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Mornings In The College Chapel by Francis Greenwood Peabody


John xviii.28-38.


The story of Friday in this last week of Jesus begins with this meeting with the Roman governor, and certainly few persons in history would be more surprised than Pilate at the judgment of the world concerning him. If Pilate felt sure of anything it was that he did not commit himself in the case of Jesus. He undertook to be absolutely neutral. See how nicely he poises his judgment. On the one hand he says: |I find no fault in him,| and then on the other hand he says: |Take him away and crucify him;| First he washes his hands to show that he is innocent of the blood of this just person, and then he delivers Jesus to the Jews to take him away. It was a fine balancing of a judicial mind, and I suppose he withdrew from the judgment hall saying to himself: |Whatever may happen in this case, at least I am not responsible.| But what does history think {160} of this judicial Pilate? It holds him to be a responsible agent in the death of Jesus. He was attempting a neutrality which was impossible. The great wind was blowing across the threshing floor of the nation, and the people were separated into two distinct heaps, and must be counted forever as chaff or as wheat. He that was not with Christ was against him, and Pilate's place, even in spite of himself, was determined as among those who brought Jesus to his cross that afternoon.

I was once talking with a cultivated gentleman who volunteered to tell me his attitude toward religion. He wished me to understand that he was in sympathy with the purposes and the administration of worship. He desired that it should prevail. He welcomed its usefulness in the university. But as for himself it appeared better that he should hold a position of neutrality. His responsibility seemed to him better met by standing neither for religion nor against it, but in a perfectly judicial frame of mind. He did not take account, however, of the fact that this neutrality was impossible; that it was just what Pilate attempted, and just wherein he failed. If he {161} was not to be counted among those who would by their presence encourage worship, then he must be counted among those who by their absence hinder its effect. On one side or other in these great issues of life every man's weight is to be thrown, and the Pilates of to-day -- as of that earlier time -- in their impossible neutrality are often the most insidious, although most unconscious opponents of a generous cause.

And so to-day on this most solemn anniversary of religious history, while it is, as the passage says of this interview with Pilate, |yet early,| let us set before ourselves, the issue just as it is now and just as it was then. This morning demands of any honest-minded man an answer to the question: |On which side do I propose to stand?| It is not a demand for absoluteness of conviction or unwavering loyalty, but it is a summons to recognize that Jesus Christ died on this day largely at the hands of intellectual dilettanteism and indifferentism, -- the peculiar and besetting sin of the cultivated and academic life. On which side, then, do I propose to stand; with the cultivated neutral and his skillful {162} questioning: What is truth? or with the prisoner who in this early morning says: |Every one who is of the truth heareth my voice;| with Pilate in his neutrality or with Jesus on his cross?

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