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FROM AN

EXPOSITION OF THE CREED

by JOHN PEARSON, D.D.,

FORMERLY LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER

First Published 1659

[see original PDF file text at Project Canterbury for extensive footnotes]

 

ARTICLE IV - CHAPTER  III.
Was crucified.

FROM the general consideration of our Saviourís passion, we proceed to the most remarkable particular, his crucifixion, standing between his passion, which it concludeth, and his death, which it introduceth.  For the explication whereof it will be necessary, first, to prove that the promised Messias was to be crucified, that he which was designed to die for our sins, was to suffer upon the cross; secondly, to shew that our Jesus, whom we worship, was certainly and truly crucified, and did suffer, whatsoever was so foretold, upon the cross; thirdly, to discover what is the nature of crucifixion, what peculiarities of suffering are contained in dying on the cross.

 

That the Messias was to be crucified; appeareth both by types which did apparently foreshew it, and by prophecies which did plainly foretell it.  For though all those representations and predictions which the forward zeal of some ancient Fathers gathered out of the Law and the Prophets cannot be said to signify so much, yet in many types was the crucifixion of Christ represented, and by some prophecies foretold.  This was the true and unremovable stumblingblock to the Jews, [1 Cor. i. 23] nor could they ever be brought to confess the Messias should die that death upon a tree to which the curse of the Law belonged: and yet we need no other oracles than such as were committed to those Jews, to prove that Christ was to suffer.

 

A clearer type can scarce be conceived of the Saviour of the world, in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, than Isaac was: nor can God the Father, who gave his only-begotten Son, be better expressed than by that Patriarch in his readiness to sacrifice his son, his only son Isaac, whom he loved. [Gen. xxii. 2]  Now when that grand act of obedience was to be performed, we find Isaac walking to the mountain of Moriah with the wood on his shoulders, and saying, Here is the wood, but where is the sacrifice? [Ver. 7]  while in the command of God, and the intention and  resolution of Abraham, Isaac is the sacrifice who bears the wood.  And the Christ, who was to be the most perfect sacrifice, the person in whom all nations were perfectly to be blessed, could die no other death in which the wood was to be carried; and being to die upon the cross, was, by the formal custom so used in that kind of death, certainly to carry it.  Therefore Isaac bearing the wood did presignify Christ bearing the cross.

 

When the fiery serpents bit the Israelites, and much people died, Moses, by the command of God, made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole:  and it came to pass that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. [Num. xxi. 6, 9]  Now if there were no expresser promise of the Messias than the seed of the woman, which should bruise the serpentís head; [Gen. iii. 15] if he were to perform that promise by the virtue of his death; if no death could be so perfectly represented by the hanging on the pole as that of crucifixion; then was that manifestly foretold which Christ himself informed Nicodemus, As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up. [John iii. 14]

 

The paschal lamb did plainly typify that Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world; and the preparing of it did not only represent the cross, but the command or ordinance of the passover did foretell as much.  For while it is said, Ye shalt not break a bone thereof, [Ex. xii. 46] it was thereby intimated, that the Saviour of the world should suffer that death to which the breaking of the bones belonged (and that, according to the constant custom, was the punishment of crucifixion), but only in that death should by the providence of God be so particularly preserved, as that not one bone of his should be touched.  And thus the crucifixion of the Messias in several types was represented.

 

Nor was it only thus prefigured and involved in these typical resemblances, but also clearly spoken by the Prophets in their particular and express predictions.  Nor shall we need the accession of any lost or additional prophetical expressions, which some of the ancients have made use of: those which are still preserved even among the Jews, will yield this truth sufficient testimonies.

 

When God foretells by the Prophet Zachary, what he should suffer from the sons of men, he says expressly, They shall look upon me whom they have pierced; [Zech. xii. 10] and therefore shews that he speaks of the Son of God, which was to be the Son of Man, and by our nature liable to vulneration; and withal foretells the piercing of his body: which being added to that prediction in the Psalms, They pierced my hands and my feet, [Ps. xxii. 16] clearly representeth and foretelleth to us the death upon the cross, to which the hands and feet of the person crucified were affixed with nails.  And because these prophecies appeared so particular and clear, and were so properly applied by that Disciple whom our Saviour loved, and to whom he made a singular application even upon the cross; therefore the Jews have used more than ordinary industry and artifice to elude these two predictions, but in vain.  For these two Prophets, David and Zachary, manifestly did foretell the particular punishment of crucifixion.

 

It was therefore sufficiently adumbrated by types, and promulgated by prophecies, that the promised Messias was to be crucified.  And it is as certain that our Jesus, the Christ whom we worship, and from whom we receive that honour to be named Christians was really and truly crucified.  It was first the wicked design of Judas, who betrayed him to that death; it was the malicious cry of the obdurate Jews, Crucify him, crucify him. [John xix. 15]  He was actually condemned and delivered to that death by Pilate, who gave sentence that it should be as they required; [Luke xxiii. 24] he was given into the hands of the soldiers, the instruments commonly used in inflicting that punishment, who led him away to crucify him.  He underwent those previous pains which customarily antecede that suffering, as flagellation, and bearing of the cross: for Pilate when he had scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified; and he bearing his cross went forth into Golgotha.  They carried him forth out of the city, as by custom in that kind of death they were wont to do and there between two malefactors, usually by the Romans condemned to that punishment, they crucified him.  And that he was truly fastened to the cross, appears by the satisfaction given to doubting Thomas, who said, Except I shalt see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, I wilt not believe: and our Saviour said unto him, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; [John xx. 25, 27] whereby he satisfied the Apostle, that he was the Christ; and us, that the Christ was truly crucified; against that fond heresy, which made Simon the Cyrenean not only bear the cross, but endure crucifixion, for our Saviour.  We therefore infer this second conclusion from the undoubted testimonies of his followers, and unfeigned confessions of his enemies, that our Jesus was certainly and truly crucified, and did really undergo those sufferings, which were pretypified and foretold, upon the cross.

 

Being thus fully assured that the Messias was to be, and that our Christ was truly, crucified; it, thirdly, concerns us to understand what was the nature of crucifixion, what the particularities of suffering which he endured on the cross.  Nor is this now so easily understood as once it was: for being a Roman punishment, it was continued in that empire while it remained heathen: but when the emperors themselves received Christianity, and the towering eagles resigned the flags unto the cross, this punishment was forbidden by the supreme authority, out of a due respect and pious honour to the death of Christ.  From whence it came to pass, that since it hath been disused universally for so many hundred years, it hath not been so rightly conceived as it was before, when the general practice of the world did so frequently represent it to the Christianís eyes.  Indeed if the word which is used to denote that punishment did sufficiently represent or express it, it were enough to say that Christ was crucified: but being the most usual or original word doth not of itself declare the figure of the tree, or manner of the suffering, it will be necessary to represent it by such expressions as we find partly in the evangelic relations, partly in such representations as are left us in those authors whose eyes were daily witnesses of such executions.

 

The form, then, of the cross on which our Saviour suffered was not a simple, but a compounded, figure, according to the custom of the Romans, by whose procurator he was condemned to die.  In which there was not only a straight and erected piece of wood fixed in the earth, but also a transverse beam fastened unto that towards the top thereof, and beside these two cutting each other transversely at right angles (so that the erected part extended itself above the transverse), there was also another piece of wood infixed into, and standing out from, that which was erected and straight up.  To that erected piece was his body, being lifted up, applied, as Mosesí serpent to the pole; and to the transverse beam his hands were nailed: upon the lower part coming out from the erected piece his sacred body rested, and his feet were transfixed and fastened with nails; his head, being pressed with a crown of thorns, was applied to that part of the erect which stood above the transverse beam; and above his head to that was fastened the table, on which was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin characters, the accusation, according to the Roman custom, and the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. [John xix. 19]

 

Thus by the propriety of the punishment, and the titular inscription, we know what crime was then objected to the immaculate Lamb, and upon what accusation Pilate did at last proceed to pass the sentence of death upon him.  It was not any opposition to the Law of Moses, not any danger threatened to the temple, but pretended sedition and affectation of the crown objected, which moved Pilate to condemn him.  The Jews did thus accuse him; We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a king. [Luke xxiii. 2]  And when Pilate sought to release him, they cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesarís friend: whosoever maketh himself a King speaketh against Caesar. [John xix. 12] This moved Pilate to pass sentence upon him, and, because that punishment of the cross was by the Roman custom used for that crime, to crucify him.

 

Two things are most observable in this cross; the acerbity, and the ignominy of the punishment: for of all the Roman ways of execution it was most painful and most shameful.  First, the exquisite pains and torments in that death are manifest, in that the hands and feet, which of all the parts of the body are most nervous, and consequently most sensible, were pierced through with nails; which caused, not a sudden despatch, but a, lingering and tormenting death: insomuch that the Romans, who most used this punishment, did in their language deduce their expressions of pains and cruciation from the cross.  And the acerbity of this punishment appears, in that those who were of any merciful disposition would first cause such as were adjudged to the cross to be slain, and then to be crucified. 

 

As this death was most dolorous and full of acerbity, so was it also most infamous and full of ignominy.  The Romans themselves accounted it a servile punishment, and inflicted it upon their slaves and fugitives.  It was a high crime to put that dishonour upon any free-man, and the greatest indignity which the most undeserving Roman could possibly suffer in himself, or could be contrived to shew their detestation to such creatures as were below human nature.  And because, when a man is beyond possibility of suffering pain, he may still be subject to ignominy in his fame; when by other exquisite torments some men have tasted the bitterness of death, after that, they have in their breathless corpse by virtue of this punishment, suffered a kind of surviving shame.  And the exposing the bodies of the dead to the view of the people on the cross, hath been thought a sufficient ignominy to those which died, and terror to those which lived to see it.  Yea, where the bodies of the dead have been out of the reach of their surviving enemies, they have thought it highly opprobrious to their ghosts, to take their representations preserved in their pictures, and affix them to the cross.  Thus may we be made sensible of the two grand aggravations of our Saviourís sufferings, the bitterness of pain in the torments of his body, and the indignity of shame in the interpretation of his enemies.  

 

It is necessary we should thus profess faith in Christ crucified, as that punishment which he chose to undergo, as that way which he was pleased to die. 

 

First, because by this kind of death we may be assured that he hath taken upon himself, and consequently from us, the malediction of the Law.  For we were all under the curse, because it is expressly written, Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them: [Deut. xxvii. 26; Gal. iii. 10] and it is certain none of us hath so continued; for the scripture hath concluded all under sin [ver. 22], which is nothing else but a breach of the Law: therefore the curse must be acknowledged to remain upon all.  But now Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us; [ver. 13]  that is, he hath redeemed us from that general curse, which lay upon all men for the breach of any part of the Law, by taking upon him that particular curse, laid only upon them which underwent a certain punishment of the Law: for it was written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree. [Deut. xxi. 23]  Not that suspension was any of the capital punishments prescribed by the Law of Moses; not that by any tradition or custom of the Jews they were wont to punish their malefactors with that death; but such as were punished with death according to the law or custom of the Jews, were for the enormity of their fact oft times after death exposed to the ignominy of a gibbet; and those who being dead were so hanged on a tree, were accursed by the Law.  Now though Christ was not to die by the sentence of the Jews, who had lost the supreme power in causes capital, and so not to be condemned to any death according to the Law of Moses; yet the providence of God did so dispose it, that he might suffer that death which did contain in it that ignominious particularity to which the legal curse belonged, which is, the hanging on a tree. For he which is crucified, as he is affixed to, so he hangeth on the cross, and therefore true and formal crucifixion is often named by the general word suspension; and the Jews themselves do commonly call our blessed Saviour by that very name to which the curse is affixed by Moses; and generally have objected that he died a cursed death.

 

Secondly, it was necessary to express our faith in Christ crucified, that we might be assured that he hath abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments; [Eph. ii. 15] which if he had not done, the strength and power of the whole Law had still remained: for all the people had said Amen to the curse upon every one that kept not the whole law, [Deut. xxvii. 26] and entered into a curse and into an oath to walk in Godís law, which was given by Moses, the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commanaments of the Lord their God, and his judgments and his statutes. [Neh. x. 29]  Which was in the nature of a bill, bond, or obligation, perpetually standing in force against them, ready to bring a forfeiture or penalty upon them, in case of non-performance of the condition.  But the strongest obligations may be cancelled; and one ancient custom of cancelling bonds was, by striking a nail through the writing: and thus God, by our crucified Saviour, blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross. [Col. ii. 14]

 

Thirdly, hereby we are to testify the power of the death of Christ working in us after the manner of crucifixion.  For we are to be planted in the likeness of his death; [Rom. vi. 5] and that we may be so, we must acknowledge, and cause it to appear, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed; [Ver. 6] we must confess, that they that are Christís have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts; and they which have not, are not his.  We must not glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; [Gal. v. 24] nor can we properly glory in that, except by it the world be crucified unto us, and we unto the world. [Gal. vi. 14]

 

Fourthly, by the acerbity of this passion we are taught to meditate on that bitter cup which our Saviour drank; and while we think on those nails which pierced his hands and feet, and never left that torturing activity till by their dolorous impressions they forced a most painful death, to acknowledge the bitterness of his sufferings for us, and to assure ourselves that by the worst of deaths he hath overcome all kinds of death, and with patience and cheerfulness to endure whatsoever he shall think fit to lay upon us, who with all readiness and desire suffered far more for us.

 

Fifthly, by the ignominy of this punishment, and universal infamy of that death, we are taught how far our Saviour descended for us, that while we were slaves and in bondage unto sin, he might redeem us by a servile death: for he made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant; and so he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross: [Phil. ii. 7, 8] teaching us the glorious doctrine of humility and patience in the most vile and abject condition which can befall us in this world; and encouraging us to imitate him, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame; [Heb. xii. 2] and withal deterring us from that fearful sin of falling from him, lest we should crucify unto ourselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame, [Heb. vi. 6] and so become worse than the Jews themselves, who crucified the Lord of life without the walls of Jerusalem, and for that unparalleled sin were delivered into the hands of the Romans, into whose hands they delivered him, and at the same walls in such multitudes were crucified, till there wanted room for crosses, and crosses for their bodies.

 

Lastly, by the public visibility of this death, we are assured that our Saviour was truly dead, and that all his enemies were fully satisfied.  He was crucified in the sight of all the Jews, who were made public witnesses that he gave up the ghost.  There were many traditions among the Heathen, of persons, supposed for some time to be dead, to descend into hell and afterwards to live again; but the death of these persons was never publicly seen or certainly known.  It is easy for a man that liveth to say that he hath been dead; and, if he be of great authority, it is not difficult to persuade some credulous persons to believe it.  But that which would make his present life truly miraculous, must be the reality and certainty of his former death.  The feigned histories of Pythagoras and Zamolxis, of Theseus and Hercules, of Orpheus and Protesilaus, made no certain mention of their deaths, and therefore were ridiculous in the assertion of their resurrection from death.  Christ, as he appeared to certain witnesses after his resurrection, so he died before his enemies visibly on the cross, and gave up the ghost conspicuously in the sight of the world.

 

And now we have made this discovery of the true manner and nature of the cross on which our Saviour suffered, every one may understand what it is he professeth when he declareth his faith, and saith, I believe in Christ crucified.  For thereby he is understood and obliged to speak thus much: I am really persuaded, and fully satisfied, that the only-begotten and eternal Son of God, Christ Jesus, that he might cancel the handwriting which was against us, and take off the curse which was due unto us, did take upon him the form of a servant, and in that form did willingly and cheerfully submit himself unto the false accusation of the Jews, and unjust sentence of Pilate, by which he was condemned, according to the Roman custom, to the cross; and upon that did suffer that servile punishment of the greatest acerbity, enduring the pain; and of the greatest ignominy, despising the shame. [Heb. xii. 2]  d thus I believe in Christ crucified.

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for the next chapter in Pearson:  Dead.