Ah, the thanklessness of it, the ugliness, the evil!
(Alexander Smellie, "On the Secret Place" 1907)
"Then He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping. 'Could you not keep watch with Me for one hour?' He asked." Matthew 26:40
Every word is incisive — every syllable is an arrow whose point has been dipped in yearning and wounded love.
1. The sleep is inexcusable, because of the indebtedness of the disciple. "Could YOU not keep watch?" asks Christ; and the you is emphatic:
you, who have heard My teaching;
you, who witnessed My miracles;
you, who known the allurement of My life;
you, whom I have crowned with My special favor;
you, who have sworn your fidelity so often and so recently!
Such things He has done for me as well — such blessings He has bestowed; such pains He has undergone. And shall I be negligent towards Him? Ah, the thanklessness of it, the ugliness, the evil!
2. And the sleep is inexcusable, because of the modesty of the Lord's demand. He asked, "Could you not keep WATCH?" Now let me lay the stress on the verb, watch. He might have bidden me to . . .
drink the wormwood and the gall with Him;
climb the hill of shame by His side;
die, as He died, of a broken heart.
But the Cross and the curse are for Himself alone — and from me He seeks simply . . .
the open eye,
and the consecrated mind,
and the obedient spirit.
He does not call me to exile or prison or martyrdom — but to guard myself, to repel the advance of temptation, to cultivate holiness and obedience. It seems unpardonable, that Christ's friend should deny Him a gift so small!
3. And the sleep is inexcusable, because of the measurelessness of the Savior's deserts. "Could you not keep watch WITH ME?" What poignancy and pathos dwell in the last words! He is my Healer, my Teacher, my King, my God, my Savior! The earth moves at His command. The beasts are governed by His scepter, and the birds sing His praise. High in the ranks of creation, the angels are flames of fire, and speed at His requests. All creation does His will.
But He blesses me — as He has blessed none of them. They do not know my motives to spend and be spent for Him. To support me, He became man. To bless me with eternal glory, He emptied Himself, and was numbered with transgressors. Shall I forget Him?
4. And the sleep is inexcusable, because of the brevity of the vigilance. "Could you not keep watch with Me FOR ONE HOUR?" How quickly one hour runs out to its final second! Many a night, from sunset to sunrise, He spent pleading for me, the morning star finding Him where the evening star had left Him. He devoted a whole eternity, ageless and endless — to the devising and accomplishing of my salvation! And shall I grudge Him my fast-fleeting days? His grace towards me has neither commencement nor close — and how can I rob Him of those few fragments of time which remain to me? Nay, this very moment let me arise!
Sleeping disciples — I wonder whether I am among them!