus. Along with these questions is another: "How shall I be true to Rome?" But what is Rome, now? The human soul is all ;
"Out of thought's interior sphere
The fact is, Pilate had no power to keep anything valuable. He was an utterly powerless man, at the moment when all Rome was behind him. Behold him at the hour of his first moral failure. He will compromise. He is now ready to appease their brutal appetites. "I will chastise Him," he says, "and let Him go." But what has the man done demanding that He should be scourged? "Nothing?" But it may make them compassionate? No; the thought of it only brutifies them. Justice and Mercy, two angels that walk together in this old world of ours, turn their backs upon Pilate. Soon he will call them to come back; but they will not return. For Pilate they are gone.
The crowd outside the Praetorium has grown very large. The priests are moving everywhere; and the population, ready for a spectacle, has happened upon the fact that, at the Passover Feast, some well-known prisoner, lying under a capital sentence, is usually released to them. Pilate has offered to release Jesus, after chastisement. Dreadful and pathetic hour, tragic and exacting hour, death-dealing hour for any soul when one is acquiescent here! Think of punishing good for being good, truth for being true. Can we agree to this? But poor Pilate; he is trying even yet to save Justice. He does not acquiesce in the scheme to kill Jesus, yet he has lost Truth. The conspiring members of the council are moving amongst the mob and exciting them to demand the release of a prisoner named Barabbas. This man has been particularly popular with the rabble of Jerusalem, because he has committed a crime in sympathy with the political hopes of the Jews, as against Rome. But this certainly cannot please Pilate, for he is there as the representative of Rome. Jesus and Barabbas at once appear to his dull eye only as two prisoners standing upon the same general ground of political anarchy, with everything in favor of Jesus, for Barabbas is both an active insurgent and a murderer. Now, he knows that Jesus has often declined the leadership of a rebellion. Jesus has been true to Rome. But Pilate is untrue to Jesus.
Justice and Truth are gone together, else he could discern distinctions. But he can save Rome, perhaps? Let him try. He has not yet released to them a prisoner. Now, Pilate's eye sweeps over the mob. He is startled, as he realizes that he has given to them the choice between Jesus and Bar-abbas. He has lost his power to decide. He has actually offered the life of this man Jesus, who has met him with a kingly power in solitude, and he has offered that life to a mob of men who hate Rome and who would never have urged an accusation against this man Jesus, if the Holy One had actually been willing to lead them in revolt against Rome. Pilate has lost his authority, for they are deciding the question now. The mob sways hither and thither. They thunder against the shaken will of Pilate. Pilate knows why they are calling out for Bar-abbas' release. Bar-abbas is a seditious criminal who has lifted his hand against the Rome which the Jews despise and fear. Jesus refused to do that. Where is Rome now the Rome that Pilate would save in this hour of Jewish frenzy? How ineffective are his expostulations, and how weak and inane is his appeal to all these belligerent haters of Rome, who, just a little while ago, were cunning Jews who held a gentle enthusiast in their grasp! The mob knows what Pilate has lost. Truth is gone, Conscience is gone, Justice and Mercy have gone. And now Rome has gone. Pilate has nothing else to do but to perform a hollow ceremony. The noise is so boisterous that nobody can hear the tinkling drops of water. Nevertheless, the pantomime goes on. He is standing there, washing his hands. He cannot efface the stain; the blood of Jesus is on his soul. Poor, powerless man!
The Jews offer to assume the consequences of the guilt for themselves and their children. But that will not restore what Pilate has lost, despite his wife's dream. It is all over. Soon the soldiery with heavy leather thongs loaded with lead will be scourging Jesus out there, in front of the Praetorium. Pilate himself has gone, with Truth and Conscience and Mercy and Justice and Rome and Bar-abbas, is the only prisoner he may release! True, there was a human form standing there, which men still call Pilate; and its mouth is working with the words, "What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" He might as well be dumb, or be uttering words in an unknown language, for they do not hear him. They have decided this matter for Pilate. Out from the woods there has been dragged a tree which shall soon be a cross standing on yonder hill. It is all over. Pilate has lost himself Pilate is gone, and the mob is crying, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"
Let us go out toward Calvary? No; not yet, not yet. We may be wrong. The air is still quivering with Pilate's question, pitifully inadequate and ineffective, "Why, what evil hath he done?" When any man asks that question of anybody else on earth, he has no conscience of his own left; there is nothing in his soul before which he can put any serious inquiry. People who are running about asking if Christ is guiltless have lost the power of receiving Him.
This is perdition. This is eternal loss. The only answer which such a man ever hears from the forces to which he has delivered the Christ, is this, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" "And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required." Poor Pilate!
It will be easier for Pilate, if this shall be the end. But it will not be. Into the common hall they go, with their bound victim pushed along by the frenzied cruelty which just now was intensified when the scourge of Pilate whished through the air and fell again upon the lacerated back of Jesus. The men of Rome, who have become baser under the influence of their pious Jewish leaders, strip Him, and having made a study of hideous sport, they play that He is king, that they are subjects unto Him, arraying Him in a scarlet robe, and putting a reed in His hand, so that it looked like a scepter, crowning His weary head with an extemporized circle of thorns that looks crown-like. Then they dance about Him, saying: "Hail, King of the Jews!" while one smites Him with the reed and bows contemptuously, and others bow and then spit upon Him.
Again Pilate brings Him forth, the King of kings, to be jeered at and to be made a mockery. But the Procurator cannot give Him up. O powerlessness of fancied power. Pilate has nothing new to say. Pilate is a mechanical thing now, not a man, "Saying." He is only uttering,' "I find no fault in Him." Looking at the almost revolting sight, Jesus, in Whom Pilate could see no divinity, he adds, "Behold the man!" Was it an appeal to their humanity? Was Jesus, the Divine, to be recognized at last, through the human? Or, was it Pilate's expressed conviction, "Now see the man. If He were the Son of God, He would fling off this contumely and blood" ? We cannot answer. We only know that the old answer comes back to Pilate, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" Pilate in desperation leans over the marble railing, and says, piteously: "You take Him and crucify, for I cannot; I find no fault in Him." It is the death of earthly power.
Cannot some one relieve Pilate? They try, and they shout up to the wretched Procurator, "We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God." This does not help Pilate. The Roman rather feared the more, for the phrase, "The Son of God," arrested him in his procedure. A divine element was coming within his sight. Even now Pilate can more than regain all, now, if he will forget all but Jesus, and accept Him as "The Son of God." But, perhaps, he cannot. His power may be only a phantasm. The Roman who knows how humanity had yearned Godward, and had testified to that yearning, in making Caesar a god, takes Jesus into the palace alone. Once before he was alone with Jesus. The critical hour of any man's life is when intellectually and spiritually he has marshaled enough of his manhood into an act, and is grandly alone with his Master. Ah, it is too late for Pilate to understand Jesus, arrayed as He is, a mock-king by the mob. Pilate has lost himself, and now he can only stammer out the question, "Whence art Thou?" It is all silence on the lips of Christ. Pilate cannot hear silence; he cannot feel spiritual power. If Jesus cannot be discovered as the "Son of God," by the moral sense, He must remain forever unknown. Christ will not answer him, for Pilate is gone. "Speakest Thou not to me?" says the angry Roman. "Knowest thou not that I have power to release or crucify?" What an irony of the Fate which is Father! Never was Pilate so powerless. O Pilate, thou hast not power to prevent this Man, who bleeds in thy presence, from being the Lord Invisible of all humanity. Thou hast not power to displease the Csar, or the mob, which is now professing loyalty to Caesar. When Rome's marbles have crumbled, and thy name is but a stench, there will be one of this poor Galilean's missionaries walking in a street of Rome, and saying, "This is a saying worthy o l all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." And later, yonder cross will be upraised over Rome's ruins, and it will be the symbol of civilization.
"O what have I to do with Rome's ruins?" you say, and you have a right to say it, for there is nothing comparable with one's own soul. What you and I may have is this: that there shall be upraised in my heart and yours, the all-triumphant cross of Jesus Christ! To Him, tried before Pilate, Pilate must himself turn with repentance and confession, and realize that power comes from above. God save you and me from the misuse of such a power and such an opportunity. God save you and me from being deceived by our position and the semblance of power that hides in its shadow. O, for that energy from on high which shall enable you and me to do right with this same tender, loving, strong, and saving Jesus Christ!