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John 18:37-40

37. Pilate therefore said to him, Art thou then aking? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. For this cause was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I may bear testimony to the truth: every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. 38. Pilate saith to him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, I find no guilt in him. 39. But you have a custom, that I should release to you some one at the passover; do you wish then that I should release to you the King of the Jews? 40. Then they all cried out again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.

 

37. Thou sayest that I am a king. Although Pilate had already learned, from the former answer, that Christ claims for himself some sort of kingdom, yet now Christ asserts the same thing more firmly; and, not satisfied with this, he makes an additional statement, which serves for a seal, as it were, to ratify what he had said. Hence we infer, that the doctrine concerning Christ’s kingdom is of no ordinary importance, since he has deemed it worthy of so solemn an affirmation.

For this cause was I born, that I may bear witness to the truth. This is, no doubt, a general sentiment; but it must be viewed in relation to the place which it holds in the present passage. The words mean, that it is natural for Christ to speak the truth; and, next, that he was sent for this purpose by the Father; and, consequently, that this is his peculiar office. There is no danger, therefore, that we shall be deceived by trusting him, since it is impossible that he who has been commissioned by God, and whose natural disposition leads him to maintain the truth, shall teach any thing that is not true.

Every one that is of the truth. Christ added this, not so much for the purpose of exhorting Pilate, (for he knew that he would gain nothing by doing so,) as of defending his doctrine against the base reproaches which had been cast on it; as if he had said, “It is imputed to me as a crime that I have asserted that I am a king; and yet this is an unquestionable truth, which is received with reverence and without hesitation by all who have a correct judgment and a sound understanding.” When he says, that they are of the truth he does not mean that they naturally know the truth, but that they are directed by the Spirit of God.

38. What is truth? Some think that Pilate puts this question through curiosity, as irreligious men are sometimes accustomed to be eagerly desirous of learning something that is new to them, and yet do not know why they wish it; for they intend nothing more than to gratify their ears. For my own part, I rather think that it is an expression of disdain; for Pilate thought himself highly insulted when Christ represented him as destitute of all knowledge of the truth. Here we see in Pilate a disease which is customary among men. Though we are all aware of our ignorance, yet there are few who are willing to confess it; and the consequence is, that the greater part of men reject the true doctrine. Afterwards, the Lord, who is the Teacher of the humble, blinds the proud, and thus inflicts on them the punishment which they deserve. From the same pride arises such disdain, that they do not choose to submit to learn, because all lay claim to sagacity and acuteness of mind. Truth is believed to be a common thing; but God declares, on the contrary, that it far exceeds the capacity of the human understanding.

The same thing happens in other matters. The principal articles of theology are, the curse pronounced on the human race, the corruption of nature, the mortification of the flesh, the renewal of the life, the reconciliation effected by free grace through the only sacrifice, the imputation of righteousness, by means of which a sinner is accepted by God, and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. These, being paradoxes, are disdainfully rejected by the ordinary understanding of men. Few, therefore, make progress in the school of God, because we scarcely find one person in ten who attends to the first and elementary instructions; and why is this, but because they measure the secret wisdom of God by their own understanding?

That Pilate spoke in mockery is evident from this circumstance, that he immediately goes out. In short, he is angry with Christ for boasting that he brings forward the truth, which formerly lay hidden in darkness. Yet this indignation of Pilate shows that wicked men never reject the doctrine of the Gospel so spitefully as not to be somewhat moved by its efficacy; for, though Pilate did not proceed so far as to become humble and teachable, yet he is constrained to feel some inward compunction.

39. But you have a custom. Pilate was all along pondering in what way he might save Christ’s life; but, the people being so fiercely enraged, he attempted to keep a middle path, in order to allay their fury; for he thought that it would be enough if Christ, being dismissed as a malefactor, were marked with perpetual ignominy. He therefore selects Barabbas above all others, in order that, by a comparison with that man, the hatred which they bore to Christ might be softened down; for Barabbas was universally and strongly detested on account of his atrocious crimes. And, indeed, is there any thing more detestable than a robber? But Luke (Luke 23:19) relates that, in addition to this, he was guilty of other crimes.

That the Jews preferred him to Christ, did not happen without a singular interposition of the providence of God; for it would have been highly unbecoming, that the Son of God should be rescued from death by so dishonorable a price. Yet by his death, he was thrown into the deepest ignominy, so that, in consequence of the release of Barabbas, he was crucified between two robbers; for he had taken upon himself the sins of all, which could not be expiated in any other way; and the glory of his resurrection, by which it was speedily followed, caused his death itself to be a splendid triumph.

This custom, by which the Roman governor delivered up to the Jews, every year, at the passover, some criminal, involved a base and heinous crime. It was done, no doubt in order to honor the sacredness of the day, but was, in reality, nothing else than a shameful profanation of it; for Scripture declares, that

he who acquitteth the guilty is abomination in the sight of God,
(Proverbs 17:15;)

and therefore he is far from taking delight in that improper kind of forgiveness. Let us learn by this example, that nothing is more ridiculous, than to attempt to serve God by our inventions; for, as soon as men begin to follow their own imaginations, there will be no end till, by falling into some of the most absurd fooleries, they openly insult God. The rule for the worship of God, therefore, ought to be taken from nothing else than from his own appointment.

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