Church History Books Online

Login / Free Registration

We apologize for the need for an account, but it serves to protect the integrity of the works and prevent their being used without permission.

Log In
Join our Newsletters
  • Our monthly newsletter includes updates on the newest additions to our free book listings and notice of upcoming publications. Subscribing to this newsletter gives you free access to our online books.


  • Our weekly newsletter showcases the latest in our auctions of rare Christian books, autographs and theologically related ephemera. Includes our Dust and Ashes monthly newsletter also and of course gives access to our online books.

Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: The Gospels

Chapter 84 - John 19:2 - The Greater Sin Light & Truth: The Gospels by Bonar, Horatius




The Greater Sin.


     "Thou couldst have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin."-John 19:2.



     These words are directed against the Jews, though spoken to Pilate. They are a declaration of the great guilt of the Jewish nation and its rulers, in asking Pilate to exercise his God-given authority against the Son of God. Pilate has not yet committed the sin of condemning Christ; he was urged to it; he hesitated; he shrunk from it; and our Lord here utters the words of warning, to deter him from the consummation of his great crime. "Not the Roman emperor; but my Father; not the people, but my Father, gave you this power, and set you in that place where you have now to judge me, His Son; and these, His enemies and mine, are now asking you to exercise this power given you from above against me, the Son of God, who came from above." As when speaking to Simon (Luke 7:44) he turned to the woman, so here, when speaking to Pilate, he turned to the Jews.

     The sin here spoken of is not so much Pilate's as Israel's. He did what he did "ignorantly and in unbelief"; they knew, he knew not; he thought he was only exercising his lawful power in the usual way, as a Roman governor. Israel knew the Scriptures concerning Messiah; Pilate did not; and the "greater sin" was committed by men who, with the Scriptures in their hand, called on him who had not these Scriptures to condemn their own Messiah.

     This power of Pilate was acknowledged by the Jews, by Judas, by Annas, by Caiaphas. They appealed to him as one who had the power to "crucify" and to "release." Hence their sin, their special sin; their "greater sin,"-greater than in any ordinary case, greater than that of Pilate. It was "greater sin," because they knew what they did; and because they were making use of the God-given power of another, as well as taking advantage of his ignorance, to perpetrate a crime, which, in its lowest aspect, was the condemnation of the innocent, in its highest, the condemnation of their own Messiah, the Son of the living God.

     Pilate's power was "from above," (1) as governor. There is no power but of God, the powers that be are ordained of God; the source of earthly power is heavenly; not in man or from man, but from the King of kings, the Prince of the kings of the earth. The recognition of this lies at the root of all true politics. Earthly crowns and thrones and scepters are thus linked with that one heavenly crown and throne and scepter. Kings and magistrates are, by reason of their office, responsible to God. Not personally, as other men merely; but officially, as rulers, they are directly responsible. It is just because of their office that they are so peculiarly accountable, and so solemnly bound to do everything to the glory of God. It is just because of their office, and not merely as other men, that they are bound to consecrate everything which their office gives them power over to the service of Him from whom they have received their power. (2.) As a Gentile governor. The Jews had, for their sins, been given over to Gentile dominion, till the times of the Gentiles should be fulfilled. So that in a double sense Pilate's power was not his own, nor from Rome, nor from the people. In a double sense it came from God, and was therefore to be specially used for God. He might not know all this; but Israel knew it; for their prophets, Daniel especially, had taught them this; and therefore they had the "greater sin." That God's purpose embraced something more than this, and had reference to the crucifixion of Messiah, is true; but that the appeal here made by our Lord to Pilate, though having special reference to Himself, is founded on a broader and more general truth seems evident.

     (1.) Even a bad man's power is from God. Our Lord affirms this of Pilate; and of Pilate when using that power for the perpetration of the greatest crime ever committed in our world. Let no one therefore point to the crimes of kings, or the sins of magistrates, and say, Can the power of these men be given them from above? Look at Pilate. Listen to our Lord's words; or hear Paul when, in the days of Nero, he said (referring to the words of our Lord), "Let every soul be subject to the higher powers" (?ξουσ?αις ?ηεζεχο?σαις, authorities holding from above) and when he proclaims civil government to be "the ordinance of God"; nay, when he calls the monarch or magistrate "the minister of God."

     (2.) His using his God-given power for a bad purpose is allowed of God. He is free to act; but he is responsible to God for his actings. God overrules his wickedness, and employs him as His instrument for carrying out his purposes. He ought to use his power for a good purpose; not for condemning the Son of God, but for honouring Him; and when he abuses his authority, he is doubly guilty; though that guilt is made use of by God for the development of His own purposes, as in the death of His own Son at the hands of Pilate. That the power which Pilate used was conferred by God only, made his act, as well as that of the Jews, the more criminal. What a reckoning is at hand with the kings of earth, for the abuse of their power! (See Psalm 82)

     (3.) God makes him His instrument. He is free. He might use his power for a good purpose; yet even when he uses it for a bad one, he is overruled of God. It is God's "determinate counsel" that comes out here (Acts 2:23). Like Pharaoh working out Israel's deliverance, so is Pilate here working out the Church's deliverance, according to the purpose of God.

     The following truths come out here,-

     (1.) The thing which Pilate was preparing to do would have been sin in any circumstances; even if his power was not given from above. It was the condemnation of an innocent man. It was might trampling on right.

     (2.) It was greater sin, because the power was from above. It was abusing, for unrighteousness, the power received from the God of righteousness.

     (3.) It was still greater sin to use this God-given power to crucify the Son of God. The moment man gets into power, he uses it against God and against his Christ.

     (4.) It was yet greater sin in Israel to deliver up their own Messiah to be crucified by him who had this power. It was as much as calling on God to crucify his own Son. It was daring sin, committed with their eyes open. Pilate's sin was great; Israel's was greater far. Pilate, beware of thy sin, for it is great; Israel, beware of thy sin, for it is far greater. Thus He warns both at once; and bids them beware of the sin of crucifying the Lord of glory.