THE SHADOW OF CALVARY
by Hugh Martin, (1821—1885)
GETHSEMANE, PRAYER-CHAMBER FOR DISCIPLES
"Jesus often met there with His disciples." (John 18:2)
Would it not be well if disciples often met there with Jesus? Is there not, indeed, a sense in which Gethsemane ought to be regarded as the very oratoire of the Church, the closet, spiritually, where we may, with many precious aids to faith, pray to our Father who sees in secret and rewards openly, as we shall see He rewarded the Man of Sorrows?
It has been often said—and well said—that a sinner should not only come to the cross, but dwell there; that the believer should abide at Calvary. Inspired warrant for the saying is found in Paul's experience: "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life that I live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). I am spiritually identified with Christ in his cross. I am united to Christ the crucified one. I am always offered up to God, in and with Him who offered Himself in death a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savor to God. "Nevertheless," it is as a living sacrifice that I am offered up; for He with whom I am crucified was crucified for me; and even in dying He was the Living One: therefore I live also; yet not I, but Christ lives in me. Therefore I live at the cross, because I live by the cross. My home, my fortress, my high tower and dwelling-place is Calvary.
On the same principles and warrants of faith may not the believer say, My soul's secret prayer chamber shall be Gethsemane?
Great shall be his reward. For there are three things he will find Gethsemane can furnish him with in prayer: in the first place, a blessed and perfect warrant; in the second place, a precise and comprehensive subject; and, in the third place, an honorable and a blessed fellowship.
Let these be your inducements to make Gethsemane the scene of your own believing prayers. Come hither, to this garden of the Lord, to be the Lord's remembrancers and give Him no rest till He arise and have mercy upon you and on Zion His holy habitation. Come hither, and you shall find a high warrant and assurance of success; the true topic and full compass of your petitions; and companionship in prayer that will make you least alone when alone with Jesus as in Gethsemane.
I. In the first place, then, by praying as in Gethsemane you have the blessed advantage of knowing your right or liberty of praying—your warrant or assurance of being heard. For it is in reality here, in Gethsemane, that there resounds that glorious oracle: "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation."
See on what foundation the truth of that blessed saying rests and where it was at first proclaimed. We must by no means separate this most precious announcement from the reason which the Lord himself assigns for issuing it, nor forget the place from which at first it issued. Now, in point of fact, it rests upon the prayers of Jesus and the answers which were vouchsafed to Him. The time was when Jesus had to cry for acceptance and salvation—when He had to watch for the acceptable time and improve the day of salvation. "Salvation" was the burden of what He sought from God in agony with strong crying and with tears; He cried "unto Him who was able to save Him from death." And "acceptance" is the grand leading element in salvation; acceptance as righteous in God's sight; hence Jesus says, in expressing His faith and prospects, "He is near who justifies Me." These, then, were what He needed in the days of His flesh: justification or acceptance as God's righteous servant—deliverance or salvation from the dominion of death. And He found them both. He was delivered from death by obediently dying, vanquishing death by His own "obedience unto death," and thus His "soul was not left in the state of the dead, nor did He, the Holy One, see corruption." And He was accepted or justified also "justified in the Spirit"—through His willing endurance of condemnation in the room and stead of His guilty but beloved people. Of this salvation from death by dying, and of this acceptance or justification by His willingness to be condemned, the Prophet Isaiah testifies, or, rather, by the Spirit of inspiration, Jehovah, the Father, testifies, in converse with Jehovah, the Son, the covenant-head and surety. For thus says "Jehovah, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One," "to Him whom man despises"—to Him who was despised and rejected of men: "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, to establish the earth and to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; that You may say to the prisoners, Go forth; and to those who sit in darkness, Show yourselves" (Isa.49:7-9). You shall be made perfect and become the author of eternal salvation; You shall acquire the right and power of translating sinners out of darkness, and redeeming slaves from their bondage; You shall have the prevailing sovereign right of combined authority and grace to say to the prisoners, Go forth, and to those who sit in darkness, Show yourselves; on condition that you cry to Me for Your own acceptance in an acceptable time. Offering up "supplications to Him who is able to save" you in a "day of salvation," You shall be heard and helped—helped from the sanctuary and strengthened out of Zion—saved in that You have feared. Yes, "behold, the Lord God will help You; who is he who shall condemn you?" "You are my servant in whom I will be glorified." "You art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." "In an acceptable time have I heard You, and in a day of salvation have I helped You." Such is the covenant promise to the Son.
Surely this promise received a very signal fulfillment in Gethsemane, when there appeared to Him from heaven an angel strengthening Him. And his Father strengthened Him inwardly with strength in His soul, and filled Him with all grace and love and patience, and calm courage and resolve to endure the cross, despising the shame. Never more than in Gethsemane did Jesus find His prayer to be to the Lord "in an acceptable time and in the truth of His salvation" (Ps. 69:13).
And now having obtained an acceptable time and a day of salvation to Himself, does He keep these great blessings to Himself; or does He freely lay them open to participation on the part of all who will count them blessings indeed, all who will consent to accept them at His hands? There is indeed to sinners now a day of salvation, an acceptable time—a time of seeking while the Lord may be found, a time of calling on Him while He is near. But what is this accepted time, this day of salvation? What is it but the participation, the prolongation of Christ's own accepted time? It is into it that we are called to enter, with all the high warrant and assurance of acceptance and salvation which His acceptable time and His day of salvation afford.
It is thus that the Apostle Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, finds all our warrant for acceptable prayer springing out of the accepted and answered prayers of Jesus himself. Quoting from Isaiah, in his second epistle
to Corinth (6:2), he rehearses the words of Jehovah the Father to Jehovah Jesus promising to hear and answer and help Him, and grounds upon them the glorious assurance, without which we can neither believe nor hope nor
pray, "We beseech you that you receive not the grace of God in vain; for He says"—He says to Jesus—"I have heard You in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I helped You: behold," then, O Corinthians, "now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." Yes, it is because Jesus was heard in a time accepted that you can now pray with the hope of acceptance: it is because He was heard in that He feared when He prayed to Him who was able to save Him from death that you have now a day of salvation. Now indeed does the blessed Savior—the suppliant of Gethsemane, heard and answered—now does He draw near to the slaves of darkness and of sin, to bring them forth to the light and salvation of His own kingdom. Now does He truly say to the prisoner, "Go forth," and to you, O soul, still in darkness, He says, "Show yourself." And why should you refuse, when He comes to share with you His own "accepted time," to make you a partaker of His own "day of salvation"—to give as sure salvation to your person, and as sure acceptance to your prayer, as He Himself found for His own person and His own prayers in Gethsemane, when the Father heard him out of Zion, and saved Him from falling under the dominion of death?
In Gethsemane, then, you have your high warrant for prayer. In Gethsemane you find the acceptable time—the day of salvation; true and sure and infallible as the salvation which the person of Jesus found—the acceptance which the prayer of Jesus met with. In Gethsemane you seek the Lord in a time when He may be found, you call upon Him in a place where He is very near.
And here let me speak to the prayerless and procrastinating. Knowing the terrors of Gethsemane, we would desire to persuade you to seek the Lord while He may be found, to call upon Him while He is near. For, oh! be persuaded that if Gethsemane warrants the prayer of faith and assures its answer, it warrants also the justice and assures the certainty of terrible damnation to those who do not pray. That sufferer and suppliant who wrestles there in such anguish and amazement and heaviness and sorrow inexpressible and unparalleled, is bearing nothing more than what He is bearing away from those who believe, but which will abide forever upon those who believe not. Such as it was to Him who stood in the room of the guilty, such will it be without abatement to the guilty who through love of sin and of the world and in unbelief continue to stand in their own name before the Holy One of Israel, having no lot nor part in the Savior's salvation, but despising the acceptable time which Jesus found for Himself and would willingly share with you. Was His soul "exceeding sorrowful" under the imputation of the sins of sinners? And what shall your sorrow be if you awake into eternity with your sins still on your own head—on your own head forever? Would it be fair or righteous that, with others' sins lying to His charge, His soul should be very heavy, crushed within him, pressed down to death with sorrow and your sorrow should be less? No; "their sorrows shall be multiplied" who live and die impenitent and out of Christ. Was He amazed, "sore amazed"? Sinners who meet their own reckoning, unrelieved and unforgiven through that reckoning which justice had with Jesus in Gethsemane, shall be filled, in their horror and damnation, with terrible amazement. Why should He be, and not you—you who defy God in your deadly unconcern and reject and despise His Son by your careless and prayerless unbelief? "The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness has surprised the hypocrites; who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings"?
Ah! if with the holy and spiritual and far-sighted soul of Jesus, imputation of sin when it came near upon Him, took even Him by surprise; filled Him with sore amazement, assumed an aspect of horror which, when at a distance, though He had all along expected its advent and laid His account in holy intelligence with being made a curse, He could not have expected to be so crushing, so full of the wine of astonishment, and thus in trembling and in tears and in blood, the Lord God Omnipotent in the likeness of sinful flesh threw Himself upon the cold ground and moaned in the anguish of His spirit and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood: what horrible surprise and amazement and blank terror forever shall seize on you, O prayerless soul, when, awakened from your carnal sleep, arrested by the ministers of divine vengeance, and flung out, a castaway, on the dread plains of eternity, you find that the accepted time is past, the day of salvation that Gethsemane secured gone, and nothing yours from Gethsemane at all, except the sorrow and the amazement and the agony, remediless and merciless forever! Choose you this day which you will accept: the agony of prayer in a time of acceptance, the agonizing to enter in at the strait gate in a day of salvation, and glory forever beyond—or the agony of sorrow, with nothing but a fearful looking for of vengeance and fiery indignation. Choose, do I say? O how little room for choice! Accept at once and improve the time of acceptance. Be saved now in the day of salvation. Let your prayer be offered now in the acceptable time, in the multitude of the Lord's mercy and the truth of his salvation. Bless God that prayerlessness and procrastination have not already sealed your doom. Draw near to Gethsemane to pray, tremblingly grateful that it gives you liberty and warrant to pray in the full assurance of faith and of acceptance, and henceforth be followers of them who through faith and patience are now inheriting the promises.
And you, to whom the high duty and privilege of prayer is not unknown, you who are the Lord's remembrancers—rest your warrant, your assurance on the answered prayers of Jesus, and you too shall receive an answer. The battle of believing prayer is won. It was won in Gethsemane. You are but following up the victory. Come, therefore, to Gethsemane and offer here your supplications. Here was your Lord Himself accepted—here was He heard and helped and saved from death; and here, therefore, the living oracle resounds to you: "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation."
II. But, in the second place, you will find also in Gethsemane the true topic and the full compass of all acceptable supplications. Here you will find a distinct and all-embracing subject of prayer. For, as the sum and substance of all that you ask of God, you simply adopt the prayer of Gethsemane, "O my Father, Your will be done."
Now, this does not mean simply that in every prayer of yours you are to seek a spirit of submission to the Father's will and acquiescence therein. That is indeed conveyed under this lesson as part of the truth involved. And it lies in the very essence of prayer that we should seek, and indeed desire, nothing but what is agreeable to the will of God. So very elementary and obvious is this that, to see its truth, we have only to contemplate the proposal of asking something in opposition to the divine will, to feel the recoil which the mind instantly makes from the idea as the worst form of deliberate impiety. Assuredly it is the dictate both of reason and of Scripture that only when "we ask anything according to His will can we have the confidence that He hears us" (1 John 5:14). And this lesson Gethsemane very solemnly confirms and enforces. "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done. O my Father, since this cup may not pass from Me, Your will be done."
Thus far we are supplied in Gethsemane with a rule of prayer—a general principle or maxim applicable to prayer at all times, whatsver may be the subject of the petitions, namely, that we must ask what things are agreeable to the will of God.
But we mean something more than this when we say that Gethsemane furnishes, briefly yet comprehensively, the very subject, the topic, the matter of prayer. Come here and learn of Jesus what to pray for. Come here and enter into the mind and spirit of Jesus in reference to that same will of God which He prays may now be done. And how well may you accept the invitation, and what a price to get spiritual riches does such an invitation put into your hand! This will of God is the same which Jesus came from heaven to do, and not His own. "Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of Me; I delight to do Your will, O my God." Come then and lay hold on that same will of God and see how you are enriched with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
(1) For, first of all, the immediate blessing which you receive by doing so is that you are separated at once to the Lord. You come out and are separate, and the Lord is a Father to you, and you are His sons and his daughters. His will separates you in destiny from the world far as the east is distant from the west, and separates your guiltiness and sin equally far away from you. For do we not read concerning this will which Jesus came to do: "O My Father, Your will be done" (Matt. 26:42); "Lo, I come to do Your will, O God" (Heb. 10:9); do we not read, "By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10)? We are sanctified, that is, set apart to God, separated to Him as his peculiar possession, consecrated by the blood of Jesus, redeemed to the Lord, not our own but bought with a price. Taking hold, then, on this will of God, you find it separates you from the world; it withdraws and translates you out of darkness into God's marvelous light and into the kingdom of the Son of His love; having in it a resistless efficacy to claim and take and keep you as the Lord's peculiar inheritance. For by this will of God you are sanctified through the offering of the body of Christ once for all.
How blessed, then, to come into Gethsemane and there to deal in prayer and supplication with that same will of God with which Jesus was so sorrowfully yet so faithfully concerned. You come to give yourself to the Lord, to surrender your soul and body and love and service to the God of salvation. You do so in Gethsemane. You do so with express reference, in the prayer of faith, to that will of God which Jesus came to do, and for the doing of which a body was prepared Him. You learn the topic of your prayer in this garden of the Lord's agony. You lay hold on the will of God and surrender yourself to Him. Be assured it is a time of acceptance. Your surrender is accepted in deed and in truth. The Lord cannot reject what is His own; and by this will of God you are sanctified, separated to Him as His own, whom He cannot disallow. For the Lord knows those who are His.
Is this comfort too high for you? Is it, as it were, meat too strong for you, O meek and contrite soul, who are in your own estimation no better than a babe in Christ—glad could you but realize that even that blessed state and character are yours? Still we say to you, come here into Gethsemane and learn from Jesus to pray concerning this same will of God with which all His prayer is conversant.
(2) For, in the second place, you know, do you not, that "all whom the Father gives to Him shall come to Him, and him who comes He will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). Ah, this blessed twofold truth! this assurance, so glorious and consoling to Jesus, that "all whom the Father has given Him shall come to Him"; and this other assurance, so gracious and consoling to you, that "him who comes He will in no wise cast out"; they both alike rest upon this same will of God, and by it Jesus will ever vindicate and verify them.
For we often lose the full strength of the sayings of Christ, by detaching them from the connection in which they originally appear. No doubt, we often so detach and isolate them in order that we may hide them in our heart, and perhaps few of the blessed Savior's ever memorable announcements have been more frequently or more deeply graven on the fleshly tables than that ever precious word which lives and abides forever, to shut out all our dark misgivings and obviate all our guilty and (but for Jesus) well grounded fears, and silence all our doubts and unbelieving objections—the ever gracious word of the Lord—"Him who comes I will in no wise cast out." Doubtless, also, though it stood alone and by itself, this word of Christ were very precious, and exceedingly abundantly sufficient as a warrant to bring near to him the guiltiest of the children of men, however great and numerous their provocations and their backslidings, however debasing and vile their sin. Still it is best to note the full strength which this word of the Lord derives from other truths which He allies and binds up with it; and to see the foundation or the ground on which Jesus sets forth His warrant to proclaim it as a truth. "All whom the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and Him who comes I will in no wise cast out." Why are these things so? Why should it be so certain that all whom the Father has given to Jesus shall come to Him, and why so equally sure that him who comes, whoever he may be, or whatever he may have been or done, shall in no wise be cast out? Does Jesus assign any reason for these things, any evidence that they are true and sure? He does. They are both true and sure, "for," says He, "I came down from heaven not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me." Thus Jesus at once binds in the truth of this two-fold assurance with that will of God which He came to do. Every elect soul shall come and every soul who comes shall be welcome, "for I came down from heaven to do the Father's will; for, lo, I come, to do Your will, O God." But how should this will of God, which Jesus came to do, secure on the one hand the coming of those whom the Father has given Him and secure on the other hand the gracious reception or acceptance of him, whoever he may be, who comes? Very clearly and very surely because these are the things which that will of God contemplates and provides for and guarantees. For there is a two-fold assurance—the first bearing more upon the secret things of God and relating to His people's election; the second, more upon the things that are revealed, that pertain to His people's calling, and both are founded on that will of God. The first declares that all who are given to Him shall come to Him, for Jesus in this respect came to do the Father's will, and "this is the Father's will who has sent Me, that of all whom He has given me I should lose nothing but should raise it up at the last day" (verse 39). The second declares that whoever comes I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven to do the will of Him who sent Me and, on this point, "This is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son, and believes on Him, should have everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (verse 40).
When, therefore, in Gethsemane the Lord said, "O My Father, since this cup may not pass from Me, Your will be done; O My Father, Your will be done"; that will of Yours be done which I came down from heaven to do—for which you did prepare for me a body that I might do it; the subject of His prayer embraced the coming to Him of all whom the Father gave Him, and a blessed and assured welcome to every one whoever he may be who comes.
Again, then, we say, Come to Gethsemane and take hold on this prayer of Jesus. Learn from Him the subject of your supplication. Take hold with Him upon the will of God, which He came from heaven to do; especially on that which is revealed in all its fulness, even that every one who sees the Son and believes on Him shall have everlasting life, and Jesus shall raise him up at the last day; that he who comes He will in no wise cast out; for that is the will of God with which Gethsemane's prayer is so solemnly concerned. Come to Him in this garden where the will of His Father is so dear to Him and costs Him so much in His agony. And if that very will of His Father be to the effect that you, coming, shall in no wise be cast out, Oh! with what readiness, with what joy, with what full assurance of faith may you come! Oh! let us draw near with a true heart and in the full assurance of faith. Yes, and thus having made our calling, let us make also our election sure, persuaded that it was not only of the Father's will that on coming to Jesus we have been welcome, but that it was of the Father's will that we have come, being indeed of the number whom the Father has given to the Son; and so we have not chosen Him, but He has chosen us, when in the volume of the book it was written of Jesus, and all His members also were written (Ps. 40:7; 139:16). Here, then, again is the will of God, the same by which we are sanctified or separated to him, by the offering of the body of Christ once for all.
(3) And now, thirdly, being thus in no wise cast out, but rather sanctified and consecrated by this will of God, on which you lay hold in the prayer of faith in Gethsemane, remember now that "this is the will of God, even your sanctification," your sanctification not merely in the sense of your separation to the Lord, but of being holy to Him now that you are separated. "Be perfect and complete in all the will of God"; and be so just by realizing that you are separated to Him and have all that freedom from evil, and that access by faith to all grace, which such separation requires. By that will of God you are sanctified through the offering of the body of Christ once for all (Heb. 10:10). And by that one offering also Jesus has forever perfected those who are sanctified (Heb. 10:14). He has given you a perfect acceptance, and a perfect adoption. Made perfect Himself through the instrumentality of His own prayers and their answer (Heb. 5:9), He has perfected also those whom He has consecrated to His God, whom He has washed from their sins in His own blood and made them kings and priests unto His Father. He presents you to God justified in His sight—justified perfectly, with no taint whatever, and no stain of condemnation on you any more. He presents you to God adopted into the household of faith—adopted perfectly, with no trace of slavery or strangeness or foreign origin at all—no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God, to go no more out forever, but to be followers of God as dear children. Oh! what remains, then, but that having acceptance most free and perfect; adoption, also, gratuitous and complete and sure; you should now be perfect and complete also in doing the will of God—walking before Him and being perfect? Justified in the righteousness of Jesus, that pure and spotless robe, and the King's eye resting on you with approbation, will you not keep your honor bright and your garments unspotted from the world? Enrolled forever among the free born sons of God, will you not go and work today in His vineyard, yard, and occupy until He comes, your eye beaming keen with love and looking for the glory to be revealed? And praying ever in Gethsemane, in the full compass of Christ's own prayer concerning the Father's will, will you not remember, among other elements of that will, and as indeed crowning the others with the beauties of holiness—that "this is the will of God, even your sanctification"?
Thus praying always with all prayer and supplication in Gethsemane you shall neither lack a high warrant and assurance of success, nor a rich, full theme for your petitions.
But there is a third advantage to be found from praying as in Gethsemane.
III. You shall have company most honorable and blessed. Here you will have Jesus for your companion. Here you will have communion or fellowship or partnership in prayer with Him. For as on Calvary you have fellowship with Him in His sufferings, being crucified with Christ; and as in Golgotha you have fellowship with Him in His grave, being buried with Him by baptism unto
death; and as in His resurrection you have fellowship with Him, knowing Him in the power thereof and raised up with Him unto newness of life; even so, come, and by the same faith have fellowship with Him in Gethsemane in prayer. Come here to pray. Resort thither often to pray, as He did. And realize that you do not enter on this high privilege of prayer, which still is a very arduous duty, alone. You have company here, company the highest and the best. Of the people there is One with you, one chosen out of the people, one like the Son of Man, your leader and commander, your forerunner in all things, your pattern, your more than pattern, your Prince in prayer. You do not come to ground unoccupied, to ground where you shall stand—or kneel—alone. You do not betake yourself to prayer in your own name at all or with your own voice alone, as if you could pray with a prevailing voice. No. But you draw near to Jesus. You pray side by side with Him. You fall into the fellowship and concert of His very prayer. By faith you adjoin and identify your prayer with His. "I beseech you that you all speak the same thing" with Him, "being perfectly joined with Him in one mind, and in one Spirit"—the Spirit of the Son in you crying, Abba Father!
Ah! your closet, where your Father in heaven sees in secret, is no dull, blank, dreary place of enforced resort, if it thus becomes to you, by faith, as it were the garden of Olives, where Jesus prayed. There you find the fellowship of Jesus in His prayer, in His wrestling love to that will of God. It is to you a place of true and deep communion. You watch there and pray with Jesus!
True it is that Jesus is not now literally in Gethsemane. He is in the Most Holy Place not made with hands. But you do not come to Gethsemane as if Jesus had never been there. No, it is very much changed to you because Jesus has been there before you. All is bright to you and safe because Jesus was there. For wherever He has been as the forerunner, He has left some radiance of heaven and some sweet smelling myrrh behind Him. The grave itself is irradiated to the eye of faith, and its corruption and offensiveness suppressed in the estimation of faith because Jesus Himself has been there. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. He is not here, He is risen as He said. There is no terror here. There is a glory here that annihilates the shame. There is no dominion of death here; no destroying sway. For you know that your Redeemer has been here; and that He was dead and is alive again, and behold He lives forevermore. You know that your Redeemer lives, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though after your skin worms destroy this body, yet in your flesh shall you see God. O death! where is your sting? O grave! where is your victory? There is no divination at all against Israel, and specially no victory and dominion over Israel in the grave, for Jesus has been there. Come, see the place where the Lord lay!
Come, in like manner, to Gethsemane. Come, see the place where the Lord prayed! Here He prayed with supplications and strong crying and tears, wrestling even unto blood. True, He is not here. He is ascended as He said. And His prayers now are glorified, even as His person is. But still, even as the grave is sweetened with the fragrant savor of His burial, and the believer's body there shall rest, still united to Christ, till the resurrection, so now when you enter Gethsemane, is it not fragrant with the savor and the success of Him whose strong crying and tears Gethsemane witnessed; and may you not here continue instant in prayer, united to and in communion with Him, and having fellowship in the prayer of Him who was here as your forerunner? For in leading you forth as His own sheep, He ever goes before you. In Gethsemane He goes before you in prayer: He seeks to associate you there in prayer with Himself, that so your failure or success may all rest on his responsibility.
Will you not, O my soul, agree with the suppliant sufferer, your Savior, in this most blessed proposal to watch and pray with Him? Oh! why should you refuse? For how great shall be your gain! Your prayer now placed on the same footing with His; resting on the same promise and covenant; embracing the self-same theme; cast in the same mold; directed to the same aim; prompted by the same Spirit of the Son crying, Abba Father; and risked upon the same destiny and issue; your prayer with His; bound up and identified with His; cannot but be heard, as His was heard in that He feared. Be separated from Christ, standing apart in your own righteousnesses, which are filthy rags; leaning on your own strength, or following the dictates of your own understanding. And there is no acceptance for your prayer at all. The proud and self-sufficient He sees afar off. But be one with the suffering suppliant in Gethsemane. By faith, fall into the strain and concert and fellowship of that very prayer whereby He prevailed with God—the true Israel and Prince with God—the Prince of life, the Prince of peace, the Prince of prayer; and you shall never miss the blessing. The King will crown you with His love.
Yes, believer; your prayer of faith may well be linked on by faith and identified with Christ's prayer, for is it not very closely bound up with it already and from the first? Is not every prayer of faith allied to Christ's prayer by this most singular and interesting bond, that it is in part the very answer of that prayer of Christ? Is it not in answer to his very prayer that you have been taught and led, by the Spirit of faith and of adoption, to pray? Was not this, in part, what Jesus sought, when He prayed that His Father's will might be done—by the which will we are sanctified, set apart to God, set apart to that life of which prayer is the vital breath and element? Why! what is your prayer of faith but the fruit of what Jesus in His prayer sowed? He sowed His prayer in tears; and He watered it in blood; and He pressed it down into the ground by His death and in His grave. "For except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone; but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit." Thus spoke Jesus of His person, which by death should become the living root of innumerable redeemed ones, rising in Him to newness of life. The principle is true of His prayer as well as of His person. The prayers of faith are the fruit of His prayer, even as the children of faith are the travail of His soul. And as the persons of the redeemed are united to the person of Christ, the prayers of the redeemed are one with His prayer. Realize, then, your fellowship in Gethsemane in prayer with Jesus, for this is no fancy but an animating spiritual truth. Realize the union of your prayer with His prayer, even as also of your person with His person. Abide in Him and He in you; with your prayer also abiding in His, and identified therewith; and His words and His prayers abiding in you. And you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done to you.
Thus will you learn to wield with growing spiritual power and wisdom your liberty of praying in the name of Jesus. You pray not only in the merit, but in the strength and the fellowship and the succession of His own prayer. And then your answer is secure. For as Jesus in His own risen person is the first fruits of those who slept, assuring the resurrection in due time of all his own; so the answer of His prayer is the first fruits of all answers whatever. For His prayer, in a high sense, is in reality the first answered prayer among the sons of men; and all others have received, or shall receive, an answer, only by falling into the concert of this, into the succession and series of which this is the leading type and forerunner—the series of which this prayer, like Jesus Himself, is the first-born and the beginning, in all things having the preeminence. True, in mere point of time others had been answered before it: just as in mere point of time Lazarus, and the widow's son of Nain, and the man whose body touched the dead prophet's bones, and others were raised before—some of them long before—the Lord died and rose and was revived. Yet in reality He is "the first
who should rise from the dead" (Acts 26:23): He is the first fruits from the dead, and every one in his own order. And so His answered prayer of Gethsemane was the first fruits of all answers to prayer. It takes the lead. It gloriously leads on the prayers of faith in all climates and ages. Oh! follow here where Jesus leads. Pray in Gethsemane where Jesus prays. Be with Him here, though it should be with strong crying and tears. Be with Him here, where the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. Be with Him here, agonizing to enter in at the strait gate; taking the kingdom of heaven by force, as He did; and do it, in and with Him. Be one with Him in His faithfulness and importunity; and you shall be one with Him in His high success.
And now, if you disdain not to associate with Christ in prayer amidst the tears and cries and blood of Gethsemane, you shall be with Him also by faith, and that even now, in the unutterable glory of the Most Holy Place, sitting with Him already by faith in the heavenly places. For the principle is that if we suffer with Him we shall also reign with Him. And if you fall into the concert of His humiliation prayer, you shall partake with Him in the glorious fruit of His sovereign and authoritative intercession at the right hand of the majesty on high. For in this respect will God fulfill to you the promise that he who humbles himself shall be exalted. He fulfilled this promise to Jesus. And not a single point in which He was abased, but correspondingly was He glorified. Was His person, in this garden, rolled in blood, stained with the dust of battle and the soil of earth? Ah! who can comprehend the glory of His humanity now as, possessing the power of an endless life, and inheriting incorruption, He stands in the midst of the throne, radiant in the glory which He had with the Father before the world was? But His prayers also are glorified. Yes; they are as free from strong crying and tears as His blessed person is purged from the blood of His conflict and the soil of His prostration on the ground. And what difference there is between His person as then and now; the same difference there is between His supplications in the days of His flesh and His mighty and majestic intercessions at His Father's right hand. For in whatever He was abased, the Lord also has highly exalted Him; and His person and His pleadings, which were alike in humiliation, are now glorified together. Do you, O believer, join yourself in the prayer of humiliation with Jesus in the garden? The Lord exalts you in His own estimation by seeing you in Christ in the Holy Place not made with hands. Oh! how grand the reward! How precious the inducement to prayer! Your prayers, as they come up for a memorial before God, are purged from all imperfection, and glorified in the High Priest's censer. Your many painful wanderings of heart; your many infirmities; your distressing conflicts with unbelief and temptation, which in prayer are your own burden and your constant cause of humiliation and of shame; are all—if you only pray in faith and in fellowship with Jesus—all intercepted and disentangled and annihilated by the intercessory advocacy of your glorified head. All your supplications are cleansed and purified and glorified, and fragrant with added incense; free from all stain of sin and of the soil and blood and dust of battle as surely as the person of the Advocate Himself is glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and His intercession free from crying and from tears. And will you barter this privilege of prayer, O my soul, for any mess of pottage or any pleasure this world can give, or any bribe with which the powers of hell can tempt you? Be ashamed and confounded, for your little valuation of it in the time that is past; and henceforth abide with Christ, though it be in Gethsemane; and you shall ask what you will and it shall be given you. What though, to your own sense and feeling, you are still in the garden of wrestling, where strong crying and tears can often be by no means dispensed with? The Father sees you already spiritually raised up together with the Son and made to sit together with Him in the heavenly places. By faith and hope you enter within the veil, where Jesus has already entered as the forerunner. And what by faith and hope is already yours shall be yours in the glory that comes, when the Lord Himself shall come and bid you enter into the joy of your Lord, where Gethsemane's strong crying and tears and bloody sweat shall no more come into remembrance, except as the purchase price of the blood-washed and white-robed throng to whom Gethsemane has been, through grace, a vestibule to that glory in which God shall wipe away all tears from all faces.
THE ARREST, SECRET PRAYER ANSWERED OPENLY
"Judas, then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, and torches, and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon Him, went forth, and said to them, Whom do you seek? They answered Him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus said to them, I am He. And Judas also, who betrayed Him, stood with them. As soon then as He had said to them, I am He, they went backward and fell to the ground. Then asked He them again, Whom do you seek? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I have told you that I am He. If therefore you seek Me, let these go their way: That the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, Of those whom You gave me have I lost none" (John 18:3-9).
The arrest and capture of God's Messiah, as a criminal, is a procedure so replete with scandal and offence as loudly to demand an explanation.
It is not the part which man enacted in this matter which needs to be explained; or if it does, the explanation is very obvious, and was furnished some time before by Jesus Himself when contending with His persecutors: "If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a man that who told you the truth, which I have heard from God: this did not Abraham. You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:39-44).
But admitting all this, the real difficulty and the deep offence still remain. For all the shame to which Jesus was thus subjected was controlled "by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23). And the explanation so urgently required, the scandal or stumbling-block to be taken out of the way, is this: In view of the personal innocence of Jesus, how can it possibly comport with the righteousness of God that He should load His Messiah with the accurately-sustained reproach and the systematic destiny and retribution of guilt? Is it not, at the first blush, a very grievous scandal—soon to be spread all through Jerusalem and thereafter all through the world, till the end of time, wheresver this gospel shall be preached, that this Jesus, through whom mighty works of God had shown themselves, is under arrest as if He were a thief or a robber? And is not the rock of scandal or offence mightily increased in magnitude and danger when it is understood that such is the will of God concerning Him?
For this is no random or riotous mob that overpowers the Son of Man. His position is very different from what it would have been had the members of the synagogue of Nazareth made Him prisoner on the occasion of His first discourse among them, "when, being filled with wrath, they rose up and thrust Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill upon which their city was built, that they might cast Him down headlong" (Luke 4:29). And it requires another explanation. For here we have the forms of justice gone through, and the rights of authority put forth for his apprehension. The determinate counsel of God operates its own profound will through the deliberate counsels of men in high places. Civil and ecclesiastical powers combine to place Jesus, by every legal form, in the position of a criminal, under the charge of having broken laws civil and sacred alike—human and divine. The great multitude, with staves and swords, with lanterns and torches, were acting as men under commission to do what they did. They had all the authority with which they could possibly have been armed. They were the "chief priests and elders and Pharisees" (John 18:3; Matt. 26:47), who had procured the band of men and officers. This "band," with their officers or captains, were undoubtedly a detachment of Roman soldiers obtained from Pilate. Already, therefore, the rulers took counsel against the Lord's anointed. Onwards from this ominous commencement of the dreadful game on hand, Jew and Gentile were playing it in consultation; and whatever authority the Synagogue could wield, or the Governor's hall put forth, were combined to give official force and validity to the warrant that now went forth against the Son of Man.
For it was a thoroughly official warrant which was now out for His arrest, thoroughly competent, however unrighteous. Barabbas himself could not have been more duly apprehended than Jesus now was, and that by the determinate counsel of God. Now, what is the explanation? Why did the righteous God place His holy Messiah in such an attitude and destiny? Why did His determinate counsel arrange that the innocent Jesus should depart this life under all the forms of a criminal's punishment, preceded by all the steps of a criminal process or prosecution?
The Socinian doctrine of Jesus dying as a holy martyr, sealing His doctrine with His blood—will that remove the scandal? No; it blasphemes the character of God and shocks the conscience of man. Was the righteous overruling God, the judge of all, evoking merely a martyr's testimony, when He awoke all legal and official powers in Jerusalem to serve the ends of His "determinate counsel," and put the case against Jesus into legal shape and follow it out from first to last in all due legal form? God forbid.
Or will the Arminian notion of Jesus dying in some sense, and in the same sense, for all men—that is, when rightly sifted and examined, merely in some sense for the good of men, so that now all men can make better terms with God or have another chance of escaping hell—an opportunity, through a relaxed or softened covenant, to save themselves. That also is very far from removing this grievous scandal or explaining this most offensive exhibition.
There must be an explanation that will gloriously vindicate the justice of God in so pursuing and prosecuting legally the man of sorrows. There must be an explanation which will not merely vindicate the character of God, in the sense of showing that this process or prosecution which the divine "determinate counsel" carried on, is no impeachment of the divine justice, but that it involves an illustrious instance and forthgoing of this divine justice. There must be an explanation which will even swallow up the scandal in glory and make the very offence of the cross a fountain and a revelation of high moral excellence and triumph—not only not the eclipse, but the victory of righteousness.
The doctrine which thus at once vindicates the personal innocence of Jesus and the public righteousness of God, and transforms the scandal into glory, and the shame into moral loveliness, is the surety-ship and substitution of Jesus in the place of His people, with the imputation to Him, thereon, of His people's transgressions. Accordingly, for this very reason—the Holy Spirit signifying this very truth—both at the commencement and at the close of this criminal process, the imputation of sin to Jesus is announced as the satisfactory and sufficient explanation of the whole.
1. Thus, in the first place, when warning the disciples of the shock which their feelings, and their faith, would sustain that night when these things should come to pass, Jesus furnished them with the true principle that would guide them safely: "For I say to you that this which is written must yet be accomplished in Me, And He was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning Me have an end" (Luke 22:37). This is the end which the things concerning Me must have; namely, that I must be reckoned among the transgressors. This is the issue and the outgoing that My destiny must have. To this end all things are now pointing with Me, even that I should be made sin, and bear the sins of many, having their iniquities made to meet upon Me, being by imputation a transgressor and dealt with as such—yes, bearing the sins of a multitude whom no man can number, and through federal unity with them and as their legal representative and surety, responsible for all their transgressions and liable to be righteously and relentlessly pursued in their name even to death. Grasp this principle: see Me as in the eye of the righteous God standing in this position; and behold how the determinate counsel of God gives palpable revelation of the hidden realities of this marvelous case as it stands at His bar in righteousness by overruling and employing what of official power and authority are existing in the land, so that on the platform of obvious events there may be represented in symbolical or dramatic exhibition the infinitely righteous but invisible quarrel of the divine sword against the soul of the sin-laden substitute of sinners.
2. And then, secondly, the Scriptures formally and expressly announce this principle again, when the process is closed and the sword is quenched in the blood of Jesus. For when the evangelist Mark records the final act of this legal process, namely, the crucifixion itself, "And with Him they crucified two thieves, one on the right hand and the other on His left," struck with the literal event as forming a marvelous and forcible commentary on the prophecy, he adds: "And the Scripture was fulfilled, which says, And He was numbered with the transgressors" (Mark 15:27, 28).
That Scripture, in all the fullness of its doctrinal meaning, might have been fulfilled although many of the outward circumstances of Christ's final sufferings had been ordered otherwise. Substantially it received its fulfillment in the fact that Jesus died the cursed death in the room and stead of the guilty. And Jesus might have so died, unto the satisfaction of divine justice, though He had not been arrested as a criminal by the hand of man or subjected to a judicial trial at the tribunals of the Jewish Sanhedrim and the Roman Governor, or crucified in company with malefactors. But then the palpable and blessedly abounding evidence that He so died as a surety for the guilty, Himself laden with guilt, the guilt of imputed sin, would have been marvelously diminished. The anger of the invisible God against the invisible soul of the man Christ Jesus could not be beheld by mortal eye. But the world might be constrained to behold it as in a glass. And hence, to set it forth as if in unmistakable and terrible sacramental signs and seals, in and with which to the experience of the soul of Emmanuel the unseen process of His Father's wrath was being carried on, the Father wielded at His pleasure, in infinite holiness, the official authority of those in high places of the land; put in requisition all forms of competent and legal order in criminal procedure; sacramentally, as it were, prosecuted the surety by awaking and employing against Him all the constituted functions of "the powers that be" and which are "ordained of God," every one in his place the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath." Hence the oracle which we hear resounding both at the commencement and the close of this process we ought to accept as justifying and explaining all that takes place between. "He was numbered with the transgressors, for He bore the sins of many" (Isa. 53:12). And it was to exhibit this hidden, spiritual fact that from the initial process of arrest to the final execution on the cross God exhibited his own Son, a spectacle to angels and to men, in all the successive stages of a prosecuted criminal's position; while thus, also, it comes to pass that what were otherwise invincibly scandalous, becomes a brilliant mirror in which to the eye of faith there shines forth with dazzling splendor the unmistakable evidence of that glorious covenant whereby Jesus the Holy One and the Just made sin for us, makes an end of sin, makes reconciliation for iniquity and brings in everlasting righteousness.
It is a strange midnight scene, this at the gate of Gethsemane. The rich flood of silver moonbeams, for it is full moon at the Passover, fills the quiet vale, and here and there breaks in shivered gleams upon the little brook that murmurs among the olives. A grief-worn figure stands among some others, sleep-worn and fatigued, whom He is addressing in the mingled vein of rebuke and tenderness, when lo, a rush and hurried tread of many footsteps, the sudden gleam of lamps and torches, the clash of weapons; and immediately a great multitude, a band of soldiers, led on by one who knows the ground and where the object of their search must be, confront the Lord and his disciples. And now the conduct of Jesus—full of immediate majesty and unbroken self-possession—demands our notice. Setting aside the traitor's kiss and salutation, He presents Himself at once as He whom they seek and surrenders in due order to their commission and their warrant.
It is to this part of the transaction that we confine our attention at present. It is detailed by John alone, being entirely supplementary to the information of the other Evangelists; and we can hardly help feeling that John recorded it with peculiar pleasure and as a very study in illustration of his master's glorious character and conduct.
For this procedure on the part of Jesus is, as we have said, full of majesty, and it is full of spiritual import. In fact the key to it is to be found by tracing in it the answer to the prayer in the garden: and viewing it in this light, the accordance is more complete than might at first be supposed, while the interest of the passage is greatly enhanced.
We must bear in mind that the ultimate agony of Christ's prayer consisted of a burning and unquenchable desire that the will of God might be done. "O my Father, Your will be done." And this will of God embraced immediately and directly these two objects: first, that Jesus should offer Himself a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savor to God; and, secondly, that herein He should be an effectual and accepted ransom securing the redemption of those whom the Father has given to Him. The first part of this will of God, namely, the offering of the body of Christ once for all, is asserted in the well-known passage: "Sacrifice and offering Yu would not, but a body have You prepared Me; in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have had no pleasure. Then said I, lo! I come to do Your will, O God" (Heb. 10:5-7). And the second part of God's will, namely, our separation and consecration to God, and thereby also our salvation, as the fruit of Christ's death and sacrifice, is set forth in close connection with this in a subsequent verse, when the apostle says, "By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10). Hence when the apostle describes His prayer of anguish in Gethsemane in these terms, "In the days of His flesh, He offered up supplications with strong crying and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death," and when He assures us that His prayer was heard and answered "in that He feared" (Heb. 5:7); He proceeds to show that it was precisely in these two points that the answer to His prayer consisted; first, that He might receive all needed grace to be "obedient unto death," positively offering Himself a sacrifice; for this was that will of God which He came to do: and, secondly, that all His sheep, His children, the travail of His soul, might be secured unto eternal salvation. For unquestionably in these respects would the apostle have us to understand that He was "heard in that He feared"; namely, first, inasmuch as "though He were a Son He learned obedience by the things which He suffered" (verse 8), being made perfect in His function as a high priest, not by mere passive suffering, which is the destiny of the victim, but by active obedience, which is the duty of the priest, and especially of such a priest as Jesus, to whom it appertained, through the eternal Spirit, to offer Himself without spot to God. And then, secondly, the will of God being thus performed by Jesus, the sanctification or salvation of His people is also given to Him; for being thus "made perfect He became the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him" (verse 9).
Such are the two objects of God's will, the two corresponding elements of Christ's prayer, and the two-fold and complete answer. They embrace indeed, and briefly represent, the grand will and purpose of God in the everlasting covenant, consisting, as they really do, of the mutual pledge between the Father and the Son; first, on the part of the Son to the Father, that He should be obedient unto death, the ransom and the righteousness of the Church; and, secondly, on the Father's part to the Son, that He should indeed see the travail of His soul, and that the Church in all her members should be ransomed and made the righteousness of God in Him forever.
Now, it is precisely these two elements of God's will, of Christ's prayer, and its answer, which reappear in this scene of the arrest and surrender of the Surety. For in the intercourse which He conducts with His pursuers before they lead Him away captive there is, you will observe, a double series of inquiry and response; and the special character and aim of each is opened up by the key which we have suggested. Thus:
I. "Jesus therefore knowing all things that should come upon Him, went forth and said to them, Whom do you seek? They answered Him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus said to them, I am He. And Judas also who betrayed Him stood with them. And as soon as He said to them, I am He, they went backward and fell to the ground" (verses 4-6).
Now it is obvious that the whole point of this first series of questions and replies turns on the fact that Jesus means, positively and distinctly, by His own will unmistakably expressed, and His own deed unconstrainedly performed, to surrender Himself into their hands. It is not enough to say that "He is led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opens not His mouth." That is truth, most blessed truth; and regarding Christ as the victim, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, it was very necessary that there should be realized in Him the conditions requisite in the ancient and symbolic offerings, that He should go not unwillingly to the altar, even as also that He should be without spot or blemish. Hence there is very special attention directed to the fact that He was "led as a lamb to the slaughter." But this is not the whole truth concerning Him; for He is not only the Lamb, but the High Priest also whose duty it is to present the Lamb, to present Himself an atonement and a sacrifice, to go forward not merely in uncomplaining submission, but in the active discharge of duty, learning not only to suffer meekly, but "learning obedience" in His sufferings; himself, in unutterable majesty, even in the midst of all His shame, conducting the glorious service at the unseen altar of God, and positively there offering up Himself by his own intensely active will and deed. He is now come more immediately to that portion of the destiny assigned him where Eternal justice prosecutes Him as responsible for the guilty. The cup put into His hand in the garden was, doubtless, the final assignment to Him of the position of a Surety and the consequent imputation of sin. Immediately thereafter His destiny and position became obviously those of a criminal. However unrighteously assigned to Him by the malice of men, His position in all its steps, from His apprehension to His execution, had sacramental significance and truth in it terribly, as assigned to Him by God; and from the very first stage of it in which the warrant went out for his arrest, it behooved Him to feel that the time was specially come for Him to adopt the oracle of the fortieth Psalm concerning Him—Sacrifice and offering You would not, a body have You prepared Me: Lo, I come to do Your will, O my God; Father, Your will be done; and now when the commissioned agents of lawful authority, moved by Your holy and determinate counsel, are here to lead Me to the death of shame, they are to Me, as by a holy sacrament of Your holy wrath, the agents of Your will, pursuing against Me the quarrel of Your sword, O righteous Father: and therefore to them yes, rather to You in them—I yield. "Whom do you seek?" "Jesus of Nazareth." Then "I who speak unto you am He."
Now this was the first part of Gethsemane's prayer answered, in so far as the arrest or apprehension of the Surety was concerned. He agonized for grace and strength to be obedient unto the will of God. And now, by express will and act of his own, He offers Himself to be apprehended.
This is the point or substance of the passage, and the separate circumstances all find their due significance, and are seen to be introduced with much precision, when the aim and scope of the whole is thus viewed.
1 . Thus, in the first place, the Evangelist introduces the circumstances of Christ's perfect knowledge of what should happen to Him. "Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon Him, went forth and said to them, Whom do you seek?" (ver. 4). It is not merely that Jesus, though He foresaw the consequences, was willing to surrender Himself, so that we may be sure that in love to His people He knowingly placed Himself in the very way of the sufferings which on their account awaited Him. All that is true: and it greatly commends the love of Jesus. But it is something more immediately to the point which the Evangelist has in view. Jesus "knew all things that should come upon Him"; and that they might not come upon Him as a mere passive sufferer or victim, He went forth to meet them and actively present Himself. He did not do so before; for that would have been unnecessarily provoking, eliciting against Himself and unduly hastening the destiny that was awaiting Him: that therefore He did not do. The things that should "come upon Him" He was not in any sense to bring upon Himself. He did not go forth to seek, or court, or call forth danger. But now that the danger and the destiny were "coming upon Him" He "went forth" now! Earlier, He would have been eliciting and producing evil against Himself, the author of His own sorrows. Later, He would have been caught by them as their victim, the mere passive sufferer—not the positively active—the "obedient unto death." Here, then, was the precise moment for Jesus to offer Himself; neither the author, nor the passive victim, of "the things that should come upon Him," but meeting them in the moment when by active duty He could so suffer as to vanquish them. Hence Jesus, in the very moment and manner requisite, "knowing the things that should come upon Him, went forth and said to them, Whom do you seek?"
2. Hence also, in the second place, the significance of the fact that Jesus extorted from them an acknowledgment that it was Him they sought. "He went forth and said unto them, Whom do you seek? And they answered him, Jesus of Nazareth." For He will not be captured incognito. It shall be thoroughly understood on all sides who it is that is sought, and who it is that is taken. He will answer only to His own name and surrender with all things explained and understood. It shall be done with all quietness, but it shall be done with no room for mistake. It is Jesus who is surrendering. It is no nameless wanderer—no unknown adventurer. It is He of whose mighty works and gracious doctrines Jerusalem has heard abundantly, and these very captors themselves have heard. This whole work is at their peril; and it touches their responsibility that they should be constrained to confess that it is Jesus whom they seek, and constrained to know that it is Jesus who puts Himself at their disposal. Yes! it is at the name of Jesus that He surrenders; it is in that capacity that He offers Himself a sacrifice—as one who "saves His people from their sins."
3. Then a third circumstance noted by the Evangelist is the fact that Judas stood by, a spectator to this intercourse of inquiry and reply which now went forward. Then "Jesus said to them, I am He. And Judas also, who betrayed Him, stood with them" (ver. 5). He stood with them. He saw the whole transaction. He heard all the conversation. And he was confounded and amazed. This was what he had never expected. This positive obedience on Christ's part, in absolutely and freely surrendering Himself, he had not looked for. It renders all his own treachery and planning in a sense ridiculous. It sets aside, as null and useless, all his scheme to indicate his Master by a kiss, and all his excited conjuring to the soldiers to "hold Him fast"—"to take Him and lead him away safely" (Matt. 26:48; Mark 14:44). It pours contempt upon the whole part the traitor took in this scene. It renders his procedure utterly superfluous, utterly abortive. His kiss, his clever secret sign or token previously arranged and agreed upon, is altogether unnecessary, for Jesus announces and acknowledges Himself. His admonition to "hold Him fast" is as unnecessary for Jesus surrenders Himself. His fraud and force—his concerted fraud and his advised force are rendered all useless together. It is a shocking and a galling attitude in which the traitor is placed by this positive obedience of Jesus. For thus Jesus "makes a show of him openly" as immersed in a "superfluity of naughtiness"—unnecessarily wicked, wicked overmuch!
Yes; do you the will of your God, O believer, as Jesus did, and your faithfulness shall reveal an eternal confusion and abortion in all that the enemies of your soul can undertake against you.
4. And now, in the fourth place, the last circumstance mentioned by John in this part of the scene finds its interesting explanation also. "As soon then as He said to them I am He, they went backward and fell to the ground" (ver. 6). For while concerning that positive obedience to the will of God which is the key to this transaction, the Apostle says, "Though He were a Son yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered" we must also remember that though He learned obedience by the things which He suffered, yet still He was the Son, the Eternal Son, the effulgence of the Father's glory; the true and very God, "by the blast of whom men perish, and by the breath of His nostrils they are consumed" (Job. 4:9). And it was not without its significance that His obedience, as the Son of Man, God's faithful servant, should carry with it on the minds of men some terrifying stamp and witness of His glory as the Son of God. Thus His voice seems in this instance to have conveyed some impression of majesty and terror: and His enemies fell before him as if driven by a flash of fire to the ground. "For the voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty; the voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders." "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory—the glory as of the only begotten of the Father."
Was the voice of Jesus, when He thus spoke gently, surrendering Himself a prisoner, so terrible that a great multitude with swords and weapons rushed back as if blinded by the lightning? And when He sits, the Eternal upon His throne, that same arrested prisoner the judge of all the earth, what power will His words of retribution carry!
But with regard to this incident in its bearing on Christ's procedure as manifesting the answer of his prayers; observe in conclusion, that it puts the cope-stone on the evidence that Jesus was in reality and in good faith surrendering Himself by an act of positive and meritorious activity. It was not because He could not do anything better in the circumstances; not because He was already in their power and He would make a virtue of a necessity, claiming credit for an act of self-surrender which the overwhelming force of the adversary counseled as the most advisable step that now remained. No. He had but gently to announce Himself to these men as the object of their search, and immediately, like the keepers of his grave, when the dazzling glory of angelic beings falls upon their eyeballs, they tremble and become as dead men. And thus the whole fullness of will and merit in His positive obedience in yielding Himself to them or, rather, to God, announcing His hidden will through them, is gloriously vindicated as the doctrine which this passage is designed to teach and which every circumstance which the Spirit of God thought right to record is fitted to confirm. Thus, as far as this portion of Gethsemane's prayer in reference to the will of God is concerned, we see it fully and gloriously answered; and in this noble instance may we see, in the case of our great High Priest Himself, His own blessed word fulfilled, "You, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret, and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly."
But there was a second element in the will of God and in the prayer of Jesus, having reference to the fruit of His obedience unto death—the deliverance, namely, and salvation of the Church. Accordingly it is on it that the second series of question and reply is fitted to throw an interesting light.
II. "Then asked He them again, Whom do you seek? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I have told you that I am He. If therefore you seek Me, let these go their way: that the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, Of those who You gave Me, I have lost none" (verses 7-9).
The special feature of this resumption of the strange work of interrogation lies manifestly in the fulfillment here described of the word which Jesus had formerly spoken. This is the point and scope of this second half of the conference. The first turned upon the absolute perfection of Christ's positive obedience in surrendering Himself. The language of it is: "Lo, I come to do Your will." The language of the second part is: "By the which will we are sanctified, through the offering of the body of Christ once for all." For Jesus has no intention whatever to surrender in any other character or capacity than as the surety of His people, the shepherd of the sheep, the good shepherd giving His life for the sheep; by death redeeming the transgressions of the guilty; by death ransoming many sons unto life and glory who were all "as dead men." As to Himself, personally considered, His captors have no right to seize Him, even as they have no power but what He gives them; for behold, they have "gone backward and fallen to the ground." And if He yield Himself at all, it is to His Father and not to them—to His Father, as announcing His will in and through them. And He does so as the representative and substitute of His flock, called to be so by His Father's will, called of God an high priest after the order of Melchizedek. But His Father's will also is that none of His little ones should perish; that they should be emancipated from the curse of the law, by the surrender of their surety in their stead. Jesus knew this portion also of His Father's will, and His heart was set upon it. It was indeed the joy that was set before Him—the purchase of His pain—the pledge and promise made to His obedience unto death. Hence Jesus is resolved to guard and defend this element of His Father's will as much as He is prepared to acknowledge and fulfill the former.
But a distinction must here be premised. We may regard these pursuers of our Lord in two lights; either, first, personally and in their responsibility as consciously fulfilling their own wicked passions; or, secondly, as unconsciously fulfilling the holy purpose of God—not witting that they are the agents of the Most High accomplishing the determinate counsel of His will and prosecuting the righteous cause of His justice.
1. Viewing them in the former light, we see in their conduct a terrible violation of divine restraint. For though baffled at first and thrown back—overthrown marvelously by a word—it is clear they never seek to quit the ground or lay aside their purpose. Had they done so, certain it is that Jesus would never have challenged or provoked them to resume it. It was not with this view, or for this reason, that He resumed His interrogations. He saw them still resolved, so soon as they recovered, to continue and prosecute their design; and undoubtedly He gave them a renewed opportunity of apprehending Him, only because they desired and sought it. Now, mark in this the grievous hardness of their hearts: for, to prosecute a guilty purpose after the grace of God interposes obstacles and restraints, whether on the conscience secretly, or by obvious providences, argues that hardening of the heart, and that following of an evil course greedily and with resolution, which points in the direction of judicial blindness and abandonment, and which approaches fast towards the sin which is unto death. Beware how you deal with such restraints; for the manner in which you deal with them discloses very much of your moral and spiritual state, and deeply and solemnly and very dangerously affects it.
You design some evil course or end. You covet the wages of unrighteousness, or you resolve on such a deed of wrath as works not the righteousness of God. You are tempted to go and curse Israel, or to go and avenge yourself on Nabal. But on your way the Lord's restraint interposes. Abigail waylays you, or rather God in His mercy waylays you, seeking to turn you from your purpose. And this dispensation of restraining influence distinctly says: Oh, do not this wickedness which I hate, and it shall be no grief unto you nor offence of heart another day. You listen. You see the Lord's hand. You hear the Lord's voice. You stop short. You are reproved. You are snatched from evil. You breathe freely and thank God. "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which sent you this day to meet me, and blessed be your advice which has kept me this day from evil." Yes! bless God who has thus interposed to warn; and bless God again who has given you grace to take the warning and to turn from your evil purpose. Follow up such gracious dealing. For surely the Lord would seem in all this to have towards your soul a purpose of life and of love; and your soul, if you are faithful, shall be bound up in the bundle of life with the Lord your God. For such restrainings upon His part, when met by humble submission and docility on yours, would seem to prove that there is the grace of God in your heart and the fear of God before your eyes; and if thus your gracious state be revealed, its graciousness shall hereby also be confirmed and be strengthened too.
But do you despise, and burst, and break through the restrainings of the Lord? Then fear lest this demonstrate gracelessness and confirm unchangeably and finally your graceless state. What! You will curse Israel for the wages of unrighteousness! You will go with the men! But in the way the Lord interposes. He sends the angel with a drawn sword. He opens the dumb beast's mouth to speak with man's voice. He interferes at least sufficiently to show that you are rushing violently against His will and righteousness. But still you go with the men: you go as soon as the angel's sword is withdrawn. You rise from your sick-bed and return once more to love the world as before, and serve mammon with the best of your heart, as really your master and your god. The voice of trembling that spoke on that sick-bed and cried, "Let me die the death of the righteous and let my latter end be like his," is silent now; and the restraining angel being thus gone, you resume your journey and your course of sin. Then, know that your latter end shall not be peace, but calamity and desolation at which the Lord shall mock! Or, if it be not so, the Lord being marvelously merciful unto you, your salvation shall be accomplished only by marvelous mercy on His part, and through the depths of terrible repentance on your part—as it was doubtless in the case of some of these very men who forgot the voice which felled them to the ground and resumed their evil work notwithstanding; but who were brought to repentance, if they were among the penitent, only under that sore charge and conviction "Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, as you yourselves also know" even as when His gentle voice, like a thunderbolt, threw you to the ground—"Him you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: and when they heard these things they were pricked to the heart, and said, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:22, 23, 37).
Ah! it had been better for them that they had accepted the restraint which the Lord placed upon them: better far that they had returned, as a previous band of agents had, without their prisoner. And had the chief priests and Pharisees asked them, Why have you not brought Him?—remembering His word which, as a whirlwind, drove back an armed band of men, they might have said, surely with even more force than their predecessors said, "Never man spoke like this man!"
Still in his gospel Jesus speaks, and speaks as never man spoke, even in the foolishness of preaching, as it touches and tells upon the trembling consciences of men. There is something far more than man's voice—a proof of Christ speaking to us through our fellow men. Alas! it is still too largely true that the restraint of Christ's voice still goes for nothing: and men, overthrown by it for the moment, rise and resume their sins!
2. But, secondly, losing sight of the individual responsibility and wicked wills of these men, and regarding them as the unwitting instruments by which the will and purpose of eternal justice is indicated, the lesson which their terrified resile and strange return to their purpose reads, is a different one. It is to this effect, that even Divine justice—thus secretly pursuing Jesus, and giving obvious and sacramental representation of her secret pursuit of His soul even unto death, by wielding against Him all the authority of the land—even Divine Justice could not consent to accept of Christ's surrender; yea would have shrunk back as affrighted from the proposal; except on the condition and proviso that He was surrendering on His part, and accepted on hers, as the ransom and the price for a multitude who should thus "go free." Jesus, as an independent king, demands these terms from His pursuers. He demands, as one able to enforce what He demands; as one who has His very captors in His power, having altogether changed places with them; and able to appal and paralyze them by His gentle speech. "If you seek Me, let these go their way." It is the King of Israel commanding deliverances for Jacob. He demands this as the condition on which He surrenders. But far more may we say that Divine Justice demands this also, as the only condition on which she will consent to accept his surrender. Till this is clearly brought out, her unconscious agents fall back in amazement and terror at the very offer of himself which Jesus makes. It is not till the safety of the sheep is on all hands guaranteed and secured that the justice of God will allow her agents to place their rude hand upon the shepherd. The determinate counsel of God drives them back in dismay till it be understood by all concerned that the arrest of Jesus shall purchase the freedom of His children. It is, you say, Jesus whom you seek—Jesus who saves His people from their sins. If you seek Me, let these go their way: "And hereby was fulfilled the word that He spoke, Of those whom you have given Me I have lost none."
But is not this straining the event too far and dragging out of it an inference which it is not fitted to yield? How can the plain fact of Jesus demanding the liberty of the eleven be taken as a proof of the profound truth that the salvation of those for whom He died is secure; a fulfillment of His own saying, "Of those whom you have given Me I have lost none"?
Let it be borne in mind that this whole scene is dramatic, symbolic, sacramental, in the sense in which we have already explained. The substantial fact of Christ, the surety, guilty by imputation in His people's sins, being therefore summoned and arrested by Divine justice to appear before the tribunal of His Father and the incensed face of an angry God, is an invisible fact. But at the time when it was in reality accomplished—invisibly accomplished, as of course its nature implied—it was also symbolically represented, while its reality and terrors were also as it were sacramentally sealed, by the accompanying formalities of a criminal prosecution, visibly conducted by human agents accomplishing the counsel of God. And thus in symbol, as well as in secret and in infinitely more terrible reality, "He was numbered with the transgressors."
Over against this invisible arraignment of Jesus at God's tribunal must be placed the emancipation of the Church and the letters patent of her liberty, which as the fruit of Christ's surrender passed under the great seals of heaven at the very same time—a glorious transaction in the court of the Most High God; glorifying the arrest of Christ as infinitely holy, wise and righteous—itself also an invisible transaction. But then it might be, it ought to be, symbolically and sacramentally set forth also on earth, by some visible sign and seal, or drama, simultaneously with the substitute's arrest, transacted on the same spot and at the same time, secured by the surety Himself as the fruit and condition of His surrender. Hence, just as His capture by the hands of men obviously shadowed forth and surely sealed His arrest under the hand of the King invisible, so this escape of the eleven equally represents as in a mirror—and, be it observed, seals with all sensible proof and conviction—the eternal salvation which Christ's offering and sacrifice secured for His people. So that we see, in this very humble fact of the eleven being exempted from apprehension or arrest with Jesus by the Roman soldiers, a sacramental or symbolic and confirming evidence—a dramatic representation, and thereby and therewith also a real fulfillment of the saying, Of those whom you have given Me I have lost none."
Oh! Jesus did not die—why should He die?—how indeed could He die?—ignorant of the fruits which His death should bear. That man indeed saw little of the truth and glory of the everlasting covenant who said that "the work and death of Jesus would have been very glorious though no individual of the human race had ever come and reposed living faith in the surety." How dishonoring to the work of Jesus! How dishonoring to the righteousness of God! To what straits are men reduced when at all hazards they will have it that the death of Jesus was accomplished alike for the saved and the lost! For if He died for the lost, and yet His death did not secure them from being lost, it must be something else than His death that secured the saved unto salvation. So that if Jesus died for all alike, it is not His death that secures the salvation of any; it only secures, it seems, the possibility of salvation to all! That is the whole fruit of it, and it is this which has tempted to, the terrible and blasphemous assertion that "His death would have been a glorious work though none had been saved by it at all." That is to say, though He had never earned the name of Jesus, who saves His people from their sins! We have not so learned the covenant or gospel of our salvation. And very clearly our blessed Lord did not so understand the case in which He Himself has so glorious an interest. "If you seek Me, let these go their way, that the saying might be fulfilled, Of those whom you have given Me I have lost none."
Now this was His Father's will: these were His Father's gift. Concerning this gift and this will of His Father, His soul in Gethsemane had agonized in prayer. And now His prayer is answered. His Father's will on this most vital point is done. "All whom the Father gives Me shall come to Me; and him who comes I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the Father's will who sent Me, that of all which He has given Me, I should lose nothing." "Even so, Father, for so it has seemed good in Your sight; be it unto me according to Your word. O my Father, Your will be done." And even so it is done indeed. "If you seek Me, let these go their way. And the saying is fulfilled which He spoke, Of those whom you have given Me I have lost none."
It appears then, on a review of this whole transaction, that in so far as this first and initial process admitted of it, the whole is conducted as in precise answer to the prayer of Gethsemane; and the answer in reward is given openly. First; the surety prays for grace to do the will of God—to be obedient unto death. And He shows that in answer to His prayer the Lord has taught Him, and that He has "learned obedience." He is not arrested in the imperfect and incomplete capacity of a passive victim; He surrenders in the duty and the action of an High Priest made perfect. And it is openly transacted. A great multitude look on and behold the majesty in which He acts. Secondly; the surety prays that by this will of God His sheep may be sanctified and set apart in safety and unto holiness by the offering of His body once for all. And it is done to Him, and done also openly. They go free in the presence of their foes; not a hair of their head falls to the ground; none of them is lost. And a great multitude looks on and sees their salvation. Thus all that Jesus prayed for is granted, and granted openly before the world. And now, "You also, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret, and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly" (Matt. 6:6).
Pause then, O my soul, and contemplate and improve this great sight of the Substitute and Savior of sinners arrested and surrendering to the hands of justice. It is sin that makes Him liable to this arrest; and it is the wages of sin, it is death, that pursues Him relentlessly unto the end. And how, O sinful soul, shall you escape? If these things be done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry? If this judgment and arrest begin on the Son of God, how shall you be allowed to go at large? Your sins are many: they are legion. Each one of them has power to awaken a relentless prosecutor, who will never slumber till He hails you to the bar and judgment seat of God. All may be smooth and quiet with you now; but be sure your sin will find you out. And then, where will you flee? Where shall I go from Your Spirit, or whither shall I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold You are there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, surely the darkness shall cover me, even the night shall be light about me. For there is not a word upon my tongue, but lo, O Lord, You know it altogether. You have beset me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me.
And now, O my trembling soul, you have no escape from this warrant that has gone out from the judge of all against you. Though you dig into hell thence will His hand take you; though you climb up to heaven thence will He take you down; though you hide yourself on the top of Carmel, He will search and take you out thence; and though you be hidden from His sight in the bottom of the sea, thence would He command the serpent to arrest and bring you forth into His sight. Yes, in vain, even in the awful end, would you call upon the mountains and the rocks to fall on you and hide you from the face of the Lamb.
Men and brethren, what shall we do? Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are in the way with him, lest at any time the adversary deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison.
But you are guilty. Your conscience tells you so; and tells you that you ought to be arrested and hailed to the bar of God. Yes truly. But is there not a shield? Is there not a plea? Might it not be well to arrest yourself and surrender? Oh! that I could but get the counsel of the Wonderful, the Counselor, you say. Oh! that I might live in the redemption and freedom purchased by the arrested, the self-surrendered Substitute. Oh! that I were truly among the number whom Jesus shields with that omnipotent demand, "Let these go their way." And why may you not? There was not one vile and wretched slave of sin among these Roman soldiers, had he only arrested himself instead of arresting the Lord, and thrown away the weapons of his rebellion, and self-surrendered and self-disarmed passed over to the little band of disciples, but—on the spot where he had shown his guilty will to kill the Prince of Life, but shown his will also to turn to Him and live—would have shared at once in the shield which Jesus cast around His own, in the exemption and salvation which with a great price He was procuring for them, and with a prevailing voice pronouncing over them.
And what remains then, O my sinful and troubled soul, but that with all weapons of self-defense and all pleas of self-justification forever thrown away, you too, like those pursuers, but in a very different spirit, must "seek Jesus of Nazareth"; and, when you have found Him, you too, like them, must "hold Him fast," but after a very different fashion, even with bands of faith and love. Have you begun to seek Him? And has He never asked you, "Whom do you seek?" He still conducts such conferences of interrogation. To those who seek Him in this other spirit, He is still known to say, in another manner than He does to the world, in another voice than He spoke to his pursuers, "I am He."
Ah! when in His word, in His sanctuary, by His pleading Spirit, He draws near, do not put the Lord away. "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that speaks to you, you would ask of Him and He would give you" all the safety and salvation you can need. Say not, "When Messiah comes" He will put all my guilty fears to flight and give me liberty to "go my way" when He has enlarged my heart. For "I say to you that Messiah has come already," and you see how "they have done to Him whatever they pleased!" And He comes again, He is always coming again in the power of his Spirit, to divide the spoil with the strong and gather up the fruits of what they pleased to do to him. Hark! His voice! "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." O seeking soul! "Messias has come already." Hear Him, Oh! hear Him saying, "I who speak to you am He." Fall not back affrighted. Fall down rather at His feet, self-surrendered to your Lord. Surrender yourself into the hands of justice in the virtue of your Lord's own surrender. Arrested, with your own full consent, by the word of God, by the ambassadors of peace, by the Spirit of truth and holiness—self-arrested before a God of grace, and self-surrendered in the faith and fellowship of Christ's vicarious surrender to a God of justice—the same God, his God and your God—a just God and a Savior; in union with Christ, and in the communion of his law-magnifying obedience unto death and finished work of priestly presentation of Himself a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savor to God; you yield yourself now to God, in Christ and with Christ; and your life is held sacred and secure indeed. You yield yourself, not as a dead man, but as one alive from the dead. You arrest yourself, and are not arrested but released. You judge yourself and you are not judged but acquitted. You humble yourself, and the Lord exalts you in due time. For you are arrested with Christ; nevertheless, yea thereby, you are acquitted. You surrender with Christ; nevertheless, yea thereby, you are gloriously emancipated and made free indeed. No more do you flee to hide from your God. Rather you flee to Him to cover you. He Himself is your hiding-place now, and under His wings shall you trust; for He will keep you from trouble and compass you about with songs of deliverance. The warrant to arrest you, to bind you hand and foot, and cast you into outer darkness, has been gloriously answered—the warrant that went forth against your Lord is its answer. Any handwriting demanding you also is seen to be void, obliterated, nailed to the gate of Gethsemane: and over you and all your fellows in the fellowship of faith in Jesus there is heard the prevailing voice, securing that no weapon formed and no prosecution raised against you shall prosper, the password and watchword of the Lord's blood-bought and embannered host, in the power of which they pass and re-pass, "going out and in and finding pasture" ever safe, ever free—the voice of their Lord, which the gates of hell must ever hear with trembling: "You sought Me, but let these go their way."
Yes! Go your way: your substituted Lord has saved you,
and you have faith in Him, have you not, as well you may? Go your way in
peace; hunted no more in terror, as by any broken bond of law divine, for
your substituted Lord has magnified the law and made it honorable; nor as by
any lawful warrant of guilty conscience, for the blood of your substituted
Lord cleanses the conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Go, as
the free child of the Highest, an heir of His house and of His heavenly land
forever. Go; and the shield of your Savior's defense be ever round you! Go
your way, and walk in it undefiled. Go, and sin no more. Go on your way
THE PRISONER JUDGING ALL PARTIES
"And while He yet spoke, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people. Now he who betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He; hold Him fast. And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, Master; and kissed Him. And Jesus said to him, Friend, why have you come? Then they came, and laid hands on Jesus, and took Him. And behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, Put up again your sword into his place; for all those who take the sword shall perish with the sword. Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Have you come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves for to take Me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and you laid no hand on Me" (Matt. 26:47-55).
Gleams of glory may be seen ever and anon flashing through the dark shadows of Calvary. Strange transitions—marvelous contrasts—that take us by surprise! An argument for the divine authorship of the narrative might be periled on them.
The grandest instance was on Calvary itself. The last was the grandest, when Jesus, hanging on the cross, turned that shameful cross into a throne and, Himself in the hour and article of death—death with all its curse and woe—dispensed from that strange throne, divine forgiveness and eternal life to a dying malefactor, His fellow sufferer at His side.
We have an illustrious and somewhat similar case in the narrative of the arrest in Gethsemane. For while "numbered with the transgressors" and captured as a criminal, He does, nevertheless in reality, himself ascend the tribunal, and bringing all the parties on the scene in turn to His bar, He pronounces judgment on the conduct of each. And it may give unity to our reflections on this amazing drama if we examine it from this point of view.
The arrested prisoner has turned judge, and His sentence goes forth and takes range over all around Him. He has a cunning traitor; a little band of true but weak and erring friends; and the host of open foes to deal with. These are on the stage before Him and there are no more. They all act their different parts. Jesus has His opinion concerning each of them. And with ineffable discrimination and dignity, He constrains them in their order to hear it.
I. And first He sets aside the traitor. "Friend, why have you come?" "Judas! Are you betraying the Son of man with a kiss?" (Matt. 26:50; Luke 22:48).
We all know the fearful part which he enacted, and on which Jesus animadverted in these emphatic questions. It was he who had projected the scheme of this arrest and procured the warlike band of agents who were now putting it in execution. It was under his direction that the soldiers, and their officers—men of an honorable profession and usually making a strong point of their honor—had basely consented to act. It was the man who had sold his friend for thirty pieces of silver by whom they had agreed to be guided. And not thinking his past treachery enough nor leaving it entirely to himself as his
own matter, they join with him in a new exhibition of it as calculated to save them perhaps a little trouble and enable them to put through the business more quietly, they consent to a secret sign by which the traitor purposes to guide them to their object; for Judas "had given them a token, saying, Whoever I shall kiss that same is He," "hold Him fast"—"take Him and lead him away safely" (Matt. 26:48; Mark 14:44). And then, when it is all arranged, see how the traitor draws near, as if shocked by the threatened danger to his master's person and, affecting at once total ignorance, surprise, and sorrow in reference to it, offers the last salutation of faithful love, and pathetically laments his master! For he "goes straightway to Him and says, Master, master, and kissed Him" (Mark 14:45).
But Jesus quietly and quickly despatches his case. "Friend, why have you come?" (Matt. 26:50). "Judas, are you betraying the Son of man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48).
Why indeed should Jesus dwell at any length on such a case? There is no hope of bringing such a one to penitence. The Son of perdition has already sealed himself as lost. Already he has passed his day of grace. The dealings which infinite compassion had taken with him to turn him from his purpose, he had resisted and rendered unavailing. Infinite righteousness and infinite wisdom have resolved to leave him now alone. Why should Jesus dwell on his case? It is already ripe for the Eternal Judgment, when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of His glory and all nations shall be gathered before Him. It can stand over till then. The very briefest mention of it may be sufficient now!
Hence the curtness with which Jesus deals with him. He does not at all expostulate. He does not show him the source of his sin, as when He deals with Peter: Peter is true at heart and shall be restored. He does not tell him that the power of darkness and of Satan has swept over him, as He tells the rude soldiery: the rude soldiery do it very much ignorantly in unbelief. He does not even demand him to abstain. He does not even command him to depart. He says enough to reveal his knowledge of the traitor's treachery, and has nothing more to say to Judas—till the great white throne shall be set!
Yes, it is the very brevity that is the lesson here: the terrifically short and easy method with the sealed for hell! Mark this: that if you put away the discipline of Christ in grace and providence, in forbearance and affliction, as He seeks to probe your evil heart and show you all its treachery to Him and its love for the world and the sin which crucified Him—if you set your face against His efforts to emancipate you from the carnal mind which is treachery and enmity to God—then these efforts will become more and more brief, till at last the Savior, who once yearned to pluck you as a brand from the burning, shall treat you with the utmost brevity and most perfect coolness, scarce even condescending to express in this life His indignation at your crimes. Ah! how many, by resisting the Spirit of the Lord, bring themselves to this dread experience! The time was when God's dealings with them in providence and on their consciences exhibited on his part a prolonged and warm interest in their spiritual condition: such manifestations of His gracious disposition towards them have been slighted and perverted; till gradually diminishing they are at length withdrawn, and the final expression of His mind towards them—terrifically brief, scarcely indicating either wrath or compassion—seems designed for little more than to remit the case to the eternal tribunal. Ah! what fresh force and meaning this gives to that blessed sentence, so full of mingled tenderness and terror, but so often heard in vain—"Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near."
And especially when you see the one design of such a final and brief and unimpassioned utterance to the traitor. What is it, in the essence of it, but just a disclosure of his guilt? It serves this one purpose, and is intended to serve no more—to paint the crime as with the blaze of a lightning flash upon the dark cloud. "Friend!" professed friendship and its opportunities now turned by you to serve the devil! Treachery! "Are you betraying?" "The Son of man," who came to call sinners to repentance and save the lost, whom you have known well for years as going about doing good and nothing else. "With a kiss"?—the last token of affection! And this lightning flash, bursting in upon his black soul, unlike the lightning of the skies, which the darkness devours immediately, dwells there in permanence, making his guilt to glare on his conscience forever! Ah! that is the object of the Lord's last dealing with the impenitent: brief in other respects, it shall be long enough and full enough for that his sin shall be forced upon his view, and burned in upon his soul in letters of fire that cannot be quenched. And with this terrible engraving on his soul, the man disappears, remitted to the throne of judgment—to the left hand, among the lost!
Are there any whose ungodliness, amidst a life of Christian profession, of apparent friendship, is ripening them for this?—as it ever must be ripening them, till the heart be changed and made true. Ah! better be anything than a church-going, communicating, professing "friend," ripening for the judgment of the lost. Better to be a rude Roman soldier, in heathen baseness and blindness. Awake and flee. Flee to Jesus himself in truth. Confess your sins and lack of love. Seek forgiveness in His blood: ask if He will still be reconciled. If you do this in truth, He will be found by you. Your converse with Him shall not be cool and brief, but full, and long, and loving. Repent truly of all your wickedness, and turn to Him as all your desire: confess to Him fully, even all the treachery and enmity that are in your heart: deplore it as your grief and burden—and appeal to Him at once to ransom and renew you. Then will He put the best robe on you as His child who was dead and is alive again; He will kiss you with the sweet kiss of reconciliation complete and irreversible; and allow you to kiss Him with that of true faithfulness and love. Yes, "kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and," like the Son of perdition, "you perish from the way, when once His wrath is kindled but a little" (Ps. 2:12).
II. Jesus judges the conduct of the disciples. And there is great need for the expression of His opinion here, for the eleven by their violence have well near banished from this wondrous scene all its moral grandeur and turned it into an unseemly broil. "For when they saw what would follow," even that their beloved master, made prisoner, should be separated from them, "they said to Him, Lord, shall we smite with the sword?" (Luke 22:49). And not waiting for their Lord's reply, they rush forward to oppose His apprehension, under the hot and hasty championship of Peter—of Peter, of course, as usual. "And Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it, and smote the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear" (John 18:10). Now this looks friendly, zealous, noble, daring. On Peter's part this looks very much like redeeming his animated promise of faithful and devoted constancy: "Though I should die with You, yet will I not deny You." Is it not hard that Peter should be blamed? Would you have him to stand aside, and quietly and basely see his beloved Lord fall into the hands of his unfeeling foes? And when Peter sees Judas, one of the twelve, betraying Him—when that infinitely scandalous fact bursts on his view—above all, when he thinks how he himself failed to watch as his Lord had bidden him, and how if he had done so, he might have given timely warning as he saw the many gleams of torchlight indicating the approach of a multitude striking down into the valley and nearing the fated garden; burning with true love to Jesus, with speechless indignation against Judas, and torturing reproach of himself, what wonder if he throws discretion and wisdom and calmness to the winds, and drawing his sword rushes forward to the rescue? But then he throws everything like judgment and prudence to the winds and interposes in a manner fitted to increase and complicate the evil. And this is what you will do, if you fail in commanded duty as he had failed, and attempt to resume the work of serving the Lord without a due humiliation and forgiveness. Conscious disobedience, or neglect of duty, has involved the name or cause of Christ in your hands in difficulties from which you long to extricate it. You see the bitter fruits of negligence. Oh, that you had watched and prayed! You might have given, you might have taken, warning in time, before the band of the enemy had gotten such an advantage against you. But now, they are at hand who will betray your master's name, or your own Christian character or peace. You have entered into temptation. You are almost in the grasp of spiritual wickedness in high places, if not of the rulers of the darkness of this world. You make a convulsive rush against them. You stretch out a rash hand to save the ark. The sword flies from its scabbard, or the hot flashing temper pours out its indignation. Or you call down fire from heaven. Your self-reproach hurries you to do something, if by any means yet the threatened evil may be averted or the evil done be reversed.
Ah! but there is no meekness, and no wisdom, and no life divine in your purpose, and no strength divine in your execution of it. What you do in this spirit only complicates the difficulty: you do not walk safely in the midst of trouble. Nor will you ever do so till there be true repentance and true restoration, till you go and weep bitterly, till in secret you confess your sin and be forgiven. Till before the Lord you feel that you are a fool and a weakling. Then will you reappear before men, wise in the light of the Lord and strong in the glory of His power. Yes, and this course had better be taken at once, else the past unwatchfulness will work onward unto greater sin, till you deny the Lord as Peter did and your weeping be the more bitter in the end.
But let us listen to the judgment and opinion of Jesus. It is given with instant promptness, and is supported by rich and overflowing reason. "Put your sword into its place: for those who take the sword shall perish with the sword. Or do you thing that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the Scripture be fulfilled that so it must be? Then said Jesus to Peter, Put your sword into the sheath; the cup that my Father has given Me to drink, shall I not drink it?" (Matt. 26:52-54; John 18:11).
Now this throws a flood of light upon the subject. For in these words Jesus presents the question of Peter's conduct in four convincing aspects; placing it in its true relation to four different parties: the authorities of earth; the angels of heaven; the Scriptures of God; and the will of the Father. He introduces as parties variously interested in the case this splendid gradation: the powers that be; the angels; the Scripture; the Father. And He shows that the various relations in which they stand to the presently enacting scene Peter's conduct violates.
1. And first, "the powers that be which are ordained of God," are interested parties in this case. It is by their authority, by their warrant, most unrighteously extorted, or put forth, but still in itself competent and inviolable, that He is now arrested; and resistance in such a case by a private party is simply rebellion.
For such is undoubtedly our Lord's meaning when He says, "Put your sword into its place, for those who take the sword shall perish with the sword." It is ridiculous to profess to find in this a decision of Christ on the subject of war; far more so to find in it a decision against even defensive war as sinful or against the profession of a soldier as in itself unlawful. It is equally absurd to plead this text in support of what used to be called the divine right of kings, in virtue of which it was held that they might be guilty of extortion and oppression towards their subjects to any extent, while their victims were forbidden by Scripture to rise and resent the tyranny, or rise and throw off the tyrant. The words of Jesus give no countenance to the notion that all war is sinful; and as little to the equally unfounded idea that all revolutions must be rebellions. We live, as Britons, under a constitution guaranteed to us by a revolution settlement, which was righteous and good, and which banished from the throne a dynasty whom the nation declared, most justly, had forfeited its love and its submission, and whom the judgment of God upon their wickedness has since pursued into extinction. And as we live in internal tranquility under God, in virtue of a settlement secured by a just revolution, we ought to be prepared in like manner to guard our external relations by readiness, when necessary, for defensive war. The righteousness, in certain cases, of revolution within; and the righteousness, in certain cases also, of war without, are principles indeed absolutely necessary to the maintenance of peace within the nation itself and of peace with those around us. And these are principles sanctioned in many passages of Scripture, and certainly not condemned by the words before us.
We venture also very strongly to assert that the admirable historian of the Reformation has done deep injustice to one of the finest portraits in his noble picture gallery—we mean Zwingle—whom, simply because he died in the field, sword in hand, he represents as having forgotten that the "weapons of our warfare are not carnal," and as having violated the command which Jesus here gives to Peter. We are persuaded that the lawfulness of the battle in which the great Swiss reformer fell is not to be settled by the offhand quotation of this or any other text. The fact that they were religious men in Switzerland was no reason why they should see, without a struggle, their fatherland overrun and devastated by the wild troops of their allied persecuting foes. Apart from their love to the gospel, it will be no easy matter for any historian to show that the Swiss did wrong in risking their liberties on the issue of battle; and most certainly the introduction into the question of their religious rights as Christians, which they loved and sought to guard even more than their liberties as men, will not make it any easier to prove that they sinned in fighting to defend and retain them. We feel interested in the question, for the memory of our covenanted forefathers in one period of their history stands in the same position, and must share the same fate, as the memory of Zwingle.
But passing from this: observe the extremely limited judgment which Jesus really gives in the text and which cannot properly be applied except to circumstances similar to those which called it forth. A thoroughly competent warrant for His apprehension had been issued by the civil authorities of Jerusalem, and was now being served upon Him, very rudely, no doubt, but still by the competent and appointed agents. What is duty in such a case? Manifestly to yield obedience to the powers which be, and which are ordained of God; for "whoever resists the power, resists the ordinance of God; and those who resist shall receive to themselves condemnation. We must, therefore, be subject, not only for wrath, but for conscience sake" (Rom. 13:3-5). The duty manifestly is to respect the authoritative warrant; to yield and permit the case to go to proof and judgment. It is not the case of a whole capital or kingdom put under arrest, or in a state of siege, by a bloodthirsty and ambitious tyrant. But it is a competent warrant executed on a private party. For such, in relation to the state or civil power, Jesus was simply a private person, "made under the law," refusing most properly to be accounted "a judge or a divider." Hence the duty of the blessed Savior was clear: it was submission. And the resistance which He could not consistently with duty offer Himself, He could not permit His friend to offer in His defense: He commanded him to "put his sword into its sheath"; for any loss of life he might cause in such circumstances would be, not manslaughter, as in lawful war or righteous self-defense, but murder, an iniquity to be punished by the judge according to the primeval sentence, "Whoever sheds man's blood by man shall his blood be shed." Hence both the meaning and the strict applicability of the Savior's words in the circumstances: "Those who take the sword shall perish with the sword." Peter then was forgetting his calling and position as a private man and as a subject, when he rushed forward sword in hand to defend his master.
It was far otherwise when Abraham took up arms to rescue his friend Lot from captivity. Abraham was in reality, and by the word of God, no private person, but the very king and heir of Canaan, though his inheritance was held in reversion. And what is even more in point than that: it was not by competent and lawful authority that Lot had been made a prisoner, but by a wild marauding band of robber border chieftains, to whom neither Lot nor Abraham owed the least allegiance or submission. Very different is the position of Peter when Jesus, his friend, is arrested. Peter is no prince in disguise as Abraham was; no heir by covenant of the land in which he is a sojourner. And Jesus is not exempted from allegiance, as Lot was, to the parties concerned in arresting Him. To draw the sword therefore in these circumstances is rebellion, and the bloodshed which Peter might cause would be murder.
This is the first light in which Jesus puts the case, and though it stood alone, it is a very serious one.
2. But, secondly: Jesus introduced a far nobler party in the case when He refers to the spectatorship and possible interposition of the angels. "Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels?" There is great beauty and sublimity in this. The military legion was of Roman origin and peculiar to the Roman army, and the introduction of the idea at this moment when Jesus is confronted by a band of Roman soldiers is singularly apt and happy. And then the number twelve is that of the disciples, including alike the eleven rash and unhelpful friends and the false-hearted and exposed betrayer. Jesus gathers up, as it were from all sides, the references suggested by the scene before Him, and embodies them in one of the most exalted utterances of which the case was susceptible: "Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He should presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels?"
Thus was Peter rebuked for his sin and folly in fleeing to an unlawful method of defence. This Jesus, whom he would defend by his rash sword, is the head of all principality and power. When God brings his only begotten Son into the world he says, Let all the angels of God worship Him. Even Satan knew that God had given His angels charge over Him lest He should dash His foot against a stone. Jesus reminds Peter of this. He tells him He could at once obtain a resistless infantry—more than seventy thousand strong—of heavenly angelic beings; that He has only to call upon His Father, "who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire," and presently this Peter, this New Testament Elisha, looking up after the blinding glory of the chariots of fire and horses of fire, might mourn his safely ascended Lord crying, "My Father, my Father, the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof!" But it is not thus that Jesus shall
ascend, without tasting death. He must "taste death" for Peter himself, and "for every one" who like him loves the appearing of the Lord the second time. And hence if the Father sends not such an angelical guard of honor and of safety to the Son, and if indeed the Son abstains from asking it, ought not Peter to see that it is because the united will of the Father and the Son is otherwise; and how vain, therefore, and fruitless, must be the interposition of Peter's sword!
Is the Christian at any time in great distress and danger? And is he tempted to flee to an unlawful mode of relief from the distress, or of averting the danger? Remember this consolation concerning the angels, and possess your soul in patience. "You are complete in Christ, who is the head of all principality and power." You are complete in Him because He is so. He is exalted above all principalities and powers, both good and evil, that He may guard you safely from the evil; that He may minister to your salvation by the good. Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation? Never flee to sinful schemes of self-protection and defense while there are legions of angels at your Father's disposal to entrust with the charge of your safety and deliverance. If it be for your good, they will surround you invisibly, and permit not a hair of your head to fall. Ah! how often may these holy beings act as a wall of fire round about a child of God. Have faith in God. Take not one step aside from the path of strict integrity and truth to procure a quicker return of peace and comfort. And allow no friend of yours to aid you by any scheme in which unrighteousness enters even by an hairsbreadth. If your Father in heaven, who consults your good, and could give you twelve legions of angels immediately to free you from all that troubles you, is pleased still to leave you for a while wrestling with spiritual evils or exposed to temporal danger, then how vain must your own unauthorized remedies prove! Buy not exemption from danger at the price of sin: that is a bargain which Satan often counsels, but which never really stands. Wait till the angels bring it to you, a free donation from your Father, without money and without price: yours, then, by high authority that can never be questioned, by safe deed of gift which can never be reversed.
Wait patiently and do not fret. If the vision tarries wait for it: it will come and will not tarry; and in the meantime the just shall live by faith. Have faith in your Father, and it will emancipate you from the bondage of carnal policy. It is never time to cease your faith in Him and flee to sinful or unauthorized methods of your own. His angels are innumerable; His resources are inexhaustible: it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes; it is better to trust in the Lord than put confidence in any fleshly wisdom or any arm of flesh. For while you do this, nothing, absolutely nothing, can do you any real evil. "Because you have made the Lord which is my refuge, even the Most High, your habitation, there shall no evil befall you, neither shall any plague come near your dwelling. For He shall give His angels charge over you to keep you in all your ways" (Ps. 91:9-11).
3. But, thirdly: in judging Peter, Jesus brings in another, a still nobler party, to this singularly interesting case. He introduces now the Scriptures of God. They, too, have interest in this matter: all their truth and faithfulness, all their divine origin and accuracy, are at stake. For says Jesus, "How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that so it must be?" If I evade this warrant of arrest, which shall now lead Me as a lamb to the slaughter; if this their purpose so to lead Me away be defeated, whether by your sword or by legions of angels, in either case "How shall the Scriptures be fulfilled?" Here is the honor due to Scripture—a party in the case, higher, we have said, even than the angels, since to the living oracles of God's written word even they must defer, for by the Scriptures their office must be guided, by the Scriptures must their visits be controlled or restrained. It is the Scriptures that withhold them now from pouring forth in thousands to defend their arrested Lord. We may well be in subjection to the Scriptures, when we see them taking rank as higher than the angels.
Yes! but there is a higher honor put upon these Scriptures still, when we see Jesus in subjection to them. It is He who pleads their authority—it is He who yields Himself up to that which they require. "Lo, I come to do Your will, O My God: Your law also is within My heart; In the volume of the book it is written of Me: yes, also, Your word have I hid in My heart that I might not sin against You." How grand and exalted the position of the Scriptures! They must control the zeal of Peter. They must withhold the visit of the angels. They inspire the soul of Jesus, the Son of God.
1. Are you in the position of Jesus? Your cause, or person, or character, or comfort is attacked and endangered? Defend it scripturally; in the spirit of the Scripture. Defend it so that the Scriptures may be honored and fulfilled. Though you walk in the midst of trouble, you shall walk in safety while you walk in the leadings and in the line of the Scriptures. It is there that Jesus walks; and there you walk therefore humbly with Him—in the participation both of His company and safety. "Tell me, O you whom my soul loves, where you feed; where you cause your flocks to rest at noon?" Under the burning sun, where do your flock seek the shade and the safety? Follow the Scripture which is the Shepherd's voice, and you shall find rest unto your soul. How do you read it? Let the Scripture be fulfilled.
2. Are you in the position of Peter? It is not your own, but your friend's person, or character, or comfort that is imperilled. Defend him scripturally—in the spirit of the Scriptures: as one who considers well the question, How must I act that the Scripture may be fulfilled? If you do not so; if you act on the hot impulse of mere passionate sentiment, and not on the calm, clear judgment of Christian principle, you may give him cause full soon to long to be saved from his friends. Your good will to help him may only complicate his danger. Ah! it is the service of Christian friendship that is truly valuable; the interposition of him who aids me, invisibly, by the effectual fervent prayer which avails much; who aids me, outwardly, by movements in my cause prompted not by mere natural affection, but by spiritual love, and guided by, not the rash impulse of his own mind, but the wisdom of God which he has received liberally from Him who upbraids not. Would you really help your friend? Let the Scriptures of the Lord be your councillors. As in the friendship of Jonathan and David, these loving ones exclaimed mutually, "The Lord be between you and me," the Lord as indicating His will by the oracle regarding the throne of Israel, so let the Lord as speaking in His own written word be between you and your friend. And this will be the source and secret of effective aid rendered on your part, and of the highest possible enjoyment in receiving it on his.
3. Or, again, is it still more exactly the position of Peter that you occupy, in that the friend you are called to defend is actually the same, Peter's Lord and yours? The name of Jesus is dishonored among those in whose company you are often thrown, or His cause reviled, or His servants abused. Ah! let this friend, if any friend, be defended scripturally. Seek the meekness and wisdom which the Scriptures enjoin: avoid the wrath of man which the Scriptures forbid, and which never works the righteousness of God. Inquire at the living oracle, "Lord, what will You have me to do?" Lord, how will You have me to confess and defend Your name? Labor to live so blamelessly and without offence that if Christ in you be hated, or you for the sake of Christ, the Scripture may be seen to be fulfilled which says, "They hated me without a cause."
4. But, fourthly; Jesus ultimately carries the matter to the highest court of all. "The cup that My Father has given Me to drink, shall I not drink it?" He now makes His Father a party in the case. Hence this noble series of gradations by which Jesus brings this matter into relation with successive rights and agencies: the authorities on earth; the angels of heaven; the Scriptures of God, till He places it in immediate connection with the will of the Holy One of Israel—is like that mystic ladder which the pilgrim father saw, which was "set upon the earth and the top of it reached to heaven, and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it; and, behold! Jehovah stood above it."
Thus ultimately the case in hand is carried up to Jehovah, submitted to the Father's will. This brings out the chief aggravation of Peter's sin. He would have interposed to frustrate the will of God; yes, the will of God for the redemption of the Church. Strange that this should have been so often the temptation under which Peter fell, the temptation also which he so often brought to bear, though in vain, upon his master! What else was it than an undisguised attempt to bring to nothing the whole scheme of salvation when, Jesus having "begun to show them how He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day, Peter took Him and began to rebuke Him and say to Him, This be far from You, Lord: this shall not be unto You" (Matt. 16:21-23)? What was this but an effort to undo the whole plan of redemption and forbid the work of the Redeemer? "Jesus turned and said to Peter, Get behind Me, Satan; you are an offence to Me: you savor not the things that are of God but those that are of men." Did Peter learn wisdom? What do we read? "After six days Jesus took Peter, and James, and John his brother, and brought them up into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him; they spoke of the decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. Then answered Peter, and said, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if You will, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elias." What! Simon Peter; no more shame; no cross; no sacrifice for sin; no death; not even the decease you have heard the visitants from heaven talking of? Still savoring not the things which be of God but those which be of men?
And now again the third time; when the Father's sword of awful righteousness awakes against the shepherd, must your puny sword be ready to dispute it? Oh! your infinite folly! What! in your blindness measuring swords with the supreme God! And all to prevent the salvation of the elect and your own! Go your way. We shall never call you, nor your successor, the Father of the Church; you cannot even feed one lamb till your Master's death which you would again forbid, has taken place; yes, till the crucified One shall rise again and forgive you, and restore you from your sin. You are a loving and an earnest man; and worthy in much of our esteem and imitation; but in this you are walking by the wisdom which is from beneath. You shall be in no sense the Church's head. Her salvation is far from safe in your hands. It is not your fault that she is saved at all. Yet you are truly loved by all the faithful, for Jesus has prayed for you that your faith may not fail.
How gloriously does Christ's constancy shine forth in the contrast! How safe is our salvation in His hands! How unsafe would it be in Peter's or our own!
Now this is the very essence of the contest between faith and unbelief. Unbelief shrinks from being contented with having my eternal salvation entirely in the hands of another. Unbelief searches diligently for somewhat to trust to in myself, and would look upon it with complacency, and rest upon it with peace and delight, could it but succeed in the search. The search is vain. In me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing. But faith looks out. Faith looks to Jesus. Faith says, Jesus is sufficient; Jesus is infallible and true. Faith sees salvation safe in His hand and says, "My Lord and my God," I am Yours and we so are one, that Your will to save me is as good to me as my own willingness to be saved; yes, better, brighter, steadier, unslumbering, unflagging, changeless. And then Your power is all-sufficient. You are all my salvation; You are all my desire. None but Christ: none but Christ.
Listen, then, to the great Councillor as He sets His erring follower right, pointing out to him the true aspects of the case in all its glorious breadth: telling Peter his sin, and showing him his Master's duty and his own. Behold how safely Jesus walks: surrendering to the powers that be; believing in the guardianship of angels, but forbearing for the time their aid; fulfilling the Scriptures of God; yielding submission and obedience to His Father's will. Thus also would He have Peter to walk; and thus also you, O believer, as you take up your cross and follow Jesus. Abide in your calling and observe every ordinance of God. Pray in faith to your Father, refusing the aid of fleshly wisdom and sinful policy; for multitudes of angels at the last moment can rescue you; and at the worst even, as you think, it shall be the best, when they carry you to Abraham's bosom. Fulfill the Scriptures, being not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the word, and blessed in your deed. And finally receive all appointments of God as from your Father's hand; that hand in which you must be forever safe. So shall you walk in safety, amidst all adversaries whatsoever, your eye being single and your whole body full of light.
III. But there is another party standing at the bar of this singular arrested judge. He judges not the traitor only and his own rash friends, but His captors even must hear His judgment concerning themselves. "Then said Jesus to the chief priests and captains of the temple and the elders who came to Him, Have you come out as against a thief with swords and staves? When I was daily with you in the temple, you stretched forth no hands against Me. But this is your hour and the power of darkness."
Now the point of this address turns on the fact that Jesus complains of their attempt to place Him in a false position, and raise against Him a groundless prejudice. They come against Him with swords and staves as if He were a thief, a malefactor, a felon. No doubt this was done that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says, "And He was numbered with the transgressors"; and in this light Jesus willingly submitted. But then it was not with the will and the view to fulfill the Scriptures that His captors acted; neither came it into their heart. And on this ground, in addressing them, Jesus was entitled to complain. This was an act of low cunning, and discreditable trickery, on their part. They might have taken Him at any time in the temple, but they feared the people. They must affect to regard Him as a felon before they dare to arrest Him. But they get the length even of doing that. For it is "their hour and the power of darkness."
Now here is the principle on which all persecution against the godly is conducted. It is not for being godly that the world professedly persecutes them. The world feels that decency forbids to touch them till a semblance of some other charge is raised to cover and, if possible, conceal the real ground of hatred. It is not as a holy and benevolent teacher, winning the esteem of the nation, that Jesus is arrested: it is as a felon. It is not as holy and heavenly minded men that primitive Christians are persecuted. It is as disturbers of the peace of the Roman empire; as setters forth of strange gods; enemies of the imperial authority, as it prescribes the imperial religion. It is in that character they are given to the wild beasts at Ephesus or at Rome.
It is the same principle and policy in all cases, great or small. Look into the family, the field, the workshop, where the ungodly scorn and ridicule the righteous. It is not under the character of righteous that they persecute him. That would be too obviously and visibly the very Spirit of hell. It must be a little masked and hidden from the view of others; ay, they seek even to hide it from themselves. It is not because he is a Christian, righteous, godly man they hate him. They cannot condemn him under that which is the true aspect of his character. They must misrepresent him first.
Did you ever thus ridicule the strictly godly? And do you not remember that you first called him hypocrite and tried to make yourself believe him a hypocrite before you spoke against him? Who is among you who dislikes the prayerful, bible-reading, righteous child of God? You dare not do it till you have attempted to believe him hypocritically and uselessly precise. It is under that false aspect you feel at liberty to ridicule the godly, and ridicule them accordingly you do. Then know that you have entered on an "hour of the power of darkness"; for this is a very special device of Satan to seal your impenitence and harden your heart. What! this godly man whom you despise is a hypocrite, is he? You come out strong against him as a poor hypocrite? And yet he is "daily with you in the temple." At least he is weekly with you in the sanctuary, and you "lay no hands on him" there; you lift not your voice of ridicule against him there. He and you both are there—both there on the Lord's day; coming as the Lord's people come; sitting before Him as His people; both, with your lips, showing much love to Him. And the difference is that when gone from the temple he prays to his Father in secret and glorifies his Father in public, while you are prayerless at home and godless abroad. Who is the hypocrite?
Beware! When you scorn the righteous you may succeed in injuring, you may succeed in paining them. But the hour in which you do so coincides with the hour of the power of the devil. How horrible! if your opportunity and Satan's coincide! How far may they carry you when thus combined! They carried these men the length of crucifying the Lord of glory. May they not carry you the length of crucifying him afresh?
Despise not, then, the children of the Lord: rather join their ranks. Say to any of them with whom you stand related, "Entreat me not to leave you; nor to return from following after you: we will go with you; for we have heard that God is with you. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God." The blessed time which sees this holy resolution, far from being the hour or the power of darkness, shall be your day of gracious visitation and the day of your Savior's power; and like His people, whom you once despised, you also "shall be willing in the day of His power."
We close by calling your attention once more to the glory of Christ as a judge, even in the midst of His shame as an arrested malefactor. With His vesture dipped in the blood of His agony and stained with the soil of earth, He still gives pledge and prelude of His victory, when He shall come with dyed garments from Bozrah, glorious in apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength. Above all, He gives pledge and prelude of that awful final assize when we must all appear before the judgment seat Christ.