Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843): Consider The Apostle And High Priest Of Our Profession

Consider The Apostle And High Priest


Our Profession
Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Sermon II

Consider The Apostle And High Priest Of Our Profession

“Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.” HEB. 3:1.

WHEN a traveller passes very rapidly through a country, the eye has no time to rest upon the different objects in it, so that, when he comes to the end of his journey, no distinct impressions have been made upon his mind,—he has only a confused notion of the country through which he has travelled.

This explains how it is that death, judgment, eternity, make so little impression upon most men’s minds. Most people never stop to think, but hurry on through life, and find themselves in eternity before they have once put the question, “What must I do to be saved?” More souls are lost through want of consideration than in any other way.

The reason why men are not awakened and made anxious for their souls is, that the devil never gives them time to consider. Therefore God cries, Stop, poor sinner, stop and think. Consider your ways. “Oh that you were wise, that you understood this, that you considered your latter end!” And, again He cries, “Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.”

In the same way does the devil try to make the children of God doubt if there be a Providence. He hurries them away to the shop and market. Lose no time, he says, but make money. Therefore God cries, Stop, poor sinner, stop and think; and Jesus says, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; consider the ravens, which have neither storehouse nor barn.”

In the same way does the devil try to make the children of God live uncomfortable and unholy lives. He beguiles them away from simply looking to Jesus: he hurries them away to look at a thousand other things, as he led Peter, walking on the sea, to look round at the waves. But God says, Look here, consider the Apostle and High Priest of your profession; look unto me and be ye saved; run your race, looking unto Jesus; consider Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.

I. Believers should live in daily consideration of the greatness and glory of Christ

(1.) There was once a time when time was not,—when there was no earth, neither sun, nor moon, nor star; a time when you might have wandered through all space, and never found a resting-place to the sole of your foot,—when you would have found no creatures anywhere, but God everywhere,—when there were no angels with golden harps hymning celestial praises, but God alone was all in all.

Ques.—Where was Jesus then? Ans.—He was with God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” He was near to God, and in perfect happiness there. “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. Then I was by Him as one brought up with Him; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before Him.” He was in the bosom of God: “The only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father.” He was in perfect glory there: “O Father, glorify Thou me with thyself, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was!”

Ques.—What was Jesus then? Ans.—He was God. The Word was with God, and “was God.” He was equal with the Father. “He thought it no robbery to be equal with God.” He was rich. “He was the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person.”

Now, brethren, could I lift you away to that time when God was alone from all eternity; could I have shown you the glory of Jesus then,—how He dwelt in the bosom of the Father, and was daily his delight; and could I have told you, “That is the glorious Being who is to undertake the cause of poor lost sinners,—that is He who is going to put himself in their room and stead, to suffer all they should suffer, and obey all they should obey,—consider Jesus, look long and earnestly, weigh every consideration in the balance of the soundest judgment,—consider his rank, his nearness, his dearness to God the Father,—consider his power, his glory, his equality to God the Father in everything,—consider, and say do you think you would entrust your case to Him? do you think He would be a sufficient Saviour?”—oh, brethren, would not every soul cry out, He is enough—I want no other Saviour?

(2.) Again, there was a time when this world sprang into being,—when the sun began to shine, and earth and seas began to smile. There was a time when myriads of happy angels springing into being, first spread their wings, doing his commandments,—when the morning stare sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.

Ques.—What was Jesus doing then? Ans.—“Without Him was not anything made that was made.” “By Him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him and for Him.” Oh, brethren, could I lift you away back to that wonderful day, and show you Jesus calling all the angels into being, hanging the earth upon nothing;—could you have heard the voice of Jesus saying, “Let there be light, and there was light;”—and could I have told you, “That is He who is yet to undertake for sinners; consider Him, and see if you think He will be a sufficient Saviour; look long and earnestly;”—good news, good news for sinners, if this mighty Being undertake for us!—I can as little doubt the sureness and completeness of my salvation as I can doubt the sureness of the solid earth beneath my feet.

(3.) But the work of creation is long since passed. Jesus has been upon our earth. And now He is not here—He is risen. Eighteen hundred years and more have passed since Christ was upon the earth.

Ques.—Where is Jesus now? Ans.—“He is set down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” He is upon the throne with God in his glorified body, and his throne is for ever. A sceptre is put into his hand—a sceptre of righteousness, and the oil of gladness is poured over Him. All power is given to Him in heaven and on earth.

Oh, brethren, could you and I pass this day through these heavens, and see what is now going on in the sanctuary above,—could you see what the child of God now sees who died last night,—could you see the Lamb with the scars of his five deep wounds in the very midst of the throne, surrounded by all the redeemed, every one having harps and golden vials full of odours,—could you see the many angels round about the throne, whose number is ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, all singing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain,”—and were one of these angels to tell you, “This is He that undertook the cause of lost sinners; He undertook to bear their curse and to do their obedience; He undertook to be the second Adam,—the man in their stead; and lo! there He is upon the throne of heaven;—consider Him,—look long and earnestly upon his wounds—upon his glory,—and tell me, do you think it would be safe to trust Him? do you think his sufferings and obedience will have been enough?”—Yes, yes, every soul exclaims, Lord, it is enough! Lord, stay thy hand! Show me no more, for I can bear no more. Oh, rather let me ever stand and gaze upon the almighty, all-worthy, all-divine Saviour, till my soul drink in complete assurance that his work undertaken for sinners is a finished work! Yes, though the sins of all the world were on my one wicked head, still I could not doubt that his work is complete, and that I am quite safe when I believe in Him.

I would now plead with believers.—Some of you have really been brought by God to believe in Jesus. Yet you have no abiding peace, and very little growing in holiness. Why is this? It is because your eye is fixed anywhere but on Christ. You are so busy looking at books, or looking at men, or looking at the world, that you have no time, no heart, for looking at Christ.

No wonder you have little peace and joy in believing. No wonder you live so inconsistent and unholy a life. Change your plan. Consider the greatness and glory of Christ, who has undertaken all in the stead of sinners, and you would find it quite impossible to walk in darkness, or to walk in sin. Oh what mean, despicable thoughts you have of the glorious Immanuel! Lift your eyes from your own bosom, downcast believer,—look upon Jesus. It is good to consider your ways, but it is far better to consider Christ.

I would now invite anxious souls.—Anxious soul! have you understood all the glory of Christ? Have you understood that He undertook for guilty sinners? And do you doubt if He be a sufficient Saviour? Oh, what mean views you have of Christ if you dare not risk your soul upon Him!

Objection.—I do not doubt that Christ has suffered and done quite enough, but I fear it was for others, and not for me. If I were sure it was for me, I would be quite happy. Ans.—It is nowhere said in the Bible that Christ died for this sinner or that sinner. If you are waiting till you find your own name in the Bible, you will wait for ever. But it is said a few verses before that, “He tasted death for every man;” and again, “He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” Not that all men are saved by Him. Ah! no; the most never come to Jesus, and are lost; but this shows that any sinner may come, even the chief of sinners, and take Christ as his own Saviour. Come you then, anxious soul; say you, He is my refuge and my fortress; and then, be anxious, if you can.

II. Consider Christ as the Apostle or Messenger of God The word apostle means messenger,—one ordained and sent on a particular embassy. Now Christ is an Apostle, for God ordained mid sent Him into the world.

In the Old Testament, the name by which He is oftenest called is the Angel of the Lord, or the Messenger of the Covenant. He is called God’s Elect, chosen for the work; He is called God’s Servant; He is called the Messiah, or the Christ, or the Anointed, because God anointed Him and sent Him to the work. In the New Testament, over and over again Christ calls himself the Sent of God. “As Thou hast sent me into the world, so have I sent them into the world, that the world may know that Thou hast sent me.” “And these have known that Thou hast sent me.” All this shows plainly that it is not the Son alone who is interested in the saving of poor sinners, but the Father also. “The Father sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world.”

Objection.—True, Christ is a great and glorious Saviour, and able to accomplish anything to save poor sinners; but perhaps God the Father may not agree to pour out his wrath upon his Son, or to accept of his Son as a surety in our stead. Ans.—Look here, Christ is the Apostle of God. It is as much God the Father’s work, as it is Christ’s work. It occupied as much of the heart of God as ever it did of the heart of Christ. God loved the world as much and truly as ever Christ loved the world. God gave his Son, as much as Christ gave himself for us. So God the Holy Spirit is as much interested in it as the Father and Son. God gave his Son,—the Spirit anointed Him and dwelt in Him without measure. At his baptism God acknowledged Him for his beloved Son,—the Holy Spirit came on Him like a dove.

Oh! brethren, could I lift you away to the eternity that is past,—could I bring you into the council of the Eternal Three; and as it was once said, “Let us make man,” could I let you hear the word, “Let us save man,”—could I show you how God from all eternity designed his Son to undertake for poor sinners; how it was the very plan and the bottommost desire of the heart of the Father that Jesus should come into the world, and do and die in the stead of sinners; how the Holy Spirit breathed sweetest incense, and dropped like holiest oil upon the head of the descending Saviour,—could I show you the intense interest with which the eye of God followed Jesus through his whole course of sorrow and suffering and death,—could I show you the anxious haste with which God rolled away the stone from the sepulchre while it was yet dark, for He would not leave his soul in hell, neither suffer his Holy One to see corruption,—could I show you the ecstasies of love and joy that beat in the bosom of the infinite God when Jesus ascended to his Father and our Father; how He welcomed Him with a fulness of kindness and grace which God alone could give, and God alone could receive, saying, “Thou art my Son, this day have I ‘begotten Thee; Thou art indeed worthy to be called my Son; never till this day wast Thou so worthy to be called mine; thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; sit Thou on my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool;”—O sinner, will you ever doubt any more whether God the Father be seeking thy salvation,—whether the heart of Christ and of his Father be the same in this one grand controversy? O believer, consider this apostle of God,—meditate on these things,—look and look again, until your peace be like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea,—till the breathing of your soul be, Abba, Father!

III. Consider Christ as the High Priest of our profession

The duty of the high priest was twofold: 1st, to make Atonement; 2nd, to make Intercession.

When the high priest slew the goat at the altar of burnt offerings, he did it in presence of all the people, to make atonement for them. They all stood around, gazing and considering their high priest; and when he gathered the blood into the golden basin, and put on the white garments, and passed away from their sight within the veil, their eye followed him, till the mysterious curtain hid him from their sight. But even then the heart of the believing Jew followed him still. Now he is drawing near to God for us; now he is sprinkling the blood seven times before the mercy-seat, saying, Let this blood be instead of our blood; now he is praying for us.

Brethren, let us also consider our great High Priest.

(1.) Consider Him making Atonement.—You cannot look at Him on the cross as the disciples did; you cannot see the blood streaming from his five deep wounds; you cannot see Him shedding his blood that the blood of sinners might not be shed. Yet still, if God spare us, you may see bread broken and wine poured out,—a living picture of the dying Saviour. Now, brethren, the atonement has been made, Christ has died, his sufferings are all past. And how is it that you do not enjoy peace?

It is because you do not consider. “Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.” Consider,—has Jesus died in the stead of guilty sinners, and do you heartily consent to take Jesus to be the man in your stead? then, you do not need to die. Oh, happy believer, rejoice evermore! Live within sight of Calvary, and you will live within sight of glory; and, oh, rejoice in the happy ordinance that sets a broken Saviour so plainly before you!

(2.) Consider Christ as making Intercession.—When Christ ascended from the Mount of Olives, and passed through these heavens, carrying his bloody wounds into the presence of God,—and when his disciples had gazed after Him, till a cloud received Him out of their sight,—we are told that they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. What! are they joyful at parting with their blessed Master? When He told them He was to leave them, sorrow filled their hearts, and He had to argue with them and comfort them, saying, “Let not your heart be troubled; it is expedient for you that I go away.” How, then, are they changed? Jesus has left them, and they are filled with joy. Oh! here is the secret,—they knew that Christ was now going into the presence of God for them, that their great High Priest was now entering within the veil to make intercession for them.

Now, believer, would you share in the great joy of the disciples? Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus. He is above yon clouds, and above yon sky. Oh that you would stand gazing up into heaven, not with the bodily eye, but with the eye of faith! Oh, what a wonderful thing the eye of faith is! It sees beyond the stars, it pierces to the throne of God, and there it looks on the face of Jesus making intercession for us, whom having not seen we love; in whom, though now we see Him not, yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Oh! if you would live thus, what sweet peace would fill your bosom! And how many droppings of the Spirit would come down on you in answer to the Saviour’s prayer! Oh! how your face would shine like Stephen; and the poor blind world would see that there is a joy which the world cannot give, and the world cannot take away,—a heaven upon earth!

DUNDEE, 1836.


AW Pink (1886-1952): The Narrow Way

The Narrow Way
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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The Narrow Way

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Mat 7:13-14). The second half of Matthew 7 forms the applicatory part of that most important discourse of our Lord’s, known as “the Sermon on the Mount.” One leading design of that Sermon was to show the spiritual nature and wide extent of that obedience which characterizes the true subjects of Christ’s kingdom, and which obedience is absolutely necessary for the enjoyment of that ultimate state of blessedness which divine grace has provided for them. As the Prophet of God, Christ made known that the righteousness which obtains in His kingdom greatly exceeds the “righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees.”

Now, the Jews imagined that they were all of them the subjects of the Messiah’s kingdom—that by virtue of their descent from Abraham, they were the rightful heirs of it—that the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” (that system of religious and moral duty taught by them) met all the requirements of God’s law. But this delusion the Lord Jesus here exposed. Fleshly descent from Abraham could not give title unto a spiritual kingdom. That which was merely natural was no qualification for the supernatural realm. Only they were accounted the true children of Abraham who had his faith (Rom 4:16), who did his works (Joh 8:39), and who were united to Christ (Gal 3:29).

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord delineated the inward state of these who belonged to His spiritual kingdom (Mat 5:4-11), described the outward conduct by which they might be identified (Mat 5:13-16), expounded the personal righteousness which God’s justice demanded (Mat 5:17-28), and defined that utter repudiation of sin which He required from His people (Mat 5:29-30). So high are the demands of the thrice holy One, so uncompromising are the requirements of His ineffable character, that none can dwell with Him eternally who do not, in time, loathe, resist, and turn from all that is repulsive to His pure eye. Nothing short of the complete denying of self, the abandoning of the dearest idol, the forsaking of the most cherished sinful course—figuratively represented under the cutting off of a right hand and the plucking out of a right eye—is what He claims from every one who would have communion with Himself.

Such plain and pointed declarations of Christ must have seemed “hard sayings” to the multitudes who listened to Him. Such piercing and flesh-withering demands would probably cause many of His Jewish hearers to think within themselves, “Who then can be saved? This is indeed a strait gate and a narrow way.” Anticipating their secret objections, the Lord plainly declared that the gate unto salvation is “strait” and the way which leadeth unto life is “narrow.” Yet, He went on to point out, it is your wisdom, your interest, your duty to enter that “gate” and walk that “way.” He acknowledged and faithfully warned them that there was a “wide gate” soliciting their entrance, and a “broad road” inviting them to walk therein, but that gate leads to perdition, that road ends in Hell.

The “strait gate” is the only gate to “life,” the “narrow way” is the only one which conducts to heaven. Few indeed find it. Few have the least inclination for it. But that very fact ought only to provide an additional incentive to my giving all diligence to enter therein. In the verses which are now to be before us, Christ defined and described the Way of Salvation, though we (sorrowfully) admit that modern evangelists (?) rarely expound it. What we shall now endeavor to set forth is very different from what most have been taught, but you reject it at your peril. We repeat, that in the passage we are about to consider, He who was the Truth incarnate made known the only way of escaping perdition and securing heaven, namely, by entering the “strait gate” and treading the “narrow way.”

I. The Strait Gate

The Greek word for “strait” signifies restrained or “narrow” and is so rendered in the Revised Version. Now a “gate” serves two purposes—it lets in and it shuts out. All who enter this narrow gate gain admittance to that “way” which “leadeth unto life.” But all who enter not by this narrow gate are eternally barred from God’s presence. The second use of this gate is solemnly illustrated at the close of the parable of the virgins. There, our Lord pictures the foolish ones as being without the necessary “oil” (the work of the Spirit in the heart), and while they went to buy it, the Bridegroom came, and “the door was shut” (Mat 25:10). And though they then besought Him to open it to them, He answered, “I know you not.”

1. What is denoted by this figure of the “narrow gate”? We believe the reference is to the searching and solemn teaching of Him who is Truth incarnate. It is only as the heart bows to the righteousness of God’s claims and demands upon us, as set forth by His Son, that any soul can enter that path which alone leads to Him. While the heart is rebellious against Him, there can be no approach to Him, for “can two walk together except they be agreed”? It is true, blessedly and gloriously true, that Christ Himself is “the Door” (Joh 10:9), and He is so in a threefold way, according to the three principal functions of His mediatorial office. He is “the Door” into God’s presence as the Prophet, the Priest, and the King.

Now, it is only as Christ is truly received as God’s authoritative Prophet, only as His holy teachings are really accepted by a contrite heart, that any one is prepared to savingly welcome Him as Priest. Christ is the “way” and “the truth” before He is the “life” (Joh 14:6), as He is “first King of righteousness, and after that, also King of peace” (Heb 7:2). In other words, His cleansing blood is only available for those who are willing to throw down the weapons of their warfare against God, and surrender themselves to His holy rule. The wicked must forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, if he is to be pardoned by God (Isa 55:7). And this is only another way of saying that Christ must be received as Prophet, before He is embraced as Priest.

2. Why is this gate a “narrow” one? For at least three reasons. First, because of sin. “The wicked shall be turned into Hell, all the nations that forget God” (Psa 9:17)—the gate of heaven is far too narrow to admit such characters. The New Testament plainly affirms the same fact, “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them” (Eph 5:5-7). Second, because of the Law. There are two principal errors about the Law, and I know not which is the more dangerous and disastrous. That one can earn heaven by obeying it. That one may enter heaven without that personal and practical godliness which the Law requires. “Follow peace with all, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). Where there is not this personal conformity to the will of God, the strong hand of the Law will close the door of heaven. Third, because none can take the world along with him. This gate is far too “narrow” to admit those who love the world.

3. What is meant by “entering” this narrow gate? First, the acceptance of those teachings of truth, of duty, of happiness, which were unfolded by Christ. The honest and actual receiving into the heart of His holy, searching, flesh-withering instructions. Such acceptance is here figuratively represented as a person, with great difficulty, forcing his way through a circumscribed entrance. I say, “with great difficulty,” for Christ’s precepts and commandments are, to the last degree, unpalatable to an unrenewed heart, and cannot be willingly and gladly received without a rigid denial of self and relinquishment of sinful pleasures, pursuits, and interests. Christ has plainly warned us that it is impossible for a man to serve two masters. Self must be repudiated and Christ received as “the Lord” (Col 2:6), or He will not save us.

What is meant by “entering” this narrow gate? Second, a deliberate abandoning of the broad road, or the flesh-pleasing mode of life. Until this has been done, there is no salvation possible for any sinner. Christ Himself taught this plainly in Luke 15—the “prodigal” must leave the “far country” before he could journey to the Father’s house! The same pointed truth is taught again in James 4:8-10, “Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”

Ah, my friend, to really and actually enter this “narrow gate” is no easy matter. For that reason, the Lord bade the people, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you” (Joh 6:27). Those words do not picture salvation as a thing of simple and easy attainment. Ponder also Christ’s emphatic exhortation in Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.” That He should utter such a word clearly implies the great idleness and sloth which characterizes nominal professors, as it also intimates there are formidable difficulties and obstacles to be overcome. Let it be carefully noted that the Greek word for “strive” (viz., “agonizomai”) in Luke 13:24 is the same one that is used in 1 Corinthians 9:25, “And every one that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.” And it is also rendered, “labouring fervently” in Colossians 4:12, and “fight” in 1 Timothy 6:12!

And how are we to “strive” so as to “enter” the narrow gate? The general answer is, “lawfully” (2Ti 2:5). But to particularize, we are to strive by prayer and supplication, diligently seeking deliverance from those things which would bar our entrance. We are to earnestly cry to Christ for help from those foes which are seeking to overcome us. We are to come constantly to the Throne of Grace, that we may there find grace to help us repudiate and turn away with loathing from everything which is abhorred by God, even though it involves our cutting off of a right hand and plucking out of a right eye, and grace to help us do those things which He has commanded. We must be “temperate in all things,” especially those things which the flesh craves and the world loves.

But why is such “striving” necessary? First, because Satan is striving to destroy thy soul. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1Pe 5:8), therefore, must be resisted “steadfast in the faith.” Second, because natural appetites are striving to destroy thee, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1Pe 2:11). Third, because the whole world is arrayed against thee, and if it cannot burn, it will seek to turn thee by alluring promises, Delilah-like guiles, fatal enticements. Unless you overcome the world, the world will overcome you to the eternal destruction of thy soul.

From what has been before us, we may plainly discover why it is that the vast majority of our fellow-men and women, yea, and of professing Christians also, will fail to reach heaven. It is because they prefer sin to holiness, indulging the lusts of the flesh to walking according to the Scriptures, self to Christ, the world to God. It is as the Lord Jesus declared, “Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (Joh 3:19). Men refuse to deny self, abandon their idols, and submit to Christ as Lord, and without this, none can take the first step toward heaven!

II. The Narrow Way

Just as entering the “narrow gate” signifies the heart’s acceptance of Christ’s holy teaching, so to walk along the “narrow way” means for the heart and life to be constantly regulated thereby. Walking along the narrow way denotes a steady perseverance in faith and obedience to the Lord Jesus, overcoming all opposition, and rejecting every temptation to forsake the path of fidelity to Him. It is called the “narrow way” because all self-pleasing and self-seeking is shut out. In Genesis 18:19, it is called “the way”; in 1 Samuel 12:23, “the good and right way”; in Psalms 25:9, “his way”; in Proverbs 4:11, “the way of life”; in Isaiah 35:8, “the way of holiness”; in Jeremiah 6:16, “the good way”; in 2 Peter 2:2, “the way of truth”; and in 2 Peter 2:15, “the right way.”

The narrow way must be followed, no matter how much it may militate against my worldly interests. It is right here that the testing point is reached. It is much easier (unto the natural man) and far pleasanter to indulge the flesh and follow our worldly propensities. The broad road, where the flesh is allowed “liberty”—under the pretense of the Christian’s not “being under the law”—is easy, smooth, and attractive, but it ends in “destruction”! Though the “narrow way” leads to life, only FEW tread it. Multitudes make a profession and claim to be saved, but their lives give no evidence that they are “strangers and pilgrims” here, with their “treasure” elsewhere. They are afraid of being thought narrow and peculiar, strict and puritanic. Satan has deceived them. They imagine that they can get to heaven by an easier route than by denying self, taking up their cross daily, and following Christ!

There are multitudes of religionists who are attempting to combine the two “ways,” making the best of both worlds and serving two masters. They wish to gratify self in time and enjoy the happiness of heaven in eternity. Crowds of nominal Christians are deluding themselves into believing that they can do so, but they are terribly deceived. A profession which is not verified by mortifying the deeds of the body in the power of the Spirit (Rom 8:13) is vain. A faith which is not evidenced by complete submission to Christ is only the faith of demons. A love which does not keep Christ’s commandments is an imposition (Joh 14:23). A claim to being a Christian, where there is no real yieldedness to the will of God, is daring presumption. The reason why so few will enter life is because the multitudes are not seeking it in the way of God’s appointing. None seek it aright save those who pass through the narrow gate, and who, despite many discouragements and falls, continue to press forward along the narrow way.

Now notice, carefully, the very next thing which immediately follows our Lord’s reference to the two ways in Matthew 7, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Mat 7:15). Why does this come in next? Who are the “false prophets” against which a serious soul needs to be on his guard? They are those who teach that heaven may be reached without treading the narrow way! They are those who loudly insist that eternal life may be obtained on much easier terms. They come in “sheep’s clothing.” They appear (to undiscerning souls) to exalt Christ, to emphasize His precious blood, to magnify God’s grace. BUT, they do not insist upon repentance. They fail to tell their hearers that nothing but a broken heart which hates sin can truly believe in Christ. They declare not that a saving faith is a living one which purifies the heart (Act 15:9) and overcomes the world (1Jo 5:4).

These “false prophets” are known by their “fruits,” the primary reference being to their “converts”—the fruits of their fleshly labours. Their “converts” are on the broad road, which is not the path of open wickedness and vice, but of a religion which pleases the flesh. It is that “way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Pro 14:12). Those who are on this broad road (this way which “seemeth right” to so many), have a head-knowledge of the truth, but they walk not in it. The “narrow way” is bounded by the commandments and precepts of Scripture. The broad road is that path which has broken out beyond the bounds of Scripture. Titus 2:12-13 supplies the test as to which “way” we are in, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.”

Ere closing, let us anticipate and seek to remove an objection. Probably many of you are saying, “I thought Christ was the way to the Father (Joh 14:6). So He is, but how? First, in that He has removed every legal obstacle, and thereby opened a way to heaven for His people. Second, in that He has “left us an example that we should follow HIS steps.” The mere opening of a door does not give me entrance into a house. I must tread the path leading to it, and mount the steps. Christ has, by His life of unreserved obedience to God, shown us the way which leads to heaven, “When he putteth forth his own sheep, HE goeth before them, and the sheep follow him” (Joh 10:4). Third, in that He is willing and ready to bestow grace and strength to walk therein.

Christ did not come here and die in order to make it un-necessary for me to please and obey God. No, indeed! “He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them” (2Co 5:15). “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world” (Gal 1:4). “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works (Ti 2:14). Christ came here to “save his people from their sins” (Mat 1:21), and if you are not now delivered from the power of sin, from the deceptions of Satan, from the love of the world, and from the pleasing of self, then you are NOT saved.

May it please the God of all grace to add His blessing.

(The above is an address delivered by A. W. Pink in Glenolden (a suburb of Philadelphia) on September 28, 1931.)

John Calvin (1509-1564): Fifth Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (07/36)

Fifth Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (07/36)
John Calvin (1509-1564)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Fifth Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest. And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing. Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly. Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would. And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? For he knew that for envy they had delivered him. When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.Mat 27:11-26

We have already seen by the preceding verses that our Lord Jesus so offered Himself of His own will as a sacrifice to make reparation for all our iniquities by His obedience and He was willing to be condemned to wipe them out. That is why it is said that He did not answer at all the accusations that were raised against Him. He had enough wherewith to answer, but He was silent, as is also mentioned by the Prophet Isaiah. That was not only to show his patience, but in order to acquire for us liberty to be able today to glory in being righteous and innocent before God (indeed, notwithstanding that our conscience accuses us and condemns us), knowing that God has received us in mercy, and that all our faults are abolished by the perfection which was found in our Lord Jesus Christ. That, then, is how the Son of God acquired for us the liberty to be able to glory boldly that we are the children of God and reputed righteous before Him, that is, when He willed to offer no reply to show His integrity. Besides, one might at first find it strange that He is thus captured and nevertheless responds that He is King of the Jews. For these things seem contradictory; but Saint John proceeds still further, and says that He declared that His Kingdom was not of this world, and then He declared also that He was Son of God, indeed, He protested that He had come into the world to maintain the truth. But all this agrees easily. For our Lord Jesus surely had to declare Himself to be King of the Jews, unless He wished to reject the Prophecies. Also He had to be declared Son of God. But that did not lead to His absolution. It was rather that there might not be a long drawn-out trial, but that He might be condemned. Let us note well, then, when the silence of Jesus Christ is spoken of, that it was inasmuch as He did not wish to offer any excuse. As for His person, He kept His mouth closed. However, He did not cease to make such confession as He had to make. That is also why Saint Paul says that He made a good confession before Pontius Pilate (1Ti 6:13). For if it had been a matter of Jesus Christ’s entering into His own self-defense, already the judge was persuaded of His integrity. He could, then, easily have won His case by speaking. That is what amazes Pilate. Yet our Lord Jesus Christ did not cease to render such testimony as God had committed to Him — not tending to instruct (for this was not the place) but to confirm and ratify the doctrine to which He had previously borne witness.

However, we have to note on the one hand that the crime which troubled the Jews most was that He had stirred up trouble and prevented them from paying tributes to the Emperor of Rome. That also was to irritate the Governor, a pagan man who was sent there by the Emperor. Now it is very certain that our Lord Jesus had declared Himself to be King, but not an earthly king. As, in fact, we see that when the Jews wish to crown Him, He withdraws Himself and hides on the mountain. Still further He dulls the edge of that calumny, because it would have been a slander against the Gospel, if He had perverted the order and law-enforcement of the world. For He Who has come to call us all to the heavenly Kingdom and to make us sharers in it did not wish to abolish earthly kingdoms, since even they are sustained by Him and in His power. The Gospel, then, need not be blamed, saving that Jesus Christ had come to usurp any power or worldly authority. That is why He said to Pilate especially that His kingdom is not of this place.

In fact, what would happen if the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ were earthly? What would we gain by hoping in Him, since our condition is so miserable in the world? Unbelievers have a much better lot than we, concerning the afflictions which we must endure. True it is that the chastisements of God have effect everywhere and that those who wish it as much as they possibly can do not cease to be subject to many miseries and afflictions. But all the same let us always be ready for more rigid discipline. For God must begin His chastisements in His house and in His Church. If, then, our Lord Jesus were an earthly King, it would seem that we might be entirely alienated from Him. Further, suppose we had everything easy in this world and that by means of the Son of God we had here, as it were, a paradise, yet our life is only a shadow. Our happiness, then, would be very brief and frail. So we must surely know and be entirely persuaded that the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus is heavenly, in order that we may reach the life everlasting to which we are called. That, then, is how the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is perpetual, because it does not consist in anything which is of this world, here where everything is corruptible.

Let us learn, then, to bear patiently our adversities, knowing that they neither diminish nor impair at all the grace which was acquired for us by our Lord Jesus Christ. For indeed, these are aids to our salvation, as St. Paul shows in Rom 8:28. When we are despised and mocked by the world, that we have to suffer many reproaches, that we are hungry and thirsty, that our wings are clipped, that we are harassed from all sides; we must consider “So it is that God accepts us.” That is as if He said to us. “Look on high. Do not set your minds on what is in this world.” That, in summary, is what we have to observe. In fact, it is not without cause that our Lord Jesus wished to add as a confirmation that He was born and came into the world to speak the truth. Whoever has clearly heard it stops at the sound of His voice. By this we see that it is a doctrine of importance to know that the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ is not from this world. For if it had been a trivial sentence, He might have passed it quickly. But when He pronounced that He had come into the world to speak the truth, it is as if He wished to render us attentive, and that each one should meditate in his heart, and apply well his study to this doctrine. That is, that we be withdrawn from the world and from all creatures, in order to come to this heavenly King, and to seek in Him the spiritual benefits which are here communicated to us, in order that we might enjoy them according to the measure which He knows to be useful to us for our salvation. Indeed in all that we see to be of the summary of the Gospel, let us note particularly this word: that Jesus Christ came into the world to speak the truth, in order that we may come to the conviction from it, when we are attentive to His doctrine that we shall not be at all disappointed, since it is an entirely sure and certain thing that what He has promised He will bring to pass. When David wishes to be assured against all temptations, he says that the Word of God is as silver purified seven times and which has been well tried by fire. So as often as we shall enter into doubt about the promises of our Lord Jesus Christ, and as we shall be troubled and molested (as the devil also uses such craftiness in order to dishearten us and to make us lose courage), let us return to this testimony, that in any case our Lord Jesus appeared in the world in order to be to us a faithful witness. Let us wait today for Him to show in effect that it is not in vain that He gave us all these promises, because they are infallible. That, then, in summary, is what we have to remember.

Besides, when Pilate says, “What is truth?” let us note that it was not, as it were, through a desire to learn that he asked such a question, but it was, as it were, through spite and in mockery, as today this vice is seen in many. When we speak of the truth of God, we mean the doctrine of the Gospel. Saint Paul (in Ephesians 1) attributes to it this title in order that we may be able to distinguish it from all other knowledge. To be sure, if someone gives us all account of something which has happened, it is truth; but when God calls us to Himself, and He wishes to withdraw us from this world in order that we may arrive at the heavenly life, that is a truth which ought to be put in sovereign position and by comparison all the rest should be nothing. Now let us notice how the world bears reverence toward the doctrine of the Gospel. The wisest men in the world (who are considered to be such) are so blinded by presumption that when it is spoken of to them, “How now?” they say, “Have we lived such a long time in the world, and we should know the Gospel only and nothing else that exists. All of them, then, will be scandalized when it is said to them that the truth of God has been buried and that it is now necessary to guard it more closely. We hear how they scoff at that idea. So it was with Pilate. For inasmuch as he was sent by the Emperor to be his lieutenant in the country of Judea, it seemed to him that a great wrong was done to him when a truth was spoken of which was unknown to him. “And how so? Must we, then, act like idiots? Is there nothing but lies in us? Can we not discern between good and evil? And I who am appointed to office, who take the place of the Emperor, representing his person, must you reproach me just because I have not known what truth is?” This, then, is the intention of Pilate. He is inflated with pride like a frog and he does not wish to have the reputation of not knowing the difference between good and evil. In fact, we do not see that he waits for the answer of our Lord Jesus, but he throws in this word as if in spite, and leaves the place. Since it is so, then, let us be advised. If today there are many Pilates who refuse to be taught in the school of God and become teachable, as if they were already wise enough, may we not be hindered from placing ourselves under the obedience of faith, in order to accept what our Lord shows and proposes to us; that is, knowing that the truth does not grow in our minds, inasmuch as there is only vanity and falsehood there and we are plunged in darkness until our Lord draws us out of it. Let us recognize, then, that the truth surpasses all our senses and faculties and God must surely be our Master to keep us in it; also that we are little to receive what He shows us. May we hold this truth so precious that, when we shall have circled the heaven and the earth, and it seems that we have learned everything, we may know that it is only smoke and that it will prove ephemeral until we are founded upon this Word, Who is certain and immutable. That, then, in summary, is what we have to remember.

Now it is said, “As Pilate was seated upon his throne his wife commanded him not to condemn Jesus Christ, because she had been tormented by many dreams.” There is no doubt that God wished to testify to the innocence of Jesus Christ in many ways; as even by the mouth of Pilate (as already we have mentioned and as we shall see still more fully), not that God had not already concluded what ought to be done by His Only Son. So, since He willed that He be the Sacrifice to wipe out the sins of the world, Scripture had to be fulfilled. Yet our Lord Jesus also had to be proved righteous and innocent, in order that we might know all the better that He suffered the condemnation which was due to us and which we deserved, and that we might always look at our faults and sins in everything that is here told us of the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Whereupon it is said, “Pilate desires to be able to acquit our Lord Jesus.” For although he had sovereign authority beyond appeal, still he was in a foreign country and with a mutinous people, though he had a garrison in the city, the sedition troubled him. That is why he wished to proceed by subtle and amiable means, in order that the people might be appeased. It is then said that he presents what was his custom, “At the feast of the Passover he released a prisoner whom the people willed.” He allows them to choose either Jesus Christ or Barabbas, who was (as says Saint John) a robber. The other Gospel-writers say that he was a well-known malefactor, who had even been a murderer, and had stirred up sedition and trouble in the city. He is a pest who should be detestable to everyone. Yet, nevertheless, the people cry, “Let us have Barabbas, and let him be pardoned, and let Jesus Christ be crucified.”

As for this custom of releasing a prisoner at the Passover, we see where men are led by their foolish devotions. For it surely seemed that the feast was so much better kept by delivering a prisoner, and that it was a service of God. Nevertheless, all that was only an abomination. For it is said that he who justifies the malefactor is just as blameworthy before God as he who punishes the innocent. There must, then, be a sense of equity in those whom God sent and established upon the throne of justice. For in arming them with His sword, He has not said to them, “Do what seems good to you.” He surely wishes that they have a fatherly care over the people and that they guard well against rising in cruelty to do wrong to others by abusing their credit and authority, but rather that they be humane and pitiful. However, evil-doers must be chastised, and so God commands it. But what do men do? They imagine they are keeping the feast of the Passover, when they are offending God and they are transgressing openly His Word. By that we ought to be admonished not to follow our fancies when it is a matter of honoring God, but to please His will in everything and by everything. So then, let us not conjure up any devotion according to what seems good to us, but let us be satisfied to do what God orders us to do and what He approves. We even see what this custom is, which men make law today, that everything that is received as a common statute seems to be lawful. Though that may be, God does not fail to condemn it. We see the abuse that took place, that this corruption brought about — that Barabbas was preferred to the Son of God.

Also at first, one might find it strange that our Lord Jesus is thus cried down and that a robber and murderer is more privileged than He, that he finds more favor among men, and that Jesus Christ has received such shame and disgrace. For was it not enough that the Son of God be crucified and that He endured a kind of death full of opprobrium and that furthermore there were great torments? For death by the cross was, as it were, the punishment of robbers. It was not only like the gallows would be today, but like the wheel. Would it not have been enough, then, that Jesus Christ, after having been whipped and spat upon in the face, should be plunged into the depths, with its being necessary by comparison to show Him to be execrable to all the world? For if we judge by our senses and we do not look beyond what appears, surely we shall be confounded, but we must raise our eyes higher by faith and come to what we have previously mentioned: namely, that God governs all this by His counsel. Let us not stop then with what the people did with Pilate, but let us contemplate this immutable decree of God: that to better humble us He willed that His Son be plunged into complete confusion and that He be put even below all the malefactors of the world, as He was crucified between two robbers, as we shall see later. That, then, is what we have to observe when it is here said that Barabbas had to be set free and Jesus Christ put there, as it were, the most detestable man in the world.

Pilate, even after all that, tries to make our Lord Jesus escape, but by a devilish means: namely, he whips Him (what was then called “chastise”) and wished to release Him after having thus chastised Him, as one who had committed some fault. For by that he pretended to quiet the people. Now if our Lord Jesus had thus escaped, what would have become of the Gospel, what would have become of the salvation of the world? For this “correction” as Pilate called it, might forever have been a mark of shame, as if the Gospel had been a wicked doctrine, since the judge of the country condemned it, and our Lord Jesus in His person would have been entirely rejected. Meanwhile we would have perished, since there was no other means to reconcile us to God, except by the death of His only Son. This, then, is the overture of life — the death of our Lord Jesus. So we see that the devil exerted himself very greatly that our Lord Jesus might not die at all. Yet who drove the Priests and their kind to pursue Jesus Christ to death, unless the devil? It is true, for he works, as it were, like a madman. According as we see that God sends a spirit of disturbance and of frenzy upon all wicked men so that they contradict themselves and are like waves of the sea which beat upon one another, so the devil was carried away when he tried to abolish the memory of our Lord Jesus on the one hand and then, however, wished to prevent the redemption of mankind. But God so worked that He willed that the innocence of His Son might have witness through the very mouth of the judge; however, He also willed nevertheless that He should die in order to make the sacrifice for our salvation and redemption. God has only a single and simple will, but it is admirable to us, and He has such strange ways of proceeding that we must bow our heads in awe and yet recognize that our Lord Jesus suffered, not at all according to the desire of men, but because we had to have such a gage of the infinite love of our God, and Jesus Christ had to declare it to us to show how precious our souls are to Him and how dear is the salvation of them to Him. Let us, then, consider all these things.

Besides, it is said at the end by St. John, although Jesus Christ had been whipped, the people strive still more by crying that He be put to death. Then Pilate questions Him again; indeed, because he heard that Jesus made Himself the Son of God, and this word touches him, and he is more frightened by it than before. That is why he asks Him, “Where are You from?” When Jesus Christ does not answer at all, “Do You not know says he, that I have power to release You or power to condemn You?” Now here we see why the Jews bring such an accusation against our Lord Jesus Christ. It is true that the crime which could better move the Governor of the country was having attributed to Himself kingdom and dominion; but when they see that their malice is discovered, and that Pilate well understands that they are only trumped-up lies, thereupon they say, “We have the law by which He ought to die.” For that privilege had been reserved for them, in order that they might not have any religious disputes. For the Romans, who were profane people and who served their idols only through ceremony, wished to maintain their empire by means of letting each one do according to his religion.

Whereupon they say, “He made Himself the Son of God and thereby He blasphemed.” It is true that, if our Lord Jesus had not been the Redeemer of the world, it would have rendered Him subject to the death penalty to make Himself the only Son of God. For we are all children of God when He has adopted us through His grace. That is the common manner of speaking of it in Holy Scripture. Those who have received some special grace are called “Sons of God” in still another manner, as Princes and Magistrates. With greater reason, then, Jesus Christ, Who was supremely anointed with graces and powers by the Holy Spirit, might well be called “Son of God.” But if He had not been Redeemer of the world at all and called Himself “Only Son of God” par excellence, that would truly have been a mortal crime. But how is it that the Jews accuse Him of that? It is first of all by ignorance of the Scripture, inasmuch as they do not know that He Who should be the Redeemer should be the living God manifest. Since, then, they did not have the real understanding of Scripture, and they were not trained in it, but they were made brutish by their indifference, that is why they are so bold to condemn Jesus Christ. Now we see a like temerity in all ignorant people. Today when they cry “Heretic” it is not that the proofs are on hand, but the most block-headed people are driven by such a rage that they wish to be zealots to honor God, and they know neither why nor how. Further, it was necessary to investigate whether Jesus was Christ the Messiah or not. But the Jews rejected Him without making any inquiry. Let us learn by that, if we wish to have a zeal which God approves, we must be ruled by true knowledge and be taught by His Word. For we may be able to skim the surface, but it will be only by wild arguments of Satan, if we do not speak as scholars of God’s truth; because He is the only competent Judge, and He reserves to Himself the office of showing us what is His will. Since it is so, then, let us follow the Word of God with simplicity, and also let us be peaceable. Then may our zeal be ruled by that. That is what we must observe in the first place.

But when it is said that Pilate feared more than ever to hear the Son of God spoken of, here we see in the person of a poor Pagan some semblance of religion which moves him, and stings him, and speaks to his conscience, so that he does not know which way to turn. There stands Jesus Christ entirely disfigured and with the marks of the whipping still upon Him. He had previously suffered so much reproach and ignominy, so many drops of spit, so many blows on the head which had been given to Him in the house of Caiaphas. Briefly, here is a man who is despised and rejected by everyone. Yet, nevertheless, the name of God moves Pontius Pilate and arouses in him fright and astonishment. What of us, then, when we behave like savage beasts? And when one wishes to speak to us of God, if we are not held in check at all, must not the example of Pilate condemn us even to the last day? We see today mockers, people full of the devil. If one proposes to them, “Look what God shows us,” if one declares to them His Word, if one wishes to prove what they reject; one thing is as good as another to them. They stop up their ears, they bind up their eyes, they are entirely preoccupied in their natural senses, and they are so proud that they would not even consider giving any audience. For they are satisfied as they are. “We have ordained it,” they say, “and so it must be done.” Indeed? However, here is Pilate who had never heard a single word of the doctrine of God, even the Law was to him in disdain, so that everything that the Jews do he considers to be something trumped-up, and he adores his idols. Yet the name “God” affects him, and he is held back when it is spoken of. Is it on account of some majesty or some pomp which he sees in Jesus Christ? Not at all. It is only the name “God” which draws him to reverence. How much, then, some people will be condemned by this fear of Pilate, when they follow their beaten path and no progress can be made among them, although the name “God” is spoken of to them, and not only as a word in passing, but offering to teach them and to show them with the finger the testimonies of Scripture! If they condescend neither to think about nor to apply themselves with any diligence, must not the devil possess them entirely? Must they not know that they are as it were monsters, who have abolished every germ of religion, inasmuch as they have made themselves obstinate against God, as it were, defying all nature? That, then, is what we have to remember.

Though that may be, on the contrary we also see that all the fears which men have, and all sentiment and apprehension they have to honor God, will be, as it were, only a flash of lightning which passes before their eyes and immediately vanishes. For how did Pilate fear God? We see that it does not grip him at all, that he only shows such a great pride, that it seems to him that God is no longer anything. That, then, is how all those who are not governed by the Spirit of God will have on the one hand some fears by which they are seized, so that they will humble themselves for a time before God, but they do not cease to raise their horns, then to forget, and to dull their consciences to do evil. As we see in Pharaoh that sometimes he is quite astonished. “And pray to God for me,.” he says. And when he sees the power of God so apparent, “Oh, it is the finger of God,” he says, “one must be subject to Him.” But soon after he is worse than ever. Thus, then, it was with Pilate. This admonishes us not to have any fears of God like gusts of wind, but to have a good root which remains firm in our hearts. For how is it that Pilate feared God? It is only to render him more inexcusable. That is why God awakens the sleeping consciences, which wish to reject every yoke, and He brings them back and incites them to think of themselves more closely, so that in spite of themselves they must recognize their poverty and feel their vices, although they wish to sleep in them. All the scruples, then, which condemners of God and all wicked men have — these are to be regarded as summonses which God issues to take away from them every excuse of ignorance. But then they slacken the reins, they throw themselves with abandon, and so they are in no wise held back — as we see in Pilate. At the beginning he is quite astonished, but soon afterwards he goes back to his natural self. “And do you not know,” he says to Jesus Christ, “that I have power to release you or to condemn you.” Here let us note first of all, if He had been a robber, nevertheless, he would not have been able to move a finger unless God had given him the power. How is it, then, that Pilate dares to assume such unbounded license as to condemn and to set free according to his desire and by virtue of his position? For it would be better that the check be released from all robbers and that they had liberty to exercise their cruelty in the forests than for people to sit on such an honorable throne — people who take pleasure in power without thinking of their consciences and meanwhile throwing the world into entire confusion. Here we see (as I have shown) that there was no living root in Pilate, but only a gust of wind. So then, let us learn to so fear God that there may be a firm constancy in us to walk in His obedience, and that we may fight virtuously against everything that could turn us aside, and that always this check may hold us back: that it is not fitting to provoke the wrath of Him Who has all power over us. That, in summary, is what we have to remember.

However, also there is to consider how the glory which Pilate attributes to himself is nevertheless a great shame upon him. For his enemies could have reproached him no worse than this: namely, that he wishes to he held and reputed to have no discrimination between good and evil. Nevertheless he boasts of it. We see, then, inasmuch as the despisers of God imagine themselves to be raised, they must always feel themselves to be further cast down in confusion. God puts in them such a sense of disapproval that they boast of their iniquities in order to render themselves detestable both in heaven and on earth. What, then, is to be done? Let us learn to glory in the good, and let us consider what is lawful for us. For those who glory in their greatness, it is certain that they provoke God, inasmuch as they have often acquired their riches and their credit by unlawful means, by excess, by cruelty, and all kinds of extortion’s. When, then, they glory in that, it is, as it were, by defying God. He who has plundered from all parts will say, “I have done well.” And there is the blood of poor people which he has sucked. He will say, “I have acquired it.” And how? By frauds, wicked practices, pillaging one, gobbling up another, and having perverted all order. The other through ambition and unlawful means will have arrived at some dignity. Whereupon he wishes to be held in awe. This is manifestly to defy God.

Let us learn, then, (as I have already said) to glory in what God approves. It is true that although there might be some good in us, it is not lawful to usurp the praise which God reserves to Himself, and on account of which we must pay Him homage, inasmuch as He has given us everything. It is not proper, then, here to glory in ourselves, as if what God gives us belonged to us. But I say we must glory only in that it pleased God to adopt us for His children, and inasmuch as He gives us grace to walk in fear of Him, inasmuch as He gives us power to abstain from evil. In that we must glory. Then, if we are little and contemptible according to the world, let us pray that He may give us patience, and that we may prefer to be in such an estate than to be raised and meanwhile to enjoy ourselves like worldly people do, who make merry in such a way that nothing can restrain them. This, in summary, is how we have to glory, that is, that we may not wish to be more than God allows us, and that we may despise everything He disapproves of, although the world may applaud those who exercise tyranny and who practice every evil to excess. Let us leave, then, easily and willingly all such glories, not seeking anything else except to be recognized and confessed before God as His children. That, in summary, is what we still have to remember.

In conclusion it is said, “Pilate, seeing that he was gaining nothing and that the tumult among the people was increasing, washes his hands and says, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this man.’” We have already declared that the innocence of our Lord Jesus had to be proved and it was testified to through the mouth of the judge himself. For when it is said that Jesus Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate and that He was condemned, it is not enough to have heard the account, but we must be fully aware that Jesus Christ not only is innocent, but that He is the fountain of all holiness and perfection. Why, then, is He condemned? There are here two different things, it seems. It is said that He is the Lamb of God without spot. Since He is the Lamb of God, He must be condemned for the sacrifice. The word “Lamb” implies that He is to be offered. And what does the Law pronounce of sacrifices? That they stand for sins and curses. That is why it is said that our Lord Jesus was accursed for our sakes, that is, that He received the curse which was due to our sins. This, then, is the quality and condition under which He is condemned, since God appointed Him as a lamb which must be offered in sacrifice. But also He had to be known without any blemish, and His purity had to come before our eyes, in order that we might understand our sins, as far as we have known that Jesus Christ is the mirror of all perfection; and that we might enter into examination of our faults to be displeased with them and to pass condemnation, which was prepared for us unless we had been delivered by Him. Now when Pilate took the basin and the water to wash his hands, it was far too frivolous a ceremony, as if he could be acquitted before God by that. But it was not to make his excuse before God when he tried to appease the fury of the people. For he did not protest before God that he was innocent, but he only said to the people, “Look to yourselves. As for me, I am innocent.” As if he said, “You force me to this.” But all that (as I have said) is not to excuse him. Also he is not performing at all the office of judge. For he ought sooner to die a hundred times than to swerve from his office. When he saw all the troubles of the world, he ought to have this magnanimity to do what he knew to be good and just. But when he sees the people to be so inflamed, he lets himself be carried away. However, it had to be, cursed as it was, that he testifies to the innocence of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that from his own mouth he justifies Him. Nevertheless, that does not excuse him from condemnation, but in that rests our consolation. For we know that if we should be brought before God today to appear before His throne, it would not be to receive condemnation; but since the fact that the blood of our Lord Jesus was spilled is the true purging of our souls, He receives us as pure and clean.

There, then, is where we. must have our recourse. However, we see the word which is pronounced by the Jews. For they are flung headlong in such a way by Satan that they say, “His blood be upon us and upon all our children.” Now they were the heritage of God, the people elected and chosen from among all the nations of the earth. Yet they renounce this dignity, and all the promises of salvation, this sacred alliance which God had established with their line. They are, then, deprived of all the benefits that God had previously distributed to them, inasmuch as they were descended from the race of Abraham. And the blood of our Lord Jesus had to fall upon them, indeed, to the confounding of them and all their descendants. As also He had previously declared to them,

“Your iniquity must come to the full, and the blood of the Martyrs, from Abel the righteous even to Zacharias son of Barachias, who was murdered not long ago, must be brought upon you, and you must see that you were always murderers of the Prophets, and by this means you have fought against God and against His Word.” (Mat 23:34-36, Luk 11:49-51, 2Ch 36:15-16.) That, then, is how the blood of our Lord Jesus, which ought to be the salvation of all the world, and indeed especially of the Jews, since the birthright belonged to them, cried vengeance against them. But now let us learn to look deep inside ourselves, and to pray to God that it may come upon us in another manner, both upon us and, in particular, upon our children; namely, may we be washed and cleansed, seeing that we are abominable before God on account of our sins until we are washed and we suffer that the blood which was once poured out for our Redemption come upon us and that thereby we are sprinkled by the power of the Holy Spirit (1Pe 1:2) (so says Saint Peter in his Canonical letter) and may we be careful not to reject the grace which is offered to us by God, of which the Jews have been deprived because of their ingratitude, and have done nothing but provoke more and more His vengeance. May we, then, today be disposed to receive the purging of our Lord Jesus Christ, which cannot be apprehended except by faith. May we pray to God that we may not have received this washing in vain, but from day to day may we be purified from all our blemishes. May it please our God to make the most of this purity which was acquired by our Lord Jesus Christ until we have arrived in His Kingdom, where we shall be freed from all corruption’s of our vices.

Now we shall bow in humble reverence before the majesty of our God.

John Calvin (1509-1564): Fourth Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (06/36)

Fourth Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (06/36)
John Calvin (1509-1564)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Fourth Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Then did they 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? Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth. And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly. When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death: And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor. Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; And gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me.Mat 26:67-75, Mat 27:1-10

As Saint Paul says that the preaching of the Gospel is odor of life to those whom God calls to salvation and odor of death to all reprobates who perish, also we have two noteworthy examples who are here proposed to us to show that the death and passion of the Son of God was to the salvation of one and pushed another into condemnation. For in the fall of Peter is seen the need which he had of being drawn out of the pit in which he was trapped. For while he was there he was banished from the Kingdom of heaven, he was alienated from all hope of salvation and cut off from the Church, as a rotten member. Nevertheless the death of our Lord Jesus did not fail to benefit him, although he may not have been worthy of it. As for Judas, it is said that, seeing that Jesus Christ is condemned, he is seized with despair. Now in this condemnation of our Lord Jesus (as we have said) one must take courage to hope in God. For we are absolved by virtue of the fact that our Lord Jesus was condemned. But it was necessary that we had here these two mirrors in order that we might be able so much the better to know that unless we are by special grace called to be sharers of the fruit of the death and passion of the Son of God, it will be useless to us. It is not enough, then, that our Lord Jesus Christ has suffered, but the good which He acquired for us must be communicated, and we must be put in possession of it. That is done when we are drawn to Him by faith.

But to better understand all this let us follow the thread of the history which is here narrated to us. It is said that our Lord Jesus was treated with every shame in the house of Caiaphas, that they spit in His face, that He was insulted and made fun of by calling Him “Prophet,” indeed in disgrace. Now that was in order that we might know that what He suffered in His person was to deliver us before God and before His Angels. For no one needs to spit in our face in order for us to bear many spots and blemishes before God. All of us are not only disfigured by our sins, but full of infection, and abominable. Besides, here is the Son of God, Who is His living image, where His glory and majesty shine, Who suffered such shames, in order that in His name now we can appear before God to obtain grace and that He may know us and own us as His children, and that all our stains and spots may be wiped away. That (I say) is what we have to consider in the first place.

Now we come to the fall of Peter. It is said, “A chambermaid, seeing him, accused him of being a disciple of Jesus. He denies it.” Another chambermaid returns. He denies it again. Then, more press him and make quite an issue of it. Then he begins to swear, and even to curse, and to use the form of execration. As if he said, “May I be damned, may I perish, may the earth swallow me up if I know Him.” There, then, is the fall of Saint Peter, and not one, but three which are so heavy and so enormous that we surely ought to be frightened reading this history. Now we know the zeal which was in him. Moreover, he had been praised by our Lord Jesus Christ, and the name of Peter had been given to him to note the firmness and constancy of his faith; he had been taught in such a good school. He had heard this doctrine: “Whoever will renounce Me before men, him will I also renounce before God My Father to disavow him from Me.” Yet we see how he stumbles. Each one, then, ought surely here to have occasion to tremble. For unless we are sustained from on high, the weakness of Peter was no greater than ours. So, in the first place, we see how frail men are as soon as God has let go with His hand. For this is not spoken of some mocker, of some profane man, of someone who had never heard a particle of the Gospel, who had no fear of God, and who had borne no reverence to our Lord Jesus Christ. It is entirely the contrary. For there were already some excellent gifts in Peter. It had been said to him from the mouth of the Son of God, “Flesh and blood have not revealed to you these things, but My Father.” It is, then, the Spirit of God which dwells in Peter. Yet how little he resists renouncing our Lord Jesus! A chamber-maid! If a man had assailed him, or if it had been some honorable person who had assailed him, there might have been some excuse. But we see that it required only a chamber-maid to make him give up hope of life and of salvation.

Let us contemplate, then, in the person of Peter, that it is very necessary that God strengthen us each minute of time. For it is impossible to persevere otherwise. Although we may have tried to draw near to God, and though we may have done many deeds of virtue, all the same at the least little turning of the hand we shall be entirely changed unless God continues to give us invincible constancy. Let us learn, then, to practice the admonition of Saint Paul, “Let him who stands take heed lest he fall.” It is true that we cannot maintain ourselves. But let us have recourse to Him Who has the means. However, let us walk in all humility. As Saint Paul says in the other passage.

“Since it is God Who gives the will and the deed and He does it by His good pleasure, be advised (says he) to work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” (Php 2:13; Php 2:12 b.) As if he said that all presumption surely ought to be beaten down, and indeed all indifference. When we see what necessity we have to be helped by God, and in so many ways, is it not right that we be on our guard, indeed that we do not presume at all on our own strength, but that we be solicitous to call upon God evening and morning, and to put ourselves in His keeping and leading?

That, then, is what we have to observe in the first place. It is even very necessary for us to assume that the temptations, although they may not be large, will have soon overwhelmed us, unless God by His grace works on it and He remedies it. And those who imagine themselves to be the most hardy, when they are far from blows, find themselves, as it were, lost if there is only a little wind that blows. It is true that if God assists us, we shall persevere, however great storms arise. For we know the figure of speech that our Lord Jesus Christ drew: that a building with a good foundation and built of good material, although there comes a great torrent, always remains whole; but what is built upon sand will soon go away in decay. So then, when we shall be founded upon our God and He will extend to us His strong hand, we shall surely be able to sustain great and very rough alarms. But although there may not be any enemy who fights us, yet we shall be conquered immediately when God withdraws from us or lets go of our hand, as we see in Peter.

But it is still worse that it is not only once that he denies the Lord Jesus. But he repeats it as many times as he is questioned. We see that it did not matter at all to him that he was going from bad to worse, even until he adds execration, as it were, asking that God may curse him and swallow him up. When we see that, let us know that he who has fallen, instead of wanting to be raised soon, will plunge himself ever more deeply into ruin, until he completely perishes in it, unless God remedies it. This is the condition of men. From the beginning they make themselves believe that they are marvels in their own power. Yet our Lord shows by experience that it is nothing, and that only a little wind blows, and they are beaten down. Still they are persuaded that they can stand up again. But on the contrary they only augment their evil, adding fault upon fault, overflowing still more with preposterous deeds. If Saint Peter had been tempted a hundred times in a day, he would have renounced Jesus Christ a hundred times, and a thousand besides. That is where he would have been unless God had had pity on him. But He spared him, and did not wish to prove him further. Yet the three falls mentioned here are enough to show a dreadful example, and it ought to make our hair stand up on end when we see that for the third time Peter so forgot himself and that he was as senseless as a brute to renounce his salvation. Besides, we must always observe that if still other temptations had come upon him, he would have resisted them no better and he would have been put into the most profound depths unless God had spared him that much.

That, then, is how we have to profit from this doctrine. Now we do not hear these things in order to judge Peter and to condemn his cowardice. To be sure, we cannot do it justly, but if it is necessary in the first place to receive instruction, may we know our weakness, may we even know that we can do nothing at all, may we not be inflated with pride, attributing to ourselves by foolish opinion some virtue. However, may we also know, since the devil has so many means to plot our ruin, he would soon put an end to us, since St. Peter fell without his making any appearance. Then finally, let us know that our Lord Jesus has pity on us when He does not permit us to be tempted without limit. For it is certain that always so much more evil would be uncovered, and that there would be no end, unless we were held back by His goodness. These are all the things we have here to observe.

However, it is said, “Peter, after having heard the cock crow (as St. Luke tells) after Jesus Christ looked at him, went outside and wept bitterly.” By this conclusion it is shown us (as I have already mentioned) that the death and passion of our Lord Jesus has already produced its effect and its power in that Peter has been raised from such a horrible fall. For is it not a miracle that God had pity on him and that he still obtained mercy after having committed such a detestable fault? We have declared that he could not have the excuse of ignorance, as if his fault of having renounced Jesus Christ were small. For it had been said and pronounced to him that if he did not make confession of his faith and give testimony before men he would deserve to be entirely cut off before the Angels of God and that his name be erased from the book of life. However it does not matter to him that he sells this miserable and frail life by so villainous and so strange a renunciation. Indeed, he is not yet even led before the judges. He is not questioned to the limit. There is only a chamber-maid who speaks to him. When they might already have been rude to him, and well so, he had fought only as a poor ill-starred creature. Nevertheless, he did not forget all fear of God. When, then, we see that, let us think how much more necessary it was for us that God displayed the infinite treasures of His goodness, when He still made Peter sharer of the fruit of the death and passion of His Son.

It is, then, a miracle which ought to enrapture us, that Peter obtained remission for such a great offense, indeed, as it appears, by his repentance. For it is certain that if a man is touched to the quick, after having failed, and he moans and wails before God to obtain pardon, it is a sign that God has already received him, and that He has reconciled him to Himself. For also repentance is a peculiar gift proceeding from the Holy Spirit, Who shows us that God has pity on us and that He does not will that we perish. But He draws us to Himself. Now we see that in Peter. It follows, then, that already the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ was profitable to him, indeed, in a marvelous way, as I have already said. But in the first place let us note that St. Peter always remained sleepy and stupid until he received the sign of which our Lord Jesus Christ has warned him, that is, that the cock would not crow until he renounced Him three times, or better, that the cock would not crow for the second time unless Peter had already made his renunciations. Since it is so, then, that if he had not been warned by our Lord Jesus Christ he would have remained there in his sin and he would be forever plunged into perdition, let us know that we need to be solicitous after we have committed some fault. For if we were deprived of the grace of God and He did not exhort us to return to Him, it is certain that we would be preoccupied by Satan and all our senses would be brutalized so that we would have neither any scruple nor good movement to return to the way of salvation.

That, then, is what we must contemplate further in the person of Peter. But when Saint Luke tells that Jesus Christ looked at him, through that we are so much better taught that it is not sufficient to be stung and that someone tug on our ears to make us return to God, but Jesus Christ must cast His glance and His look upon us. Now it is true that it is here spoken of only the look of the eyes. However our Lord Jesus does not converse with us in a visible manner. Yet it is certain that until He has cast His glance upon us we shall always be blockheaded dullards in our faults and we shall never think to moan and wail, although we may have provoked the wrath of God. Although He may have His bow bent and His sword unsheathed, we shall always remain in our indifference until our Lord Jesus has made us feel that He has not forgotten us and that He is not willing that we perish, but wishes to draw us back to Himself. And that it may be so, we hear daily sermons, by which we are exhorted to repentance. And how are we touched by them? There are as many admonitions as there could be. Does not all creation incite us to come to God? If our senses are well ruled so as to have some particle of prudence, when the sun rises in the morning, does it not call us to adore our God? After that, if we notice how the earth and all elements perform their offices, the beasts and the trees, that shows us that we must draw up to our God, in order that He may be glorified in us, and that we may not think of doing otherwise. The cock, then, has well crowed, and not only the cock, but God makes all his creatures above and below to crow to exhort us to come to him. What is more, He surely deigns to open His sacred mouth through the Law, through His Prophets, and through the Gospel, to say, “Return to me.” However, it is seen, as it were, that we are dull-witted. Such a stupidity is seen in us that we are, as it were, monsters. It is very necessary, then, that our Lord Jesus regard us in pity, as He did Peter, in order to draw from us true wailing’s to give testimony of our penitence. For when it is said that Peter wept bitterly, it is to note the sorrow of which Saint Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians, when he says that it works toward salvation (2Co 7:9-10) and that we ought not to flee it but that we even ought to seek it. Although naturally we wish to enjoy ourselves and not to experience any nuisance, yet we must have some melancholy. As when God touches us with anguish, we must be tormented in our hearts after having offended Him. For such unrest is to lead us to real rest and such sorrow is to make us rejoice both before God and before Angels.

Soon we shall well see that Judas repented, but it is in another and diverse fashion. But as for Peter, he wept to show that he was greatly displeasing in his sin and he has fully returned to Jesus Christ. Let us note also that “he went out to weep.” It is true that it still proceeded from his weakness, that he feared to show his repentance before the crowd. But though that may be, when he, weeps alone, he well shows that he is touched by his fault and offense. For he does not seek men to witness his repenting, but being alone, he weeps before God. That is also how we must do it. For if we weep only before men, by that we show our hypocrisy. But when each one has collected his thoughts, and he examines his faults and sins, if he is then touched with anguish, it is a sign that there is no make-believe in him, and that he knew his Judge, and that he is there to ask pardon, and he well knew that it is the office of God to draw back from the depths those who are already, as it were, damned and lost. That, then, in summary, is what we have to remember from the account here given of the fall of Peter, and concerning these three renunciations, by which he had deserved to be cut off from the Kingdom of God, unless Jesus Christ had already displayed the power of His death and passion in order to draw him to repentance, as we see that it came to pass.

Next it is said, “The priests and governors took counsel to condemn Jesus.” But because that was not in their power, they led Him bound and tied to the governor who had jurisdiction over the country, that is, Pontius Pilate. After that the Gospel tells that Judas repented, seeing that Jesus Christ was condemned, and threw down the money which he had received as the price and payment for his betrayal and completely confessed his fault. However the Priests are not willing to receive the money, but it buys a potter’s field, where there had been some tile-making so that the field was useless and could be neither cultivated nor seeded. They buy, then, this field to bury passers-by. Indeed, they do it under cover of some devotion. For they said that it was not lawful that this money be put with the offerings of the Temple. Whereupon the Gospel-writer says what was said by the Prophet was fulfilled, that the thirty denarii, by which God had been appraised by the people of Israel, could be used for the pottery. We have here to consider what was already begun, that is, that the death and passion of our Lord Jesus does not bear fruit in all men, because it is a special grace that God gives to His elect when He touches them by His Holy Spirit. Although they have fallen, He raises them. Although they have gone astray like wandering sheep, He corrects them and extends to them His hand to bring them back to His fold. For there is Judas who is entirely cut off from the number of the children of God. It is even necessary that his condemnation appear before men and that it be entirely obvious.

So let us learn (following what I have already mentioned) to know in everything and by everything the inestimable goodness of our God. For as He declared His love toward mankind when He spared not His Only Son but delivered Him to death for sinners, also He declares a love which He bears especially toward us when by His Holy Spirit He touches us by the knowledge of our sins and He makes us wail and draws us to Himself with repentance. The entrance, then, that we have to come to our Lord Jesus Christ does not proceed from us, but it is inasmuch as God governs us and it pleased Him to show His election. And these circumstances are good to note. Behold Judas who had been a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ. He had done miracles in His Name. Yet what is the issue of it? May we, then, learn to fear and to walk in solicitude, casting ourselves entirely upon our God; and may we pray that He may not permit us to fall into such confusion as this miserable wretch. And even when we have fallen, that He may raise us again by His power, and that we may return to Him; not with such a repentance as that of Judas, but with a true and right confession. For the wicked mock God as much as they can. They are pleased in their sins. They even take glory in them, and in the end they become as shameless as prostitutes, as it is said by the Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Besides, in the end God makes them feel their sins, and they are in such fright that they fret and cry “alas!” But it is not in order to conceive some hope and to present themselves to God. Rather it is a fury which drives them. They flee as far as possible and they would like to pull down God from His throne. It is only a matter of fretting and of gnashing their teeth in complete rebellion against Him.

Now we surely must come to another kind of repentance; that is, not that we be frightened, seeing that we cannot escape the judgment and the hand of God; but that we confess our sin, and detest it; and next that we do not cease to draw near to God, indeed, being summoned before Him without being drawn to Him by force; but that of our own good pleasure we come to do Him homage, and to confess that we deserve to perish; nevertheless, being assured that although we deserve a hundred thousand deaths, He will not, however, cease to have pity on us. That was the repentance of Peter. But that of Judas ought to show us that it is not sufficient to have some feeling of our faults and some scruple, but we must be fully converted to God. This is very noteworthy, because we see how many, and nearly all, flatter themselves. When they have made confession in a word of their faults, however grievous they are, it seems to them that they are free and clear, as if all they had to do was to wipe their mouths. And even if some instance is mentioned to them, they imagine that they are done a great wrong. “Why?” they say, “Have I not recognized my fault? Have I not done penitence?” That is all the payment they make, as if God were a little child Who was appeased by some laughter, even a false laughter which is full of hypocrisy and lying. But since it is common among men that they wish to appease God I do not know how all, so it is said that Judas repented. Let us fear, then, when God admonishes us and He makes us feel our faults, but let us not stop everything there. For that is not properly repentance. But here is the test by which we can know whether we are truly repentant or not. It is when of our free will we seek complete accord with God and we do not flee being judged by Him, indeed, provided that He receives us in mercy. This is what He will do after we plead guilty. For he who will judge himself in order to plead guilty before God, before Angels, and before men will be justified and absolved, since he asks only that God may be favorable toward him. That then, in summary, is what we have to observe.

Now this confession of Judas had to be made in order to render the Priests all the more inexcusable. Also the Gospel-writer gives this account so that we may contemplate so much the better the blindness that Satan had put into all these reprobates, and that each one may think of himself. When God proposes to us such examples of His wrath and of His vengeance and He shows that men are, as it were, mad, that they are depraved of sense and of reason, that they are (briefly) brutish to fling themselves with an infernal fury; it is in order that each one of us may bow his head and that each one of us may know that we could often come to that, unless we were preserved by the goodness and grace of our God. However, let us be advised not to fight against our own consciences as the Priests did. For all those who so harden themselves against God in the end will fall into such a reprobate condition that they will no longer have any reason in them. Even after being thus undone before God, they will also cease to be at all ashamed before men. For it is a good thing that their baseness is shown to all and that they be put in such disgrace that everyone may be horrified by their villainy.

That, then, is why the Gospel-writer has here related to us that when Judas came to pay back the money, the Priests were not at all moved by it. It is true that they do say that it is not lawful to put it into the coffer of the treasury, but that it is the price of blood. That is how hypocrites always guard well I do not know what appearances to make a shadow and a covering for their iniquities. But this in only mocking God. For they never come in integrity and openness to Him. For what is there to say? “Oh, we shall not put this money with the sacred oblations, because it is the price of blood.” Then this money, had it been stolen? It is known that the Priests lived on the oblations of the Temple. As today in the Papacy those who are called Prelates and people of the Church gobble up the oblations and do not care for what purpose they apply them. Although the Priests had drawn from the oblations of the Temple the money which they had given to Judas, it does not matter to them; they have no regard. Now they make an issue of putting this money back into the coffer of the oblations. By which means they repulse Judas, as it were, by mockery, and as if they said, “Perhaps this wicked man has betrayed his master. We have only to determine whether be has done good or evil. Yet in order that we may not be sharers in his offense on our part, and in order to keep our hands clean (since they had used this money for such a purpose) we shall buy with it a field for the burial of strangers.” Indeed, to say that they have surely satisfied God and that He might not know how to ask more, though there was some fault in what they did.

That is how hypocrites will always have their satisfactions, thinking to buy their way out, but this is only child’s play. Yet let us know that this is recited to us in order that we may learn when we have fallen to recognize our faults in truth and not to make circuits from one side or from another, but in everything and by everything to frankly bear condemnation. That, then, is what is shown to us. Meanwhile, let us pray to God that He remove from us the blindfold Satan is trying to put on in order that we may not croak on our flatteries, wishing to excuse evil, but that more and more we may take the trouble to examine well all our vices to condemn them and to make an upright confession of them. Besides, we see also how God overthrows the opinion of hypocrites, that in the end they remain frustrated by what they had pretended. For the Priests had surely wished to erase their fault and that no one might ever mention it. That is why they pretend when they buy a field for the burial of strangers. But God turns that entirely to the contrary of their intention. For this field must be called “field of blood” or “field of murder.” That memorial must be perpetual and it remains forever on the mouths of men, women and little children, so that this detestable crime which had been thus committed by the Priests is daily known and manifest, and they say, “Behold, the field of blood, that is, the field that was bought with the price of betrayal. And who did it? The Priests and the chiefs of all the people.” So then, we see when hypocrites try to hide themselves in their crimes and to disguise themselves, that God uncovers their villainy all the more and causes their shame to be known by all men and that everyone hold them in detestation. That is why I have said it is all the more necessary that we be advised to come to God and there to uncover all our offenses, in order that it may please Him to bury them before Him, before His Angels, and before all the world, when we have thus recognized them on our part.

Finally the Gospel-writer cites a passage from the Prophet to show that this is not recited only on account of the sin of Judas, or on account of the devilish obstinacy of the Priests, but on account of the condemnation of all people in general. He says, then, “What was written by the prophet has been fulfilled, that God was appraised at thirty denarii and that was applied on a potter’s field.” Now Zechariah, from whom this passage is drawn, compares our Lord Jesus Christ to a Shepherd, and says that wishing to govern the Jewish people, He had taken His staff, or His shepherd’s crook, which was called “Beauty,” in order to say that He had a condition so well ordered that it was possible among those people, indeed, that He might be allowed to be led by the hand of God. For is there anything more desirable? And that it may be so, where is our sovereign joy and bliss, unless God cares for our salvation and He performs the office of shepherd among us? That, then, was a government of God in those people, when it is spoken of this rod, not of a staff which is to strike and break everything, but to lead and govern peaceably the sheep which become docile. Now it is said that again He took a second rod. As in fact, when the people have been returned from the captivity of Babylon, God has then gone back to His position as shepherd. After such a horrible dissipation as had existed previously, He gathers in the people to govern them peaceably under His hand. But in the end there was such villainous ingratitude that God had to quit everything. So He says, “Oh, I see what it is; I need not lose My time or My trouble with you.” He speaks here in the common fashion of men. “Let us get on the march at once. Pay me, that I may go away.” Whereupon they brought Him thirty denarii. “What?” says He, “is this the reward and the payment I get from you?” For when He speaks of thirty denarii, He considers the oblations which they made in the Temple. They were (since they used them in hypocrisy without faith and without repentance) only vain ceremonies which, nevertheless, the Priests and the Jew’s prized highly. As today the Papists, when they have done many “holies” and all their beautiful devotions, it seems to them that God is almost indebted to them. Now God says all that is only rubbish. “How,” says He, “have I gained from your having gone through it? Perhaps that is the payment for a shepherd, I am much obliged to you. Oh, oh, no! I have nothing to do with it. Go, throw that in the pottery, and may you decorate the mouths and handles of your pots with it! Go! I am leaving you. Use that in your tile.” As if He said, “If it rains in your Temple, fix it yourselves. As for Me, I no longer have any part or portion with you. I wish you would go away. And do not think to appease Me here by bringing Me, as it were, the payment of a scoundrel. I do not approve at all of any of it.” That, then, is what the Prophet, in summary, has intended.

Now we know that what was predicted of our God then, was fulfilled in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is our true God manifest in the flesh. So it was necessary that in a visible manner this passage be verified, and that Jesus Christ was appraised at only thirty denarii, that is, that the people showed such villainous ingratitude toward Him, Who was the Eternal Shepherd, Whom God had established over His people. It is certain that since the people had left being governed by God, also our Lord Jesus always performed the office of Mediator, indeed, although He had not yet appeared in human flesh. We must remember this well, in order that we may learn on our part, if God has exercised the grace to receive us, as it were, under His hand, and we are His flock, and He gives us our Lord Jesus Christ for a Shepherd, not to sting Him so that His Spirit is saddened and wearied by our acts of rebellion and ingratitude. Also may we not throw Him any bouquets of flowers (as they say in common proverb), but since He gives Himself to us, may we cling to Him as our God and King, may we dedicate our whole lives to Him, and may we not bring Him a payment that He rejects; but may we present to Him both our souls and our bodies. For it is also very right that He should have all preeminence over us and that He possess us entirely, when we see that He seeks only our salvation. 

Now to end it and come to the conclusion, it is said, “Our Lord Jesus having been led before Pilate answered nothing. Pilate asked him, saying, ‘Do you not speak at all? Do you not see the witnesses they have brought here against you?’ And he held his peace, so that the judge marveled greatly.” In the first place we have to keep in memory, when our Lord Jesus Christ is judged before, an earthly judge, that it was in order that we might be exempt and absolved from the condemnation which we deserved before the heavenly Judge. We know that we cannot escape what is written by the Prophet Isaiah, that every knee must bow before God. (Isa 45:23.) Since God is the Judge of the world, how can we subsist before His face and before His majesty? There is not one of us who is not constrained to condemn himself a hundred thousand times. When we have lived only a year in the world, there are already a hundred thousand faults, by which we deserve to be condemned. There is no one who has not this testimony engraved upon his heart, and who is not convinced of it. Now God, Who sees much more clearly than we, how will He not condemn us when each one is constrained to condemn himself, indeed, in so many ways? But here our Lord Jesus is subjected to this extremity of being accused before an earthly judge, even before a profane man, before a man who was pushed only by his greed and his ambition. When, then, the Son of God is humiliated to that extent, let us know that it is in order that we may be able to come with heads raised before God, and that He may receive us, and that fear may no longer cause us to draw back from His judgment-seat, but that we may dare to approach it boldly, knowing that we shall be received there in mercy. We even know that Jesus Christ acquired authority and power and sovereign dominion to be Judge of the world. And when He is thus condemned by Pilate, it is in order that today we may come boldly to Him, indeed, knowing that power is given to Him to judge us. Since He stood there, may we know that He wished to bear our condemnation and that He did not intend a trial to justify Himself, also knowing well that He had to be condemned, indeed, in our person. For although He was without spot or blemish, He bore all our sins upon Himself. We need not be astonished, then, that He stood there as if He had been convicted. For otherwise He could not have performed the office of Mediator except by accepting sentence and confessing that in our persons He had deserved to be condemned. That, then, is what the silence of our Lord Jesus Christ implies, in order that today we can call upon God with full voice, and that we can ask Him for pardon for all vices and offenses.

Now let us bow in humble reverence before the majesty of our God.

John Calvin (1509-1564): First Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (03/36)

First Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (03/36)
John Calvin (1509-1564)
Copyright: Public Domain

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First Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.Mat 26:36-39

When Scripture speaks to us of our salvation it proposes to us three aims. One is that we recognize the inestimable love God has shown toward us, so that He may be glorified by us as He deserves. Another, that we hold our sin in such detestation as is proper, and that we be sufficiently ashamed to humble ourselves before the majesty of our God. The third, that we value our salvation in such a manner that it makes us forsake the world and all that pertains to this frail life, and that we be overjoyed with that inheritance which has been acquired for us at such a price. This is what we ought to fix our attention upon and apply our minds to when it is mentioned to us how the Son of God has redeemed us from eternal death and has acquired for us the heavenly life. We ought, then, in the first place to learn to give God the praise He deserves. In fact, He was well able to rescue us from the unfathomable depths of death in another fashion, but He willed to display the treasures of His infinite goodness when He spared not His only Son. And our Lord Jesus in this matter willed to give us a sure pledge of the care which He had for us when He offered Himself voluntarily to death. For we never shall be keenly touched nor set on fire to praise our God, unless on the other hand we examine our condition, and see that we are as sunk in hell, and know what it is to have provoked the wrath of God and to have Him for a mortal enemy and a judge so terrible and appalling that it would be much better if heaven and earth and all creatures would conspire against us then to approach His majesty while it is unfavorable toward us. So it is very necessary that sinners should be broken-hearted with a feeling and an understanding of their faults, and that they should know themselves to be worse than wretched, so that they may have a horror at their condition, in order that in this way they may know how much they are indebted and obligated to God, that He has pitied them, that He sees them in despair, and that He has been kind enough to help them; not because He sees in them any dignity, but only because He looks upon their wretchedness. Now the fact is also (as we have said), forasmuch as we are surrounded by too much here below and that when God has called us to Himself we are held back by our affection and covetousness, that it is necessary to prize the heavenly life as it deserves, that we may know at how great an expense it was bought for us.

And that is why it is here narrated to us that not only our Lord Jesus Christ has been willing to suffer death and has offered Himself as a sacrifice to pacify the wrath of God His Father, but in order that He might be truly and wholly our pledge, He did not refuse to bear the agonies which are prepared for all those whose consciences rebuke them and who feel themselves guilty of eternal death and damnation before God. Let us note well, then, that the Son of God was not content merely to offer His flesh and blood and to subject them to death, but He willed in full measure to appear before the judgment seat of God His Father in the name and in the person of all sinners, being then ready to be condemned, inasmuch as He bore our burden. And we need no longer be ashamed, since the Son of God exposed Himself to such humiliation. It is not without cause that St. Paul exhorts us by his example not to be ashamed of the preaching of the Cross; however foolish it may be to some and a stumbling-block to many. For the more our Lord Jesus abased Himself the more we see that the offenses on account of which we are indebted to God could not be abolished unless He were abased to the last degree. And, in fact, we know that He has been made weak in order that we might be made strong by His virtue, and that He has been willing to bear all our sufferings, sin excepted, so that He may be ready today to help us. For if He had not felt in His person the fears, the doubts, and the torments which we endure, He would not be so inclined to be pitiful toward us as He is. It is said that a man who knows what neither hunger nor thirst is will not be moved with compassion or humanity toward those who endure them, because he has always been at his ease and has lived in his pleasures. Now it is true that God, although in His nature He endures none of our passions, does not cease to be humane toward us, because He is the fountain of all goodness and mercy. However, in order that we may be assured that our Lord Jesus knows our weaknesses in order to relieve us of them, and that we may come so much more boldly to Him and we may speak to Him more familiarly, the Apostle says that for this cause He was willing to be tempted like us.

So, then, we have to notice in the text we have read that when our Lord Jesus came into this village of Gethsemane, and even on the mountain of olives, that it was to offer Himself as a voluntary sacrifice. And in that He willed to fulfill the office and the charge which was committed to Him. For why did He assume our flesh and nature, unless to make reparation for all our rebellion by His obedience, to acquire for us full and perfect righteousness before God his Father? And still He came to present Himself for death, because we can not be reconciled nor can we pacify the wrath of God which had been provoked by sin, except by His obedience.

This, then, is why the Son of God came boldly to the place where He knew that Judas would find Him. And thus we know that it was necessary, since our father Adam by his rebellion had ruined us all, that the Son of God, who has sovereign control over all creatures, should subject Himself and assume the condition of a servant, as also He is called both a Servant of God and of all His own. And that is also why St. Paul, showing that we must have some support to call upon Him in full confidence that we shall be heard as His children, says that by the obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ we are recognized to be righteous. For it is as a mantle to cover all our sins and offenses, so that the thing which could prevent us from obtaining grace is not taken into account before God. But on the other hand we see that the price of our redemption has been very dear, when our Lord Jesus Christ is in such agony that He undergoes the terrors of death, indeed, until sweat as drops of blood by which He is, as it were, beside Himself praying if it be possible that He might escape such a distress. When we see that, it is enough to bring us to a knowledge of our sins. There is no possibility of lulling us to sleep here by flattery when we see that the Son of God is plunged into such an extremity that it seems that He is at the depth of the abyss. If that had happened only to a righteous man, we might be touched, of course, because it was necessary that a poor innocent endured for our ransom that which happened to the Son of God. But here is He Who is the fountain of life Who subjects Himself to death. Here is He Who sustains all the world by His power Who is made weak to this degree. Here is He Who rescues the creatures from all fear Who has to undergo such a horror. When, then, that is declared to us, we would be more than stupid, if each one of us would not meditate on that, and, being disgusted by his faults and iniquities, would not be ashamed before God, gasping and groaning, and if even by this means we were not led to God with a true repentance.

Now it is impossible that men become rightly converted to God unless they are condemned in themselves and they have conceded both the terror and the agony of the malediction which is prepared for them unless they are restored to grace with God. But again, to better understand the whole it is said that our Lord Jesus took only three of His disciples and left the company at quite a distance, and again those three He did not take all the way with Him, but He prayed to God His Father in secret. When we see that, we must notice that our Lord Jesus had no companion when He offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, but He alone completed and accomplished that which was required for our salvation. And even that is again better indicated to us, when the disciples sleep, and cannot even be awakened, although they had already been warned so many times that the hour was approaching in which our Lord Jesus would have to suffer for the redemption of mankind, and that He had exhorted them for three or four hours, never ceasing to declare to them that His death was approaching. However true all that may be, they do not cease to sleep. In this it is shown to us as in a vivid picture that it was most necessary that the Son of God bear all our burdens, for He could not expect anything else. And that is in order that our attention may be fixed so as not to wander in thought, as we see the poor unbelievers who cannot fix their attention upon our Lord Jesus Christ but who imagine that they must have patrons and advocates as if there were many redeemers. And we see even the blasphemies which are the rule in this wicked papacy, that the merits of the saints are to help the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, in order that by this means we may be freed and acquitted before God. Even if there had been, say they, general remission as far as the guilt of original sin as well as of actual sins is concerned; still there must be an admixture and the blood of Jesus Christ is not enough unless it is supplemented by the blood of the martyrs, and we must have our refuge in them in order to have God’s favor. When the devil has thus broken loose we ought all the more to be watched that we hold fast to our Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that in Him alone we must find the full perfection of salvation. And that is why it is said notably by the Prophet Isaiah that God marveled, seeing that there was no help anywhere else.

Now it is true that God well knew that He alone had to perfect our salvation, but it is in order that we may be ashamed and that we may not be hypocrites as if we have brought anything to help in the remission of our sins and to make God receive us in His grace and love, so that we do not run from one side to the other to find mediators. So that any such idea may be banished, it is said that God has used His own arm, and that He has completed all by His righteousness, and He has found no one to help Him. Now that is declared to us with extreme clearness when it is said that three of the disciples, those who were the flower of all, were sleeping there as poor beasts and that there was nothing else than brutal stupidity in them, that which is a monstrosity against nature to see that they slept at such a fatal moment. Then in order that our confidence be turned away from all creatures and that it be entirely shut up to our Lord Jesus Christ, therefore it is said that He advanced to the combat. Besides in addressing God His Father He well shows us the remedy for our relief from all our agonies, to soften our sorrows, and even to raise us above them, even though we were, as it were, sunk under them. For if we are troubled and in agony we know that God is not called in vain the Father of Consolation. If, then, we are separated from Him, where shall we find strength unless in Him? We see, however, that He has not willed to spare Himself when we needed Him. So it is the Son of God Who leads us by His example to the true refuge when we are in sorrow and agony.

But let us notice also the form of prayer which He uses: “Father, if it be possible let this chalice be removed from me,” or this drink, for it is a figure of speech whether He speaks of a goblet or of a glass or of a cup, all the more so because Scripture calls afflictions bitter drinks in order that we may know that nothing happens by chance, but that God as a father of a family distributes to each one of his children his portion, or as a master to his servants, thus God shows that it is from Him and from His hand that they are beaten and afflicted, and also when we receive good things that they proceed from His unmerited loving-kindness and He gives us as much as He wants to give us. Now according to this way of proceeding our Lord Jesus says that death is for Him such a bitter drink that He would prefer that it were taken away from Him, that is, “if it were possible.” It is true that one could raise here many questions, for it would seem that for an instant Jesus Christ forgot our salvation or, still worse, that fleeing from the struggle He willed to leave us in a lost estate on account of the terror which He felt.

Now that would not agree with what we have said. And even the love which He has shown us would be much obscured. But we do not have to enter upon any dispute so subtle, because we know that suffering sometimes so ravishes the spirit of a man that he does not think of anything; but he is so weighed down by present suffering that he lets it get him down and has no regard for the means of restoring himself. When, then, we are thus temporarily out of ourselves that does not mean that everything else is entirely blotted out from our hearts and that we have no affection. As for example, he who will think on some affliction of the Church, especially a particular affliction, will pray to God as if the rest of the world were to him as nothing. Now is that to say that he has grown inhuman and that he is not concerned for his brothers who also have need that he should pray for them? Not at all, but it is that this feeling drives him with such a vehemence that everything else is cut off from him for a time. Moses prays to be removed from the book of life. If we would want to split hairs about it we would say that Moses blasphemed against God in speaking as if He were variable. For those whom God has elected to eternal life can never perish. So it seems that Moses fights here against God and that he wants to make Him like us whose counsel and talk often changes. And then what honor does he to God when he knows that he is of the number of His elect, and he knows that God had marked him from his infancy to be committed to a charge so excellent as being a leader of his people and yet he asks to be, as it were, rejected and exterminated by God? And what would that lead to? One could, then, do much arguing. But the solution is easy in that Moses, having such an ardent zeal for the salvation of the people, seeing also the horrible threat that God had pronounced with His mouth, forgets himself for a little time and for a minute, and only asks that he may help his people. To this state of mind our Lord Jesus had been brought. For if it had been necessary for Him to suffer a hundred deaths, even a million, it is certain that He would have been prepared previously. But so He has willed not so much for Himself as for us to bear the agonies which plunge Him even to that point, as we see. So much for point one.

Now for the second. If anyone asks how Jesus Christ, Who is entirely righteous, Who has been the Lamb without blemish, and Who has been even the rule and the mirror of all righteousness, holiness, and perfection, has a will contradictory to that of God; the answer to that is that God has in Himself all perfection of uprightness, while the angels, however much they conform to the will of God and are entirely obedient to Him, nevertheless have a separate will. For inasmuch as they are creatures, they can have affections which do not belong by rights to God. As for us who are surrounded by this mass of sin, we are so burdened that we are far removed from the will of God, for in all our appetites there is some excess, there is even rebellion manifest oftentimes. But if we consider man in his integrity, that is to say without this corruption of sin, again it is certain that he will have his affections far removed from God, and yet they will not on that account be vicious. As when Adam was not yet perverted and he persisted in the estate and condition in which he had been created, it happened that he was both hot and cold and that he had to endure both anxieties and fears and like things.

That is how it was with our Lord Jesus Christ. We know that in all His feelings He had neither spot nor blemish, that in everything He was ruled by obedience to God, but still He was not prevented (because He had taken our nature) from being exposed both to fear, and to that horror of which it is now spoken, and to anxieties, and to like things. We are not able to perceive that in ourselves, as in troubled water one can distinguish nothing. So, the human affections make us drift from one side to the other to give us such emotions that we need to be restrained by God. But such as men have, being descended from Adam, are as a mire where there is a more and more mixed up infection of the kind that we cannot contemplate what this passion of our Lord Jesus Christ must have been, if we judge it by our own persons. For even if we have a good aim and an affection is upright in itself and approved by God, still we always lack something. Is it not a good and holy thing when a father loves his children? And right there we sin again. For there is never rule or moderation such as is required. For whatever virtues there are in us God shows us vices in them in order that all pride be more abased and that we have all the more occasion to bow our heads, even to be confounded with shame, seeing that even the good is corrupted by the sin which dwells in us and of which we are filled to excess.

Besides, as far as our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned (as I have already said) we ought not to be surprised if He had (insofar as He was man) a will different from that of God His Father, but on that account we must not judge that here was any vice or transgression in Him. And even (as we have already noted) in that let us see the inestimable love He bore toward us when death was to Him so dreadful and, nevertheless, He submitted to it of His own good pleasure. And even if He had not had any repugnance toward it, and even if without reluctance He tasted that cup, without feeling any bitterness in it, what kind of a redemption would that have been? It would seem as if it had only been a play, but when it happened that our Lord Jesus Christ endured such agonies it is a sign that He loved us to such a degree that He forgot even Himself and suffered that all the storm fell on His head in order that we might be delivered from the wrath of God.

Now it still remains to note that when the Son of God agonized in such a way it was not because He had to leave the world. For if it had only been the separation of body and soul, with the torments which He had to endure in His body, that would not have borne Him down to such a degree. But we must observe the quality of His death and even trace its origin. For death is not only to dissolve man, but to make him feel the curse of God. Beyond the fact that God takes us out of this world and that we are as annihilated with respect to this life, death is to us an entrance, as it were, into the abyss of hell. We would be alienated from God and devoid of all hope of salvation when death is spoken of to us unless we have this remedy — that our Lord Jesus Christ endured it for our sakes in order that now the wound which was there shall not be fatal. For without Him we would be so frightened by death that there would no longer be hope of salvation for us, but now its sting is broken. Even the poison is so cleansed that death in humiliating us serves us today like medicine and is no longer fatal now that Jesus Christ swallowed all the poison that was in it.

This, then, is what we must bear in mind, that the Son of God in crying out “Father, if it be possible, let this drink be removed from me” considers not only what He had to suffer in His body, nor the disgrace of men, nor leaving the earth (for that was easy enough for Him), but He considers that He is before God and before His judicial throne to answer for all our sins, to see there all the curses of God which are ready to fall upon us. For even if there be only a single sinner, what would the wrath of God be? When it is said that God is against us, that He wants to display His power to destroy us, alas! where are we then? Now it was necessary for Jesus Christ to fight not only against such a terror but against all the cruelties one could inflict. When, then, we see that God summons all those who have deserved eternal damnation and who are guilty of sin and that He is there to pronounce sentence such as they have deserved, who would not conceive in full measure all the deaths, doubts and terrors which could be in each one? And what a depth will there be in that! Now it was necessary that our Lord Jesus Christ by Himself without aid sustained such a burden. So then, let us judge the sorrow of the Son of God by its true cause. Let us now return to what we have already discussed — that in one respect we may realize how costly our salvation was to Him and how precious our souls were to Him when He was willing to go to such an extremity for our sakes, and knowing what we deserved let us look at what would have been our condition — if we had not been rescued by Him. And yet let us rejoice that death has no more power over us that could hurt us. It is true that always we naturally fear death and we run away from it, but that is in order to make us think of this inestimable benefit which has been acquired for us by the death of the Son of God. This is in order to make us always consider what death is in itself, how it involves the wrath of God, and it is, as it were, the pit of hell. Besides, when we have to fight against such fear may we know that our Lord Jesus Christ has so provided for all those fears that in the midst of death we can come before God with uplifted heads.

It is true that we have to humble ourselves before all things, as we have already said, that it is very necessary in order that we should hate our sins and be displeased with ourselves that we be touched by the judgment of God to be frightened by it. But still we must raise our heads when God calls us to Himself. And this is also the courage which is given to all believers! So we see that St. Paul says, Jesus Christ has prepared a crown for all those who wait for His coming. If, then, we no longer have hope of life in coming before the heavenly Judge, it is certain that we shall be rejected by Him and that He will not know us, even that He will disown us, however much profession of Christianity we may make.

Now we cannot really wait for our Lord Jesus Christ unless we have understood and are persuaded that He has so fought against the terrors of death that nevertheless we are freed from them and that the victory has been gained for us. And even if we have to fight to make us feel our infirmity, to make us seek refuge in God, always to bring us to a true confession of our sins, so that God Himself alone be righteous, it is nevertheless true that we are assured that Jesus Christ has so fought that He has won the victory not for Himself but for us and we must not doubt that by means of Him we can now surmount all anxieties, all fears, all dismays, and that we can invoke God, being assured that always He has His arms extended to receive us to Himself.

This, then, is what we must consider: that we may know that it is not a speculative teaching that our Lord Jesus endured the horrible terrors of death, forasmuch as He felt that He was there before our Judge and He was our Pledge, so that today we can by virtue of His fight win over all our infirmity and persist constantly in calling upon the Name of God, not doubting a single moment that He hears us, and that His goodness is always ready to receive us to Himself and that by this means we shall go through both life and death, through water and fire, and we shall feel that it is not in vain that our Lord Jesus fought to win such a victory for all those who have come to Him by faith. This is, then, in a word, what we have to keep in mind.

Now, however, we see how we must fight against our affections, and unless we do it is impossible for us to move a finger by which we do not in full measure provoke the wrath of God. For behold our Lord Jesus Christ Who is pure and entire, as we have already declared. If one asks what His will was, it is true it was weak as the will of a man, but it was not vicious as the will of those who are corrupted in Adam, for there was not a single spot of sin in Him. Behold, then, a man Who is exempt from every vice. But, however that may be, it is still necessary that He efface Himself and that He exert Himself to the limit and that He finally renounce Himself, and that He put all that underfoot, to yield obedience to God His Father. Let us look now at what shall become of us. What are our affections? What of our thoughts? All those are enemies that battle against God, as says; St. Paul. Here God pronounces that we are altogether perverse and that all that man can imagine is but falsehood and vanity. Even from our infancy we show that we are steeped in the complete infection of sin. Little children coming into the world, though the malice does not appear, do not always fail to be little serpents full of poison, malice and disdain. In this we truly realize what is in our nature even from the beginning. And when we have become of age, what of us then? We are (as I have said) so evil that we do not know how to conceive a single thought which is not at the same time rebellion against God, so that we do not know whether to apply ourselves to this or to that, since we are always led astray from the true norm, even if we do not come to a clash with God in a provocative way. What a fight, then, is necessary to draw us back to the good! When we see that our Lord Jesus, in Whom there was nothing but integrity and uprightness, had to be subject to God His Father, even to renouncing Himself, is it not important that we should give ourselves entirely to it?

So then, let us learn to fight more valiantly. But seeing that we are not able and that rather all our powers and faculties tend to evil and that we have not a single particle of good in our nature and that there is such a weakness that we would be conquered a hundred times each minute, we come to Him Who was made weak that we might be filled with His power, as St. Paul says. Next, so it is, then, that our Lord Jesus Christ has thus renounced Himself, that we might learn, if we wish to be His disciples, to do likewise. Seeing that we are not able of ourselves to succeed in it but that we always tend to go the wrong way, let us pray to Him that by virtue of His Holy Spirit He may rule in us to make us strong. As it is said, He suffered in the weakness of His flesh, but by virtue of His Spirit He was raised from the dead in order that we may be made partakers of the fight which He sustained and that we may realize the effect and the excellence of His power in us. This, then, in summary, is what we have to remember when it is said that Christ resigned all His will in order to submit fully to God His Father.

Now, however, we have always to remember that the Son of God does not here propose Himself to be only an example and a mirror, but He wishes to show us how dearly our salvation has cost Him. For the devil, wishing to obscure the infinite grace of God which was shown us in our redemption, has said that Jesus Christ was only, as it were, model of every virtue. Behold how the whining pretenders in all the Papal See prattle. Not only do they not know how to deduce what obedience is, nor what self-renunciation is, but they say, what the Gospel-writer recites of Jesus Christ is in order that we may follow Him and that we may be conformed to Him. Now that is, to be sure, something, but it is not all nor even the principal thing. For an angel could well have been sent that we might have followed him, but when Jesus Christ was the Redeemer of the world He submitted and was subject of His own free will to that condition so miserable, as we see here. We must always recognize that we find nothing in us which can give hope of salvation. And therefore we must seek in Him what we lack. For we never can obtain the grace of God nor approach Him unless we come to Jesus Christ as poor beggars, which thing cannot be done until we have recognized our poverty and our indigence, in brief, that we lack everything.

This, then, is what we have to bear in mind in order that, after having heard that all the perfection of our life is to render us obedient to God and then to renounce our affections and thoughts and our whole nature to conform to Him, also after having heard that we must ask God for what we do not possess, we may know that our Lord Jesus Christ is given to us not only as an example, but He has fully declared to us that if we are separated from Him our life will necessarily be cursed and when in death we see the depth of misery that we shall see the pit of the wrath of God ready to swallow us up and that we be not seized with a single terror, but with a million, and that all creatures shall cry out vengeance against us. So we must feel all that, then, in order to recognize our sins and to groan and to be confounded in ourselves, and to have a desire and to have the courage to come to God with a true humility and repentance and that we should appreciate the goodness and mercy of our God according as it is seen here and that we should have mouths opened to give Him a sacrifice of praise, and that we should be turned away from the wiles of Satan, who has his nets spread out to retain us in the world, and that we leave also our conveniences and our comforts in order to aspire to this inheritance which was bought for us at such a price.

And since next Lord’s Day we are to receive the Holy Supper and because God, after having opened to us the Kingdom of heaven, presents there to us a spiritual banquet that we may be even more touched by this teaching: In fact when we eat and drink daily for our restrengthening God declares sufficiently to us that He is our Father and that He cares for these earthly and frail bodies, so that we cannot eat a piece of bread without having the testimony that God cares for us, but in the Lord’s Supper there is a special reason. For God does not fill our stomachs there, but He transports us to the Kingdom of heaven. He sets before us our Lord Jesus His Son for meat and drink. Jesus Christ is not satisfied only to receive us at His table, but He wishes to be in every respect our Food. He makes us feel by the effect that His body is truly meat to us and His blood drink. When, then, we see that our Lord Jesus so gently invites us to Him, must we not be the worst of villains if we are not drawn away from that which turns us away from Him? And even though we were coming with dragging foot, let us not fail to be grieved for our vices in order to draw near to Him and compel ourselves as far as it shall be possible for us to be detached from this world and to aspire to the Kingdom of heaven.

So then, let each one observe what benefit the Holy Supper ought to confer on us. For we see that our Lord Jesus calls us to it to be partakers of His death and passion that we should enjoy the benefit He acquired, for us and by this means we should be fully assured that God declares that we are His children and that we can claim Him openly as our Father. Let us bring a true faith knowing why our Lord Jesus was sent to us by God His Father, what His office is, and how He is still today our Mediator as He always was. Beyond that, let us try to be so united to Him, that it may be not only for each one of us that such a thing may be said, but for all in general. Let us have mutual concord and brotherhood together, since He has sustained and borne the condemnation which was pronounced by God His Father upon us all. So let us aim at that, and let each one come here not only for himself (as I have said), but let him try to draw his companions to it, and let us so urge one another on to walk steadfastly, noticing always that our life is as a road which must be followed to the end, and that we must not grow weary in the middle of the journey, but let us profit so much day by day, and let us take trouble to approach those who are out of the road; let this be all our joy, our life, our glory and contentment, and let us so help one another until God has fully gathered us to Himself.

Now let us bow in humble reverence before the majesty of our God.

John Calvin (1509-1564): Second Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (04/36)

Second Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (04/36)
John Calvin (1509-1564)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Second Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me. And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people. Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast. And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him. And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him.Mat 26:40-50

We have seen this morning how the Son of God, having to sustain so difficult a fight as to appear before the judgment-seat of God His Father to receive sentence of condemnation as our security, was made strong by prayer. For it was necessary that human weakness appear in Him, and it takes nothing away from His divine majesty when He has so bowed down to the dust to bring about our salvation. Now we have to note that it was not only once that He prayed. By which we see that by His example He has exhorted us not to faint if we are not heard as soon as we would wish. So, those who lose courage when our God does not respond to their first wish show that they do not know what it is to pray. For the certain rule for finding our refuge in God involves perseverance. Thus it is that the principal exercise of our faith is prayer. Now faith cannot exist without waiting. It is not possible for God to humor us as soon as we have opened our mouths and formed our request. But it is needful that He delay and that He let us languish oftentimes so that we may know what it is to call upon Him sincerely and without pretense, so that we may declare that our faith is so founded upon the Word of God that it checks us as a bridle so that we may be patient to endure until the opportune time to help us shall have come. Let us note well, then, that our Lord Jesus Christ did not pray to God His Father only once, but that He returned to it a second time.

Besides, we have to consider what we have already touched upon: that is, to know that our Lord Jesus has not formed here any trivial prayer, but He has, as it were, been willing to lay aside all selfish considerations. He Who is the power of God His Father, by Whom all the world is supported, nevertheless, forasmuch as He had to show Himself a weak man, taking our place, being there in our stead; He has declared when He thus reiterated His prayer that it was not as a spectacle that He did it (thus several profane people imagine that when Jesus Christ appeared He suffered nothing), but it was so that we might be taught, that we cannot escape the hand of God and His curse except by this means. Now it is here declared to us (as it was this morning) that our Lord Jesus was crushed to the limit, even so far as that the burden He had received was unsupportable unless the invincible power of the Spirit of God had operated in Him. We must not think that it was superfluous language when He repeated these same words. For what is said in the other passage, that in praying to God we must not use a long babble, as those who believe that in dabbling in words they get much more, does not imply that we should not continue in our prayers, but it is to tax the hypocrisy and superstition of those who believe in breaking God’s ear drums (after a manner of speaking) to persuade Him of what they want. As we see, how this folly has prevailed in the world! Again, how many there are among us who use this sorcery, how many who say no more than their Ave Maria, to whom it seems as if they have gained a great deal every time they say their Lord’s Prayer, and that God will count all their words in which they dabble when they pray! Now I call that real sorcery. For they wretchedly profane the prayer which has been given us by our Lord Jesus Christ, in which He has comprehended in a brief summary all that we can ask of God and what is lawful for us to desire or ask for.

However, that does not imply that if a man is crushed in agony he should not return often to God, and that when he shall have heaved some sighs he should not begin again immediately afterwards. Supposing we come to it without ambition and without display and then that we have no idea of having gained anything by our babble, but that a dear feeling urges us on, then we have the true perseverance, similar to that of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now there is this article to note, as we have said, that the principal thing in all our prayers is that God should control us to such a degree that there is an agreement on our part to conform to His good will. That, surely, is necessary for us. Behold our Lord Jesus Christ, though all His affections were upright, holy, and conformed to righteousness, that, however, insofar as He was natural man, yet He had to fight against the agony and sorrow which might have crushed Him and He had to hold Himself captive under obedience to God His Father. How will it be with us who have nothing but malice and rebellion and who are so corrupted that we did not know how to apply our senses to anything whatever? Would not God be utterly offended? Since that is so, let us learn in praying to God so to hold ourselves in check that no one may give himself such license as he is accustomed to in following his own appetites. But let us know that we shall have profited much, being able to hold ourselves captives, in order that God may be complete master over us.

It is also a noteworthy sentence when our Lord Jesus says to His disciples, “Watch and pray in order not to enter into temptation; for if the Spirit is ready, the flesh is weak.” He showed here, then, that the principal spur which ought to goad us to call upon God is that we have to fight, that our enemies are near, and that they are strong, and that we shall not be able to resist them without being helped and aided from on high, and that God fight for us. Now we know that when man is assured, he asks only to be given all his comforts and to sleep. For we do not voluntarily accept anxiety or melancholy unless necessity forces it upon us. To be sure, it is a sovereign good to have rest, or else we would be tired out. Nevertheless it is very necessary that necessity press us to be vigilant. Our Lord Jesus, then, not without cause declares that we have to sustain many alarms. For what is said only once to His disciples pertains to all of us in general, since in our lives we must always be ready to meet many temptations. For the devil is our perpetual enemy, if we are members of our Lord Jesus Christ. There will be, then, open war without ending and without ceasing.

Then let us notice what kind of enemy we have to deal with. It is not only one, but the number is infinite. Moreover the devil has a vast number of means to cast us down; now he strikes openly, now he plots underground, and by craftiness he will have surprised us a hundred thousand times before we have thought of it. When it is only as St. Paul says that our enemies are powers who dwell in the air over our heads and that we are here as poor earthworms who only crawl below, that certainly ought to cause us to be concerned. As also St. Peter alleges this reason, that our enemy is like a lion who roars and seeks prey and who never rests. That, then, is what we have to observe in the saying of our Lord Jesus that we must be on our guard in order not to enter into temptation. Besides, although we are vigilant, though we keep good watch, yet we cannot be exempt from the devil’s raising himself against us or our being assailed by him in many and diverse ways. We cannot, then, repulse the blows from afar. But before entering into combat, we must be on our guard lest we be plunged into temptation.

Let us learn, then, although the believers and children of God desire to have rest, nevertheless, they must not desire to be here at their ease. But let it be sufficient for them that God perfects His power in their weakness, as also St. Paul says that he had to pass through that. It is, I say, the condition of all the children of God to battle in this world, because they cannot serve God without opposition. But although they are weak, although they can be impeded, even often beaten down, may they be content to be helped and aided by the hand of God, and may they always lean upon this promise, that our faith will be victorious over all the world. Yet also the remedy proposed to us is that we fight. To be sure Satan is always making new beginnings to assail us, but Jesus Christ also commands us to watch. Besides, He shows that those who presume upon their own strength will be conquered by Satan a hundred thousand times before they obtain a single victory. What is needed, then? That, confessing with all humility that we can do nothing, we come to our God.

Here, then, are our real arms. It is He Who takes from us all fear and terror. It is He Who can give us assurance and resolution, that even to the end we shall remain safe and sound, that is, when we call upon God. As Solomon says, (Pro 18:10)

“His Name is a strong tower and the righteous man will have in Him his good and assured retreat.” Also says the Prophet Joel, “Although the world be turned upside down, whoever calls upon the Name of the Lord will be saved.” That is especially applied to the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, in order that we may be entirely persuaded that, although our salvation may be, as it were, in suspense, and though we may see, as it were, a thousand hazards, yet God will always keep us in His protection, and we shall feel that His power is always near us, and ready to help us, provided we seek it by prayer of mouth and heart. That, then, in summary is what we have to remember. In order that we may be better confirmed in this doctrine, let us note that our Lord Jesus in praying not only called upon God for Himself and for His own use, but He has dedicated all our requests and prayers so that they are holy and God approves them and finds them acceptable. As it says in the seventeenth chapter of Saint John, He sanctifies Himself in order that we all may be sanctified in Him. Surely we must also conclude that He prayed in order that His prayer may avail today, and that it might have its full strength, and that by this means we might all be heard.

This consideration is very valuable when he adds, “The Spirit is ready, but the flesh is weak.” For it is to show that all have need of the advice which He here urged upon His disciples. For many think that they have gained all if they have some good desire. That makes them indifferent. Soon afterwards they are seized with such laziness and coldness that they recoil from God and despise His help. That is also the cause why God often withdraws Himself and hides His power. For it is a good thing that men who confide too much in themselves find themselves frustrated and God mocks their arrogance and foolish imagination. In order, then, that both great and small may know that they cannot dispense with the help of God, and whatever graces they have received, God must still maintain in them what He has put there and even augment it that they may be strengthened, it is here said, “The Spirit is ready, but the flesh is weak.” That is, since we feel in us some good will, and God has already set us on the way, and has extended to us His hand, may we experience that He really governs us by His Holy Spirit. Although, then, we may have all of that, yet we must not be slow to pray. And why not? Let us consider whether there is in us only the Spirit. Surely we shall find many infirmities remaining. Although God may have already worked in such a way that we may have whereof to offer thanks to Him and to magnify His goodness; yet there is reason to bow our heads and to see that if He left us we would very soon be, I do not say weakened, but altogether fainting.

In a word, our Lord Jesus here wished to show that those who are the most perfect, the most advanced, and upon whom God has poured the graces and powers of His Holy Spirit, still must be humble, and they must walk in fear and carefulness, must call upon God every hour, knowing that it is not enough that He has begun if He does not finish. Surely every good must come from Him. When He has given the goodwill He must continue to carry it out more fully, since perseverance is the most singular and the most rare gift there is. That is why our Lord Jesus wished to exhort us. Now if those who can be called spiritual, that is, who have an ardent zeal to serve God, who are fully accustomed to have recourse to Him, who are exercised in prayer of mouth and heart to God, are still so weak that in a single moment they can be ruined unless they are calling upon God; what will happen to those who are still so earthly and so pitiably weighed down that they cannot drag their legs and they hardly have a good impulse or a single good thought? How they must have to struggle for the prize! So then, may each one of us examine himself, and we shall find that we are so lax and so dull in the matter of praying to God that there is sometimes more ceremony than feeling. Seeing that, may we learn to be displeased with ourselves for such a vice and such laxity. May we even detest such a corruption, may we take pains to call upon God, and to raise our spirits on high and to seek the remedy which is here proposed for us. That, then, in a word, is what we have to remember.

Now when it is said that the disciples went to sleep for the third time, even though they had been spurred so sharply (beyond what we discussed this morning, that is, that we see how Jesus Christ to perfect our salvation sought no other companion) let us also contemplate how slow we are. For it is certain that we have no more ability than these three who are here mentioned, and yet they were the most excellent of the company, and those whom Jesus Christ had marked as the flower of the twelve, who were to publish the Gospel to all the world. Although, then, there was already such a good beginning, yet we see how they weakened. Now it is in order that we may have recourse only to the Son of God and that we may seek in Him all that is lacking in us, and that we may not lose courage when we feel such a weakness in us. It is true that the example of the Apostles gives us no occasion at all to flatter ourselves (as many will say that they have as much right to sleep as Peter and John and James) but rather to make us displeased with our vices, that we may always know that our Lord Jesus is ready to receive us, provided we come to Him. Furthermore, there is always this special reason that we declared this morning, that it was necessary that everything that is man should give way in order that we may know that the accomplishment of our salvation is in Him who was appointed by God as our Mediator. We must also note when we are near our Lord Jesus Christ that it is then that we must be more vigilant. For the worldlings and those whom God has cut off entirely as rotten members whom He abandons, have no great fight. For the devil already has dominion over them. And that is why they can sleep at their ease. But according as our Lord Jesus exercises toward us the grace to call us to Himself, and to draw near to us familiarly, the battles are also instigated by Satan, because he wishes to draw us back from the obedience of the Son of God. When (I say) he sees that we are on the right track, then we have all the more rude assaults. Thus may each one prepare himself, knowing for what he was called by God, and what is his charge. This, then, is, in summary, what we have to remember.

Besides, when it is said “Sleep and rest, the hour has come” that is, as it were, a declaration that they would soon be surprised unless God watched over them. However, He rebukes them by saying, “How now? Look where you are. For the devil is making every effort for the perdition of mankind, and in My Person the Kingdom of God must be recovered, or all creatures will perish. Yet here you are sleeping.” Now this admonition hardly served for that time. But as time passed the disciples knew they must attribute all praise for their salvation to God, in view of their ingratitude, which was displayed in such brutish cowardice. So now we are admonished (as I have already mentioned) that the Son of God had to be shown to be our Redeemer by Himself alone and without aid. Besides, let us also learn that it is absolutely necessary that God watch over us even while we sleep. For how many times will it happen that the devil would have oppressed us a hundred thousand times? Yet what means have we to resist him, unless God have pity on us, although He sees us, as it were, reduced to insensibility. So that must not give us occasion to go astray and to quit addressing God in prayer. But still we must always remember this sentence from the Psalm,

“He who watches over Israel never sleeps; what is more He slumbers not.” (Psa 121:4.) So for our part let us be vigilant, even as we are urged by this exhortation. But let us recognize that however vigilant we ourselves may be, God must still keep a careful watch. Otherwise our enemies would soon win against us.

It follows that Jesus Christ says to His disciples, “Let us go; he who betrays Me draws near.” He does not wish them to keep Him company (as we have already declared) except that they see how He does not spare Himself for their sakes, nor for the sake of the human race. For He presented Himself to receive all the blows and to exempt them from them, as it was necessary that this word might be fulfilled. “He let nothing perish of that which the heavenly Father had given Him and committed to His charge and protection.” But by that he declares that He went voluntarily to death, following what we have treated this morning, that the sacrifice of obedience had to answer to wipe out all our rebellions. If Jesus Christ of His free will had not been offered to appease the wrath of God His Father, His death and passion would not have been of any use to us. But He holds Himself to it and declares that as He has put on our nature in order to accomplish our redemption, now in the supreme act, He did not wish to fail in His office.

According to the narrative, “Judas had given a sign of Him Whom he betrayed, that it was Jesus, and that He was seized, and having arrived he kisses Him and says to Him, ‘Hail, Master!’” Now let us note that this was a manner of greeting. As in some nations they embrace, in other nations they shake hands. The Jews were entirely accustomed to this kiss, as one sees by Holy Scripture. Besides, one would find it strange that Judas, being part of the company of Jesus Christ a little while before, that is, even that same night, returns and kisses Him as if he came from a distant journey. But he uses this ceremony, because he comes there as a frightened man. And that is why the other Gospel-writer says, “Rabbi, Rabbi, Hail!” He makes believe, then, that he is very sorry that his master is thus assailed. When he sees such a company who come to surprise Him, he draws near and kisses Jesus Christ, as if to say, “O my Master, they are looking for You, here are Your enemies who surround You, they seek to exterminate You, You will be cut off from the midst of men, once they put their hands upon You.” That, then, is a sign of pity and compassion which Judas gives.

Further, it is said that Jesus Christ reproaches him, “Friend, why art thou come?” which is as if He said, “You villain, you who have been with Me at My table, you have been, as it were, of My blood, when we were united as children of God (for I being your Head, so I have recognized you as My members) and yet you come to betray Me, even by a kiss.” Upon which let us note that the Son of God had to be marked, in order that Scripture might be so much better proved, and that it might be known that it was He Whom God had elected as our Redeemer. For all this had been typified in the person of David, who was, as it were, a mirror and image of the Son of God. Now it says that it is not strangers nor those who have openly declared themselves His enemies who molested and tormented Him, but “He (says He) who ate bread at My table has kicked up his heel for betrayal, he has surrounded Me, he has betrayed Me falsely.” Indeed, even he (as He says in the other passage) who accompanied Me to go together into the house of the Lord.” As if God said there was not only a private and human friendship, as it would be between those living in common, but that there was holy brotherhood dedicated to the name of God. This, then, is what the Holy Spirit wished to show us, that nothing happened to the Son of God which had not been testified previously and which had not been typified, in order that we may be all the better assured that it is He Who from all time had been established by God, since He bears such infallible marks.

Besides, in the person of Judas we see that the Church of God will always be subject to many betrayals. To be sure, it is something to have Satan with all his paraphernalia for an enemy, and everything we have already declared, and to have also those who fight openly against God and seek only the confusion of His Church. It is something (I say) that we have to fight against such enemies, but God still wills to prove our patience in this respect, that in our midst there may always be domestic enemies, who are full of betrayal and disloyalty. Although this plague is detestable, yet the Church never will be purged of it. Surely we must guard against it, and each one must try, as much as it is in his power, to scrape such an odor and infection. But when we shall have done all, still God will always permit that there be Judases. For since it was typified in David, and since it was fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ, we must be conformed to Him (as Saint Paul says), for He carries, as it were, the coat of arms of the house of God, being the first-born among; all believers. We must, then, have this condition in common with Him. But we can see here that it is from a frightened conscience, when God put there the spirit of disturbance, frenzy or stupidity, as He often spoke of it by His prophets. Judas, then, shows us the penalty of those who knowingly fight against God, that they must be so lost that they no longer have either sense of reason. However, they try to hide everything by hypocrisy even to saying that God forces them and that He leads them even to their final condemnation. At first glance it surely seems that these two things are opposed: (1) that a man comes to throw himself like a savage bull against God, that he has forgotten that it won’t do him any good to spit at the sun, that often he wishes to spite nature, and (2) yet tries to hide himself by subterfuges, and he thinks to gain something by his hypocrisy. One will say that those two things are incompatible. But they are seen in Judas. For he had experienced the heavenly power of our Lord Jesus Christ, he had seen so many miracles, and on his part he had done them, even in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Having known, then, that the Son of God has all power both over life and over death, he betrays Him, and says he did justly. For otherwise he would have immediately escaped. Judas, then, is entirely depraved of sense and reason, and is, as it were, frantic. So it is only by a kiss and by these sweet words, saying “Alas my Master,” he does not yet allow himself to have subterfuges, thinking he will be acquitted by this means. But that is how Satan dazzles his lackeys.

Let us learn, then, in the first place, to humble ourselves that no one throw himself against this rock which is too hard. That is, may we not wage war against our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us watch carefully, then, lest we stand in this devilish rage, lest we fight against the truth, and lest we contend against our conscience, so that we knowingly provoke the wrath of God, as if we wished to defy Him. Let us guard against that. Let us not so flatter ourselves in our hypocrisy and in our fictions that we are finally cheated and deceived by them. For we see what happened to Judas (as it is mentioned in the account), that it was not necessary that a judge condemn him, that it was not necessary to compel him to recant. But he confessed that he had sold and betrayed righteous blood. However, he did not ask pardon for his misdeed, but he went away in despair to hang himself and he burst asunder. Let us be well advised, then, not to give such access to Satan that he tears our eyes when we are asleep in our sins, and not to expect by this means to escape the hand of God. But let us remove all this make-believe.

Besides, let us recognize that it is certainly commanded to us to kiss the Son of God in Psa 2:12, but that is to do Him homage as our King and as Him Who has sovereign Dominion over all creatures. For the word “Kiss” implies only reverence and a solemn protestation that we are His own. As He said, “You call me Master, and you do well.” But in coming to Him let us be advised not to call Him Master from the tip of the tongue while we are yet enemies to Him, not to practice toward Him a false reverence in order to kick against Him and to give Him the boot. That is, may we not be stubborn and peevish by our disloyalty, but may we show that we have sought to maintain ourselves in His Church only in order to serve our God. Let us, then, be admonished of all that. Besides, although the word of our Lord Jesus Christ did not immediately take effect upon Judas, finally by virtue of this word he had to hang himself without waiting for other condemnation.

In fact, Saint John tells us how our Lord Jesus struck like lightning, although He used only a single word against all those who came to seek Him, saying, “I am He.” There is a band sent by Pilate. There is a force of men gathered by the Priests. They come there furnished with clubs, swords, and other blades. Jesus Christ is alone. He is as a lamb led to the slaughter-house, as Isaiah says. And what word does He use? “I am He.” And all are thrown down. All fall immediately. And how comes this fall? By it we see that our Lord Jesus, although He is humbled for a time, even emptied of everything, never ceased to retain, when it seemed good to Him, His heavenly power in order to cast down all His enemies, if He had wished. Let us compare our times with what was done then. Jesus Christ had to be bound and fastened (as we shall see later). He had to let His enemies rule. For Satan had unleashed the bridle to urge them on to every rage and cruelty. This is what is said by St. Luke, “This is the reign of darkness.” Be that as it may, when He said “I am He” His enemies had to be confounded. What will it be, then, when He comes in His majesty with all His Angels? When He comes to make all those who have resisted Him His footstool? When He comes with a dreadful face and an incomprehensible wrath? As Saint Paul says in 2Th 1:8. Then how can wicked despisers of the majesty of God and of the word of our Lord Jesus Christ exist before His face? When He had thus thrown down His enemies, then He was ready to suffer and He did not use any defense. I say, even that of God His Father. As He said, He could ask that a million Angels might be sent to Him. But He abstained. Yet He surely wished to show that by His voice alone He could cast down everyone who was against Him, if He had wished.

By that we are taught to fear the word of our Lord Jesus. Although He does not converse here in a visible manner in our midst, yet since the Gospel is preached by His authority and He says, “He who hears you, hears Me;” let us learn to receive what is preached to us in His name with all reverence and to subject ourselves to it. We shall find that this word, which so caused to fall the guards and those who came against Him, will be our only foundation and prop. For how can we rejoice, except when the Son of God appear to us, and we see that He is near us, and He show us Who He is, and why He has been sent to us by God His Father? So then, it is in this word “I am He” that we may know, when it will please our Lord Jesus to manifest Himself as He does to all His believers, that in this word He declares to us why He calls us to Himself, why He has descended to us, and why He dwells in us by the power of His Holy Spirit, and that is wherein consists all our good and all our rest. But if we wish to be peevish and scorn the Word of God like many profane people, let us be assured that it will be a thunderbolt to cast us down into the depth of hell. So let us fear, and yet may our Lord Jesus open to us the door, and may He say to us in another fashion “Here am I,” as He has not done to those who were already His declared enemies. Let us learn to come to Him.

Besides, let us also learn so to bear in patience the betrayals which we see today in the Church no matter how outrageous they may be to us, so that we shall show that we really cling to the Son of God, for He is our Head. Then may we have His truth. May we so converse with one another that we may be united in true concord and brotherhood together. That is what we have to remember.

But whatever else may be, may we accept the principal article of instruction which we must remember from this passage: namely, that the Son of God made Himself obedient in everything and by everything in order to make reparation for our rebellions. It is true (as I have said) that all the members of His body ought to be ruled by His example. There is good reason, since He Who has entire mastery and superiority is so humbled, that we be ready to obey our God unto life and unto death. Yet let us recognize that the obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ in this place is special, that is, because of the fruit and the effect which proceeded from it. The Apostles have well chosen the death of Jesus Christ for an example. For they were strengthened for their needs when they had to fight for the witness of the Gospel. They were not then asleep. We see the vigilance which was in them and that they were ready to follow their calling. They even had fear neither of torments nor of the death which was presented to them when God called them for the glory of His Name, and the confession of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet they insisted principally on showing that by the pouring out of the blood of our Redeemer we are washed and cleansed of all our spots, that He made payment to God His Father for all our debts by which we were obliged, that He acquired for us perfect righteousness.

Let us recognize, then, the difference between the Head and the members. Let us learn that though by nature we are entirely given to evil, and although God may have regenerated us in part, still our flesh does not cease to chafe against God. However, by virtue of the obedience which we see in our Lord Jesus Christ, we do not cease to be acceptable to our God. If we do not yet do the good that we will, but the evil oftentimes pushes us, and there may be many failures, or perhaps we may be too slow to do good, let us look at what the Son of God suffered in order to make reparation for all our faults. Let us notice how He fought in such a way that there was no contradiction in Him when our crimes and sins were imputed to Him, as was explained more at length this morning. Let us see, then, how our Lord Jesus has made satisfaction in everything and for everything, but we today, although having taken the trouble to obey God, are not able to succeed, but we always droop our wings, must constantly repeat this: that we know that we shall not cease to be acceptable to God and that our imperfections will always be abolished by the obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that they will not come into account before God. Besides, may each one according to the measure of his faith and of the grace which he has received exert himself to fight until we come to the heavenly rest. Seeing our weaknesses are still so great, being convinced that we shall not even know how to have a single good thought, and that having stumbled we shall not be able to raise ourselves, unless God extended to us His hand and strengthened us each minute, may we be advised to pray that He may augment in us the graces of His Holy Spirit; as He has promised it to us, and offers to us Jesus Christ for our Head and Captain, in order that after we are able to arrive at the victory which He acquired for us, of which we already experience the fruit, we shall experience it in perfection.

Now we shall bow in humble reverence before the majesty of our God.

John Calvin (1509-1564): Third Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (05/36)

Third Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (05/36)
John Calvin (1509-1564)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Third Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me. But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled. And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest’s palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end. Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses, And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days. And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee? But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death.Mat 26:51-66.

If we wished to judge superficially according to our natural senses the capture of our Lord Jesus Christ, we would be troubled by the fact that He offered no resistance. It would not seem consistent with His majesty that He suffered such shame and disgrace without hindering it. On the other hand, we would prize the zeal of Peter, since he exposed himself to death. For he saw the great multitude of enemies. He was alone, and a man who was not skilled at arms. Yet he draws out his sword on account of the love which he bears toward his Master, and prefers to die on the field rather than allow such an injury to be done to Him. But by that we see that we must come with all humility and modesty to know where all that the Son of God did and suffered was leading, and that what seems good to us is worth nothing, but we must pray to God that He lead us and guide us by His Word and that we judge not except according to what He will have shown us. For that is how the Gospel is a scandal to many people. Others make fun of it, and all to their perdition. It is that they are inflated with presumption and are rash judges. But in order not to be deceived, we must always in the first place come back to what our Lord Jesus declares. It is the will of God His Father. That is one item. Then we have to consider the end of that which may seem strange to us. When, then, we shall have these two considerations, then there will be occasion to adore God and to know that what seems to be folly according to men is an admirable wisdom even to the Angels.

But to arrive at that, let us consider what is here told about Peter. It is said, “Having drawn out his sword, he cut off the ear of Malchus, who was servant of Caiaphas.” Here we see how men are too bold, when they follow their foolish opinion. Then they are so blind that they do not spare themselves under any conditions. But when they ought to obey God they are so cowardly that it is a pity. They even forget themselves in such a manner that it takes nothing to make them turn aside. That is how we shall always have hundred times more courage to follow our foolish imaginations than to do what God commands us and to do what our calling implies. We see too much of that in the example of Peter. For after he has shown that he has made confession and witness to our Lord Jesus, he blasphemes to his perdition. Yet he is content to die, even when it is not commanded to him. What moves him to draw out his sword? He does it as if in spite. For he received no such instruction from his Master. And when he renounces Jesus Christ, did he not already know the saying, “Whoever denies me before men, him I shall deny before God My Father Who is in heaven”? But (as I have said) he is hot-headed. This foolish desire to support our Lord Jesus in his own way and according to his fancy carries him on. Now by his example let us learn to exert ourselves to walk where God calls us. May nothing that He commands us be too difficult for us. But may we attempt nothing, not even to move our little finger, unless God approves it and we have testimony that it is He Who guides us. That is one item.

In fact, in the first place, our Lord Jesus shows him that he has offended grievously, because he was not ignorant of the law, where it is said, “Whoever spills human blood, his blood will be spilled.” St. Peter, then, should well remember this lesson, that God does not will that either force or violence be used. And (what is more) in what school had he been nurtured during more than three years? Had not our Lord Jesus held back as far as it was possible for Him in humanness and gentleness? Where, then, does he expect to get approval for his boldness? We must observe further what we have already said. That is, if our zeal is prized by men and we are applauded, to that extent we shall not cease to be condemned before God if we transgress His Word ever so slightly. There is then no praise except in walking as God shows us by His Word. For as soon as a man goes beyond this line, all his virtues only stink. That is how it is with all our devotions. As soon its we have worked to do what we have imagined in our brain, God will condemn everything, unless we have heard His Word. For apart from that there is no truth which He approves and which is legitimate before Him.

But as for the account we are treating now, the second reason which our Lord Jesus alleges is more noteworthy. What we have already touched upon is general. But there is here a sentence which is peculiar to the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he says, “Do you not think that I can now pray to my Father, and he will send me more than twelve legions of angels?” Now one legion in that time customarily made four or five thousand men. “There is, then, a heavenly army which I can have,” says He, “and yet I do without it. And why, then, do you come here to usurp more than God either wills or permits?” Now it is surely permissible to call upon God and to pray to Him that He may be willing to sustain our life; and as He holds it precious, that He may keep it in His protection. Our Lord Jesus declares that He does not wish it now and that He ought not to do it. How, then, will Peter use violence, seeing it is outside the order which God has permitted and established by His Word? If a means which is permissible in itself ought not to come into use, how distinguish what God has defended and what He has declared worthy of punishment? Here (as I have already mentioned) we see how the Son of God subjected Himself to such shames and that He preferred to let Himself be bound and tied like an evil-doer and a criminal rather than to he a deceiver by miracle and that God employed His arm to protect Him. By that we have to recognize how He prized our salvation. Here is a point which I have already noted: namely, that He refers us to the will and to the decree of God His Father. For apart from that one would find it strange that He did not wish to implore His aid, as He might surely know that He could have it. It seems that He tempts God when He does not pray to Him at all. We have the promise that Angels will surround those who fear God, even that they will follow them to prevent them from hurting themselves, and that they may not have to meet any evil in their paths. Now when God has promised us something, He wills that it may be to invite us to prayer. Yet when we are in need we ought to run back to Him in order that He may use His Angels to guide us, for which cause He has given them this office. We see also that this was practiced by the holy Patriarchs and the Fathers. “The Angel of the Lord who has never failed me will be in thy way with thee and he will make thee prosper,” said Abraham. Thus, then, have the holy Fathers used it. Why, then, did Jesus Christ not wish to have the Angels? For already He had been comforted (as St. Luke mentions) and Angels had waited upon Him in order to sweeten the anguish in which He was.

It seems, then, that He despises a necessary help from God. But He takes it into account when he adds “How will the Scriptures be fulfilled?” As if He said, “If we doubt something, we can, then, and ought to pray to God that He may look upon us in pity and that by all means He may make us to feel His power. But when we are convinced that He must pass by some need, and that the will of God is known to us, then it is no longer a matter of making of Him another request, unless that He may strengthen us in power and in invincible constancy, and that we may make no complaint, or that we may not be carried away by our affections; but that we may go with a ready courage through everything to which He calls us.” For example, if we are persecuted by our enemies, and we do not know what God has in store for us, or what ought to be the outcome, we have to pray to Him as if our life were precious to Him and since He holds in His guard that He demonstrates this by the result and that He delivers us. But when we are persuaded that God wills to call us to Himself and that there is no longer any remedy, then we must cut off every dispute and fully resign ourselves that nothing any longer remains but to obey the decree of God which is immutable.

That, then, is the intention of our Lord Jesus. For He surely prayed throughout His whole life, and even previously in this great combat which He had sustained, He prays to God that if it were possible this drink might be turned away from Him. But now He has taken up His conclusion, because He was so ordained by God His Father and He saw that He must acquit Himself of the charge which was committed to Him, that is, to offer the perpetual sacrifice to blot out the sins of the world. Since, then, He saw Himself called to that place, and the matter was finished, that it why He abstains from praying to God to do the contrary. He wishes, then, to be helped neither by Angels nor by men. He does not wish that God make Him to feel His power to withdraw Him from death. But it was sufficient for Him to have this spirit of constancy, that He might be able to go by His free will to perform His office. That is what satisfies Him.

Now we see in the first place that the will of God ought to stop us and hold us in check so that, when things seem to us savage and against all reason, we may value more what God has ordained than what our brain can comprehend. Our imaginations, then, ought to be put under foot when we feel that God has proved otherwise. It is part of the obedience of our faith when we consider God to be wise, so that He may have authority to do everything that pleases Him. If we have reasons to do the opposite, may we know that it is only smoke and vanity and that God knows all and that nothing is hidden from Him, and even that His will is the norm of all wisdom and of all uprightness. Besides, what our spirit argues to the opposite, that comes from our rudeness. For we know that the wisdom of God is infinite, and scarcely have we three drops of sense. We need not, then, be astonished if men are scared when God does not govern Himself according to their appetite. And why not? For we are poor fools. In fact, there is only brutality in us however much our sense and reason rule. But since we do not understand the profound depth of the judgments of God, let us learn to adore what is hidden — to adore it (I say) in humility and reverence, confessing that everything God does is just and upright, though as yet we may not perceive how. That is one item.

Following that, since it is so that God willed that His Son might be thus exposed to death, may we not be ashamed of what He endured. May we not think that wicked men were in control and that the Son of God did not have the means to defend Himself. For everything proceeded from the will of God, and from the immutable decree which He had made. That is also why our Lord Jesus says in St. Luke, “Indeed, it is your reign now, and the power of darkness, As if He said, “Take no glory in what you are doing; for the devil is your master.” However, He shows that it is by means of the permission which God gave them. Although the devil possessed them, nevertheless, neither they nor he could attempt anything unless God had unleashed for them the bridle. That, then, in summary, is how we must have our eyes and all our senses fixed upon the will of God, and upon His eternal plan, when the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is spoken of to us. Now He declares that such is the will of God, because it is written. For if Jesus Christ had not had testimony of what was ordered by God His Father, He might still have been in doubt. But He knew His office. God did not send Him here below that He might not have given Him fully to His express charge. It is true, inasmuch as our Lord Jesus is eternal God, He did not need to be taught by any Scripture; but inasmuch as He is our Redeemer and that He clothed Himself in our nature to have a true brotherhood with us, He had to be taught by Holy Scripture, as we see, above all, that He did not refuse such instruction.

So then, since God has shown Him to what He was called, that is upon what He relies. That is why He is taken as a captive, in order not to draw back when He knew that He had to achieve the charge which was committed to Him, that is, to offer Himself in sacrifice for the redemption of us all. So, then, we must learn that, inasmuch as the will of God is secret to Himself and incomprehensible, we must have recourse to Holy Scripture. It is true that God does not cease to have His counsel ordered by things that we imagine to be by chance. But that is not declared to us. We shall not always have special revelation to say that God has determined this or that. Then, we must withhold judgment. That is why we pray to God that He may heal us of an illness or that He may deliver us from some other affliction when we have fallen into it. And why? We do not know what He wills to do. To be sure, we ought not to impose a law upon Him. This condition ought always to be added: that His will may be done. But all our prayers ought to lead here: to ask Him that He may know us to be necessary and useful, and that we may meanwhile refer everything to Him in His secret counsel in order that He may do as seems good to Him. But when we have testimony through Holy Scripture that God wills a thing, then it is not proper to offer any reply, as I have already said.

Here we are still better assured as to the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, that He was afflicted cruelly and treated with such shame and haughty, scornful abuse, not only according to the desire of wicked and lawless men, but since God had so decreed it. And how do we know? By Holy Scripture. For had not the sacrifices been ordained in the Law two thousand years before Jesus Christ was born? And before the Law was given or written, had not God already inspired and taught the Ancient Fathers to sacrifice? And could the blood of brute beasts acquire remission of sins? Could it render men acceptable to God? Not at all, but it was to show that God would be reconciled by the blood of the Redeemer Whom He had established. Then He gives explicit testimony and declaration through the Scriptures. We see, indeed, that the Prophets have spoken of Him, and He also refers especially to them. When Isaiah said that He Who was to be the Redeemer, would be disfigured, that He would be held in disdain, that He would have no form or no more beauty than an adder, that he would be beaten and struck by the hand of God, that He would be a terrible thing to see, in summary, that they would take away His life, by what power did he prophesy that? Is it that God cannot resist Satan or all the wicked men? No but He pronounced by the mouth of Isaiah what He had previously ordained. In Daniel there is a still greater expression. Since it is so, then, that God had declared that His only Son had to be sacrificed for our redemption and salvation, now we are better assured of what I have said, that is, that we must always contemplate the hand of God Who governs when we see that our Lord Jesus is subjected to such shameful things at the hands of men. That is also why St. Peter says in Act 4:27 that Judas and all the Jews and the police and Pilate did not act except as the counsel and the hand of God had determined, as will be declared still more at length. Here, then is where we must look, if we wish not to be troubled by our foolish imaginations. It is that God sent here below His only Son in order to accept the obedience when He would offer to Him in His death and passion to abolish all our faults and iniquities.

Now the second point which I have mentioned is the benefit which comes back to us from what our Lord Jesus suffered. For if we did not know why, that would be to take away the taste of what is here narrated to us. But when it is said that He has been bound and tied for our deliverance, then, indeed, we see our condition by nature, that is, that Satan holds us under the tyranny of sin and death, that we are slaves, so that instead of our being created in the image of God there is in us only entire corruption, that we are cursed, and that we are dragged like poor beasts in this cursed captivity. When, then, we know that and we see, on the other hand, that the Son of God did not refuse to be shamefully bound in order that the spiritual bonds of sin and death, which hold us under the servitude of Satan, might be broken, then we have to glorify God, we have to triumph with full voice in the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the capture which is here mentioned. So that is what we must remember from this passage.

Thereupon the Gospel-writer says that our Lord Jesus healed the servant who had been wounded by Peter. Not that he was worthy of it, but in order that the offense might be removed. For it would have been to defame the doctrine of the Gospel and the redemption of our Lord Jesus Christ if this wound had remained (I call “redemption of our Lord Jesus Christ” what he acquired for us) so that it could be said that He had resisted the governor of the country and all the priests and that He committed, as it were, robbery in this lonely place. That, then, might have obscured all the glory of the Son of God and it would be to put the Gospel in perpetual shame. Also let us see that this action of Peter was by zeal of Satan. For the devil schemed to make Jesus Christ be rendered infamous with all His doctrine. That is also the tendency of all our beautiful devotions when we wish to serve God according to our desire and each one is given leave to do what he imagines to be good. Jesus Christ, then, wished to abolish such a scandal in order that His doctrine might not be defamed at all.

However, we see here a detestable ingratitude in those who were not moved by such a miracle. There are the police who come to bind our Lord Jesus Christ. They see that the power of the Spirit of God is at work in Him in so many ways. He made them fall back a little before a single word. Now He heals a man who has his ear cut off. All that is nothing to them. We see, then, when the devil has once bewitched men and he has dazzled their eyes, that neither the graces of God nor all His powers can touch them that they do not follow and walk always in their deeds, and they have, as it were, the snout of a pig which pokes itself everywhere. Whatever God does, whatever He says, they remain always in their obstinacy, which is a horrible thing. Yet we surely have to pray to God that He may give us prudence to profit from all His graces in order to be drawn by His love and also to touch us when He raises His hand to show us that He is our Judge in such a way that we are then frightened into returning to Him in true repentance. This, then, in summary, is what we have to remember.

Whatever it may mean, the mouths of the wicked men were closed when Jesus Christ healed the servant of Caiaphas. Thereupon it is said “Jesus is led into the house of Caiaphas, where He is questioned,” etc. For to abbreviate we omit what St. John tells of Annas, who was the father-inlaw of Caiaphas, and perhaps Jesus Christ is led there out of respect, or maybe it was along the road while they were waiting for everyone to be assembled. Jesus, then, is led as far as the house of Caiaphas and is there questioned. Especially is it said, “The priests sought everywhere for false witnesses, and found none. Finally two false witnesses stood up and said, ‘He said he would rebuild the temple in three days.’” Here we see how Jesus Christ was charged. Not that the priests were moved by some holy zeal. Often those who persecute innocents imagine they are performing a service acceptable to God, as in fact we see that Saint Paul was possessed by such a rage, that, being, as it were, a brigand (so he is called) he spoiled and destroyed more. Even then he imagined himself to be a good zealot. But this was not so of Caiaphas and all his band. For what did they seek, except that Jesus Christ be unjustly oppressed? So we see that their ambition led them to fight openly against God, which is a horrible thing. For as for Caiaphas and all his band, they are sons of Levi, the holy line which God had chosen. It was not by men that they had been elected, but God had so ordained by His law. It is true that there was a villainous and enormous corruption, inasmuch as the office of the priest was sold in that time, and instead of being obligated for life (so God had ordained it) each one brought his companion and he who brought the most money carried away that dignity. It was, then, a villainous and detestable corruption that intrigues and underhanded practices were used in so holy and honorable an estate. However, the Priest always remained in this line of Levi which God had dedicated to His service. Nevertheless, look at them! all enemies of God, look at them! all intoxicated by Satan, indeed enraged against the Redeemer of the world, Who was the final purpose of the Law.

So let us note that those who are in high estate and dignity will not always acquit themselves so faithfully that it is not necessary to keep watch over them, as over those who can be enemies of God. By that one can see the altogether too dull-witted foolishness of the Papists, when they adopt the title and estate of Priest. Suppose that God had commanded that there be a Pope (which He never did). Suppose that He ought to have His throne at Rome (still less). Though all that might be true, yet in the person of Caiaphas and of his kind it is seen that all those who have been raised to honor can abuse their power. So then may we not be so foolish as to amuse ourselves with masks. And when there is some honorable title, may God not lose His authority over it, as we see the Papists renounce the whole Holy Scripture and do homage to their idols. Let us learn, then, that under shadow of some human dignity God must not be decreased, but He must retain His sovereign Dominion. That is one item. As for the scandal which we could here conceive according to our fancy, let us note what is said in Psalms 118 (as also our Lord Jesus had previously alleged) that He is the rock which had to be refused by the builders. And who were the builders of the house of God and of His Church? The Priests. At least they ought to acquit themselves of that office. Yet they refused the stone which God had established as the cornerstone. And this stone, although it might have been rejected, has nevertheless been seated at the principal place of the building, that is, that God did not cease to fulfill what He had ordained by His counsel, when he raised from the dead His only Son, and raised Him higher than He was before He was emptied. For every knee must bow before Him.

When it is here said that the Priests sought false testimony, this was not simply to contrive a crime, but to have some pretext and disguise to burden and oppress the Lord Jesus. In truth He had pronounced these words, “Destroy this temple, and I shall raise it up in three days.” Those, then, are the words of our Lord Jesus, just as they came out of His mouth. The witnesses who are produced recite them. One could say that they are good and faithful witnesses. Yet the Holy Spirit calls them false, since they have wickedly perverted this remark. For our Lord Jesus spoke of His body, which is the true temple of the divine majesty. The material temple which was built in Jerusalem was nothing but a figure. It was only a shadow, as we know. But in our Lord Jesus all fullness of the Godhead made His residence, as says St. Paul, indeed, bodily and in true substance. So then, let us note that we must look not simply at the words of a witness but at the intention of him who speaks. This is a good and useful instruction for us, because we see men are so given to their evil deeds and lies that when they have some cover it is enough for them and it seems to them that they are absolved before God when they have by this means falsely charged a man. May we not, then, be stopped simply at the words or at the formality or ceremony, but may we look at the true nature of the cause. For those who could always maintain that they gave no evidence except what was there, will not cease to be reputed before God false witnesses, as we see.

Whereupon it is said that Caiaphas says to Jesus Christ, “How now? You answer nothing? Do you not see those who testify against you?” Yet Jesus still remains entirely quiet and receives all those slanderous words in silence. One might find it strange that Jesus Christ, Who had a just enough occasion to repulse such a falsehood does not contradict. But (as already we have mentioned, as we shall see still more fully) Jesus Christ was not there to maintain His doctrine as previously. We must, then, distinguish prudently among all circumstances. For Jesus Christ, after having fasted in the desert, was sent by God His Father to publish the doctrine of the Gospel. During all that time we see with what magnanimity He always defended the doctrine of which He was minister. We see how He was opposed to all contradictions. That, then, is how He acquitted Himself of His office, since He was sent as minister of the Word. But here there is a special regard. It is that He must be Redeemer of the world. He must be condemned, indeed, not for having preached the Gospel, but for us He must be oppressed, as it were, to the lowest depths and sustain our cause, since He was there, as it were, in the person of all cursed ones and of all transgressors, and of those who had deserved eternal death. Since, then, Jesus Christ has this office, and He bears the burdens of all those who had offended God mortally, that is why He keeps silence. So, let us well note that when there was need that Jesus Christ maintained the doctrine of the Gospel, and that His office and His calling demanded it, He faithfully acquitted Himself of it. But when by keeping silence He performed the office of Redeemer, as if He accepted voluntary condemnation, it was not out of regard for Himself that He kept His mouth closed, for He was there (as I have already said) in our name. It is true that He speaks (as we shall see presently) but it is not for His defense; it is not without inflaming the anger and fury of the wicked men all the more against Him. That, then, is because He did not wish to escape death, but allowed Himself voluntarily to be oppressed, in order that He might show that He forgot Himself in order to acquit us before God His Father. So, He had no regard for Himself, neither for His life itself nor even for His honor. It was all one to suffer the shames and disgraces of the world, provided that our sins be abolished and we be absolved from our condemnation.

Whereupon it is said, “The high Priest adjures Him by the living God that He tell them if He is the Christ, if He is the blessed Son. He answers that so He is, but they will see His majesty when it is too late,” that is, for them, since it will be to their confounding. Here our Lord Jesus speaks, but it is not to bow as a human being to the great Priest and all his band. Rather He uses threats to sting him still more. If previously he was full of malice and cruelty, this is to light still more fire. But we have already declared that Jesus Christ had no regard for Himself and that rather He acquits Himself of the duty of which He has taken the charge, that is, to be our Redeemer.

Besides, here we have in the first place, as it were, despisers of God, those who are entirely possessed by Satan, who yet will abuse some kind of cover of religion, for one might say that this great Priest still performs well his office, when he adjures Jesus Christ by the Name of the living God. But that is where men are plunged once Satan has bound their eyes. He flings them into such impudence that they have no reverence for God, no more than they are ashamed before men. In this answer of our Lord Jesus we have to note that He wishes to declare both to Caiaphas and to all the rest that if He is thus, as it were, crushed for a little time, that ought not to lessen His majesty, that always He may be held and reputed Only Son of God. But He has here a still higher consideration. It is that we may be assured that, having thus abased Himself for our salvation, nothing has been lost of His heavenly majesty, but that before men He was willing to be so oppressed, in order that we may be made fully certain that we shall be found honorable before God, because all the shames which we might have deserved will be abolished. Since, then, our Lord Jesus kept silence and He did not defend Himself in His good cause, now we have our mouths open to call upon God as if we were righteous. He is even our Advocate, Who puts in a word for us. When, then, our Lord Jesus stood by, it was in order that now in full liberty He intercedes for us before God His Father, although we are nothing except poor vermin. There is in us only all misery. Yet we have access to God to call upon Him privately and to claim Him openly as our Father.

This is what He wishes to show when He said, “You will see afterwards the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the power of God.” We must, then, be turned away from every regard which could bring us scandal, when we see that our Lord Jesus was thus humiliated. So let us look at what was the end of it. He willed, then, to be condemned without any resistance in order that we might be able to appear before the judgment-seat of God, and that we come there freely without any fear. Let us learn, then, in summary, every time the history of the Passion is recited to us so to groan and sigh seeing that the Son of God had to suffer so for us, that we tremble at His Majesty until it may appear to us. May we be so resolved that when He comes, it will be to make us experience in effect the fruit which He acquired for us by His death and passion. Besides, may we fear to be numbered with those whom He threatens so, saying. “You will see henceforth.” For it must be that the wicked and reproved will feel how terrible is the judgment-seat of God and how great is His power to cast them down when He will rise against them. When St. Paul also wishes to speak of the condemnation which the wicked and those who are cursed by God will endure, he says that they will be before His infinite majesty trembling and frightened at His look.

Since it is so, let us learn to humble ourselves before the Lord Jesus. Let us not wait to see with the eye the majesty which He will show at His second coming, but by faith let us contemplate Him today as our King, and the Head of the Angels and of all creatures, and let us receive Him as our sovereign Prince. Let us attribute to Him the honor which belongs to Him, knowing that since He is given to us for wisdom, for redemption, for righteousness and holiness by God His Father, we must attribute to Him every praise, and that it is from His fullness that we must draw to be satisfied. Let us be advised, then, to do this honor to our Lord Jesus Christ, although today we do not yet see His judgment-seat prepared. But let us contemplate Him by the eyes of faith and let us pray to God that He may enlighten us by His Holy Spirit, that He may strengthen us to call upon Him in time of trouble, and that this may carry us above the world, above all of our senses and all our apprehensions, in such a way that our Lord Jesus may be magnified today by us as He deserves. That, then, in summary, is what we have to remember.

Touching the saying that Caiaphas and the Priests have condemned Him to death, may we learn not to be astonished by the obstinacy of the wicked and of the enemies of the truth. Today this doctrine is very necessary for us. For we see the great ones of this world blaspheme openly against the Gospel. We see even in our midst that those who make profession of the Gospel and wish to be considered reformed people and in whom it seems there is only the Gospel, yet condemn like devils incarnate, or even like furious beasts possessed by Satan, the doctrine of the Gospel. One need not go far to see all these things. So, may we be assured against such scandals, and may we learn to always glorify our God. Though Caiaphas and all his kind cough up their blasphemies as much as they wish, and though they say that Jesus Christ is deserving of death, it is necessary to keep silence on such an article, though it is bad. Though, then, they so infect the air by their villainous and execrable blasphemies, yet let us cling to this voice of our Lord Jesus Christ. If today His truth is so condemned by men falsely, and it is doubted, it is falsified, it is depraved, and people deliberately turn their backs on it, it is strong and powerful enough to maintain itself. Let us wait in patience until He appears for our redemption. Yet may all of us learn to humble ourselves, and to give Him all the glory, since He was so willing to stoop, indeed, to empty Himself of everything for our salvation.

Now let us bow in humble reverence before the majesty of our God.