And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head ( Mat_27:29)
A Touch of Brotherhood
Amid all the sufferings which Christ had to endure in the last and terrible days of His humility, none has more deeply moved the heart of Christendom than His wearing of the crown of thorns. We have never felt the agony of nails, nor the cruel piercing of a Roman spear. And therefore we can but dimly realise the physical pain of such experiences. But in the torment of sharp and biting thorns we reach the commoner lot of our humanity; within our own remembrance we have that which interprets this experience of our Lord. To us, who have never known the stab of wounds, the wound of a spear is but a faint imagining. It would take a soldier, gashed and bleeding on the field, to have fellowship with Jesus Christ in that. But in a world so thick with tangled briers, and thickest with them where man has had his dwelling, the crown of thorns is like a touch of brotherhood in a scene of lonely and exalted sorrow.
He Suffered Not as Just Another Man, but as the Embodiment of Mankind
But there is something in that coronation that reaches deeper than any homely anguish. There is a meaning more profound than that; more vital in the purposes of God. They platted a crown and put it on His head, and He was the second man, the Lord from heaven. He was not one man more amid the thousands who suffered and slept under that Eastern sky. In Him was the very essence of humanity. In Him the race was gathered and united. In Him was every child who ever played and every woman who ever wept in secret. All human life was hidden in that form whose face was marred more than any man’s; all joy that shares its secret with the stars; all passion that hears its echo in the winds. And Him they crowned—Him the representative—Him the embodiment of all mankind, and they crowned Him with a crown of thorns. They did it as we know in merry jest, for they were brutal men and loved a brutal sport. And one of them stole out into the night and plucked the twigs from the garden of the palace. And he rejoiced in being a clever person, and he knew how his ready wit would be appreciated, and he never dreamed he was a girded messenger in the hand of an ordering and sovereign God. Here was a jest, and yet it was reality. Here was mockery, and yet the truth. Here was the coronation of mankind, and on its brow there was a thorny coronet. And that is the deep and universal meaning of it, wrought out by soldiers in their beastly sport, that on the brow of man there is a diadem, yet always it is a diadem of thorns.
Our Crown of Thorns Is a Crown of Glory
Now on that thought I wish to dwell. First we shall think of our crown in being men. “And God breathed upon man,” we read in Genesis, “and man became a living soul.” It is not in the structure of his bodily frame that man is separated from the beasts that perish. It is not in the cunning deftness of his hand; not in the wonder of his eye or ear. It is in the spirit that controls the hand, and journeys through the gateway of the eye, and watches, like aged Simeon in the Temple, to catch the whispered message of the ear. It is thus that man, moving among the beasts, can say at his darkest, “The hand of God has touched me.” It is thus he is crowned with glory and with honour, and made but a little lower than the angels. And yet that crown, so rich and so resplendent that not the basest of our race would forfeit it—is it indeed a crown of thorns? No longer can we be simply happy, as the bird that sings upon the bush is happy. No longer can we cast into oblivion the hour that is past, the hour yet to be. We live in thoughts that wander through eternity; in desires that nothing here can satisfy; in cravings that time can never meet, for they are born of the infinite within. Give to a bird its daily food and water and it will flood its little cage with music. But give to a man the kingdoms of the world and he shall still be restless and unsatisfied. And that is his crown—that kinship with infinitude; that spark of the eternal in his breast—and is it not for man a crown of thorns? It makes him hunger for what he cannot gain here. It sets him craving for what he cannot grasp. It touches as with a sense of pain the beauty of the earth and sky and sea. And man is restless and he knows not why; and he is lonely, though love be all around him; and he is haunted by feelings he shall never fathom, till the day break and the shadows flee away.
The Crown of Knowledge Is a Crown of Thorns
Think again upon the crown of knowledge, which rests so royally upon the brow of man. There is a passion in the heart to know, and man will know, though Paradise be lost. Loftier than any search for happiness, purer than any striving to be rich, more glorious than the pursuit of fame, that last infirmity of noble mind—the passion for knowledge in the human breast, unflagging, unsubduable, unending, is more aflame with the Promethean fire than boast of heraldry or pomp of power. It is this that animates the lonely student to scorn delights and live laborious days. It is this that has penetrated to the icy pole, and forced its way across uncharted seas. It is this that has triumphed over persecution, and bid defiance to a world of dangers, and filled with opulence the home of poverty, and vanquished the fell ravage of disease. The greatest thing in all the world is loving. The second greatest in all the world is learning. There is a joy in it, a quickening of the heart, an exaltation of the personality. And yet this precious diadem of knowledge—this circlet after the pattern on the Mount—is it not after all a crown of thorns? The more we know, the more we cannot know. The more we see, the more we cannot see. Let a man be ignorant, and be content, and he may always have music in his prison house. It is when he beats against the prison wall, and clambers upwards to the barred window, that voices reach him which are full of pain, and faces whose secret he shall never read. Every expansion of knowledge has brought joy. Every expansion of knowledge has brought sorrow. It has enlightened and it has perplexed. It has unveiled and yet it has confused. It has made it harder to grasp the skirts of God; to live in unquestioning and simple faith; to keep alive the wonder of the child who feels that the angels are not far away.
Our Knowledge of Nature Is but a Crown of Thorns
In our own time this thorn upon the crown has pierced at two points with peculiar pain. The first is in regard to nature, and the deeper knowledge of her which is ours today. Always shall this world be beautiful, so long as there is a poet’s eye to see it. Always, in the meanest flower that blows, shall there be thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears. And yet such knowledge has been won for us, of the grim battle behind the veil of beauty, that nature can never be quite the same again, nor the song of birds so innocently sweet. The watchword of nature is not peace but war: its deepest music is the battle cry. Under the peace which broods upon the hills, the bloodiest of strifes is being waged. And the weak are ruthlessly crushed into oblivion: and the strong are utterly selfish in their strength: and every meadow, when we know its story, is as mysterious as the earthquake at Messina. No doubt it will all grow plain again, for now we know in part and see in part. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and our knowledge at its grandest is but little. But the fact remains that in spite of all tomorrows, there is a strain upon our faith today, and the magic of the world is dimmed a little, because we are less ignorant than yesterday. It is not so easy, as long ago it was, to see the divine painting on the lily. It is not so easy to believe that God is present at the funeral of the sparrow. We have our crown, for knowledge is our crown, and only a coward would refuse to wear it; but when it is pressed upon our human brow we find it to be a crown of thorns.
And So Is Our Knowledge of the Bible
The other point at which this pain is felt is in regard to our knowledge of the Bible. A flood of light has been poured upon the Bible, till it is literally a new book today. For centuries the Bible stood alone, not to be questioned nor criticised. Every sentence was of equal value, as verbally inspired by the Almighty. And men accepted it without a doubt, and women pondered it in simple faith, and it was a garden where the Lord was walking, as in the cool of the day He walked in Paradise. And do I say it is not so today? God forbid that I should be so foolish. It is still, and will ever be, the Word of God, in a sense no other book can ever bear. And there is light in it yet for every hour of shadow, and comfort for every day of grief, and all our hope for time and for eternity is rooted in the message of the Cross. No truth can ever overturn the truth. No knowledge can discredit Him who knew. It is our bounden duty to the Lord Jesus Christ, to cast His Word into the fires of criticism. And yet with all the knowledge which that has brought us, knowledge so wonderful and so undreamed of, what pain has visited a thousand hearts, what agony of doubt and of unrest! Some have been tempted to abjure the light, that they might cherish a simple faith again. Some have turned to the critics and have cried, “Ye have taken away my Lord, and I know not where ye have laid Him.” And all of us have had seasons of perplexity, not knowing what to think or what to do: only knowing if we were false to facts, we never could be true to Jesus Christ. Do not repeat that maxim of the recreant, “Where ignorance is bliss ’twere folly to be wise.” That begs the question, for in a sphere like this, ignorance never can be bliss. Rather believe that knowledge is our crown, and wear it as the diadem of God, and if it pierces and is a crown of thorns, the servant is not greater than his Lord.
And So Is Love
And then, in closing, there is another crown. It is the fairest of them all—the crown of love. It is the only crown that is of amaranth, for love is to last forever and forever. Without it, the brow is always bare, and the heart is always very cold and lonely. But the commonest dwelling is a palace with it, and there is sunshine in the dreariest day. And all the wealth of the Indies will not buy it, and all the might of armies will not force it, and all the hands that reach out of the dark are powerless to pluck it from the brow. And it is not hidden in Some guarded casket, far from the handling of the common people. It is not only above the bright blue sky that there’s a crown for little children. There’s a crown for them here, where they are loved today, and for their mothers who rejoice in motherhood, and for their fathers who have not been false to tryst and covenant of long ago. Love is the crown of life, for God is love, and everything is a mockery without it. He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and to be loveless forever and ever, that is hell. And yet this love which is the crown of life, the bliss of angels and the air of heaven, tell me, is it not a crown of thorns? I think of the patriot who loves his country. I think of the mother with her little children. Has she no fears—no torturing anxiety—no seasons when the sword is in her heart? I think of Jesus Christ who loved us so, and who was mocked and buffeted and slain, who found in love the pathway to His joy and equally the pathway to His cross. Love has its triumph and it has its torture. Love has its paradise and has its pain. Love has its mountain of transfiguration, and its olive garden where the sweat is blood. Love is the secret of the sweetest song; love is the secret of the keenest suffering. Love is the very crown of life—and it is a crown of thorns. And they platted a crown of thorns and put it on His head. That is what God is doing with us all. And shall I tell you why He treats us so, and stabs us in our coronation? It is that, looking upon the brow of Christ, we may all feel we have a Brother there. It is that, watching His patience and His courage, we may be patient and courageous too. It is that we may lift our eyes to where the Lamb is standing at the throne, where there is no more pain; where there is no more curse; where the thorn has vanished from the crown forever.