29 December 1765

Lecture 21

The next point in the little history of our Lord in the creed is: ‘He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.’ This opens an affecting subject of meditation to those who know and love Him.
1. He suffered
  His whole life was a state of suffering and humiliation. Though the Son of David, the rightful King of Israel, he was treated with contempt at his very birth. He was born in a stable – if some of you had been so, you would have been ashamed to have it known. It shows pride of heart, and a dissatisfaction with the wise appointments of divine providence, when people are ashamed and unwilling to mention their situations and circumstances in former life – they are not ashamed perhaps to mention their past sins and follies, but ashamed to acknowledge the obscurity of their families, or callings, though the Lord chose such places for them. But the meanness and poverty of our Lord's birth are recorded. He humbled himself both to shame and to expiate our foolish pride. He suffered when a child, being driven into Egypt. How much he suffer[ed] from men and from Satan in the course of his ministry!  But the word here chiefly means, his passion, his agony, his death, which happened we are told under Pontius Pilate, that is at the time when he was governor of Judea. This we may consider:
  1.1 As accomplishing the ancient prophecies – the manner of his death was prefigured by the paschal lamb, the brazen serpent, and the curse denounced against those who were hanged upon a tree. Now the Jews by their law (supposing him a blasphemer) must have stoned him. He could not therefore die by a judicial sentence, while the power was in their hands. They acknowledged that it was not lawful for them to put anyone to death. He suffered therefore by the sentence of the Romans' power among whom Crucifixion, was the common punishment for the vilest offenders, and the meanest[lowliest] of the people. See what wonderful ways the Lord takes to fulfill his own word. Let believers learn to trust him and sinners to fear him, for all will surely be accomplished.
  1.2 This establishes the certainty of the fact. It was a thing well known and no ways doubted, either by friends or enemies. The first Christians could appeal to the public testimony, that Christ [died] at that time and in that manner. The public records of the government transmitted by Pilate to Rome, were in being long after. It pleased God to afford every external evidence that could be desired in what related to his Son, that we who live at this distance of time might not be discouraged and hindered by scruples and objections. Yes believer – it is an undoubted truth that Christ suffered, and no less true, that through his sufferings you shall escape. What he said [to] his enemies he said to the Law – If you seek me, let these go their way.
  1.3 You may see the folly of people's desiring to be known and talked of. The name of Pilate is preserved and handed down from age to age in God's own Word, and so is the name of Judas; the one betrayed Jesus, the other put him to death. The more a man is known, the greater is his disgrace if he is a wicked man. In general the memory of the wicked shall rot. But some are as it were hung up in chains for public examples to deter others. [1] There are but few either saints or sinners recorded in God's Word but he has another book in which all persons and actings are recorded. Alas poor sinner what wilt thou do, when thou see[st] the book opened and read thy name, character, actions and secret thoughts recorded against thee?  How will Pilate stand in the great day?  How will those stand who have acted Pilate's part, stifled the convictions of their consciences and given up Christ and his Gospel, through the love of the world and the fear of man?
2. He was crucified
  No death like this – none so shameful, as I have already hinted it was only slaves and murderers were thus punished. None so painful – think what it is to have the hands and feet pierced with iron spikes, and thus to bear the weight of the whole body – add the other circumstances: the scourging, the crown of thorns. Especially take in the sufferings of his soul at that time – the weight of wrath he endured – and then learn the evil of sin, the worth of your poor souls, and the amazing love of Jesus, to bear all this, infinitely more than we can speak or conceive, for the sake of poor sinners.
3. Dead
  He could have saved himself and come down from the cross if he had pleased, but then we must have perished. The wages of sin is death. He therefore poured forth not only his tears and his blood, but his life and soul an offering for sin. But his death is our life; by dying he disarmed death of his sting. Jesus died, his people only sleep. And this Jesus who was once dead, now dieth no more but, forever lives to make intercession for us. Here then is comfort to believers: if you are Christ's you are partakers of his death, dead to sin, to the law, to the world – and you shall live to him and with him. As he dies no more, you shall not die, but because he lives you shall live also. Be much in meditating on the causes and the effects of this death, so shall you daily die unto sin, and grow up into everlasting life.
4. Buried
  Thus he perfumed the dark chamber of the grave, and made it a sweet resting place for his people. The place and circumstances of his burial were directed by the overruling of divine providence to confirm the truth of his following resurrection. Though he was to appearance forsaken of all in his last hours, yet God provided, and emboldened some to own him – move[d] Joseph to beg his body, Pilate to release it and a new tomb to be prepared. With such a care he watches over his people, so that in their greatest distresses, he furnishes everything that is needful. He permitted his enemies to set their seal and their guard, but the grave could not confine him – we shall soon hear of his rising again. So all his people, though often brought low, cannot be entirely destroyed – when their hopes are laid as it were in the grave, they are then upon the point of springing up to new glory.
5. He descended into hell
  The Greek word signifies the state of the dead. His body was buried, his soul was in the separate invisible world. That he went into hell considered as a place of torment we have no warrant to suppose. He knew no more suffering after he said, It is finished, and bowed his head upon the cross.[1] Yet without doubt great things were transacted in the interval between his death and resurrection. Then perhaps in ways unknown to us he spoiled principalities and powers etc.[2] But let us not rashly venture beyond the written word, nor rashly press into those things which we have not seen.
If Christ died, how shall careless sinners escape?  The Lord help you to think of it, and enable you to cry for mercy before you are surprised into everlasting burnings.

1. Newton’s birthplace, Wapping, was ‘the usual Place of Execution for hanging of Pirates and Sea-Rovers, at the low Water Mark, there to remain till three Tides had overflowed them’ (John Strype’s Survey of London, 1598), as an example to deter others.
2. John 19:30 When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
3. Colossians 2:15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

Cowper & Newton Museum