THE SHADOW OF CALVARY
by Hugh Martin, (1821—1885)
GETHSEMANE, THE INCIDENTS
Then Jesus brought them to an olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, "Sit here while I go on ahead to pray." He took Peter and Zebedee's two sons, James and John, and he began to be filled with anguish and deep distress. He told them, "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me."
He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground, praying, "My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine." Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, "Couldn't you stay awake and watch with me even one hour? Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak!"
Again he left them and prayed, "My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away until I drink it, your will be done." He returned to them again and found them sleeping, for they just couldn't keep their eyes open.
So he went back to pray a third time, saying the same things again. Then he came to the disciples and said, "Still sleeping? Still resting? Look, the time has come. I, the Son of Man, am betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let's be going. See, my betrayer is here!"
Between the city and the Mount of Olives lay the Valley of Jehosaphat, traversed by the little streamlet, or winter-brook, called the Cedron. Across this brook Jesus and the eleven now wend their way by the light of the moon—for at the Passover the moon was full—to a place called Gethsemane, where was a garden.
The transaction of which this ever-memorable garden now becomes the scene is, with the exception of our Lord's actual crucifixion, perhaps the most awful and solemnizing which even the Scriptures of God contain. How can we approach the consideration of it with sufficient reverence? How can we be deeply enough affected with the insight which it gives us into the sorrow of the blessed Redeemer's soul? Shall we not feel and own our utter helplessness to speak or think of this scene in a manner befitting its amazing and affecting disclosures? The Lord give us the Spirit of grace and supplications, that we may look on Him whom we have pierced!
Leaving the nature and causes of Christ's mysterious sorrow, and the nature and meaning of His prayers, to be considered more fully afterwards, and in the meantime speaking of the agony itself only very generally, let us try to place the affecting facts clearly before our minds.
He came, then, with the disciples "to a place called Gethsemane."
The account given by John is more circumstantial, though he passes over the events of which the garden was the scene. He says, "When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into which He entered and his disciples. And Judas also, who betrayed Him, knew the place: for Jesus often resorted there with His disciples" (John 18:1, 2).
From this we learn that the garden of Gethsemane was a well-known retreat of the Redeemer. Though about to be the scene of a conflict unparalleled in His history, it had often been the scene of His prayers—the place of His secret meditations and communings with God. For He was emphatically a man of prayer. It was by prayer that He kept up fellowship with the Father from whom He had come forth, and to whom He was soon to return. It was by prayer that He vanquished all the trials and sorrows and griefs assigned to Him in His pilgrimage in the flesh. It was by praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, that He sustained His faith in the safety of His person, and His cause in the love and faithfulness of His Father. It was by prayer that He sued out all the promises made to Him in his covenant with the Father; for concerning His own possession of them, as well as His people's, it may be said that, while they are absolutely given, and must inevitably be fulfilled, "yet for all these things will I be enquired of, says the Lord." The law of His humiliation and reward is in these words—"Ask of Me, and I will give you the heathen for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession." And in this, as in other respects, His people must be conformed to Him, that He may be the firstborn among many brethren, He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified being all of one.
Gethsemane, then, had witnessed Jesus many times in prayer and supplication, though never so emptied (Phil. 2:7) and abased as now. This was the crowning act of what had indeed been a long series—what had been a habit. "Ofttimes He resorted there."
And so Judas knew the place. "And Judas also who betrayed Him knew the place" (John 18:2). Hence Jesus was not fleeing from His fate when He betook Himself to Gethsemane. He was voluntarily going forward to meet the sword of which He had spoken that it should smite Him. It was very necessary that His death should be voluntary—that it should be in the spirit of the ancient oracle: "Lo, I come, in the volume of the book it is written of Me; I delight to do Your will, O my God" (Ps. 40:7). Without this it could not have been acceptable to God, nor valuable as a sacrifice for sin. And it was needful also that His death should be seen to be voluntary, that the eleven might not be utterly cast down—stumbling to rise again no more—in the conviction that His power was at length exhausted, that against His will He had been arrested or overpowered by a might which He could not set aside.
How numerous were the methods by which Jesus forewarned them that He went forward of His own accord to all His sufferings. "I lay down My life of Myself," He said; "no one takes it from Me; I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again" (John 10:15-18). And now when the hour is at hand, He leads the way to no place of concealment to baffle the traitor's design, but to the place which Judas knew, for He ofttimes resorted to it. Every step towards the garden had in it the voice, "Lo, I come! I come, knowing the things which shall befall Me here." Yes, Jesus loved the Church, and gave Himself for it. He loved me, says Paul, and gave Himself for me.
Arrived within the garden, Jesus stations the larger number of His disciples near the entrance, with the injunction, "Sit here, while I go and pray yonder." It is the "Captain of Salvation" making disposition of His forces for a battle in which the weapons of warfare should not be carnal, in which He Himself should bear all the fire and terror of the conflict, at once the victim and the conqueror, wounded for our transgressions, and ultimately carrying the victory by yielding Himself to death. How solemnizing must this have been to the eight disciples to whom He thus assigned their position! They must have felt instinctively, from their Master's words and tones and manner, that He was Himself unusually sad and sorrowful. To the other three, indeed, He was to open up more fully the depths of anguish which now began to distract Him. But already even His countenance must have borne traces of the coming conflict of his soul: and His words to them must have implied that such was the crisis now at hand, and such their Master's views of it, that immediate prayer alone could enable Him to meet and face it. "Sit here, while I go and pray yonder." He speaks with authority, assigning them their post of duty. Yet He speaks to them not as servants, but as friends, telling them plainly what their Lord does. "I go," says He, "I go to pray yonder." All my hope now lies in prayer. Where then will your strength lie? Remember the word that I said to you, "The servant is not greater than his Lord." Praying always with all prayer and supplication.
"And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee—Peter and James and John—and began to be sorrowful and very heavy."
Leaving the main body of the disciples, Jesus, we see, advances, as if to meet the adversary in company with the three most valiant of His friends. And yet it is not that He calculates on their strength and aid, for He knows how miserably they will fail in the hour of trial: and their failure serves rather to prove that Jesus wrought a work, and bore a shock in this conflict, to which no mortal power or vigor was adequate. For if these three failed to acquit themselves as the sore exigencies of that dread hour demanded, there were none on earth who could stand when they had fallen. They were the strongest of the disciples; the flower and choice of the little flock. They had been more with Jesus than others. They had been admitted with Him where others had been excluded; and especially they had been with Him in the holy mount, and were eye-witnesses of His majesty, when He received from God the Father honor and glory. They had seen the Savior transfigured, His face shining as the sun and His garments white as the light. They had heard the voice from the excellent glory, saying, "This is my beloved Son, hear Him." They had seen their beloved Lord in the utmost glory in which He had ever appeared on earth in the days of His flesh. And now they were to see Him lying prostrate on the ground, crushed with sorrow, weeping tears of anguish, shedding the blood of the "agony." Thus high privileges prepare for sore trials; and the abundance of the revelations needs a thorn in the flesh to balance it!
If Peter could have gotten his own way, he would have been on the transfiguration mountain still, and there never would have been the agony of Gethsemane. He would have made tabernacles and dwelt there enjoying the glory, and shrinking from the shame. But then this proposed arrangement of his would have cost the world's salvation; for it was not amidst the glory and the radiance of the holy mount, but amidst the darkness and anguish of the garden and the desertion of the cross, that redemption was achieved and sealed. Thus the foolishness of God is wiser than men.
Yet, surely those who had seen most of the Savior's majesty and glory, and of Heaven's testimony to His beloved person and His holy mission, were best selected to see most also of His terrible trial. Their faith, cherished by such precious recollections, might have been expected to withstand severer ordeals. These who had almost reigned with Him on the mountain, might have watched and suffered better with Him in His agony—but no! Yet such as they were, they were His only confidants—his truest bosom friends on earth. And so when He begins to be sorrowful and very heavy—"to be sore amazed and very heavy" (Mark 14:33), he opens up His heart to them, and "said to them, My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death." Jesus did not usually tell His grief. He had ever been a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. But He had been well accustomed to bear His griefs in secret, and seldom sought relief from making others privy to them. Now His soul is filled with sorrow to overflowing, and so it bursts forth, and is poured into the bosoms of His friends. He can conceal His anguish no more.
And what, it must be asked, was the cause of the tormenting sorrow and amazement which now so greatly weakened and agitated the Son of God? It is a solemn question, worthy of long and reverent consideration. But doubtless His sorrow arose from the source that His prayer was concerned with—the vivid view and near approach of that cup which the Father was just giving Him to drink. That curse of God, from which He came to redeem His elect people—that sword of the Lord's wrath and vengeance which He had just predicted—the penal desertion on the cross—the withdrawal of all comfortable views and influences—and the present consciousness of the anger of God against Him as the surety-substitute, a person laden with iniquity—these were the elements mingled in the cup of trembling which was now to be put into His hands: and the prospect caused Him deadly sorrow!
And He told the three. For sorrow seeks sympathy when it will conceal no more; and the man of sorrows was in all things like His brethren. The relief which pouring His anguish into their bosom could bring—even this was precious to Him in the crisis of his sore affliction!
But it must be poured into His Father's bosom, for nothing short of that could bring Him real relief and strength. And so He plants His three dearest followers on their post of observation, and then advances alone to conflict directly with the hour and the power of darkness.
And now, mark by what successive steps, and how thoroughly, Jesus has separated Himself to be alone with God. He and the eleven had left the city, with all its life and stir and care, behind them. Here is the first step. Arriving at the entrance of the garden, He leaves there the greater number of His followers, and advances further with the chosen three. Here is the second step. But presently, He must leave these also, and go forward alone, to meet the danger alone, to wrestle and agonize with God concerning it. But before He leaves the three, He gives them also an injunction as He had previously given to the others: "Wait here, and watch with Me." Now this was the injunction which they so blameably neglected to observe. And the circumstances were such as—notwithstanding the excuse which the tender Savior made for them—rendered them inexcusable in not observing it. How affecting was it to hear Him whom they loved imploring the little service which this request implied! That He whom they had learned to regard as the Son of the living God, whom the winds and the sea obeyed, and whom these three had seen as if on the margin of heaven receiving the homage of glorified just men made perfect; that He should be reduced to such extremity as to express His desire that they would help Him, by their watching with Him in meeting the sore conflict to which He was now going forward alone; ought to have touched all the deepest feelings of their nature; and doubtless it did do so, and perhaps more truly and tenderly than we can understand. But if it made this impression at the time—if this pathetic appeal struck the chords of sympathy in their hearts—the evil was that they did not practically follow up such feelings by a careful, persevering, "watchful and prayerful" sympathy unto the end.
"And He went a little farther (or, as Luke says, "He was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast") and fell on His face, and prayed, saying: O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will."
No language can describe the impression which a statement like this ought to make upon us. The person who is here set before us—the position of prostrate, yes, all but abject supplication—the cry of anguish wrung out from Him in the prospect of a stroke about to fall upon Him which He trembles lest His weak, frail human nature should be unable to bear—all these considerations, and each of them, ought to fill us with the liveliest and most inexpressible astonishment. It is deeply to be feared that too many read the verses before us in a state of mind indefinitely approaching to unconscious yet real infidelity. Is it possible that there could be such an amount of insensibility in any mind that steadily contemplated this scene as an event which really occurred? Could this transaction be viewed with more indifference than it is by multitudes, even though it were announced as a mere fiction? No; suppose it were a fiction, it would be a grander one unspeakably than the imagination of the thoughts of any man ever devised. Regarded as a mere idea, though forgotten as a fact, it is still fitted to produce a most powerful effect, to arrest and compel attention, to fill the mind with amazement and with awe.
But the startling idea, the awful conception of the living God, enthroned in the supreme government of a myriad of worlds, each one of which with its countless multitudes of living beings hangs upon His nod: of this great, self-existent, independent Jehovah, with His Godhead dwelling in the frail garb of human nature, lying prostrate on the cold ground in the attitude of deepest abasement and most prostrate prayer; the idea, combined with the assurance that it is an idea that was actually realized in this garden of Gethsemane! Oh! it reveals to us the carnality of our minds when we feel that we can meet a fact like this with so little of that adoring wonder and love and praise which reason and conscience tell us it is worthy and fitted to call forth. Truly no truth is more fully proved by experience and observation than that we need the Spirit to take of the things of Christ and show them to us—that we need the Spirit of grace and supplications to be poured upon us before we can look on Him whom we have pierced and mourn.
But how could Jehovah-Jesus, the Eternal Son of the Highest, be reduced to such straits as these, to be prostrate on the ground, and lift the cry of helplessness so affectingly? The answer is that this is exactly "the mind that was in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient—obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:5-8). But did He not speak as one whose faith was shaken?—as one whose fear was awakened? As one whose fear was awakened; yes. But not as one whose faith was shaken. For in the very agony of His sorrow, when He groaned in spirit, He groaned in the Spirit of the Son, crying, "Abba, Father." "Father, if it be possible." But did not this cry imply that He began to regret His covenant engagements, and to repine against the sufferings which they entailed? No: for His language is full of perfect and absolute submission. "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done."
But did not this imply at least that in some respect Jesus longed earnestly to escape from His sufferings? It did indeed. It implied that, except for His Father's will, appointing them and appointing His people's salvation by means of them, except for this, it was most desirable that He should have no such sufferings to undergo. Could they have been real; could they have been anything else than imaginary and feigned; had not this been the Savior's feeling concerning them? Could He have had a true body and a reasonable soul, and not sensitively shrunk from undergoing "the terrors of the Lord"? Could His soul have been holy, could He have truly feared God, and not trembled in sorrow and in anguish in the prospect of His anger, or the presence of His wrath? And how could He have "learned obedience by the things which He suffered" but by subduing His natural and sinless repugnance to endure them, and thus denying and sacrificing Himself?
But still, was it not something like a weakness and imperfection on the part of Jesus that He should speak as if He thought it possible that this cup should pass from Him? "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me." And truly it is not to be denied that here we have Jesus revealed to us in weakness, even as the Holy Spirit testifies that He was "crucified through weakness" (2 Cor. 13:4). Yet let us observe of what nature this imperfection was. It consisted in nothing more than the powerful predominance—or, we may perhaps say, the sole presence—in His mind, for a moment, of the one thought of the desirableness of being exempted from the abyss of misery which yawned before Him in His Father's curse. That His holy human nature, considering the matter solely in itself, could not but desire to be exempt from such woe, we have already seen. Considered simply in itself, to desire exemption from the wrath of God was the dictate of His holy human nature, considered as at once sensitive and reasonable and holy.
Not to have felt this desire, instead of being holiness unto the Lord, would have argued—what we tremble even to think of while we know it could not be—daring contempt of the divine anger and will! No: to have such impressive views as Jesus now had of his Father's wrath, and not be filled with an earnest longing to escape from it (considering the matter simply by itself) would have argued that He did not possess a true human nature with all the sinless sensibilities which are of the essence of humanity. And if Jesus did for a moment consider the matter simply by itself; if He looked to the intense desirableness of this cup passing from Him, without for the moment taking the matter in connection with past appointments or future consequences; if there was a moment during which the one only object which stood straight before His mind's eye and filled all His vision, was the terror of the vengeance of the Omnipotent; did this indicate any imperfection but what was absolutely sinless and holy?
His true human soul, not infinite (which is a character only of his Godhead) but finite, without which it had not been true, could not possibly behold all elements of truth in one act of contemplation. In unutterable sorrow and sore amazement, the object of dread for an instant engrossed the whole reflective faculty; and in that moment the desire, not unwarrantable but holy, which was suitable to that one instant of His sore experience, in the view of that one object which for the instant exclusively was in view—the desire, which, limiting His emotions to the single object now awakening them, it would have been unnatural, unreasonable, unholy, not to have felt—was emitted as the true and genuine and not undutiful desire of the moment—"Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me"—while, immediately admitting other thoughts; looking back on Eternal Counsels and irrefragable Scriptures and promises inviolable; the Savior's soul, admitting these other thoughts, and with them the feelings suitable to them also, qualifies His desire with the expression of entire submission—"Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will."
Yes, and the inconceivable intensity with which, without any disparagement of His love to His Father or His love to His Church, He exclaimed—"Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me" is just an index by which to mark the truth, or a line by which to fathom the depths, of that love to both, under the force of which He added: "Nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done." For is it not unutterably desirable to flee from the wrath to come, whether, O sinner, it be in your own case, or in Christ's? And if He fled not, it was not because He was insensible to the terrors of His Father's wrath, as sinners are who do not flee; but He fled not, that sinners might have a hope set before them to flee to; He fled not, because He was not a hireling, but the good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep.
It is here, doubtless, that we should introduce into the narrative the glorious statement, which is made only by the evangelist Luke: "And there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven strengthening Him" (Luke 22:43). Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation? What wonder, then, if we find them ministering to Him who is the elder brother, whom God has appointed heir of all things? We know how they announced and celebrated His advent as the babe of Bethlehem; how they waited on Him as the tempted One in the wilderness; how they ministered amidst the transactions of the resurrection morning, rolling away the stone, and guarding the place where the body of Jesus lay. All these and such like acts of service to the Mediator's person, into whose redemption work they desire to look, were so many and very obvious instances of the fulfillment of the Father's glorious oracle concerning Him, as it is written, "When He brings in the first-begotten into the world, He says, Let all the angels of God worship Him" (Heb. 1:6).
We are not told how the angel on this occasion strengthened the agonizing Redeemer. Yet if he came that he might visibly fulfill the terms of the oracle and "worship" Him, we may see how suitable and seasonable such a ministration must have been, and how strengthening! For it was not with Jesus at this moment as in the times when His mighty and miraculous powers went forth; when the energies of His Godhead were in operation to attest His Messiahship, or bless and relieve His followers. The attributes of His divine nature were at this moment held in abeyance. They slumbered, or retired, to admit of that humiliation which, had all their glories pressed forward into view or into action, would have been impossible.
And while the Godhead in the second person was indissolubly and eternally united with humanity in one person in the man Christ, the sufferings of "the man" reached their crisis and their complication—just as the positive action of His Godhead's powers and attributes was more and more withdrawn and resigned. This was the precise nature of His abasement, that though it was no robbery for Him to be equal with God, He yet laid aside the reputation though never the reality thereof; and, remaining still, as He must ever remain, the same God unchangeable, He yet appeared in the form of a servant, not drawing on His divine might and energies, but denying Himself their exercise and forth-putting—concealing, retiring out of view, withdrawing from the field of action, those prerogatives and powers of Deity, which in the twinkling of an eye might have scattered ten thousand worlds and hells of enemies. He withdrew them all from action that He might taste the weakness of created nature. And in thus denying Himself the consolation and energy and support which the action of His divine upon His human nature, had He chosen, would have furnished to Him boundlessly, in this consisted the test and the trial of His submission to the Father's yoke, in the body which He had prepared him. To draw unduly on the resources of His Godhead, and in a manner inconsistent with His relation and His duty towards the Father, as the Mediator between God and man in the days of his flesh, was precisely that act to which the devil in vain sought to tempt Him when he said, "If You are the Son of God, command these stones that they be made bread." For Jesus to have done so would have been to "make Himself of" some "reputation." It would have been to recoil from the form and the duty of a servant. It would have been to abandon His position as one made under the law.
But preeminently in the closing scenes of His obedience and sufferings were all manifestation and action and supporting influence of His divine nature withdrawn, as if all divine glories and perfections enfolded and enwrapped themselves into mysterious concealment within. So that the divine suppliant, though He was indeed divine, lay prostrate with His face upon the ground in all the weakness that could overtake a mere—mere man.
How unspeakably seasonable and consoling, that at such a crisis, by the adoring worship of an angel, the glory of His own Divine Person should be presented to the view of His created mind, to countervail in some measure the anguish and the shame to which in His human nature He was at this moment reduced! True, the very nature of the case forbade that the arm of His omnipotence should spring forth and bear His weakened body up against the infirmity and trembling which astonishment and sorrow had evoked; or that the light of His omniscience should gush in upon His human soul, as in God's full flood, and reveal to it the glories and the joys which His sufferings should achieve. Not thus in the hour of His anguish and prostration could His eternal power and Godhead come into action to relieve and comfort Him.
But if, while all his divine prerogatives were retired, withheld and resigned from his own enjoyment of them, in order that in creature weakness He might expiate the sins of His elect—what if from heaven there come forth one of those ministers of God who do His pleasure, and literally fulfill the commandment of the Father, "Let the angels of God worship Him!" To be made the object of divine worship and adoration: to be with profoundest love and reverence reminded, that, though reproached of men and despised of the people; though weakened and abased in body and in soul to the utmost extreme of anguish and of woe; though avenged upon by God as the surety of countless sinners, bearing their responsibilities and visited with all their curse; though reduced in His created nature to all the extremity of helplessness and anguish of which it was susceptible, that still He was the adorable and true God, the living God and an everlasting king: to be worshipped still, while Himself a prostrate agonizing worshipper: still to be Himself worshipped and adored by the messenger from heaven with all the adoration that messenger had been rendering even at the Father's throne.
Oh! this was precisely the ministration of strength to His fainting soul which the crisis of his anguish required. This was to Him as the foretaste of His coming glory, when angels and principalities and powers would be subjected to Him, and at the name of Jesus every knee would bow. This worshipping angel was to Him as His Father's messenger, meeting Him in the moment of profound abasement to tell Him of the exaltation that would follow. This answer to His prayer was like the voice of God saying to the enfeebled man of Gethsemane: "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever."
The two great themes which engrossed the whole testimony of the Spirit of Christ as He spoke by all the holy prophets were "the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow." The time had been when that glory, as by anticipation, appeared in blessed foretaste to be realized, and the same three witnesses beheld it. While the "glory" seemed thus revealed, the "sufferings" were the theme presented to the Savior's mind, and heavenly messengers descended on the holy mount and talked with Him of "the decease which He would accomplish at Jerusalem." And now, when the "sufferings" begin to be realized, and are already endured even unto the anguish of death, "the glory that shall follow" is the theme suggested to the mind of Jesus; and an angel comes to strengthen and refresh His drooping spirit with the seasonable and assured conviction that He shall yet be glorified with the glory which He had with the Father before the world was.
Alas! that within a stone's-throw of the place, in the immediate view of the very scene, where there seemed to meet in one all the intense variety of the unseen world, ranging in its compass from the cords of death and the pains of hell, to the worship and the glories of the heaven of heavens—even in immediate view of such things as these, where the powers of the world to come had their action so infinitely momentous, so infinitely important even to themselves, the disciples should have so fallen from sympathy with Jesus as to fall asleep!
"And He came to the disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, What! could you not watch with Me one hour?"
Ah! but let us beware lest any of us be chargeable with guilt of a similar or even deeper dye. There is such a thing as having the sufferings and anguish of Christ brought under our view, and seeing Christ set forth in ordinances manifestly prostrated, yes, "manifestly crucified," for sin, and yet remaining asleep in sin, yes, dead in trespasses and in sins: without fleeing from the hateful evil which entailed upon the Savior all His anguish, and without, therefore, fleeing from the wrath which Jesus dreaded, yet in love to sinners bore. Oh! awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead. Do not expose yourself to such anguish and woe as filled even the soul of the Divine Redeemer with amazement and exceeding sorrow even unto death. You cannot but know, under a preached gospel, that either there must be some distinct and personal transaction, wherein, with hearts alive to the terrible importance of the case, you choose this once wearied, afflicted, abased Redeemer as your own, that in those agonies which He suffered and in that death which He ultimately died, divine justice may accept what is due on your part to the law of your God which you have broken; or else, that same justice of God must find the satisfaction of a broken law in your own eternal endurance of the second death, which is the wages of sin. O careless transgressor! asleep in a world on which the Son of God travailed in spirit, and died a ransom for sin; asleep, it may be, nearer to the unseen world than the three slumbering disciples now were to Jesus, for there may be but a step between you and death. Awake and flee in repentance and in faith to the hope which that suffering Savior sets before you. Delay no more, lest the sword should find you out of Christ, and slay you with the second death!
But may not even believers be asleep? These were disciples whom Jesus found asleep when He returned from His agonizing sufferings and prayers. And may not disciples still too often find that an unseemly slumber is upon their souls? Who among us feels that he is awake and alive, as he ought to be, to the powerful lessons which a scene like that of Gethsemane is fitted to teach us? Rather, who does not feel, in review of such a subject as this, that the sufferings of the Savior's soul, and the unparalleled love which led Him to endure them—the "love so amazing, so divine"—deserves not only a larger extent but even another kind of requital than any we have ever rendered?
What earnest Christian can fail to be ashamed of the weakness and changeableness of the love which is all that Jesus has ever received at His hands—of the unheartiness and infrequency of the services he has rendered in His kingdom; of the slow and inconstant steps with which he has followed his example, and the much lack of faith and fervency wherein he has failed to cultivate as he ought a holy and joyful fellowship with Him in all His ordinances?
Were Christians more with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane—more studious to enter into the mind and love of a suffering Savior—more given to cultivate the "fellowship of His sufferings," and to realize the deep glories of their own redemption as upspringing endlessly from the unfathomable abysses of the anguish of the Son of God, and boundless and secure to them only because His anguish was so great and all-sufficient—they would be far more awake to the things which are unseen and eternal, and live both more holy and more blessed under the powers of the world to come.
Awake, then, you children of God, to a livelier faith and a more penitent and grateful love to Him who died for you and who rose again. It is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is your salvation nearer than when you believed. He who lay prostrate on the ground in Gethsemane will soon come to sit upon His great white throne. Awake, and serve Him in faith and love. Serve Him, and fight for Him, under the banner of His own most free and forgiving and sanctifying love—the love that braved Gethsemane and the cross for you. And ever tasting that the Lord is gracious, serve Him with godly fear, remembering that the Lord our God is holy. So shall you not be ashamed before Him at His coming.
GETHSEMANE, THE AGONY OF SORROW
"My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death."
That the sorrow of Christ in Gethsemane was of a very intense and terrible description, we have many infallible proofs. The Scriptures testify, recording indeed His own testimony, that He "began to be very heavy," to be "sorrowful," to be "sore amazed," and "sorrowful even unto death." And these expressions are far from conveying the great force and emphasis of the original.
The terms in which Jesus Himself poured His griefs into the ears of his disciples, combined with the simple fact that He felt induced and constrained to speak of them at all, afford very affecting evidence that they were of a nature and degree which only the overhanging shadow of death with all its woe could have caused to fall upon Him. The aid and concert of that vigilance which He implored as if their sympathy in His sore affliction would afford some comfort and alleviation; the fact that He instantly betook Himself to prayer, that mightiest of all instruments which created natures can wield; the intensity of earnestness and energy with which He prayed; the frequency with which He recurred to agonizing prayer as His only resource; His reiterated but unsuccessful appeals and visits to His disciples; and the bloody sweat of which His intense wrestlings in prayer produced, even in that cold night (for it was that same night in which the soldiers "made a fire for it was cold")—all these are proofs that the anguish of the Savior's soul in Gethsemane was unparalleled by anything that even He, the man of sorrows, had yet encountered or endured.
In confining our attention at present to the consideration of the SORROW of the Lord, to discover what from the Scriptures may be learned of its nature and causes, we ought to feel that we specially require the Spirit of the Lord to rest upon us, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord, that we may not irreverently intrude where angels might tremble to advance, or gaze with presumptuous eye where angels might veil their faces with their wings. Deep grief, among mere men, is for the most part, generously accounted a sacred thing. Here we have the grief of Him who is the ever-blessed God; the sorrow and weakness and fear and trembling of Him who is the Lord God Omnipotent; the tears and prostrate agonies and cries of One who is now seated on the right hand of the majesty in the heavens, angels and principalities and powers being made subject to Him!
Perhaps the most impressive proof that can be given of the inconceivable terrors of Christ's sufferings considered as a whole, and as constituting the one undivided ransom for sin, results from the fact that the darkness of Gethsemane must be regarded as but the shadow of Calvary, this remark, at the same time, opening to us the nature and sources of what Christ endured when He said, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death." The sorrows of the garden arose from the prospect and foresight of the sorrows of the cross.
That this was the case is obvious from the tenor of the Savior's prayers, for surely the one must throw light upon the other. Without doubt it was the source of His sorrow which formed the subject of his supplication. Now we learn, from the reiterated prayers which this sorrow called forth, that Jesus was not at this time directly drinking the cup of His Father's wrath. That He did upon the cross when, there in His own body, on the tree, He bore our sins and was made a curse for us, and suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust. But now, in Gethsemane, the agony or wrestling of prayer which arose from the agony and anguish of grief, concerned not the immediate but the ultimate drinking of that cup—not the immediate drinking of it, but only the immediate and final allocating of it to Him as a cup which He should in due time drink, and which it was His now simply to accept and acknowledge as His portion.
It is impossible to read the narrative carefully with a view to this question without observing that the Savior agonies in His deadly sorrow and His oft-repeated wrestlings, not from anguish caused by drinking of this cup, but simply by the prospect of having yet to drink of it, by the foresight of the dreadful and inconceivable travail of His soul which drinking it would cause, insomuch that, were it possible, nothing could be so unspeakably desirable as that this cup should pass from Him, and by the clear view of the absolute necessity of accepting it to which His love to His Father's will and His people's salvation finally and irreversibly committed and engaged Him—"Nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done."
And so, this paroxysm of the Savior's agony passed away, not with the cup being drained, but simply with the cup being put into His hand by the Father's will on the one side, and accepted by Jesus in full submission to the Father's will on the other. And that the cup thus given and received was not at this time drained, but simply received, is intimated by the Savior Himself subsequently when, on His entrance on the final and ultimate sorrows of death, by the arrest which Judas effected with his band of soldiers, Jesus reproved the untimely zeal of Peter, saying, "Put your sword into its sheath: the cup that My Father has given Me to drink, shall I not drink it." His submitting to be thus arrested as a criminal was the commencement of His drinking that cup.
From this we may see that the cup which the Father gave Him consisted substantially in the imputation to Him of a criminal's guilt, and the assignment to Him of a criminal's position and destiny. No sooner is the mysterious transaction of Gethsemane over than the secret and spiritual nature of what was there determined immediately begins to be manifest. From this moment, onward to His resurrection, Jesus is seen among men no more in any other character than that of a criminal. Every step now in His history is that of the history of a criminal. The whole may be summed up briefly thus: He is arrested, libeled, judged, condemned, executed. This whole series of His successive positions and endurances as an offender, a transgressor; so immediately begun, so completely sustained and perfected; was the cup which He finally drained upon the cursed tree.
This cup, Peter would have had Him to refuse; this position of a transgressor, Peter would have had Him to renounce; when he set himself against the first element of it, in his Master's arrest. Jesus refused to resist His seizure, on the ground that this were refusing the cup which the Father had given Him to drink. Can there be any difficulty, then, in understanding what that cup was? That whole treatment of His person as the person of a malefactor, of which the arrest in the garden was the first step, constituted the cup concerning which the sorrows and wrestlings of the garden had been conversant.
We know how unrighteously the blessed Jesus was forced by men into those attitudes and destinies of an offender. We know that the arrest was unprovoked: the accusation, false: the trial, a mockery: the evidence, perjury: the sentence, unrighteous and malicious: its execution, murder. Yet still, here were all the circumstances and steps, if not the pomp and dignity, of judgment upon life and death: and if we look beneath the surface into what infinite wisdom meant in righteousness to shadow forth by the things which the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God determined should thus be done, we will find that, even as to hear of Christ drinking the cup of wrath, is but to hear in a figure of the atoning sufferings of the surety; so to see Him arrested, accused, condemned, and led to the death of a special malefactor, is in like manner only to see in a figure, to see as in a mirror, the successive footsteps of the avenging justice of the highest, as, armed with a valid commission to arrest, and a terrific scroll and handwriting of ordinances to accuse, and the warrant of the judge of all to condemn, and the everlasting sword of heaven's wrath to avenge—she onwardly and unfalteringly pursues unto the end the Substitute of the guilty, the Seeker and the Savior of the lost.
That visible seizure of His person which the traitor accomplished—that libel, judgment, sentence, death, which in quick succession followed—in themselves so unrighteous; what were they in the determinate counsel of God, but the outward and visible sign of the hidden and spiritual process and prosecution which the incensed, avenging judge carried on against the man that was "numbered with transgressors"? Every position in which He now stands, whether as a captured criminal in the hands of constituted power, or accused at the tribunal of authority, or condemned by the highest voices in the Church and in the State, and led away bearing the cross, and crucified between two malefactors, one on either side—every one of these positions, however unrighteous as assigned to Him by man, is but an index and an emblem of a corresponding and true and righteous position or relation now assigned to Him, and which He now assumes, towards the Judge of all the earth. Yes, even the preference of Barabbas, who was a robber and seditious and a murderer, viewed as the emblem and seal of Christ's hidden condemnation, is but righteous and necessary. Jesus, as the substitute of sinners, is more heavily laden than he!
We see then the cup which the Savior drank, the doom which Jesus accepted, namely, a malefactor's position and a malefactor's retribution, symbolized with minute, prolonged, sustained accuracy by all that the wicked hearts and voices and hands of men now accomplished in him, but realized under and along with, yet far above and beyond these emblems, in the reckoning He now had to meet with God and the wrath of God He now had to bear.
And if such was the cup, what could His receiving or consenting to receive it imply, but His submitting to be made sin for us, submitting to be numbered with transgressors, submitting to have the iniquities of His people laid upon Him? This was what Gethsemane beheld transacted between the Father and the Son. Finally and formally the Father proposes to Jesus the assumption of the guilt of His Church unto Himself. Finally and formally Jesus accepts and confirms what had been determined mutually in the counsel of peace from everlasting. He agrees, or rather solemnly ratifies all His previous agreements to be responsible in all the responsibilities of His elect people. "Not My will but Yours be done." "Your will be done."
The Father lays upon Him the iniquities of all whom He has given to Him: imputes to Him the guilt of all who shall be redeemed: makes Him who knew no sin to be sin for us: numbers Him among transgressors, as bearing in His own person the sins of many; and looks upon Him as lying under the imputation of all their countless transgressions. It is unto this that Jesus says, "Your will be done." He assumes, therefore, at His Father's will, the sins which He is to bear in His own body on the tree; and the baptism of blood in His agony which follows is the sign and seal of the covenant, which thus by imputation makes Him out to be the chief and the most heavy laden of transgressors!
Can there be any difficulty now in understanding generally what the nature and emphasis of His sorrow must have been? Think of Jesus coming into this terrible position towards the judge of all—towards His Father and His God—towards Him whose approbation and pleasure in Him were the light and joy of his life unspeakable! Think of Him consenting to have all the sins of myriads imputed to Him by his Father: to underlie, that is, the imputation, in his Father's judgment, of every kind and degree and amount of moral evil—every species and circumstance and combination of vile iniquity! There is a book of reckoning which eternal justice writes in heaven, in which is entered every charge to which infinite unsparing rectitude, searching with omniscient glance alike the darkness and the light, sees the sons of men become obnoxious. This terrific scroll, so far as the elect of God are concerned in it, was unrolled before the eye of Jesus in Gethsemane: "the iniquities of us all" which God was now about to lay upon Him, were therein disclosed: and you have to think of the sorrow with which He should contemplate His becoming responsible and being held of God to be responsible, for all that that record charged—His being accounted of God, in His own one person, guilty of all that that record bore! It was hereupon that the Christ who, in prophetic Scripture as in the fortieth Psalm, proclaimed Himself the Father's willing Covenant Servant—"Lo, I come, in the volume of the book it is written of Me; I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your law also is within My heart" (Ps. 40:6)—exclaims also, as one heavily laden with accumulated sins, and trembling, ashamed, and self-doomed because of them—"Innumerable evils have surrounded Me: My iniquities have taken hold upon Me so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of My head, therefore My heart fails Me" (Ps. 40:17). And by the consenting testimony of historic Scripture, He began to be "sore amazed" and "very heavy," and said to his disciples: "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death."
In forming a judgment of the sorrow and anguish which the imputation of sin to the holy Jesus must have caused, there is a vexing fallacy to be guarded against. We are ready to suppose that however hard and terrible to bear must have been the wrath and death which were the wages of the sins for which He suffered, yet the imputation of these sins to Him could have, in itself, cost Him little anxiety, or caused Him little sorrow, in the consciousness that He was not personally guilty of them—the consciousness of His own unsullied holiness.
Now let it be remembered that the imputations which even malicious men chose to make him underlie—the reproaches and revilings under which at man's tribunal He was traduced—did, notwithstanding their very certain falsehood, cause Him much anxiety and grief in so much that He exclaims in His Psalm of sorrow: "Reproach has broken My heart, and I am full of heaviness" (Ps. 69:20); that same affection of His weary soul which He now endured in Gethsemane, when He was sore amazed and very heavy. And if these reproaches thus affected Him, let us note these two points of difference, that is, First, that in the one case, the imputations cast upon Him were from man and at man's tribunal. In the other case, God laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. God made Him to be sin. God imputed to Him—the Father whom He infinitely loved—the judge whom He infinitely revered as one who could not do but what is right—reckoned Him among transgressors. And, secondly, in the one case, the imputations of men which broke His heart and filled it with heaviness, were repudiated and denied by Him in all their extent, and to every effect. In the other, there was an imputation admitted as righteous, the proposal of infinitely righteous love and wisdom—the product and decree of divine Triune counsels from everlasting. If, then, misdeeds imputed by man and in every sense denied, and which indeed had no existence at all, were yet unto the breaking of the heart, what when iniquities are imputed by God and in a true and righteous sense admitted—admitted in a sense and to an effect which entailed immediate and full responsibility, avenging and unmitigated reckoning? True, the sins which were charged upon Him were not His own, but they were so laid upon Him and so became His, that He could not merely endure, but accept as righteous, the penalty which they entailed. He did not merely suffer the death which is the wages of sin: He did voluntarily give Himself up to death—accepting it as due to Him—acknowledging His holy liability to it—justifying as very righteous the doom which He trembled to anticipate.
And if the punishment of these sins was thus not in semblance, but in reality accepted by Jesus as justly visited upon Himself, must it not have been because the sins themselves had first been made His—verily, really His—to every effect save that alone of impairing His unspotted personal holiness and perfection? And if they were His to bring Him wrath to the uttermost in their penalty, must they not have been His to cause Him grief and sorrow inconceivable in their imputation? True, they were not personally His own; and so they were not His to bring self-accusation, self-contempt, despondency, remorse, despair. But they were His sufficiently to induce upon His holy soul a shame, humiliation, sorrow—yes, sore amazement—as He stood at His Father's tribunal, accountable for more than child of man shall ever account for unto eternity!
Still, confessedly, it is difficult to understand the sorrow and amazement and agony of a holy being in having sin thus by imputation imposed upon Him. It is only a legal or judicial arrangement; so we reason. It is but a scheme of mercy to relieve the miserable. Or, be it that it is more; that it is a scheme of justice also to absolve the guilty; why should not the Surety's conscious innocence triumph over the sorrow and the shame of this imputed sin? Why should He quail and tremble, filled with anguish and amazement, not merely by the prospect of the penalty which this imputation will ultimately bring, but in the immediate sense of a shame, and the immediate endurance of a sorrow, which this imputation itself inflicts? What can there be in sin, when not personally His own, that can thus cause Him to agonize in pain and prayer, and offer up supplications with strong crying and tears?
There is nothing that we know of in all the history of God's moral administration that can aid us by comparison in considering how sin imputed by the judge of all to a personally holy being, should fill His soul with sorrow. But the illustration, which there exists no comparison to furnish, may be derived from a contrast. The sorrows of imputed sin may be illustrated, perhaps, by the joys of imputed righteousness. Sin imputed to a holy one must produce effects directly the reverse of righteousness imputed to a sinner. And thus, perhaps, in the justification of the believer and the Church, through the righteousness of Christ, we may learn somewhat of the terrible shame and condemnation of him who became responsible for all their sins.
1. To prepare the way for this reasoning from analogy, and in order to justify us in adopting it, let it be observed, first of all, that the contrast which we wish to examine is very emphatically stated in various Scriptures; the one term being represented as the issue and the fruit resulting and contemplated from the other. "He has made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21). "You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might be rich" (2 Cor. 8:9). It is very clearly implied in the latter of these texts that whatever was contained in the poverty with which Christ became poor, the very reverse should accrue to us in the riches with which by his poverty we should be made rich: if sin and sorrow and shame and death in the one, righteousness and joy and dignity and life eternal in the other. And in the former text it is very distinctly asserted that if God imputed our sins to Him who had no sin of His own, it was in order that to us who have no righteousness of our own He might impute Christ's righteousness in turn. To effect this marvelous exchange is the design contemplated in Christ's union with the Church in federal unity, in one person mystical. He assumes her sin to taste its bitterness and bear its curse, that she may be enriched with His righteousness, to taste its joys, and be endowed with its heavenly rewards. This contrast, therefore, is of express divine constitution—the one term moreover being the glorious fruit of the other. Sinners can be counted righteous, because the Holy One was reckoned a sinner.
2. Notice, then, secondly, that he who believes in Jesus though ungodly, and who is thereby accounted righteous only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to him, is not the less entitled to rejoice in that righteousness, even while it is true that it is not his own; yes, while it is true that he has none of his own; yes, while it is true that he has nothing but sin of his own. He is entitled to rejoice, as one clothed in the glorious unsullied robes in which omniscient holiness can find no spot nor stain. While in himself, that is, in his flesh, there dwells no good thing, yet in the Lord he has righteousness, and in Him he may glory and make his joyful triumphant boast.
Even so, Jesus, when He was accounted a transgressor only for the transgressions of his people imputed to Him, and received in infinite love to them and submission to His Father, when He said, "Your will be done," is not the less subjected to inevitable sorrow and shame in that imputed sin, even while it is true that it is not His own; yes, while it is true that He has none of His own; yes, while it is true that He has nothing but glorious and unsullied holiness of His own. He is subjected to sorrow and shame as one clothed in filthy garments in which omniscient holiness—his Father's and his own—alike behold unbounded material for abhorrence. While in Himself He is the beloved Son of God—in whom the Father is ever well pleased, yes, delighting in Him specially in this very transaction because of His holy acquiescence in this holy liability in the sins of His sinful and unpurged Church, yet identified with his sinful and still unpurged Church in all her unpurged sin, He has ground only for horror and humiliation.
The believer's own unworthiness ought not to avail to impair His joy, because a true righteousness is imputed to Him, and he has the blessedness of Him to whom the Lord imputes not his sin. The Surety's own unspotted holiness cannot avail to prevent His sorrow, because sin is imputed to Him and He has voluntarily therefore assumed what misery must belong to Him to whom the Lord imputes—not His holiness—to whom the Lord imputes nothing but sin.
3. The fact that the righteousness which the believer rejoices in is not his own, not only does not diminish his joy, but on the contrary adds to it an element of wonder, a thrill of unexpected and surprising delight. To be exalted from a relation fraught with guilt and wrath and fear and death, and to be brought at once, on the ground of another's merit, into one of favor and peace and blessedness and eternal life—to have the angry frown of an incensed avenging judge turned away, and all replaced by the sweet smiles of a Father's love—this, the fruit of the imputation of another's righteousness, hiding all my sin, quenching all my fear, wondrously reversing all my fate, this is not only joyful but surprising—wonderful, the doing of the Lord and marvelous in our eyes!
And so, for Jesus to be accounted a sinner by imputation must have added a pang of amazement to the sorrow and humiliation which ensued. In point of fact, this very element in His sorrow is pointed out. He began to be "sore amazed." Not but that He fully expected it. Yet when it came, the change was in its nature "amazing." To pass from a state of unimpeached integrity to one in which He was chargeable with all grievous sins—from a state in which His conscious and unsullied love and practice of all things that are pure and lovely and of good report caused Him to obtain the announcements to his Father's complacency and love—("I do always those things that please Him")—to a state in which that love and practice still unimpaired, He nevertheless justified his Father's justice in frowning on Him in displeasure by the very horror and the struggle in which He would, but for His Father's will, have refused to be plunged: this must have struck into the very heart of all His sorrow an element of amazement amounting to absolute agony and horror. If an ecstasy of wonder thrills through the believer's joy in the Lord His righteousness, there must have been a deeply contrasted paralyzing amazement when the Holy One of God realized Himself as worthy, in the sins of others, of condemnation at His Father's tribunal.
4. The justified believer finds his joy in the righteousness of Christ augmented to the highest exaltation by the fact that this righteousness is not only not his own, but is the righteousness of one so beloved, so closely related to him as his living head, his elder brother—"my Lord, and my God." Had it been the righteousness of one standing in no endearing relation to him (were this conceivable), one who in future should be nothing more to him than any other, or one never more to be heard of, or at least never to be enjoyed in the embrace of friendship and the offices of love: the believer's joy in such a righteousness imputed to him would have been unspeakably less. The exulting delight, unspeakable and full of glory, which the believer cherishes in clasping to his heart that righteousness of Jesus which is all his boast before God and angels, and which evermore is as a cordial to his fainting heart, the ever-reviving fountain to him of life from the dead, the secret and inexpressible exultation of his joy in this righteousness of Jesus just springs from the remembrance that it is the righteousness of one whom his soul loves; of one who is all his salvation and all his desire; of one with whom He shall dwell forevermore—and thus better to him far than had it been his own. Imputation, therefore, it is evident, can carry with it a fervor and intensity of joy to which actual and personal possession can never reach.
And ah! why may not this principle operate when imputation infers sorrow, being the imputation of sin? If Jesus had been forced to assume the place and responsibilities of the guilty (were that conceivable) the case in this respect would have been very different from what it was. It must not be forgotten that it was love that induced Him to accept the imputation of iniquity—to bear away, as the Lamb of God, the sin of the world. Had it been the imputation of the sins of those whom He did not love (were that conceivable) His resulting sorrow would have been unutterably less; and there might have been some scope or place for the idea that the sin being merely imputed, and not at all His own, He could afford to let it lie lightly upon His soul. But it was the sin of those whom He was not ashamed to call, and could not be induced to refrain from calling brethren—the sin of His children; his Church; His dearly beloved; His elect; His bride—"the Lamb's wife." His electing and everlasting love, therefore—free, sovereign, distinguishing, self-consuming—choosing this sinful Church into this intensely and divinely endearing relation, wherein His delights were with her by anticipation before yet the morning stars sang for joy—bound her iniquity upon Him as His own, even as it bound her as a seal upon His heart and as a seal upon His arm. Thus came the Holy One of Israel to have sin to reckon for—sin not His own in His own name, yet still His own in her name. And so, having guilt, and having conscience, even while He had not a guilty conscience, His soul was "exceedingly sorrowful even unto death." For He realized that He was "made sin"!
Oh, let us not think that, because personally and in Himself perfectly holy, Jesus could on that account have experienced little sorrow from being numbered with transgressors.
Not because in himself he is a sinner is the believer excluded from rejoicing in the imputed righteousness of Christ. Justified by faith in another's merit, he may rejoice in the Lord, and glory in the God of his salvation. Yes, the fact that it is another's merit which is the fountain of all his joy and the ground of all his glorying, infuses an element of admiration and astonishment into his glorying and his joy. And that it is the righteousness of his beloved and his friend, gives to his joy the crowning character of inexpressible delight and sweet and most generous exultation. Oh, blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes righteousness without works! "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God: for He has clothed me with the garment of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."
And turning now to the mournful side of this contrast—surely it should break our hearts (Zech. 12:10) to have to do it—turning to the mournful side of this contrast, which in its deep abasing poverty in sorrow has procured for us all this riches in gladness, we may surely understand how in like manner His personal holiness did not exempt Him from sorrow when sin was imputed to Him; how, rather, His sorrow was mingled with a peculiar terror and amazement, springing from the fact that the sin was the sin of others and not His own; and how that sorrow must have been deep and terrible in proportion as the love which bound these others to Him in love even as His own soul, and thus identified them with Himself, did thereby bind upon Him as his own, in the name of those whom He was infinitely far from repudiating, all the iniquity which His Father's justice charged against them.
It is not indeed the joy which a believer actually experiences as justified in the merit of Emmanuel which can properly be chosen as the counterpart and contrast to the sorrow of Jesus. It is rather the joy, in its purest form and fullest measure, which there is ground for the believer enjoying, that can alone form anything like an accurate, though even then most inadequate, index to the contrasted sorrow of the Substitute and Surety of sinners. But we have seen enough in the analogy between imputed sin and imputed righteousness to show, that as the latter, though imputed and not personal, does yet lay a ground of righteousness and surprising joy, so the former in like manner, though also not personal but merely imputed, does not on that account any less entail amazing sorrow and shame as its result.
Any aid which this analogy may furnish to us in looking into the amount of the Savior's sorrow is at the best but small, and the abyss of his troubles must ever be unsearchable—a matter of faith rather than of knowledge. But if the analogy is correct, then, to give to our idea such expansion as it is capable of—measuring still the sorrow of the Redeemer by the joy of the redeemed, we may observe:
1. That the more the believer sees of Christ's righteousness, and the more he realizes it by faith as his own, the deeper does that joy become which he is warranted to cherish in the Lord his Righteousness. We can conceive his faith, and his believing consciousness, to attain the consummate strength of a divine and infallible assurance. And, further, we may suppose the glorious spiritual insight he may have attained into the moral loveliness and beauty of the righteousness thus imputed to him to be such, that knowing of God that he is of God invested in this matchless robe of salvation, his joy thereupon should rise above all power of sublunary things to shake or overshadow it. This much as to the measure of the purchased joy—joy in imputed merit—and the conditions on which its rise and increase depend.
Similar are the conditions necessary to depth of sorrow in imputed sin. First, infallible assurance (not to be called faith in this case, yet supplying its place in the other), infallible assurance that the imputation is effected; and secondly, a profound insight into the hatefulness and moral deformity of the sin that is imputed. To convey these to Jesus was verily the Father's object in dealing with Him in the garden. He gave Him a view of the cup such as revealed to Him the elements with which it was charged; and accurate and terrible therefore as was the view given Him of the iniquities thus laid upon Him, profound in proportion must have been that sorrow of which He spoke when He said, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful even unto death."
2. But again, secondly, a believer's joy in the righteousness of Christ rises to its fullest ecstacy of unmingled exultation and unassailable security, only when he actually enters the home of the redeemed and the presence of his Father on high. Then indeed will he glory in the Lord his righteousness, accepted into everlasting life in virtue of the righteousness of his Lord. And why should his joy then be bounded only by his own capacity of joy? For one reason among others, because the undimmed spiritual eye of his own personal and now unsullied holiness, can look with hitherto unknown appreciation and blessedness upon the transcendent moral beauties of the righteousness in which he walks in light. His perfect holiness now crowns his joy in the righteousness of Christ with its final and celestial radiance.
Ah! does not the contrast again hold, very affectingly? Personal holiness and unspotted purity did not diminish the terrible humiliation and anguish Jesus underwent in being clothed with filthy garments, in being made sin, in being laden with iniquity and accounted a transgressor. Ah! no. The stainless personal perfection of Jesus made Him inconceivably sensitive to all the degradation which His position at his Father's tribunal as a transgressor implied. The believer, rejoicing in his Savior's righteousness, must at death be made perfect in holiness and pass into glory before he can comprehend the glorious depths of perfection in that righteousness which his beloved and his friend has brought in on his behalf. But Jesus, ever absolutely sinless, did, in virtue of that very sinlessness which we would reckon on as if it alleviated His sorrow, penetrate the depths of moral evil in all its compass and deformity and vileness which was now to be laid upon Him: and His soul, because it was holy, was so much the more sorely amazed, and very heavy, and exceedingly sorrowful even unto death.
3. But the perfection of the contrast lies not between the joys of a single believer and the sorrows of the one Savior who died for all. There shall be a people in the realms of day, blood-washed and redeemed and rejoicing, whom no man can number. Who shall measure the sum of the joy with which these millions of once apostate but justified transgressors, saved and sanctified forever, shall joy in the God of their salvation? The voice of that mighty aggregate of joy shall be loud and long—yes, forever. It shall be as the noise of many waters, ever springing up yet more and more from exhaustless abysmal depths. It was that mighty aggregate of joy to which Jesus gave being by His sorrow. It is with that mighty aggregate of joy—ever deepening in the Holy Spirit unto eternity—that the sorrow of Jesus must be contrasted!
Are we not, then, in some measure prepared to rend our hearts and mourn, to bow our heads and worship, while a still small voice is asking: "Was there ever sorrow like my sorrow?"
GETHSEMANE,THE AGONY OF PRAYER
"And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground."(Luke 22:44)
Before entering on the consideration of the import of our Lord's prayer in the garden, there are one or two preliminary considerations requiring our attention.
1. The Scriptures present Jesus to us as a man of prayer. At an early period of His ministry we read a statement such as this: "And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out and departed to a solitary place, and there prayed" (Mark 1:35). Again, after having fed the five thousand, Jesus, we are told, "straightway constrained His disciples to get into a ship and to go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitude away. And when He had sent the multitude away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray. And when the evening came, He was there alone," remaining there until the fourth watch of the night, when He marvelously and miraculously showed Himself to the disciples, walking upon the waters and subduing the storm (Matt. 14:13). In like manner, the night preceding the day on which He chose the twelve to be His special disciples and witnesses, was dedicated to prayer: "And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called unto Him His disciples, and of them He chose twelve, whom He also named apostles" (Luke 6:12). These are instances in which Jesus is set before us as preeminently a man of prayer.
2. In the second place, this was of necessity involved in the fact of His being made in all things like His brethren, sin only excepted. To identify Himself with His people in all their responsibilities, and in all their necessities and sinless infirmities, was the Redeemer's purpose in assuming their nature. He would taste, by experience, all that was implied in their position, bearing by imputation all the sin that was involved in it, and entering by personal sympathy into all in it that was not sinful. He inevitably placed Himself, therefore, in a position of acknowledged weakness and infirmity—of absolute dependence on God—a dependence to be exercised and expressed in the adorations and supplications of prayer. He was made of a woman, made under the law—under the law of prayer, as of other ordinances and duties—the law by which a man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven, and except the Lord be inquired of for it (Ez. 36:37).
3. That Christ should be a man of prayer was required by the terms or conditions of the covenant between Himself and the Father. That covenant, which imposed upon Him certain obligations, made Him the heir also of many promises. Yet the fulfillment of these promises was suspended on the condition that Jesus should solicit them in prayer. Whatever was necessary for the preservation of His person, or the erection of His kingdom, the Father engaged to bestow, requiring only the Son to ask.
The strength, the grace, the support, the consolation needed by Jesus personally, had all to be sued out in prayer; as also the fruits of his death and the ingathering of His children. In all things by prayer and supplication,
with thanksgiving, He had to make His requests known to God. For such was the law of His office. Such, accordingly, was the decree concerning Him, as He Himself rehearses it in the second Psalm: "I will declare the decree: Jehovah has said to Me, You are my Son, this day have I begotten You. Ask of me, and I will give You the heathen for Your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Your possession." And the prayers of the Son of God, David's Son and David's Lord, are predicted also, when in the eighty-ninth Psalm Jehovah speaks in vision to his Holy One, and says, "He shall cry to Me, My Father, My God, and the Rock of My Salvation."
4. The subjection of Christ's divine person, in His Mediatorial office, to this necessity of prayer, illustrates the true nature of His humiliation. Prayer is a confession of weakness, of insufficiency. But how singular is this in one who is a divine person—the Eternal Son of God! For He who thus prayed was God manifest in the flesh. Surely, therefore, He was God in a state of humiliation. For observe. From whom did Jesus seek the grace and power which His frail human nature needed? From what source did He desire and expect to be supplied with grace sufficient for Him, with strength made perfect in His weakness? Surely from Godhead—from the infinite resources and all-sufficiency of Godhead in the person of the Father. But, dwelt there not all the fullness of the Godhead in His own person bodily? And if so, why did He not directly, and without supplicating the Father, lay hold at once on all the resources of strength and consolation which His own Godhead, in the unity of His Mediatorial person, could have yielded? Why, if He was, in His own person, true and very God, did He not make way immediately to enrich, from the treasures of His own divine energies, that frail human nature which He had exalted into union with Deity? Surely with such unimpeded and immediate access to the whole fullness of God, as the man Christ Jesus may be supposed to have possessed, in virtue of the personal indwelling of the Godhead, He might at once have laid His hand on the very gift, or measure of divine grace and strength, which He required, without the circuitous process and the delay, so to speak, of offering up supplications to the Father?
The fact that Jesus did not thus spontaneously, and on His own authority, appropriate from His own divine resources and make over to His human nature the upholding energy He so earnestly desired, but humbly and patiently sought and waited for it from His Father, is an illustration of the wonderful statement made by Paul, when speaking of Jesus he says, "Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men, and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:6-8). It was the very God who was found in fashion as a man, in the likeness of men, in the form of a servant. At His disposal were all the attributes of which Godhead is possessed—all the strength and graces and gifts which Godhead can bestow. From His own Godhead He, the God-man, could have supplied gloriously to His own human nature, as He supplies to other created natures, all that is required for maintenance and well-being. It would not have been "robbery" had He done so. Yet He had emptied himself. His humiliation implied that He should refrain from seeking in this manner to strengthen His humanity. He was to be found simply "in fashion as a man," resigning all claims to wield in His own behalf the powers of that Godhead which He still possessed unimpaired, though concealed. Though He was "in the form of God" possessing, exhibiting, exercising the prerogatives of God—He took upon Him "the form of a servant," exercising Himself unto all the subjection of a servant—the servant's form alone appearing, the form of God retired from view. Hence, while still the true God, His were the infirmities and necessities of a man, and His Father's Godhead was His refuge and His strength, His very present help in every time of trouble. Hence Jesus prayed. He required to pray: for in His humiliation, He emptied Himself, and it was to His Father He applied, that according to His day His strength might be. His miracles were thus wrought by the Father's power: "My Father does the works." And He received that power by prayer. As in the eminent miracle of raising Lazarus we find Jesus "lifting up His eyes and saying, Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me; but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that You have sent me. And when He had thus spoken He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth" (John 11:41-43).
By the Father's power was this stupendous work achieved—and that given in answer to prayer. For in the depths of His soul Jesus had prayed, and received secretly the consciousness of an answer: nor would He have given audible expression to His communion in prayer with the Father except for the people who stood by. But for their sakes He said it, that they might believe that the Father had sent Him, that the Father did the works.
Thus the very nature of Christ's humiliation explains the necessity and nature of His subjection to the ordinance of prayer: while it made prayer as truly indispensable to Him as to any of his believing people. For in His resignation of all right to wield at pleasure the powers of His own Godhead, He "became poor" as His own poor and needy children, and left for Himself only what they may ever draw upon—the fullness of the Father's Godhead and His promises. How truly He became in all things like His brethren! In his exaltation in our nature He reassumed his Divine rights and glories, reaccepting full access to the spontaneous employment, for the Father's glory and His own, of all that was His as the co-equal Son of God. "Father, glorify Me with the glory which I had with You before the world was." And as He humbled Himself that He might be made like His brethren, so in being exalted in our nature, it is that the brethren may be made like Him, as He testifies in His intercession for them. "And the glory which you gave Me I have given them."
Proceed we now to consider the prayer in Gethsemane. And here there are three things calling for attention. First, the subject; second, the nature; third, the success—of this prayer.
1. The subject or the matter of this prayer. "O My Father, if this cup may not pass from Me except I drink it, Your will be done."
Now we are apt to regard this as an expression of resignation and submission, and nothing more, as a mere negative willingness to suffer the will of God. And the expression which Jesus employs often means this merely. Thus the friends of the Apostle Paul, when told by the Prophet Agabus the things that should befall him in Jerusalem, entreated him most vehemently that he would change his purpose, and when Paul would not be persuaded, they ceased, saying, "The will of the Lord be done." In this they merely gave a pious yet bare acquiescence when they found that matters could not be otherwise; and henceforth they were willing, but not at all desirous, that Paul should go up to Jerusalem. But there is much more than this in the prayer of Jesus: "O My Father, Your will be done." As when He commanded his disciples to pray, saying, "Our Father in heaven, Your will be done on earth, even as it is done in heaven"—meaning thereby that we ought to pray to be willing to know, obey, and submit to His will in all things as the angels do in heaven—so, in His own person, He exhibits an example of a positive and strong desire that the will of God should be done. He prays desirously that the will of God may positively be done—prays this "more earnestly" than when He went the first time and said, "Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from Me"—prays this "with strong crying and tears"—prays this in a vehement agony of wrestling, more vehement than Jacob's when he would not let the angel of the covenant go except he blessed him—prays this in an agony of blood. We do not enter at all into the mind of Christ if we limit His language to a mere expression of His willingness to drink that cup which could not pass from Him. We must understand the Savior as intensely desiring that the will of God should be done.
What was that will of God? Clearly the two sides of the statement are directly contrasted. "O My Father, since this cup may not pass from Me, Your will be done." Since it is Your will that it should not pass from Me, I desire to drink it. I desire to drink this cup, and thereby fulfill Your will—fulfill Your will in all its extent, in measure and in manner to secure Your full approbation, and so as to secure all Your most holy and most gracious eternal purpose.
O My Father, your will be done! Sacrifice and offering You would not, but a body have You prepared Me: In burnt-offering and sacrifice for sin You have had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me)—Lo I come to do Your will, O God. By the which will those whom You have given Me shall be sanctified through the offering of My body once for all. For their sakes therefore I sanctify Myself—I consecrate Myself a sacrifice for sin—that they also may be sanctified, separated from the world, consecrated to You, holy to the Lord (Heb. 10:5-10, John 17:19). The will of the Father evidently was that Jesus should be an offering for sin—the surety in the room of the guilty—that He should be made sin. "Sacrifice and offering You did not will, but in the body prepared for Me I come to do Your will." And farther, the will of the Father was that hereby the Church should be sanctified or consecrated, or, in short, saved with an eternal salvation and with exceeding joy. "By the which will we are sanctified." Hence two things are implied in Jesus' prayer:
1. He prays for support and grace sufficient to enable Him to fulfill the whole will and appointment of God in His coming death. That death was one in which His covenanted engagement was not merely that He should passively endure what should be laid upon Him, but that He should actively and positively and obediently offer Himself to God—and pour out His soul unto death—and make His soul an offering for sin. With this before Him, He prays for such measures of divine grace—such supply of the Spirit of God—such communications and degrees of faith and love and zeal—such ardor of love to God and to the Church, as shall sustain Him not only in uncomplaining submission, but in fervent and unimpaired obedience unto the end. For so long as in the spirit of active devotion of Himself to His sufferings, the spirit of ardent obedience, He embraced every pang of sorrow, every infliction which it was His to bear in "dying the just for the unjust," so long would He be a conqueror. In being positively obedient unto death He would be the conqueror of death; and exactly by dying in such a manner He would be saved from death. Hence in alluding to His prayer, Holy Scripture says "that He offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him who was able to save Him from death" (Heb. 5:7). This does not mean that Jesus prayed that He might be saved from dying, but saved in dying; saved from being swallowed up of death, by being enabled through death to swallow up death in victory. He prayed to Him who, by the boundless riches of His sustaining grace, was able to enable Him to meet death in the spirit of obedience and of zeal for His Father's commandment, namely, that He should lay down His life for the sheep. He prayed to Him who was able to strengthen Him unto all endless love, that He might give Himself, by positive "obedience unto death," a sacrifice to God, a substitute for sinners. For so long as thus, by holy and obedient resolution, He presented Himself unto death, He met and faced down death—never conquered
by death so long as His own obedience was sustained. And should that obedience be sustained "unto death," then would He be "saved from death" exactly by dying, and through death He would destroy him who had the power of death.
Accordingly it was renewed communications of strength from God that He prayed for in His weakness. With the burden of his Church's guilt laid upon Him, and the avenging penalty due to it about to be exacted from Him in the wrath of God poured into His soul—or His own soul, under that wrath, poured out a victim to divine justice, a sacrifice of a sweet smelling savor to God—He feels that His weak human nature is utterly inadequate of itself to bear this burden, or come forth from beneath this ordeal with His obedience still unviolated. He calls therefore on the Lord. In an agony He wrestles earnestly. He offers up supplication and prayers with strong crying and tears. He is filled with holy fear. "According to Your fear, O God, so is Your wrath" (Ps. 90:11). According, therefore, to His fear, Messiah knows the power of the Father's wrath as no other knows it. He trembles, dismayed. He casts Himself prostrate on the ground. And as in the fortieth Psalm, which is His prayer in full, He who said, "I come to do Your will," and who, on the imputation to Him of His people's sins, exclaimed, "My iniquities have taken hold upon Me so that I am not able to look up," exclaimed also in contemplating the wrath which this imputation involved: "Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me: O Lord, make haste to help Me: I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinks upon Me, you are My help and My deliverer, make no tarrying, O My God" (Ps. 40:13, 17).
With what earnestness and strong crying Jesus lifted up His voice and sought the Father's strength may be learned from those Psalms that are manifestly prophetic of the Messiah, containing indeed the Messiah's prayers. That the twenty-second and sixty-ninth Psalms are such every reader of the Bible knows; and from these, therefore, we bring forward the following supplications as part of those which Jesus offered up: "Save Me, O God, for the waters have come in unto My soul. I sink in deep mire where there is no standing: I have come into deep waters where the floods overflow Me. I am weary of My crying: My throat is dried: My eyes fail while I wait for My God. But My prayer is to you, O God, in an acceptable time. O God, in the multitude of Your mercy, hear Me, in the truth of Your salvation. Deliver Me out of the mire, and let Me not sink; let Me be delivered from those who hate Me, and out of the deep waters. Let not the water flood overflow Me, neither let the deep swallow Me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon Me. Hear Me, O Lord, for Your lovingkindness is good; turn to Me according to the multitude of Your tender mercies. And hide not Your face from Your servant; for I am in trouble: hear Me speedily. Draw near to My soul and redeem it; deliver Me because of My enemies. But I am poor and sorrowful; let Your salvation, O God, set Me up on high" (Ps. 69). "Be not far from Me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help. For I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of My bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and My tongue cleaves to My jaws: and you have brought Me into the dust of death. Be not far from Me, O Lord: O My strength, make haste to help Me. Deliver My soul from the sword; My darling from the power of the dog" (Ps. 22). "Withhold not Your tender mercies from Me, O Lord; let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve Me. For innumerable evils have compassed Me about" (Ps. 40:11, 12).
In these supplications the one unvarying object of desire is divine help, preservation, grace that He may victoriously do and suffer the whole will of God. His crushing anxiety is that He may not fail nor waver from His obedience till He shall have done all that will of God on account of which a body was prepared for Him. For the upholding power of His covenant God He prays, that His strength may not give way in bearing the condemnation of the Church and His Father's wrath due to their iniquities. His work is very dear to Him, and He agonizes in prayer that He may be sustained unto the discharge of all that it involves. That work was assigned Him by the Father's will, and with intense desire He cries: "Your will be done!"
2. But another thing involved in this prayer was a desire for the fruits of His work—the glory of the Father in the salvation of His people. For says the Scripture, speaking of this will of God, "By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Christ once for all." Hence the prayer of Jesus implied in it a supplication for His Church that they may be sanctified—that is, separated, consecrated to God, and finally and fully saved. He prayed that He might so execute all that will of God, as that the covenanted result might follow in many sons and daughters being brought to glory. Hence in those Psalms which we have already quoted, in the midst of the petitions which supplicate grace for Jesus personally under his baptism of suffering and expiation, there occur, not seldom, petitions that refer to His people and their salvation—His anxiety to be preserved from failing in His work being increased by the thought that otherwise all hope of salvation would be cut off from the Church.
Thus, in the sixty-ninth Psalm, when He represents Himself as the surety of the guilty, amenable in obligations not His own—for sins which He nevertheless so embraces in the imputation of them to Himself and in the penalty due to them as to call them indeed His own, He says: "I restored that which I took not away: O God, You know My foolishness, and My sins are not hid from You: Let not those who wait on You, O Lord God of hosts, be ashamed for My sake; let not those who seek You be confounded for My sake, O God of Israel." Again when anticipating the all-sufficient grace which He implored, and the glorious issue in the full expiation of His people's sins and the full satisfaction of His Father's justice, He says in the same Psalm (verse 32): "The humble shall see this and be glad, and you who seek God, your hearts shall live." It is the same in His prayer in the fortieth Psalm: "Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver Me: O Lord, make haste to help Me: Let those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; let such as love Your salvation say continually, The Lord be magnified." Let Me so be sustained unto all gracious and holy obedience to Your will, that My offering of Myself shall be indeed an acceptable sacrifice to God—a ransom infinitely precious—a ground of salvation and of boundless hope to all who seek Jehovah and His face—a fountain of redeeming grace so wonderful that all who love Your salvation shall shout for joy and magnify the Lord with Me forever.
Such, then, in substance were the two topics of this most marvelous prayer. First, the Lord Jesus implores all needful grace in the discharge of His duty of being "obedient unto death"—in His priestly office presenting Himself through the Eternal Spirit a sacrifice without spot unto God. Secondly, He implores therein the everlasting salvation of His people and the glory of His Father thereby.
That "will of God" was the offering of the body of Christ once for all: to accomplish this He prayed for all necessary strength. By that "will of God," also, His people are sanctified and perfected: to obtain this also was the object of His prayer. He had both these things in view when He said, "O my Father, Your will be done."
2. Consider the nature of this prayer. And in one word this was a prayer of importunate faith. It was the prayer of faith and importunity.
(1) It was the prayer of faith.
Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, was a man of faith. By His incarnation He assumed a nature and a position in which nothing but faith could have sustained Him. And the very fact that He found it possible and necessary for Him to exercise faith, notwithstanding His glorious possession of Godhead dwelling in His person, resulted from that humiliation to which He subjected Himself and of which we have already spoken. Though He was in the form of God, He emptied Himself, and was found in fashion as a man—in all things like His brethren, sin only excepted. Hence the faith of the man Christ Jesus is stated by the writer to the Hebrews as a proof of the full extent to which Jesus, the living head of the Church, has identified Himself with his members: "For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all of one for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare My name to My brethren, in the midst of the Church will I sing praise to You: And again; I will put My trust in Him" (Heb. 2:11-13).
So eminent and obvious was the faith which Jesus reposed in God that it was made especial matter of reproach to Him. "All those who see Me laugh Me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that He would deliver Him; let Him deliver Him seeing He delighted in Him." Such was the prophetic testimony of the Spirit. And it was literally fulfilled; for "the chief priests mocking Him, with the scribes and elders said, He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him" (Ps. 22:7; Matt.27:43). His faith was conspicuous even to his foes.
Now in order to the prayer of faith, there must be both the Word and Spirit of the Lord. It must be prayer in the Spirit, and prayer according to the Word. It must be so with every member of the Church. And Jesus, the Church's head, is under the same law. He also must pray in the Spirit, if He would be heard. He also must have God's words abiding in Him, if He would ask what He will and it shall be given to Him. But the covenant under which He lives and dies, and rises again, provides for this abundantly. For, thus says Jehovah to His Christ, thus has the Lord said to our Lord, "As for me, this is My covenant with them, says the Lord: My Spirit that is upon You, and My words that I have put in Your mouth, shall never depart out of Your mouth, nor out of the mouth of Your seed, nor out of the mouth of your seed's seed, says the Lord, from henceforth and forever" (Isa. 59:21).
(1) Had Jesus the warrant of the Word for His prayer? Was it the promise of Jehovah that He pleaded? Was it as one who could say, "Remember to Your servant the word on which You have caused me to hope"? Most certainly. When seeking the Father's upholding power He had only to make mention of the Father's covenant promise to Him: "Behold My servant whom I uphold, My elect in whom My soul delights; I have put My Spirit upon Him, He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not fail nor be discouraged till He has set judgment in the earth, and the isles shall wait for His law" (Isa. 42:1-4). Or again, thus had Jehovah said in the prophets concerning Him "whom man despises," "In an acceptable time have I heard You, and in a day of salvation have I helped You; and I will preserve You and give You for a covenant of the people" (Isa. 49:8). Hence did He say in faith: "The Lord God will help Me; therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set My face like a flint, for I know that I shall not be ashamed. He is near who justifies Me: who will contend with Me? Let us stand together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near Me. Behold, the Lord God will help Me: who is he who shall condemn Me?" (Isa. 50:7-9). Yes, Messiah had abundant promises, exceeding great and precious promises, all Yea and Amen in himself. And His prayer was simply an inquiring for the thing which the Lord had spoken.
(2) But was Christ's prayer also in the Spirit as well as according to the Word? Now we know that the Spirit of the Lord was given Him without measure; and if so, He must have prayed in the Spirit. Believers receive from Christ the promise of the Spirit. According to the measure of the gift of Christ to each member, the Spirit comes forth to the Church from her living head to whom the Spirit was given without measure. And if in the believer the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of grace and supplications, He must have primarily wrought in this same character, in all His fullness and in His highest efficacy, in Jesus. There is not indeed any express passage in Scripture in which Jesus is said to have prayed in the Holy Spirit, yet the inference is valid and unavoidable. We find it stated by the Apostle that the Spirit helps our infirmities and makes intercession for us according to the will of God—that He makes intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered. Bearing this in mind, let us stand for a moment beside Jesus at the grave of Lazarus. We hear Him there referring to a prayer which He had presented, and giving thanks that the Father had answered it. "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that you always hear Me." But on referring to the preceding context we find in it no record of any prayer that Jesus had offered up. We find it stated, however, a few verses before, that when Jesus saw Mary weeping and the Jews also weeping which came with her, "He groaned in the Spirit." When we take this in connection with the fact that Jesus afterwards makes mention of a prayer which He had presented, and in connection with the description which Paul gives of the Spirit's work in quickening the children of God in prayer, namely that "He makes intercession in them with groanings which cannot be uttered," are we not entitled to infer that when Jesus "groaned in the Spirit" He was offering up in the Spirit prayers and supplications, if not with strong crying, at least with tears (for at this time also "Jesus wept") unto Him who was able to hear Him, and was heard, even as He immediately rendered thanks and put forth the power of giving life to the dead, even as the Father had given Him. And indeed the Spirit of grace and supplications in the Church is just the Spirit of the Son in their hearts crying, Abba, Father, as doubtless that same Spirit it was in whom Jesus cried, "Abba Father, O My Father, Your will be done."
How closely are the brethren conformed to the firstborn—He in all things made like them—that they might be conformed to the image of the Son! Mark it carefully. He is Himself a man of prayer, as they must be. His prayer is the prayer of faith, as their's must be. His prayer of faith is in the power of the Spirit, and on the warrant or promise of the Word; even as they must pray in the Holy Spirit, and with the Lord's words abiding in them.
2. But, secondly, as this was believing prayer, so it was importunate. It was such as would take no denial. It was exceedingly earnest: it was with strong and loud cries to God; it was with tears; it was with blood. "His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground."
There was never such prayer offered to God. Jacob's prayer was earnest and persevering, importunate and successful, when He wrestled with the angel of the covenant and would not let him go without the blessing. But when Jesus wrestled, strove, agonized, it was such prayer as heaven and earth had never seen. He was charged with the vindication of His Father's honor—with the maintenance of His Father's law—with the salvation of countless thousands through eternity. He had to discharge Himself of all these responsibilities in one only way, by suffering in all the powers and faculties of His created nature, in soul and body, the infliction of those stripes which should satisfy divine justice and be in the scales of equity a righteous equivalent for the second and eternal death of all for whom He gave Himself. He had an amazing and appalling view of the justice and terror of such a doom, and His soul became exceeding sorrowful even unto death. No wonder that meeting such a doom with a body such as ours, sensitive in every nerve to every pang of physical endurance—and a soul unutterably more sensitive, in its unspotted purity, to the agony of those spiritual pangs which the frown and displeasure of the Almighty and the All-holy One caused Him; He should have labored in the anguish of His spirit
to lay hold, in the prayer of faith, importunate and invincible, on the divine upholding power through which alone He could achieve the eternal wonder of an obedient endurance of the coming Cross. Loving His people also with an everlasting love, and alive to the dreadful doom from which He came to save them; understanding in the depths of His created spirit, as He had never till now understood, the bitter endless woe and shame from which He is about to rescue them; and seeing what that dreadful destiny is which must pass upon them and abide on them forever, if He cannot obediently, willingly, wholly and successfully endure it all in their stead; with a love towards them rising in its action and intensity the more that He apprehends and appreciates all the endless terror from which it is His office and His work now to save them; and the more He apprehends and appreciates that, feeling only all the more unfit for going through with the work assigned Him, yet all the more resolved to ransom and redeem His people—no wonder if trembling at the prospect of enduring that wrath of God, and trembling still more at the thought of failing, and so consigning His beloved elect to endure it, He throws Himself in agony upon Jehovah as His refuge and his strength—fulfills His Father's prophecy concerning Him, "He shall cry to Me, You are My Father, My God, and the Rock of My Salvation"—appeals with loud cries to His Father's promise, "My hand shall be established with Him, My arm shall strengthen Him; My faithfulness and My mercy shall be with Him, and in My name shall His horn be exalted"—and in the depths of holy fear offers up supplications with strong crying and tears to Him who is able to save Him from death.
III. What was the success of this prayer? It was an abundant answer. "He was heard in that He feared." He received all needful grace, all sustaining strength, qualifying and enabling Him to endure the cross and despise the shame; and gain an eternal title to the joy that was set before Him.
Two leading desires were embraced in this prayer. First, that He might obtain grace and zeal and love even in such measure as would keep Him positively obedient unto death, that hereby He might destroy death and attain the perfection of His own office and power as a Prince of Life. And, second, as the sure fruit of this, the seeing of the travail of His soul in the salvation of all whom the Father had given to Him. Now these are the very things which Scripture testifies He received in answer to prayer.
1. "He was heard in that He feared, and though He were a Son—the only begotten Son of God—He learned obedience by the things which He suffered." In answer to His prayer to be saved in dying, God taught Him—God strengthened Him to learn—that obedience unto death, whereby death should be destroyed. The Father bestowed upon Him all grace to give Himself willingly to death; to obey in positive priestly activity and holy zeal the commandment to lay down His life for the sheep. God taught Him the great lesson of destroying death and being saved from death, by not passively suffering death—but by actively and obediently meeting death and offering Himself in death a sacrifice to God without spot. God taught this lesson in time of need. God gave this counsel; and His reins instructed Him in the night season; so as that being thus obedient unto death, "His soul should not be left in the state of the dead, nor the Holy One suffered to see corruption" (Ps. 16:8, 9). And Jesus learned the lesson; learned obedience in the things which He suffered; and in dying obediently He was saved from death, and exclaimed, "It is finished" or "It is perfected." He Himself in all His office and work was hereby made perfect (see Heb. 5:7-9).
2. But when Jesus prayed that He might be saved from death, His petition referred not personally to Himself alone, but to Himself as the head and high priest of the Church, and therefore to the salvation of all His people. He prayed that He might emerge from the jaws of death, not only safe in Himself from all the claims of the king of terrors, but bringing up with Him also the eternal salvation of all for whom He died. Hence the Scripture assures us that in this point also He was heard. Not only was He heard on His own behalf, and saved from death, saved from succumbing under the last enemy, Jehovah teaching Him the strange lessons of vanquishing death by being obedient unto death. Not only was He heard on this point, and, taught and strengthened for obedience in the things which He suffered, but He received His people's salvation also in and with His own, so that they dying in His death and rising to newness of life in His resurrection, "he became the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him" (Heb. 5:9). Hence those Psalms from which we have already quoted, as giving us in full the prayers which Jesus offered up in His sorrow, all point to the salvation of the Church—the promised seed—the prospering pleasure of the Lord—the gathering together of all the elect in Jesus. Thus in the fortieth Psalm where the answer to the prayer is celebrated in the outset; "I waited patiently—(He waited who in the seventh verse says, Lo, I come, in the volume of the book it is written of Me)—I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined to Me, and heard My cry. He brought Me up also out of an horrible pit and out of the miry clay (the same as in the sixty-ninth Psalm, "I sink in deep mire where there is no standing")—and He set My feet upon a rock and established My goings: And He has put a new song in My mouth—(for "He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all of one, for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, In the midst of the Church will I sing praise to You")—He has put a new song to My mouth, even praise to our God—many shall see it and fear, and trust on the Lord." Many shall believe to the saving of the soul: many shall put their trust in the perfected author of salvation: many, even the great congregation who shall hear Mmy song! Thus also the sixty-ninth Psalm closes with this joyful answer, "God will save Zion, and will build the cities of Judah. The seed also of His servants shall inherit it, and those who love His name shall dwell therein." And precisely the same in substance is the close of the twenty-second Psalm, "A seed shall serve Him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. He shall come and shall declare His righteousness unto a people who shall be born, that He has done this"—that "It is finished."
Thus, Him the Father hears always. "For I know that the Lord saves His anointed; He will hear Him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand. The king shall joy in Your strength, O Lord; and in Your salvation, how vehemently shall he rejoice! You have given him his heart's desire, and have not withheld the request of his lips."
Such, then, were the subject, the nature, and the success of our Lord's prayer in the garden.
Deferring the full application, let me close with three words of exhortation.
1. Be ashamed and confounded, you who pray not for your own salvation! Shall the king of righteousness and peace, the Son of God, thus wrestle in supplication, with cries and tears and agony and blood, for the salvation of sinners, while you yourselves will not wrestle for that salvation which His prayers and his blood have purchased? Will you despise and neglect so great salvation, on which the Lord of glory set such a value that to gain it for such as you, He was content to be prostrate in anguish and extremity and blood in that garden—and terror unutterable and amazement seized Him at the bare thought of not succeeding in securing what you despise? If you live in such prayerlessness, how inevitable and righteous will be the everlasting loss of your soul!
2. Be encouraged, you who are seeking salvation, to come for it most confidently to Jesus. What He agonized and prayed with tears and blood to procure, He will now most joyfully and readily communicate. Only be alone with Christ, as He calls you to Himself: and as assuredly as He was Himself heard and "became the author of eternal salvation," He will hear you and receive you, and redeem you from all your destructions, and you shall henceforth obey and love Him. Well will you understand the meaning of the cry: "Do you see Him whom my soul loves?"
3. Let believers offer up supplications and prayers, in the strength of those of Christ. Enter by faith into the rich inheritance of the prayers of your living Head, and into all the riches of their answers. Be in prayer beside the Savior, mingling your strong crying and tears with His; yes, with what is now His glorious intercession; and when Jehovah looks on His anointed, He will lift on you the light of His countenance and fulfill all your petitions.
GETHSEMANE, FAILING FELLOW-WATCHERS
"What! could you not watch with Me one hour?"
If we turn now to consider the aspect in which the disciples present themselves in this crisis, the first thought that strikes us is the perfect contrast between their infirmity and failure on the one hand, and the faithfulness and victory of their Lord on the other. It would seem as if the three chiefest of the apostles had been selected on this occasion expressly in order to prove how inadequate for such an hour—"the hour and the power of darkness"—was the utmost human strength. Jesus was engaged in a work in which none could aid Him. The three most eminent believers then on earth, far from being able to take part with Him in his sore travail in redeeming His brethren, failed even in the commanded vigilance that was necessary if they were even to be mere spectators of the scene. "When He came to the disciples, He found them sleeping."
Now we may consider—the Sin; the Rebuke; the Exhortation; the Apology, or rather the Explanation; the Relapses, and the Issue.
1. In the first place, then, we are to consider their sin. While their Lord, their Friend, their Savior was wrestling in an agony of sorrow and of prayer, they slumbered and slept. "When He came to the disciples, He found them sleeping." But in this as in most similar cases, the chief matter of interest and especially, of general practical application, lies, not singly in the sin itself, but very much in the circumstances by which it was committed, and the aggravations by which it was characterized. It is when we take these into account that we really understand the case; particularly when, as in this instance, the guilt arises solely from the circumstances in which the deed is done. Their sleep was sinful, not in itself, but from the circumstances in which it occurred. And these were such as to render it grievously offensive to their Lord, and deeply humiliating to themselves. For instance, in the first place—
1. It was a direct breach of their Lord's injunction. For Jesus had said to them, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death. Wait here, and watch with Me." Even without this special requirement, the whole position of affairs, and the ordinary principles of Christian prudence, not to say personal friendship and love to Jesus, ought to have been sufficient to commend to them unceasing vigilance as very specially the duty belonging to the hour that was passing over them. And so with every Christian and in all circumstances: his position and his principles alone—his position in the midst of an alluring world, of spiritual wickedness, and of the rulers of the darkness of the world; and his principles as one separated from the world and consecrated to God—these alone ought to be sufficient to keep him on his watch against temptation. But if, besides proving unfaithful to these, he be found breaking through express precepts of the Lord—not alive to the danger of his position, nor answering to the promptings of his principles; and even over and above that, deaf to special injunctions of the Lord, then surely he has the greater sin—as these disciples had.
2. Their sin was committed after very special warnings. "All you shall be offended because of Me this night." There is evil at the door. There is danger approaching. And the time is this night. You shall be offended this very night. If you ever watched before—or ever mean henceforth to watch; if vigilance ever had, or shall have, any place with you at all, let it be "this night"—when your greatest crisis comes. Your chiefest hour of peril passes over you. For it will be Satan's opportunity, and your necessity. The prince of this world comes. It is the hour and the power of darkness. Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.
Now after such solemn and reiterated fore-warnings, was not their offence deeply aggravated? Alas! this is not an uncommon aggravation of the sins of believers. May not your sin in this respect have been like theirs? It may have been after warnings from the discipline of God's providence, from the chastisements by which He condemned, and tried to break you from, that sin before. It may have been after warnings given you by experience of the danger of trusting to your own resolution, or leaning to your own understanding. It may have been after very special warnings, seasonably and suitably administered in the preaching of the word; warnings borne home on your heart by the strong action of the good Spirit of God, seeking to conduct you to the land of uprightness; and, possibly, after dreadful warnings of the ruinous and fatal lengths to which others have gone by entering on the temptation against which you have not watched. And if these things be so, surely it is high time to awake out of sleep.
3. Their sin was aggravated by this sore consideration, that it was the refusal of a personal favor to their Lord. There were many grounds on which Jesus could have put the duty He enjoined. His own authority as their Lord and Master was enough. Their own danger, which He had clearly explained, should have been sufficient. But giving them credit for true love to his person, He chose rather to request their wakeful vigilance as a personal favor to Himself. He opened up to them His own rent and wounded heart. He showed before them His trouble. And He implored them, as they loved Him, to watch with Him in such an hour—the hour of the travail of His soul. Oh! who shall tell all the depth and tenderness of that personal and pathetic appeal which He made to them? "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. Wait here and watch with Me." Surely, by putting the duty upon a ground like this, Jesus consulted best for the likelihood of its being discharged, and addressed Himself to the strongest motives that could have engaged them to discharge it. Every one who is alive to the claims of sacred friendship is aware that the recommendation of a beloved friend is far more likely to be observed, when he chooses to bind it up with the truth and evidence of our personal attachment to himself, than when he puts it merely on the ground of our own interest, or, if he is a superior, on the ground of his official authority over us. And when Jesus thus asked their watchfulness as a personal favor, as a tribute of their love which He would be gratified to receive, we feel as if we might almost do well to be indignant at the men who failed to gratify him.
But let us consider ourselves. Has Jesus never asked any personal favor at our hands? And if so, have we never failed as they did? Is it the eleven alone, or is it these three highly-favored ones among them only, that have had it in their power to add this aggravation to their sin? Was such a possibility limited to the few who companied with Jesus in the days of His flesh? On the contrary, Jesus places all our sanctification on the same footing on which He placed this request to the apostles. Over and above the unchangeable authority of God, and the ever-binding obligation of His law as a perfect and inviolable rule of our obedience; not to speak of the promotion of our own comfort and true moral dignity, or of the reward which is found in keeping those commandments which are not grievous; over and above all responsibilities and motives which arise from our relation to God—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and from unchangeable principles alike of law and gospel; Jesus has condescended to pour a peculiar tenderness and life and strength and unflagging freshness and welcome over all the obligations of His people, by putting their whole obedience on the footing of a grand series of personal favors to Himself. It is this that wakens up the finest feelings of the truly Christian or regenerated heart. It is this, as one element, which differences infinitely the generous and evangelical obedience of those who are freely forgiven, from the selfish self-righteous efforts of those who know not the gospel. It is this, as one element and ornament of gospel holiness, that makes the king's daughter all glorious within; that justifies as very holy a free justification; and almost sanctifies twice the sanctification of the children of God.
They are enlisted and engaged by the gospel to render many a personal favor to their Lord; to gratify the Son of God, their beloved and their friend; to promote His highest satisfaction; to cause Him to see of the travail of His soul; to have a share in causing the pleasure of the Lord to prosper in His hand. For what else does Jesus mean, or on what other footing but this does He place our obedience, when He says, "If you love Me keep My commandments"? And what else did Paul mean but this—this, in all its sweetest and most engaging power—when He said, "The love of Christ constrains us to live not to ourselves, but to Him who died for us and who rose again"?
But if these things are so, how aggravated are the sins of believers, implying, as they must thus imply, a rejection of the Lord's tenderest appeal, a refusal to do the Savior a pleasure!
4. The sin of the disciples was aggravated by this consideration that Jesus had reposed great confidence in them. He had selected them from a whole nation to be His especial followers and companions. He had admitted them to a sacred familiarity and intimacy which has almost made them the objects of a holy envy—if the expression might be used—in all ages since. He had, in His late discourse with them, at the paschal table, poured out His heart to them in strains of divine truth and tenderness and love, which have been the ever-fresh study and astonishment of spiritual minds, in proportion to their light and holiness and love, ever since they were put on record. He had brought forward these three highly-favored men nearer to the marvelous scene of His agony than any others, and made them spectators of what He would have shrunk from the rude, unfeeling world beholding. And it was very far from being the first time that these selected three had been allowed to see and hear things from which all others were excluded. Surely they had been very generously, very confidingly dealt with. Surely it touched their honor very closely that they should not fail in such an hour as this. And if they did, do we not feel that their offence was aggravated by the weighty trust and tender confidence which they belied?
For it is a principle which operates well and powerfully on natures in which generous emotion has any place. To repose large confidence in such a case, is to create or call forth the honor which receives and guards and justifies it. Among the higher order of minds, and often in the humblest ranks, it may be seen to bind the servant to his master by one of the strongest ties, and to give a moral dignity to the relation—he has counted me honorable, and I will prove that he was not mistaken.
How beautiful it is to find every fine feeling of our nature seized upon and sanctified and impressed into action by the gospel! That glorious gospel of the grace of God finds the sinner not trustworthy at all towards God—an apostate, an enemy, a traitor: and it slays his enmity; reverses his apostasy; sweeps away all his treachery and guile; transforms him into a trusty and a loyal child of honor; simply by at once reposing in him the highest confidence. It finds him bankrupt—dishonorably so, destitute, his character broken, his credit gone. And it gives him a character by giving him some of the jewels of the crown royal of heaven to keep. It gives him freely, in his unworthiness and untrustworthiness, a plenary forgiveness of all his sins, and a rich reconciliation to his offended Father in heaven; and hopes that he will not abuse a mercy so large and liberal. It gives him free access to the great covenant treasure chest of the unsearchable riches of Christ; and hopes that he will never spend them on his lusts, or sin that grace may abound. It gives him great consolation and good hope through grace, reversing all his destiny and his inheritance; and making him a free son of God without money and without price, it hopes that he will walk worthy of the high vocation wherewith he is called. It gives him a clean heart and a right spirit, and the indwelling of the Spirit of our God, and hopes that when entrusted therewith he will keep that good thing which is committed to him through the Holy Spirit who dwells in him. It deals bountifully with him, and trusts that he will live and keep God's law. It places in his hands the honor of his God, necessarily committed in his own character as a professed child of God, bearing the heavenly Father's image; and hopes that he will give no occasion to the adversary to blaspheme, but rather cause men to glorify God on his behalf and to take knowledge of him that he has been with Jesus. In fine, it gives him Christ, to be his forever, to dwell in his heart by faith, the fountain and the pledge of all—and then leaves it to himself to cry out, "What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits towards me?"
But if, by negligence and willfulness, he belie a confidence so generous, how aggravated and heinous must be the believer's iniquity—even as was that of these disciples in Gethsemane!
5. We must remark yet another aggravation of their sin. They failed to discharge a duty for which they had both an example and an encouragement, in the work in which Jesus Himself was engaged. Had He retired into the garden for repose; courting the relief of sleep from the fatigues and anxieties of the day, and the still more dread prospects of the morrow; leaving them, the while, to act as sentinels to guard His privacy, or forewarn Him of the enemy's approach—even in such a case, with all the duty of unslumbering wakefulness devolved on themselves alone, while their Master sought repose; they ought to have been animated by such a holy jealousy to guard their post of honor as would diligently have warded off, or at least eagerly and early catch sight of all signs of danger, and challenged all comers with the challenge of the Bride in the Song, "I charge you, O you daughters of Jerusalem, that you stir not up nor awake my beloved till he please."
But the case was very different. Their commanded wakefulness was not designed to minister to His ease or protect His comfort. It was only to second, very faintly, the intense action of His own infinitely trying duty. He left them, Himself to pray: "Wait here, while I go and pray yonder." And they had to lay aside every weight and their heaviness, and the sin that did beset them, literally looking unto Jesus. For He was immediately within their view. He was under their very eye, Himself watching unto prayer—very eminently "praying with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints." Ah! He assigned them no work which He shunned Himself. And still He assigns His people no difficulty, no duty, unknown or foreign to His own experience. This very duty of watching and praying that you enter not into temptation, when enjoined by Jesus, ought surely to be felt as coming with all the gracefulness and all the enforcement which example may carry, over and above what may be derived from authority. He was Himself intensely wakeful and prayerful. He had an agony of wakefulness and prayer. The disciples ought to have seen this; ought to have kept their eye upon it. They ought to have stimulated themselves, quickened themselves, shaken off the bands of their neck and the spell of slumber, by the sight—the thought—that He was Himself assailed as they were; that He too, like them, yes infinitely more, was the mark of Satan's fiery darts; that the skirts only of the cloud of battle troubled them, while its central terrors were wrestling with Him, who in watchfulness and agony of prayer was wrestling with the very power of darkness. And still the same is true of every tried believer. He ought to watch and pray as at the gate of Gethsemane; as in the view of Jesus' wrestlings; in the remembrance of Jesus' temptations. Is it not to this very end that such frequent assertion is made to the effect that He Himself has suffered being tempted—to assure us also that He is thus able to help those who are tempted? Is it not to make us watch and pray, as in the very wake of our Lord's own vigilance and prayer, that we are assured we have not an high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin? Ought it not to have inspired the disciples with unquenchable persistency in watching unto prayer, that they saw the Captain of Salvation precisely so engaged Himself with the powers of evil? Was it not enough to nerve them with endless resistance—that they could not possibly fall or fail while they might thus participate in the success which the Lord's own watchfulness and prayer were achieving? So that to fall from His example and fellowship was to fail of His triumph, and to refuse the dominion over evil which Jesus was procuring for them! For when He called them to "watch with Him"—to watch simultaneously with Him, after the example and in the concert of His own watchfulness and prayer—did not Jesus imply that they should in that case conquer in and with His own conquest? And still, when with this model before them—a model that is strangely fraught, as no other is, not merely with the elements of an example, but with the power of a triumph and the pledge of a deliverance—when with this model before them, believers shun the contest or slumber in it, surely, like the disciples, they have the greater sin!
Yes, this sin was exceeding sinful. They slumbered while their Lord was in His sorrow; they did so in breach of His express injunction; in defiance of special warning; unto the refusal of a personal favor solicited by their Lord; unto the belying of great confidence reposed in them; and in violation of their Lord's own example as it transpired before them.
No wonder, then, that this exposed them to the rebuke which might well carry some indignation in it—
II. "What! could you not watch with Me one hour?" "And He came to the disciples, and found them asleep, and said to Peter: What! could you not watch with Me one hour?"
We mark, at once, the just severity with which this rebuke, addressed to all, was specially pointed to Peter. What! You who did so lately speak so resolutely: "Though all men shall be offended because of You, yet will not I be offended"—"Though I should die with You, yet will I not deny You." Is your valor, and is your love, come to this so soon? "He said to Peter, Simon, are you sleeping? could you not watch one hour?" (Mark 14:37). Alas! on whom then can I rely?
But while rightfully pointed especially to Peter, the rebuke was addressed to all; for what Peter had said, the same "likewise also said all the disciples." Nor were there any among them whose consciences could refuse it as a merited and seasonable reproof—a word profitable for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that they might be led the better to furnish themselves for good works.
Mark the varied emphasis of this rebuke, applicable in almost all its force to slumbering believers in any circumstances.
1. "What! could not you watch with Me one hour?" Could not you watch with Me? you who have sojourned with Me, and suffered with Me, and been interested deeply in Me; and are interested, more than you know, in My sorrows and My trials, and My successful endurance of them—My contests and temptations and My triumphant victory over them. You who have cast in your lot with Me; who have forsaken all and followed Me; who have periled all your hope and all your happiness in Me. Oh! who could be expected to watch with Me, if it be not such as you?
And still all these elements of emphasis may be found in the Savior's rebuke to every negligent or backsliding believer. Cannot you watch with Me, who have been taught to know Me; to believe in Me; to love Me, to cast in all your lot with Me; to count Me all your salvation and all your desire? Be it so that the unawakened world sees little in temptation to break their slumber or arouse them to prayer: could not you, who have been differently dealt with, and have otherwise learned Christ; could not you watch unto prayer? You who have been admitted to My fellowship, entrusted with My honor, partakers of My love, aspirants to My Father's kingdom on high—could not you watch with Me, that you enter not into temptation?
2. "What! could you not watch with Me one hour?" When it is to be "with Me"?—in My company; not alone; not in your own cause or battle; not in your own skill nor your own strength; but in every sense "with Me." When your watching is to be an act—a trying act it may be, but still an act—of fellowship with Me? When it is required in order that you may in all things be conformed to Me; that you may not lose the blessing of conformity, the bond and benefit of fellowship "with Me?" In such circumstances "could you not watch?" I send you on no warfare at your own charges. I send you indeed on no warfare of your own. I shall Myself be your leader, your prototype, your forerunner in the battle—the wakeful prayerful battle—of temptation; in all your afflictions Myself afflicted; in all points tempted like you; suffering in being tempted. And when you watch "with Me," you shall triumph if I triumph: if you suffer with Me, you shall also reign. Yes, this is the singular secret of the Christian's success in all things: he is in all things "with Christ." He links on, by faith, his very temptations with those of Christ, and finds therefore all the victory of Christ his own. He watches with Christ; and then in his blindness Christ is eyes to him in the wilderness. He prays with Christ; and Christ is intercessor and merit for him in his unworthiness. The watchings and the prayers of Christ in the days of His flesh are not only his example but his inheritance; and he has more than the disciples could have then asked or thought—he has on his side the vigilance of Israel's Shepherd, now watching in the power of an endless life; he has the intercession of One who has laid aside His tears and agonies, and bespeaks His people's welfare in glorious and August state at the right hand of the majesty in the heavens. So that, ever as the believer is true to his position as one in communion with Christ, he may be tempted with Christ nevertheless he shall triumph, yet not he but Christ who dwells in him, and the life of trial that he lives in the flesh shall be a life of triumph by the faith of the Son of God, who was tried and triumphed for him. If I am called to no temptation but after this rule, well may wonder and indignation be expressed if I refuse. What! can you not watch, when you are called to keep watch with Me?
3. And, "Could you not watch with Me one hour?" Is your vigilance already overpowered; your resistance already gone? I gave you to wit that the night would be eventful; that this whole night would call for special anxious wakefulness; that before its watches were all transpired—by daybreak or at cock-crowing—all might not be among you as it ought to be! But, "Simon, could not you watch one hour?" I marvel that you are so soon removed from Me! Where is the constancy you spoke of? For I bear you record that, if it had been possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and have given them to Me. "Who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth" tempted, watching unto prayer in an agony? Ah! is not this rebuke often needed? Could you not watch with Christ one hour? Your heart warmed with some strong and tender feeling of the love of Christ; coming to Him at His gospel call and finding peace and joy in believing; pouring out your heart before Him in the first prayer of guileless sonship, so very different from all that went before in the spirit of bondage; you gave yourself to Jesus as one whose decision was forever irrevocable, and you vowed that though all men should forsake Him and His cause, yet would not you—as for you and your house you would serve the Lord. You did this as honestly, as sincerely, as ever the eleven bound themselves to Jesus; with as little reservation as they, on this eventful night, when acting, at least for the time, as Israelites indeed in whom was no guile, they avowed their resolution that they would not be offended in their Lord. But too soon, like them, you felt the action on your whole nature of an evil power which, in the hour of warmhearted, generous fidelity to Jesus, you had forgot to calculate upon: and before long the withering spell of worldly influence, and close-cleaving infirmity, managed by the subtlety of him who beguiled Eve, brought you down from the lofty elevation of your holy purpose; weakened you out of the energy with which you started on the Christian race and by which for a little "you did run well"—a slumber, the same in its nature, though in degree never again so complete, as that from which the grace of God had awakened you, overtook you once more; till roused by the sting of conscience, or the stroke of Providence, or the word of Scripture—any or all of these together—you heard, by means of them, Christ's painful but righteous reprimand: "What! could you not watch with Me one hour?" Are you so soon removed?
Was it not well that He came to you at all, in however great severity He spoke? Better far that Jesus should come and find you sleeping, than that He should leave you sleeping and cast you off. Is it not good, if He comes to you, believer, in this word of reproof and warning now, if such be now your state of backsliding; especially when He comes to renew His exhortation, and give you as it were, in His grace, a fresh lease of your opportunity to vindicate your integrity, to renew the love and faithfulness of your youth?
For it is thus that He mingles His painful reproof with profitable instruction in righteousness; enjoining once more the duty that had been forgotten: "Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation."
III. We have said this is the same duty enjoined anew. For, combining the information given by all the Evangelists, we find from Matthew and Mark that before leaving them at all, before He had yet entered the garden, Jesus enjoined on them the necessity of vigilance: "Wait here, and watch with Me"; while we learn from Luke that at the same time He enjoined the necessity of prayer: "He came out, and went, as He usually did, to the Mount of Olives, and His disciples also followed Him. And when He was at the place, He said to them, Pray that you enter not into temptation" (Luke 22:39, 40). So that Jesus had really nothing new to say to them—no fresh or additional advice to give them, but the same which they had heard from the beginning.
And there is a lesson in this. For in the decay or slumber of your Christian life, it is not something new that is to revive you; not some novel doctrine; not some unheard of, or lately discovered, Christian exhortation; not some singular and striking advice, prescribing some royal road different from that in which the usual footsteps of the flock are marked, not prescribing even any means or method of revival hitherto unknown to yourself. No: there is a great snare hid under any such expectation as that. You are to stand in the beaten path, and inquire for the good old ways you trod before, if you would find reinvigorating grace and rest unto your soul.
It is to be desired, indeed, that this old commandment to inquire for the good old way may come as a new commandment to you now. It is to be hoped that by a fresh baptism of the Spirit, and fresh humiliation and sense of danger, and quickened spiritual perception on your part, it may have almost the aspect, in its anew discovered suitableness, and in its striking seasonableness of an absolutely new commandment. But it is the same commandment that you have heard from the beginning of your Christian life: "Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation." Yet it need not seem to you an old commandment: or if old, yet it should be welcome as an old and faithful friend. For realize only, in the light of your experience, and especially of the sins and failings that have made it needful that Jesus should come and re-issue to you this injunction—realize your weak and defenseless state, and with this the multitude and power and assailing force of those that are enemies to your soul—and realize your own fearful lack of wisdom of experience in spiritual warfare—which is almost the only thing which your incipient experience has taught you: think of the subtlety and wiles of the devil, and of the many conjunctures in which you are found of him at great disadvantage, as when weak and weary in body, and faint in mind, even though pursuing: think how the enemy can turn all such disadvantage to account; and realize especially the terrible and fatal issue, if you cannot conquer, in so much that if this battle be finally lost, you are lost: and does it not come upon you with the joy of a great and a fresh discovery that the old injunction is still as suitable as ever; that while always, it may be surrounded by temptation and assailed, you always have the liberty—I shall not say the duty—but the privilege, the liberty, the warrant, the high right, to watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation at all and the high assurance that as the prayer of vigilance and faith moves for your protection the infinite wisdom and love and power and faithfulness of God, this old, this new commandment, be it only observed and obeyed, will even in the midst of innumerable and more than visible dangers, gird your soul with the glad assurance of a present safety, and the unmisgiving hope of a final triumph?
"Watch, therefore, and pray that you enter not into temptation." For what Jesus said to them, He says to all: Watch and pray. Watch: be vigilant. Be a faithful sentinel on your post of duty—your post of honor. Let the eye of faith and spiritual wisdom be wide open on your position; and you shall see much that the world can never see, much that it concerns you very greatly that you yourself should see. And first of all—duty peculiar to sentinels and soldiers in the warfare of faith—watch and know yourself. Keep your heart with all diligence and vigilance, for out of it are the issues of life. Arrest its traitorous lusts and besetting sins: condemn and crucify them. If they will not die at once, as they seldom will, watch them all the more; double the guard upon them, and put them under the surveillance of conscience in its highest force and honor. And while thus, on your faithfulness and honor towards God, they are crucified and watched, and their dominion prevented, let not their presence prevail to cast you out of communion with the Holy One, but rather let the peace of God garrison your heart and let it rule there, to the which also you art called.
Watch the dangers of your special callings—your companionships—your particular connections with the world—your objects of personal attachment.
Watch very specially the sources and causes of past unfaithfulness and failure. Watch the enemy's approaches—his methods of trying you. He goes about like a roaring lion. He changes himself into an angel of light. Watch, that you be not ignorant of his devices.
Watch your graces—what state they are in, what strength they are in, what danger they are in. Watch especially your repentance and your faith. Oh! keep them forever fresh. See if the vine flourishes, or if the little foxes spoil the tender grapes. Watch what the Lord has given you—the gracious and contrite heart, the meek and quiet spirit, which are of great price. Watch the treasure of your renewed heart, that you may always be able to bring forth good things therefrom. Keep that good thing which is committed to you, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in you. Be not deceived into any slumbering, at any time, for Satan by subtlety may beguile you. Be you ever aware of the disposition of the enemies' powers. Set with the prophet on your watch. Yes, watch with Christ on your tower. Watch with Him. Abide in Christ, and watch with Him.
Pray also: yes, with all prayer and supplication, watching thereunto with all perseverance. Pray that by God's grace you may be preserved from being tempted or supported and delivered when you are tempted. He can, if He please, prevent you, not only from entering into temptation, from falling into its snare and seducement, but even from being assailed by temptation at all. And, doubtless, often in answer to the appeal of conscious weakness and holy fear, the Lord dispenses with the discipline of temptations, with which, but for such frame of humble holy depreciation, it might have been indispensable to try His people and to prove them. Pray, therefore, in subjection to the wisdom and the will of your Father, that He would prevent temptations from framing and forming themselves against you. But in any issue, pray that they may not form themselves against you and prosper. Pray that He would let you know when temptation is at hand; that He would always forewarn you of every special danger. Pray that He would make you not unwise in these things, but understanding the wiles of the devil and the will of the Lord. Pray that He would make you strong in Himself and in the glory of his power. Pray for armor, and put it on. Put on the whole armor of God, praying always in the Spirit. Pray, above all—if you would not enter into temptation—in the name of Him who was in all points tempted as you are, yet without sin: and let the remembrance of the temptations of the Lord feed your faith with nourishment of new life and hope, in the assurance that He is able and willing to aid those who are tempted.
Thus, "Watch and pray," doing both. Yes more; not only combining, but blending them.
Pray to be enabled to watch. Watch that you may know what to pray for. Pray for the grace of vigilance. Watch for materials of prayer. Watch that you may know temptation by its mere presence: and pray to be preserved from knowing it in its successful power. Pray that your eyes may be purged from dimness, and anointed with eye-salve, so that you may see afar off, and may discern good and evil. And then watch with keen and piercing eye, so that you may see the answers to prayer. Watch the efficacy of prayer. Pray for success in watching. Watch, if you would be on the alert to pray. Pray that you may be kept alert upon your watch tower. The enemy is subtle: you must watch his movements. You yourself are weak: you must pray for strength. If you could keep yourself, it might be sufficient to watch, but as God only can keep you, you must join prayer with watchfulness. If God would keep you any otherwise than by strengthening and guiding you to keep yourself, it might be sufficient to pray; but as it is, you must combine watchfulness with prayer—watching for your salvation with fear and trembling, the Lord working in you and enabling you to watch of his good pleasure. Thus He persuaded both to "watch and pray that you enter not into temptation."
Such is the blessed exhortation which Jesus graciously gives, even when He comes to reprove and rebuke His disciples.
IV. Jesus added, in his tenderness, a gracious apology or explanation. For as a father, even when He punishes, pities His children, and makes all due allowances for true heartedness and love, even so the Lord pities those who fear Him. Jesus admitted their integrity, while He indicated and condemned their infirmity. "The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak." "You are willing according to the spirit, but weak as regards the flesh." "The flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and you cannot do the things that you would."
Now this agrees with the testimony of Luke, who assures us that they were sleeping for sorrow. "And when He rose up from prayer, and came to His disciples, He found them sleeping for sorrow" (Luke 22:45). They were not heartlessly indifferent to their Lord's sorrows. They sympathized in them all, as their own. They, too, were exceeding sorrowful. But as fools watch not the dangers of buoyant prosperity, they foolishly watched not the dangers of depressing grief: and their very sorrow, in its heaviness, put them off their guard and sank them in untimely slumber. Alas! for the wiles of the devil, wherein, alike from our levity and our heaviness of heart, he can find occasion for his malice.
Yet when Satan sifts the faithful, no grain of wheat shall be treated as chaff. The grace which really lives in the renewed heart, even though for the time it may be overpowered—the eyes of the Lord are upon it continually. Jesus saw their sorrow; and He interpreted it as proof that the spirit was willing, even though the infirmity of their flesh prevailed.
That they were indeed spiritual men, true believers and faithful brethren, Jesus took for granted both in rebuking and exhorting them, and He framed His rebuke and exhortation accordingly. But for this—but for the spirit being willing—He would have expressed neither wonder nor indignation at their lack of vigilance. The very point of the reproof—"What! could you not watch with Me one hour"—lay in the fact that He was addressing spiritual and "willing" men (Ps. 110:3)—men renewed in their wills or in the spirit of their minds. Such a reproof would have been out of place to a worldly or unrenewed heart. And the exhortation, as well as the reproof, proceeds upon the same consideration. It is not at all suitable, and is not addressed in the first instance, to the unconverted. To you, Christ's first address is not, "Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation." You have never been out of temptation nor out of sin. You are in the flesh and dead in sin. His first searching question and rebuke to you is, What! why will you die? And his first exhortations are like these: Flee from the wrath to come! Come out from among them and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing. Awake you who sleep, and arise from the dead. Repent and believe the gospel. There can be no watchfulness in the spiritually blind—no prayer against temptation in the spiritual dead.
But if you are willing according to the spirit but weak according to the flesh, then this exhortation is exactly to the point. For it is possible that it can be obeyed, only because "the spirit is willing"; it is necessary to be observed because "the flesh is weak."
Notice, then, to whom this exhortation is given and consider whether it is an admonition to which you can immediately and at once address yourself. Amidst the weakness of the flesh, is the spirit really willing? Is the prevailing bent of your most cherished desires towards universal holiness to the Lord? Consider and know. See what is really your true and inner man. See what is the real hidden man of the heart, whether it is the old man uncrucified or the new man in God's own image longing after that image of God in its full perfection. See whether in your failures you seek to draw with pleasure, or with sorrow, on this very verdict of Jesus: "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." And when you do apply this relief or mitigation, is it to deepen or is it to dispense with repentance? And when you sorrow over your failures, your inconsistencies of Christian character and walk, is it with regret and remorse merely for having failed of what conscience said was duty? Or is it with the special grief for having failed and been thwarted in what your heart tells you—and what God who is greater than your heart knows—was not only your duty, but your generous and upright and still unshaken desire? This last will be true when the spirit is willing.
V. Finally: Be warned by the fate of the eleven. They relapsed again, and yet again; and they lost this battle utterly. Jesus had at last to give up exhorting them, and hand them over to be taught by stern and sore experience. "Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; behold, he is at hand who betrays Me. And while He yet spoke, lo! Judas, one of the twelve, came, and a multitude with swords and staves." And Jesus, who had watched and prayed, met them with dignity and peace and unshaken constancy. The eleven had lost the opportunity of so arming themselves.
Ah! how was Peter hereby prepared for his greater fall—the others for forsaking Jesus and fleeing—all of them for being guilty of sin and laden with sorrow, till they should be forgiven and restored by a risen Redeemer! Who can trace how very different their conduct and their comfort might have been, during that terrific time, had they watched and prayed like Jesus, and as Jesus had enjoined? They escaped with their faith indeed still alive: for the watching and the prayer of Him with whom they would not watch, had been for them even more than for Himself. They escaped, yet so as by fire. Even so may you reach heaven at last, if indeed you are Christ's. For if you are Christ's, the Spirit of Christ dwells in you. Otherwise you could be none of His. And if the Spirit of Him who raised up Christ from the dead dwells in you, you are renewed in the spirit of your minds, and the spirit is willing though the flesh is weak, and the Lord will not break His covenant with you. Every true believer, whatsoever may befall him by the way, shall at last appear before God in Zion, and dwell where neither sorrow nor sighing nor sifting can come any more—where the inhabitants shall not say, I am sick, for those who dwell there are forgiven their iniquities, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. But even though the spirit may be willing, yet if you fail to watch and pray against the weakness of the flesh, and so fall into temptation and a snare, you may reach heaven in the end, but it may be by a path in which no joy of the Lord shall be your strength until the end comes—a path in which you may be left to pierce yourself through with many sorrows, and in which God may mingle for you many a cup of bitterness and trembling—"the wormwood and the gall!"
Watch, therefore, and pray that you enter not into temptation.