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Are You Being Converted?

A Course of Sermons on Serious Subjects.
by Alexander Penrose Forbes, D.C.L.

Bishop of Brechin.

London: Joseph Masters, Aldersgate Street, 1856.


S. JOHN xix. 5.


THE great object which the Church holds up for the sympathy and adoration of her children this day is one which so completely overpowers the mind by its nature and circumstances, that we are inclined to continue kneeling before the Cross in silence and mute worship. We feel that any uninspired words are inadequate to the expression of the feelings which this day elicits, and we long for the stillness and solitude of our own chambers, there to pour out our hearts at the feet of our Crucified REDEEMER.

Still it is due to the day to say somewhat; may GOD pardon our insufficiency, and give grace to those who hear.

The Lessons which our LORD would teach us in His Passion are so numerous that we must needs select one point for our meditation, and we cannot do better than fix our thoughts upon the lessons conveyed to us in the words of the weak and brutal governor, "Behold the Man."

The attempts of Pilate to save himself from the necessity of condemning our SAVIOUR, Whom he believed and confessed to be innocent, were various and repeated. He had detected the falsity of the charges which accused Him of raising seditions, stirring up rebellion, forbidding to pay tribute, and making Himself a king. He was awed by the dignified silence maintained by our LORD, according to the prophecy, that He "was not to open His mouth, as the sheep before her shearers is dumb." He was startled by the assertion that his Victim's kingdom was not of this world, and that he was acting as the passive instrument of a great design of mercy as well as of a most flagitious crime. His superstition was alarmed by the message from his wife warning him against having anything to do with this just man. Not courageous enough to stand out against the combination of the Jewish dignitaries and of the Jewish rabble; afraid of being delated to Rome and so losing his procuratorship, he tries every shift to combine his interest in this world with an escape from what he believed to be a monstrous crime.

First, he sends Him to Herod as King of Galilee, hoping to throw the responsibility of the LORD'S condemnation to his shoulders. He succeeds in conciliating that potentate with whom he had been at enmity, but Herod refuses to incur the odium or additional sin of an unjust condemnation. He now appeals to the people, in vain expecting mercy from a bloodthirsty rabble. At every passover, in memory of the deliverance from Egypt, a criminal was delivered from justice. "They had then a notable prisoner, who was called Barabbas." It has been said, that this Barabbas bore the Sacred Name of Him against whom he was put in election. That name from Joshua having borne it, was very common among the Jews. The contrast therefore becomes intensified when the Roman governor's alternative is read on this wise, "Whom will ye that I release unto you; Jesus, which is called Barabbas, or JESUS, which is called CHRIST?" Yet this is in vain. Stirred up by the Chief Priests, the populace still demands blood. In vain does Pilate reason with them; "Why, what evil hath He done T' In vain does he take water and wash his hands, symbolically seeking to free himself from a blood, from which he could not free himself. The Jews become still more urgent, and of Him, Whom but five days before they had received with Hosannahs, they now exclaim, Crucify Him, Crucify Him. His Blood be upon us and upon our children.

Still seeking to satiate their wrath with some punishment short of death, he has now our LORD bound to a pillar and scourged. There amid the brutal soldiery, He who is Almighty GOD, is stripped amid cold and shame, and there endures those weals and stripes, whose infliction had been a sure word of prophecy, thus vindicating the truth of His Messiahship in the midst of these harrowing tortures. Nor did the soldiers rest in obeying the letter of the governor's commands. Dragging the LORD of Life to their filthy guardroom, these savage legionaries enact their own share in His tragedy. The King of the Jews must be crowned in derisive sport, and amidst the ribaldry and savage laughter of the camp, the Redeemer of the world has a squalid red cloak thrown over Him for royal robes, and a reed forced into His hand for a sceptre, and on His gracious Head a prickly crown of thorns, and thus disgraced they bring Him back to Pilate.

How that sight must have wrung his savage heart! for conscience was not dead within him. This spectacle which has sickened him will surely move the obdurate Jews. Let them but see their victim in this shameful plight, with the soils of the mockery and scars of the thorns, and the thick gouts of blood upon His ghastly countenance, and they will in the end relent. "Behold the man." Alas! he knew not that they had had grace withdrawn from them and now would never stop till their crime was consummated. Alas! he knew not that he himself had failed to keep innocency, and that a half-measure betwixt conscience and guilt was now impossible. "Then came JESUS forth, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the Man!"

A serious lesson this to Christians! they often fancy they can get rid of temptations by giving them what they crave. They sometimes fancy that by making a sort of composition with sin, they may escape great guilt without much trouble to themselves. Vain thought! The more we give them the more they will demand, and the more we yield the more they will tyrannize over us. It is only by resistance and stern repression that we shall overcome our passions. Grant them a half indulgence and they will insist upon more.

But oh, fellow sinner, what a different sight is this to the eye of love and faith. Come with me and stand, not in the midst of that howling and gibbering multitude, frantic with excitement and the lust of blood, but come and stand with those faithful few who hang around the skirts of the crowd, beating their breasts with compassion and emotion--with the faithful women from Galilee--with the beloved disciple already recovered from the panic of the night before--with the tender and loving Magdalene--and with her, through whose soul the sword was now piercing "that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed." Come and behold a sight that will wring thy heart and reveal if aught of gratitude and affection be in thee. Whose is that pale and bloody figure who issues from the tribunal of the Roman? whose is that bent frame and those bleeding limbs gashed and scarred with the soldier's lash? whose is that smeared and pallid face stained with tears of clotted gore? whose that Royal Forehead torn by the sharp points of the crown of thorns? "Behold the Man." It is the very and eternal GOD of heaven land earth; it is the Ancient of days; it is the Angel of good counsel; it is the root of Jesse and the sceptre of Israel; it is the LORD of heaven and earth, unto whom all prayer cometh; thy King and thy GOD, brought to this pass for the love of thee. Yes, thou sinner, behold what thy sins have done; and at the same time behold what GOD'S love for thee hath prompted. In that one sight behold the enormity and foulness of sin which hath caused the need of such an expiation; and not of sin in general, but of thy sin and my sin, of that which you and I have committed from the first use of reason up to this very hour. Measure the guilt by the Satisfaction--the offence by the Victim. Judge thyself, condemn thyself, confess thyself, abase thyself, and to ensure strictness of judgment, sincerity of condemnation, fulness of confession, and sufficiency of abasement, "Behold the Man." But rest not there; in that sad and heartrending spectacle, behold also the love of thy LORD GOD --love stronger than all this pain and abjection and ignominy--love stronger than death. If the little sacrifices which our earthly benefactors make in our behalf excite within us the liveliest emotions, if the kindnesses and amenities of life draw our hearts to those who exhibit them to us-ward; if the slightest evidence of affection on the part of those we love stirs the blood and quickens the pulse, what shall we say of an exhibition of sacrifice and devotion, which the intellect of the most illuminated seraph must fail to appreciate in its fulness. Before the conception of this the mind sinks back upon itself defeated. The soul of man cannot conceive the love of GOD. "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of GOD knoweth no man, but the Spirit of GOD." Even an angel, were he to try to plumb the Heart of GOD, would find that his line did not reach halfway to the bottom. The Heart of JESUS is an abyss deeper than hell; but whereas the depths of the one are appointed to attest the strictness of the justice of GOD; the deeper cleft of the other is that wherein a world of sinners may be hidden, and yet there be room for a thousand worlds more. I say we cannot estimate the love which our dear REDEEMER, has for each one of us; we cannot fathom the burning affection which will content itself with nothing less than the humiliation unto death, with which the LORD loves His enemies; but if anything could help us in some slight measure to realize this, surely the sight of Him, Who in Himself is all happiness, who is fairer than the children of men and whose lips are full of grace, thus afflicted, despised and torn, must surely print it on our heart of hearts. "O ye who pass by the way, behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto My sorrow, which is done unto Me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted Me in the day of His fierce anger."

And from heaven also do we hear the same words which proceeded in mingled mockery and compassion from the lips of Pilate. As at the commencement of the LORD'S ministry the FATHER'S voice had ratified His commission in the words, "This is My beloved SON;" as on the Mount of the Transfiguration, the same was repeated with the significant addition, "Hear ye Him," as from the depths of the Sanctuary of Jerusalem, from out of the Holy of Holies, the Bath Kol, the daughter of the voice in answer to the SAVIOUR'S prayer, announced the present and future glorification of His Name, so now from the throne on high, the Eternal FATHER proclaims, "Behold the Man." In His revelation, by His written Word and His Church, He presents to us His own SON in His Passion. He sets before us all that that SON hath suffered out of pure love to us, exhibiting to us the infinity of His goodness and mercy, and the heinousness of our sins and ingratitude. Thereby He encourages us to hope in Him, and invites us to love Him. Thereby He teaches us to detest our sins as putting Him again to shame and offering to us in His SON all good things.

As if He said, "Behold the Man, Who is no less thy friend than My SON. As thy friend He is like thee, and as My SON He hath received an infinite substance from ME, and therefore loveth thee with an infinite love. He is My well-beloved SON. I give Him unto thee on condition that thou beholdest Him. Receive Him--hear Him--love Him--endeavour to imitate Him.

"In Him I give thee all the good things which I possess. I give thee a remedy for all thine evils; a help in all thy necessities; a support in all thy pains; a comfort in all thy griefs; the payment of all thy debts; the mediator of all thy requests; and because thou canst find in Him all that I have and all that is necessary for thee, I give Him up entirely to thee; behold! how much I love thee, when to save thee, I spare not Mine only SON."

Oh, my brethren, I would that you would indeed "Behold the Man." What is this but the duty which the Apostle presses upon you, "Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds." The virtues of our LORD are for your imitation, and these virtues shone forth in a pre-eminent degree in His Passion. If His whole life was one of preternatural goodness, so that we cannot measure what is infinite in its nature, at least in His suffering, and as His hour drew near, the occasions that elicited these are more frequent and more startling. On what condition of life will a sight like this fail to have its Sacramental effect? Are you prosperous? It is good for you to think that your LORD and SAVIOUR was in abjection and so learn humility. Are you in misfortune or sadness? was any sorrow like unto His? Are you sore at heart, solitary, craving for sympathy, frowned on by the world? your Master stood alone before the mockery of His nation. Are you in pain of body? behold the weals and bruises of thy LORD. Are you sinful? here is your propitiation. Are you slothful and luxurious? look at that crown of thorns. Are you thwarted by those around you? What is your contradiction to His? Does the flesh rebel in the pains of His Flesh? is the tempter vanquished? Are you desolate, dry, or doubting? "Behold the Man."

Yes, "Behold the Man," the reverent thought of your adorable SAVIOUR will be the remedy of your soul in all its trials; it will deepen your repentance; it will animate your faith; it will assure your hopes of an everlasting inheritance, and pour into your hearts the excellent gift of charity--earnest, pure and devoted love to Him. But these are not all the treasures we possess in CHRIST crucified. The FATHER hath given us the SON freely and entirely. What better can we do than plead Him to the same FATHER. Prostrate in adoration before the Throne of the Majesty on High, we may say to Him that sitteth thereon, "Behold the Man." Look upon the face of Thine anointed, and for His sake forgive us. This is the ground of all prayer and worship from a sinful world to its perfect GOD and Maker. This is the reason why we conclude all our prayers through JESUS CHRIST our LORD. This is what we do in the Holy Eucharist when we show the LORD'S death till He come again to the Eternal FATHER, as if the Church said, "What other intercessor shall we set before Thee, than Him who is the propitiation of our sins; our Advocate; our High Priest; sprinkled not with the blood of others, but with His own--a holy Sacrifice--the LAMB without spot, who did no sin, yet bare the sins of the whole world, and with His own stripes hath healed our infirmities. Behold our hope and whole trust, JESUS CHRIST Thy SON and our SAVIOUR. Look graciously upon Him and in Thy SON behold what may move Thee to compassionate Thy servants, and whilst His holy wounds lie open before Thee, let our sins, we beseech Thee, be covered. Receive this holy and spotless victim, together with all His merit, wounds, sorrows, and sacred Blood, in union with that transcendent love which moved Him to offer Himself to Thee upon the altar of the Cross, that we and all Thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins and all other benefits of His Passion."

Yes, it is through CHRIST alone, by pleading the Eucharistic JESUS, that we come into the closest communion with GOD. It is not because we are worthy, it is not because we are charitable, it is not because we have faith, it is not because we are ready to give our fortune to the poor, or our bodies to be burnt, but solely because GOD hath given us His only SON, and we may plead Him as our Eternal Propitiation.

But for the Passion of CHRIST, life were a very desert--a hopeless waste--a barren and dry land, where no water is. Whatever good were found in man, would only meet its reward here, and be fruitless with regard to everlasting life. Then our repentance would be but the sorrow of Esau; our faith vain; our love a barren admiration of the qualities and attributes of the Supreme; our hope an ill-founded one; our devotion might be the instinct of the creature drawn by the necessity of his existence to worship its Maker, but it could have no sure promise of acceptance of comfort. But through the Passion of CHRIST all these things have assumed a supernatural value, touched by the Virtue that flows from Him. The good life of the Christian is now, for His sake, rewarded with nothing less than everlasting life. The sorrow for our past sin, in itself a vain regret, is now consecrated by His sacred Sorrows to be the condition of our free forgiveness. The faith, which under other circumstances could only have disturbed us as revealing to us the terrors of the future state, now finds its infinitely loveable object in a Redeeming SAVIOUR. The love, which was once the vague admiration of certain divine qualities, now becomes the engrossing and overpowering affection for a Divine Person. The hope, which before found no anchorage against the storm, now imbeds itself in that foundation which alone is laid, which is CHRIST. And lastly, our devotion, no longer the yearning of the finite after the vague and formless infinite, is now the reasonable worship of the New Law, the exercise of the Royalty and Priesthood of the Redeemed; united to the everlasting Sacrifice and adoration which is ever being offered in Heaven--the Sacrifice and Adoration of Him, Who is a Priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedec.

Lastly, in our intercourse with others, what better words have we than "Behold the man?" Are we asked the ground of our hope, the object of our faith and love, the motive of our repentance, the constraining power of our lives, the moulding influence of our religion, this is our watchword. As the Divinity of the Blessed SON of GOD is the great doctrine which distinguishes the system of Christianity from all others, so the sweet Humanity of our LORD is that which brings down the influence of that holy religion into our heart of hearts. Does the Missionary wish to pro-claim the Gospel to heathen lands, he goes to them with the news of their Elder Brother having come down from heaven to save them. Does the earnest Priest of the LORD try to win the lapsed Christian back to the ways of holiness, he directs his thoughts to the Suffering SON of GOD. Does he seek to advance favoured souls in the sublime paths of perfection, still it is the same text, "Behold the Man!" behold this perfect image of holiness and of suffering, and form thyself on these.

These are some of the lessons which this text suggests to us. This day is far spent. The ninth hour is past. The mystic darkness has passed away; the crowd hath rushed away to the temple to learn more of the rending of the veil; the separating groups of believers are beating their breasts and returning; the slanting rays of the sun are shining bright on this dreadful scene; on the side crosses the thieves are still writhing in agonies; the hardened soldiers are standing listlessly about, except their commander, who has confessed and been converted; below the centre cross, a fainting woman is supported by three humble friends; and high aloft, lifted from the earth to draw all men unto Him, hangs the dead and bloodless Form of the Captain of our Salvation. O trace in that faded Form the evil effects of sin; but trace also the exceeding greatness of the SAVIOUR'S love--"Behold the man!" Behold the results of thine individual sin, and the fulness and bitterness of its reparation, and cast thyself in adoring love before Him, and say, "What reward shall I give unto the LORD: For all the benefits that He hath done unto me? I will receive the cup of salvation: and call upon the Name of LORD. I will pay my vows now in the presence of all His people. Right dear in the sight of the LORD is the death of His Saints!"

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