The Suffering Savior
Meditations on the Last Days of Christ
by F. W. Krummacher (1796-1868)
In the following meditations I trust I have succeeded in displaying to my readers at least a portion of those riches which are contained in the inexhaustible treasury of our Savior's sufferings. Unmutilated scriptural truth, such as I believe I promulgate, still finds a favorable reception in the world, which I have been permitted to experience in the most gratifying manner. I mention it, solely to the praise of God, and for the satisfaction of those who are like-minded, that my writings, or at least a part of them, are, as I hear, already translated into English, French, Dutch, Swedish, and as I am assured, though I cannot vouch for the fact, into the Danish language also. My "Elijah the Tishbite" has even appeared in a Chinese attire. But that which is of greater importance, is the news I am constantly receiving of the manifold blessing which the Lord of his great and unmerited favor has bestowed upon my labors. That in his condescension and loving-kindness, He would also deign to bless this my most recent work is so much the more my heartfelt wish and ardent prayer, since it has for its subject the chief supporting pillar of the whole church—the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The division of the work into the "Outer Court," the "Holy Place," and the "Most Holy Place," is intended merely to point out the different stages of the Redeemer's sufferings, from their commencement to their close, but by no means to attach a less or greater importance to them. Had the latter been the case, I would naturally have assigned the institution of the Lord's Supper its appropriate place in the "Most Holy Place," instead of the "Outer Court." But in the plan of this volume, it falls among the class of events, which immediately precede the propitiatory work of the Mediator.
THE OUTER COURT
The history of our Savior's passion is about to display before us its bleeding mysteries and its awful vicarious scenes. The "Lamb of God, which takes away the sins of the world," submissive to the council of peace, which was held before the foundation of the world, approaches the altar of burnt-offering. Bonds, the scourge, the cross, and the crown of thorns, present themselves to our view in the distance; and the "seven words," uttered by Jesus on the cross, sound in our ears, like the funeral knell of the kingdom of Satan, and like intimations of liberty and joy to the sinful race of man.
It was said to Moses from the burning bush, "Put off your shoes from off your feet, for the place whereon you stands is holy ground."—Exod. 3:5. With still stronger emphasis are these words uttered to us from the sacred spot, where that much-implying type found its actual fulfillment. O what wonders are we about to approach in our meditations! From the most appalling scene the world ever witnessed, a paradise of peace springs forth. From the most ignominious sufferings, we see the most glorious triumph emerge; and from the most dreadful of deaths, a divine and never-fading life arise!
May devotion, humbleness of mind, and child-like faith accompany us in our meditations, and penitential tears become our eye-salve! But do You, who have the key of David, unlock for us the gates to the sanctuary of your sacred passion, and in the awful scenes of your sufferings, enable us to discover the mystery of our eternal redemption!
Almost immediately after our blessed Lord had performed perhaps the most stupendous of his miracles, in raising Lazarus from the grave, after he had been dead four days, we are informed by the Evangelist, that "the chief priests and the Pharisees took counsel together to put Him to death." What an humbling view does this circumstance give us of the depravity of human nature as exemplified in these men, who, while obliged to confess the fact of the miracles which Jesus wrought, not only refused to accept him as the Messiah, but even conspired together to rid themselves of him by condemning him to death! Thus confirming the words of Abraham to the rich man in torment, "Neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead."
"Jesus, therefore," we are told, "walked no more openly among the Jews, but went thence unto a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with his disciples. But when the time was come, that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem."
With this object in view, the Lord takes his twelve disciples apart. He has matters of importance to disclose to them. Destined, as they were, to lay the foundations of his Church, it was requisite that they should not be deficient in a comprehensive acquaintance with the counsel of God, for the redemption of the world. They soon perceive his intention, and hang upon his lips with increasing eagerness. They probably reckon on some cheering intelligence, and expect to hear, that the triumphant development of his kingdom is at hand. But what short sightedness and simplicity do they display! O the mighty chasm which intervenes between their thoughts and God's thoughts! As though the restoration of fallen man were a thing of such easy accomplishment! As if sin had caused only a transient disturbance in the relations between God and man, and occasioned a breach which could be healed, either by a voluntary declaration of mercy from on high, or by a confession of sin on the part of the fallen!
The Lord opens his mouth, and to the astonishment of the disciples, announces to them in plain terms his approaching offerings, and at the same time his subsequent victory. "Behold," says he, "we go up to Jerusalem; and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished."
Observe, first of all, how these words convey our Lord's fixed resolution. His heart, under the impulse of love, is firmly and immutably bent on taking the way to the cross. You well remember with what impressive earnestness he rejected the advice of Simon Peter to spare himself, and not to go up to Jerusalem. "Get you behind me, Satan," was his reply; "you are an offence unto me; for you savor not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." So evident was it to him, that the sufferings he was going to meet, were not merely an efflux of human depravity, but also the express will and counsel of his heavenly Father, that in the contrary advice of his disciple, he could recognize nothing but a temptation from the bottomless pit, and Simon as the unconscious instrument of it. No affectionate entreaty any longer restrains him in his course; no menace dictated by hatred deters him from it. The bloodthirsty council has already assembled at Jerusalem, and is concocting its plan of treachery and murder. But the watchword of Jesus continues to be—"Behold, we go up!" and though another Red Sea were foaming at his feet, and though a hundred deaths awaited him, yet the only sentiment of his heart is—"We go up." For it is his Father's will, and the path to the great and ardently longed-for aim of the world's redemption. O what resignation, what obedience, what love to sinners is here exemplified by our adorable Immanuel.
"Behold," says our Lord, "we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished." Here we are informed what was his staff and his stay on the road to his sufferings. He found it in the "sure word of prophecy," in which he read what was recorded of himself, and the counsel of God respecting him. And if any one still requires a definite authority for the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, it is here presented to him. Christ, the King of Truth, recognizes in the Scriptures nothing less than the infallible record of the revelation of his heavenly Father; he bears it, day and night, on his heart; he decides according to its statutes, as the Canon Law, which puts an end to all strife respecting the vital questions of human life, and directs his steps wherever it points the way. It is to him the infallible guiding-star of his life. Whether the voice of his heavenly Father is heard direct from heaven, or sounds to him from this venerable record: it is the same to him. The one is as important as the other; and he reverentially bows to every title and iota of it. It is thus his ways are established; and every moment's experience seals it to him, that he is actually obeying a divine command. Everything that the word enjoins becomes reality, and the most delicate trait assumes life and substance.
"Certainly," some one may say, "it ought to strengthen our determination to proceed upon the path prescribed for us by the word of God, when, like Christ, we are aware that our way through life is not only divinely ordered and superintended, generally speaking, but also when we can survey it, from step to step, in the light of an infallible and divine revelation, even to its glorious termination." But is not this really the case, if you have believingly and sincerely given yourself up to God? For can there be any situation in which the divine word, with its counsel, leaves you at a loss? Is it not also written respecting you, "The Lord will not suffer you to want any good thing?" "Through much tribulation you must enter into the kingdom of heaven." But "when you pass through the waters, they shall not overflow you; and through the fire, the flame shall not kindle upon you, for the Lord is with you." It may indeed be the case that men will revile and persecute you; but if you faithfully endure, your reward shall be great. The light shall always rise upon you after the darkness;—and after sorrow, joy shall again visit your threshold. Nor shall any one be able to snatch you out of the Lord's hands; but after having fought the good fight, you shall finally receive the crown of righteousness, shall not see death, but pass from death unto life, and triumph eternally. Does not all this, and manifold more stand written of you; and is not therefore your path pointed out and prophetically indicated? May you not also say, in your measure, with the Lord Jesus, "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all shall be accomplished, that stands written by the finger of God, respecting me, a poor sinner, since I am no longer my own, but belong to Christ?" O certainly you may say this! How ought we not, therefore, with such a consciousness, to put on a cheerful courage, during our pilgrimage, and feel as if heavenly triumphal music preceded us on our path through life!
My dear readers, let us only place a firm reliance on the word of truth, and, in its light, ascend the precipitous road; according to its instructions, proceed forward with firm and steady steps, unmindful of the tumult of the world, and not deviating a hand-breadth from the way prescribed. Let us meet him who would direct us otherwise, with a voice of thunder, and exclaim, "Get you behind me, Satan, for you savor not the things that be of God, but those that be of man!" The Almighty will then be favorable to us; we shall then carry the peace of God, that choicest pearl! in our bosoms; and literal accomplishments of the divine promises, which we have taken for our compass, and for a lamp unto our feet, will daily fall upon our path, like lights from heaven.
The Lord's face is toward Jerusalem; and we have already seen for what purpose. His intention is, to suffer and to die. O there must be something of immense importance connected with his passion! It appears as the crisis of the work for the accomplishment of which he left his Father's bosom, and came down to earth! Were this not the case, to judge of it in the most lenient manner, it would have been tempting God thus to rush to meet death, after having completed his prophetic office in Jerusalem; and the over-ruling Majesty on high would have exposed his justice to well founded reproach, in giving up the Holy One, who had fulfilled his commands, to the horrible fate of a malefactor and reprobate, in the most glaring opposition to the axioms of his own government. But the Eternal Father had included in his counsels the cross, the scourge, and the crown of thorns, long before the sons of Belial thought of having recourse to these instruments of torture; and all his prophets, however reluctantly, were compelled in spirit to interweave these horrid emblems along with the majestic image of the Messiah, which they portrayed. Thus the Lord could say with profound truth, "All things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished; for he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on, and they shall scourge him and put him to death."
Such were the ingredients, deducible, from the prophetic writings, which filled the cup that Satan, in accordance with the counsels of Eternal Wisdom, was to present to the Son of the Most High. And believe me, these counsels went far, very far beyond all that we understand by martyrdom, chastisement, purification, or trial. The immaculate and righteous Savior did not require correction as for himself; and if a purification had been salutary for him, it needed not—unless some gigantic shadow had for a time obscured divine justice—to have come upon the Holy One of Israel in the form of such degrading infamy, unheard-of reproach and humiliation, and such unparalleled suffering. The passion of our Lord has an infinitely more profound significance; and it requires only a cursory glance at the narrative to discover that this was the case. Observe what the Evangelist informs us respecting the way and manner in which the Twelve received their Master's communication. He states, that "they understood none of these things, and this saying was hidden from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken."
How striking is this circumstance! Who can resist inquiring what it was they did not understand? They could not possibly have mistaken what their Master said respecting his suffering and dying at Jerusalem. That he intended to seal the truth of his doctrine by his death, was an idea which must also have occurred to them. Yet Luke assures us that "they understood none of those things, and knew not what it was that was spoken." Is it not obvious that the Evangelist's meaning is that he who would only apprehend the history of Christ's sufferings, and regard his passion as a martyrdom, not essentially different from the bloody testimony borne by other saints, does not understand its true signification? We have here an evident reference to an infinitely deeper cause of the tragical termination of our Savior's life before us.
It is confessedly true that the Eternal Father, by an almighty decree, might have annihilated the fallen race, in which sin had taken root, and thus have put an end to the evil. But we were to live and not die. And thus he has not only caused the sin of man to act as a foil for the display of the full radiance of his attributes, and especially of his love; but has also, by the offering up of his Son, provided a means of salvation by which we might attain to a much higher stage of glory and relationship to God than we once possessed in our progenitor, or than we should ever have attained if we had not fallen. Our fall afforded him the opportunity of showing that in the destruction of sin he could not only manifest his justice, but also glorify his mercy in remitting and forgiving sin, without infringing upon his righteousness. We sinned, and were exposed to the curse. The word that was with God, and was God, then was made flesh. The eternal son became our brother; took upon himself our sin, in the way of a mysterious imputation; paid our debt to the majesty of the inviolable law; covered our nakedness with his righteousness; presented us, as those in whose stead he appeared, unblameable and acceptable to the Father; excited the hallelujahs of angels at our exaltation; elevated us to a participation of his own riches, blessedness, and privileges; pitched tents of peace for us around the throne of God; and connected us with himself by the bonds of eternal gratitude and affection. Such is the edifice which the Almighty reared upon the ruins of sin; and of which the disciples, at that time, had not the remotest idea. In the sequel, they recognized the divine method of salvation and of peace; and how happy were they, subsequently, in the knowledge of this "great mystery of godliness!"
Six days before the Passover, and, consequently, four before the awful day of crucifixion, we find our Lord in the peaceful village of Bethany, on the other side of the Mount of Olives, where He was accustomed so willingly to stay. We meet with him this time in the house of a man named Simon, where his followers had prepared him a feast. He appears before us in the unassuming form of a guest, invited with others; but look a little more narrowly, and you will see him, even there, as John afterward saw him in vision, only in a somewhat different sense, as "walking amid the candlesticks."
The Lord Jesus has no need to testify of himself; for those who are present bear witness of him in the most eloquent manner. Look, first, at Mary and her sister Martha. They are women possessing true nobility of soul, respected by all, sensible, clear-sighted, and sober-minded. Martha, cheerful, active, and busy; Mary, thoughtful and contemplative. Both, however, recline with all their hopes on Jesus. He is, to both, the living pillar which supports their heaven; their prospects of a blissful futurity arise solely from his mediation; and the peace and comfort, which refreshes them in life and death, they derive from Christ alone as the source. What a high idea must this fact alone afford us of the Man of Nazareth!
Look around you further. There are the disciples. Peter, Andrew, John, James, Nathanael, Thomas, and the rest. You formerly saw them listening to the Baptist in the wilderness, like a flock of scattered and helpless sheep. You learn to know them as people who were incited to seek for help, by a very different motive than a mere thirst for knowledge. You found them to be men whose hearts were grievously burdened by sin, and by the anticipation of "the wrath to come," and whose inward peace was entirely at an end, after having seen God in the fiery splendor of his law, with its requirements and threatenings. Neither man nor angel was able to comfort them; but since they had found Jesus, their thoroughly humbled souls were like the sparrow which has found a house, and the swallow a nest, where they may drop their weary wings. They are now elevated above all anxiety. What bright rays of light does this fact also shed upon Jesus! How highly does it exalt him above the idea of being a mere mortal!
But alas! among the disciples we still find Judas, the child of darkness, the son of perdition. He, indeed, was never, in his own eyes, a helpless sinner; he had never thirsted after God; he was never truly devout; nor had ever set his affections on things above. It may be asked, what induced him to force himself into the immediate vicinity of Jesus? Assuredly, first, the irresistible and overpowering impression of the superhuman greatness and dignity of the Son of David, and then, doubtless, also, an ambitious desire of being called to act some important part in the new kingdom, to establish which the former had evidently come. Thus, the presentiment of the traitor aided in glorifying the person of the Lord Jesus. The divine majesty of Immanuel shone so powerfully through his human form that its rays penetrated even into the darkness of Iscariot's soul.
But let us further inspect the circle of guests. Who is the master of the house? He is called Simon, and bears the surname of "the Leper." He bears it to the honor of Jesus; for the name betokens what he was, before the Lord pronounced over him the almighty words, "Be clean!" Simon had once been infected with that horrible disease which no earthly physician was able to heal, and which he alone could remove who had inflicted it—the Almighty, and he who could testify, saying, "I and my Father are one." Simon, stand forward, and show yourself to every skeptic as a living monument of the divine fullness which dwelt in Christ! All Bethany knows that he had prepared this feast for the Lord Jesus, solely from feelings of gratitude for the marvelous cure which he had experienced through him; and even his enemies cannot deny that, in this man, a monument is erected to the Lord Jesus, which speaks louder and more effectually than any inscription is able to do.
But look! Who is it that sits next to Jesus?—the young man with piercing eye and sunny countenance. Oh, do you not recognize him? Once you saw him lying shrouded on the coffin. You were present when his corpse was carried out, followed by his weeping sisters and a mourning crowd. You looked down into the gloomy vault into which it was lowered. But you were equally witnesses of that which took place four days after, when One approached the grave who called himself "the Resurrection and the Life," and then commanded the stone to be taken away from its mouth. You heard the words of Martha, "Lord, by this time he smells," and the majestic reply, "Said I not unto you that if you would believe you should see the glory of God?" And then, after the stone had been removed, how the Lord, lifting up his eyes toward heaven, over the putrefying corpse, exclaimed, "Father I thank You that You have heard me. And I knew that You hear me always; but because of the people which stand by, I said it, that they may believe that You have sent me!" and then how, with a loud, commanding, and creating voice, he called down into the sepulcher, "Lazarus, come forth!" and you know what followed.
He who was once dead, now sits among the guests, having escaped from the adamantine prison of the tomb. He lives, and is vigorous and happy; and it never occurs, either to friend or foe, to deny that Lazarus once lay as a corpse in the grave, and now lives again at the omnipotent word of Jesus. We find abundant traces that the Pharisees were beside themselves with rage and envy at this miracle, but not the smallest that any one ventured to deny or even to doubt the fact itself. There he sits, and completes the row of lights amid which Jesus walks. No herald is here required to testify of Jesus; no harper to strike his chords to his honor. He who looks at Lazarus hears in spirit a whole choir exultingly exclaiming, "Judah, you are he whom your brethren praise!" No sacred melody is needed to chant the glory of Jesus; Lazarus is a sufficient hymn of praise to the King of Glory from the world above.
Oh, then, go to Jesus, my dear readers, as the Lord from heaven, the Prince of Life, the Conqueror of Death, for such he is, when regarded even in the light that streams upon him from the circle which surrounds him at Bethany. And he is still some thing more than all this.
He is staying at Bethany. He has now accomplished his public ministry. Several times has he given his disciples of late to understand that such is the case. He has told them and revealed to them as much as they were able to bear. The Comforter, who is to succeed him, will instruct them further. According to the views of those who call themselves "the enlightened" among us, he ought now to have completed his work, and fulfilled the whole of his mission. But in his own eyes, this is by no means the case. For we do not see him now retiring into silence, nor returning to his heavenly Father; but saying, on the contrary, "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it is accomplished!" He knows that the principal task assigned him has still to be performed. He is on the road to Jerusalem, with the full consciousness of all that is passing and concerting there; that his enemies are now in earnest to seize him, and get rid of him; that the chief priests and Pharisees have already "given a commandment, that if any man knew where he were, he should show it, that they might take him." All this was known to him; but far from seeking to escape the snare which was laid for him, he goes directly toward it. He was now—according to his own words—to be delivered to the heathen, crucified, and slain; and there was a necessity for it. "The Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world," was not yet sacrificed. His assertion, that "the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many," was not yet fulfilled. The blood, to which the whole of the Old Testament had pointed as the procuring cause of all remission of sin, had not yet stained the fatal tree, but still flowed through his veins. And for this he prepared himself on the evening he spent at Bethany.
Above all things, therefore, let us draw near to Jesus as our sole and everlasting High Priest, as our Mediator, Surety, and Ransom. "Without shedding of blood there is no remission." "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin." The saints above "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." O delay no longer, therefore, to follow their example! Jesus, in his crown of thorns and bleeding wounds, must be the object of your love and the ground of your hope, or else he is nothing to you, and you are in danger of eternal perdition.
The Lord has just placed himself at table, when Mary approaches, deeply affected by gratitude, veneration, and love, and with a foreboding of what is about to befall him. She feels impelled to display to him her inmost soul once more, and to manifest her reverential and devout attachment to him. But how is she to do this? Words seem to her too poor. Presents she has none to make. But what she has that is valuable—possibly a legacy left by her mother—is an alabaster vessel, of pure oil of spikenard, much valued in the East, and used only on peculiarly festive occasions. She brings it with her. She does not intend to pour out a few drops only, but that it should be wholly an emblem of her profound devotion to the Lord of Glory. With the utmost reverence she approaches her Divine Friend, breaks unobservedly behind him the well-closed vessel, sheds the spikenard upon his head and feet, then humbly bends herself down and wipes the latter with her loosened tresses.
"And the whole house was filled with the ointment." Yes, we may well believe that this odor ascended up even into the throne-room of heaven, and was inhaled with delight by the holy angels. For the earthly anointing oil was only the symbol and vehicle of that which the wise virgins possessed in their vessels, when they went forth to meet the bridegroom. In this affectionate and symbolical act, a degree of devotedness was manifested such as is rarely exhibited. Mary desires to belong to Christ for time and eternity; to cleave to him by faith, like the ivy to the tree, round which it entwines itself. She wishes to live in his light, like a dark planet in the beams of the sun, which lends it its radiance. Mary knows no anchor of hope, no ground of consolation, no way to heaven, except through his mediation; and were she to imagine existence without him, she could only think of herself as in the jaws of despair, and irrecoverably lost. He is her last resource, but at the same time all-sufficient for her eternal salvation. Hence she cleaves to him with all her soul, and nothing is able to divide her from him. He is always in her thoughts, her sole delight, and the supreme object of her affections—all which she expresses in the act of anointing just mentioned.
The whole circle of the guests at Bethany are deeply touched by Mary's significant act. Only in the case of one does its sweet harmony sound as discord; only one of them with repugnance rejects the grateful odor. Ah, we imagine who it is! No other than the unhappy Judas, the child of darkness. Never, probably, has frigid self-love stood in such horrible contrast with warm and sacred affection, as was the case here, in the cold and really offensive expression, "Why this waste? Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?" Alas, how deeply is the miserable man already fallen! "The poor?" O you hypocrite! As if the reason was unknown to his Master why he would rather have the ointment sold. "For three hundred pence!" He knows how to value the spikenard, but is unable to appreciate the love that provided it, for he is wholly destitute of such a feeling.
O let the example of Judas serve as a warning to any of my readers who betray a strong inclination to mistake the love of a soul like Mary's to her Savior; and when it is manifested, can speak of it with a certain inward disgust and bitterness; and if not of waste, yet of enthusiasm, cant, hypocrisy, etc. Know, that on such occasions, a slight similarity to the features of the traitor Judas passes over the face of your inner man. You have need to be most carefully upon your guard, not to let that which you feel at such moments extend itself until it gradually makes you brothers of the traitor. O, when once the scales fall from your eyes—and God grant that this may be the case before long!—and your souls awake from their Pharisaic dreams, at the awful thought of eternity; when pursued by the curse of the law, terrified at the judgment to come, and severely pressed by Death, the king of terrors, you learn to thank and praise the Almighty that, as a last resource, the bleeding arms of Jesus still stand open to you: you will then no longer knit your brows, when you meet with one who has presented his whole heart to the Lord; nor feel repugnance at the fervor with which Asaph exclaims, "Whom have I in heaven but You, and there is none upon earth that I desire besides You!" O no! you will then weep in secret penitential tears, that you could ever have so mistaken the most precious thing on earth, the love of Christ, and lament, with us, that we do not love him as we ought.
Observe how the Lord Jesus appreciates the act of Mary. Like a faithful advocate, he immediately enters the lists on her behalf, against Judas and the transient impression made by his dark spirit upon the disciples, and says, while intimating to Judas that he was well aware of the cause of his displeasure, "Why trouble you the woman? Let her alone (do not confuse her); she has wrought a good work on me. The poor you have always with you, but me you have not always. Against the day of my burying has she kept this" (or, according to another Evangelist, "She is come before hand to anoint my body to the burying.") "Verily, I say unto you, wherever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she has done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her." Do but notice, how He, who was otherwise so spare in commending human works, mentions, with a particular emphasis, Mary's work as good. All the world is to know that such devotedness as Mary shows him is considered valuable, and how highly he estimates this feeling as being the source of Mary's act. All the world is to be informed that the affectionate relation in which Mary stands toward him, is nothing overstrained or enthusiastic, but that which alone beatifies its possessor. And that every one may know it, he has caused this act of Mary's to be repeatedly inserted in his Gospel. What he then predicted has taken place; and wherever this gospel is preached in the world, that which she did, is mentioned as a memorial of her, even to this day.
Scarcely had our Lord ended this remarkable speech, when, as Matthew relates, "One of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, and said unto them, What will you give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. And from that time, he sought opportunity to betray him." Horrible! Where, in all the world, can we meet with a contrast so striking, so appalling, and beyond measure dreadful, as is here presented to us in Mary's tender and affectionate act, and the horrible procedures of this unhappy son of perdition? He is already so far gone that words of compassion, which might have tended to his eternal salvation, when reaching the atmosphere of his soul, transmute themselves into a baneful essence, and producing vexation and bitter hatred instead of repentance, completely pervade the unhappy man as with a mortal poison. "He went out." Horrible departure! He turns his back upon his only Savior, because he now feels that He sees through him. He rushes out into the night, to which as a child of darkness, he belongs—no, he rushes out into a more awful night than the natural one; and the divine "Woe!" follows him upon his way.
We shudder. We shrink from the idea of accompanying the wretched man, and return with increased fervor to Jesus. "Against the day of my burial has she kept this," says our Lord. We understand his meaning. He sees his death and resurrection at one glance. An embalming of his body was to take place while he was still alive, since there was no time afforded for it after his death. It is not to be supposed that Mary had any idea of this; but a presentiment of his approaching departure certainly affected her heart; and anticipation of its saving significancy fanned the holy glow of her love to a brilliant flame, and contributed to impel her to that effusion of affection in Simon's house which we have been just contemplating. Her Master's love, which was even unto death, excited hers to him in the highest degree; even as the love of his people is accustomed to be enkindled, most of all, by the remembrance of Christ's sufferings.
But wherever the love of Jesus finds room, there will never be a want of activity in relieving the distresses of others. "The poor," says our Lord, while casting the words like an arrow into the soul of Judas, "the poor you have always with you;" by which he means that Mary will not be deficient in her charity to them. "But me," he adds, in conclusion, "you have not always," and these words are addressed to all my readers, who cannot yet call Jesus their Savior.
O take them to heart, my friends! Him you have no longer, when the wings of death suddenly overshadows you, or when your senses depart under the influence of disease, and the message of salvation no longer penetrates through the crowd of unbridled imaginations. You have him no longer, when God, the Righteous Judge, gives you up at length to "strong delusions," and permits them to take up their permanent abode in your minds, because you have long enough hardened yourselves against his calls to repentance. You have him no longer, when the last great "hour of temptation," with its infernal delusions, as well as with its persecuting horrors, shall break in upon you, and when to use a prophet's words—"Your feet shall stumble upon the dark mountains." You have him no longer, if, in the abundance of your prosperity, you are ready to exclaim, with the man in the Gospel, "Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years: eat, drink, and be merry!" to whom the horrifying announcement was made, "You fool! this night shall your soul be required of you." Therefore "flee from the wrath to come!" Hasten to save yourselves. Stay not in all the plain. Let nothing hinder you from immediately repairing to the blessed Savior, who has so graciously assured us, that whoever comes unto him, he will in no wise cast out.
The Entry into Jerusalem
"Are you he who should come, or do we look for another?"' Questions like this lie heavily on the hearts of many in the present day, whose intentions, in other respects, are honest and sincere. "Is he the Lord from heaven? Is he the King of Israel?" "No!" is the response of an apostatizing world; and, alas! the lamentable condition of his Church on earth seems only to confirm this negative assertion. For if he fills the throne of omnipotence and glory, why do the people rage? If he governs all things, why does Satan so frequently triumph? If his arm reaches from heaven to earth, why does he not close mouths of blasphemers? If he wields the sword of Divine justice, why does he not immolate those who defy him and lay waste his vineyard? If all power is at his command, why does he not compel, by signs and wonders, the glory which is his due? And if he only need put forth his breath to reanimate dead and refresh the wilderness, why have not the wastes of heathen world long ago flourished, and the deserts blossomed as the rose?
O how often do these and similar questions urge themselves even upon believers; and how inclined they are to doubt whether he is that which they think him to be! But doubt is the worst enemy to peace; and hence nothing is more acceptable to those who are sincere than that which disables and destroys the former. To such, the narrative of our Lord's triumphant entry into Jerusalem will be, therefore, extremely welcome, since it scatters every cloud of uncertainty, displays a Divinely-sealed attestation of the Messiahship and kingly dignity of Christ, and again loosens our tongue-tied hearts, reanimates our faith, and causes us joyfully to exclaim, "Yes, You are the Christ! Blessed are You who come in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"
That he is the Christ, the Son of God, and that we have every reason to trust in him, is confirmed to us, first, by his own consciousness of being so. We find him proceeding to Jericho on his last visit to Jerusalem. On arriving at the Mount of Olives, he requests two of his disciples, in a commanding tone, to go into the village over against them, where they would find an donkey tied, and a colt with her. These they were to loose and bring him.
Observe here that he sees the animals he is in want of at a greater distance than the eye could reach. Even in this circumstance we see something superhuman breaking through the lowliness of the Savior's form. He then gives instructions respecting the donkey and her colt, with a decision which betrays to us the Governor of all things. He tells them, "If any man say anything unto you, you shall say, the Lord has need of them, and immediately he will send them. He says, "the Lord," and not "the Master" only, or "Jesus of Nazareth." This is a title of majesty, a name of dignity, by which he elevates himself high above every creature, and declares himself to be Jehovah's other self. "The Lord has need of them." As the mere Son of Man, he never could have spoken this of himself without being guilty of blasphemy. But he knows who he is, and how he may call and entitle himself, and he utters the words with firmness and dignity.
But will the owner feel induced, at the mere expression of the disciples—"The Lord has need of them"—to resign the animals to them? Assuredly he will. The Lord has no doubt of it, but is perfectly confident that, as the Lord from heaven, there was nothing which was not his own, that he had power over all things, and that his Eternal Father would grant such a power with his words that, as he expressly says, the owner would "immediately" send them. Oh, let us revive from our state of despondency by the consideration of our Lord's self-consciousness, as here manifested, which substantiates his superhuman glory infinitely more than the whole weight of anti-christian objections to prove the contrary.
But hold! unbelief finds even here a back way by which it expects to be able to escape. It says, "The owner of the donkey and its colt might have been a friend of the Prophet of Nazareth; and presupposing this, the fact of his willingly parting with the animals loses all its importance." Still, the all-seeing eye of Jesus is not closed by this, and his majestic expression—"the Lord"—likewise remains in full force. But though unbelief may bring forward additional objections, yet still stronger and more evident confirmations appear. The donkey's colt is led away with its parent. The disciples lay their garments upon it as a covering, and the Lord seats himself upon the animal, in order to ride into Jerusalem. This seems a trifling feature in the case, and scarcely worthy of notice; but look a little deeper, and its importance will increase. Our Lord, by this act, testifies something infinitely greater respecting himself than would have been the case had he suddenly placed himself upon a royal throne, or had made his entry into the Holy City beneath gilded canopy, and arrayed in a purple robe. It is evident, so the Scriptures expressly inform us, that our Lord had in view, at that moment, an ancient divine prophecy. You will read it in Zech. 9:8, 9. Jehovah there says—predicting the future—"I will encamp about my house because of the army, because of him that passes by, and because of him that returns (those that act as sentinels), and no oppressor shall pass through them any more; for now I have seen (its wretchedness) with my eyes." After this general reference to a future deliverance, it is said, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold your king comes unto you; he is just, and having salvation, lowly, and riding upon an donkey, and upon a colt, the foal of an donkey."
This is a delightful prediction, at which the whole world of sinners ought to rejoice. It is a gracious star of hope in the hemisphere of the Old Testament, greeted for centuries by the saints of God with tears of ardent longing. More than four hundred years had elapsed after these words had been uttered, when, on the summit of the Mount of Olives, the Man of Nazareth appears, and calls to mind this ancient prophecy. On the point of approaching Jerusalem, he orders an donkey and its colt to be brought him, seats himself upon one of them, and publicly enters Jerusalem upon it, in the presence of assembled multitudes.
But what does he testify by this mute but significant action? What else than that the prophet's words are being fulfilled in his own person? What else than that he is the promised King of glory, just, and having salvation, and bringing peace to his people? What else than as if he had said, "It is I, whose dominion shall extend from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth? It is I; therefore rejoice, O daughter of Zion! and shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!" Yes, he announces this as loudly as with a voice of thunder. No other meaning can lie at the bottom of that scene. If Jesus were not the promised King of Peace, with what epithet should we be compelled to designate that act? But he knew what he did, and how far he was justified in it; and hence, in his entry into Jerusalem, we have a new, powerful, and actual proof that Christ was the true Messiah announced by the prophets, and at the same time, the only-begotten Son of the Father, our Mediator, and eternal High Priest.
My readers, doubtless, feel how extremely striking is this trait in our Lord's history, and, in fact, the passage on which we are meditating has never been sufficiently appreciated from this point of view. The disciples, and even many of the people after this event, had no doubt whatever that he was no other than the Mighty Prince of Peace so long before predicted. Observe how he is attended. A more than regal entry is prepared for him. The people cast their garments in the way, bestrew the road with verdure, and precede and follow him with palm-branches in their hands, as in a triumphal procession, and there is no end to their exulting hosannas. "Hail," they cry, "to the Son of David! Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" Only think of such homage being paid to a simple individual, devoid of all regal insignia! But it explains itself. The rider on the lowly beast of burden was seen, in part at least, by the ancient prophets, surrounded by this homage. It could not fail that Zechariah, in particular, whose prophetic vision of the King of Glory enabled him to describe the scene as minutely as if he had really witnessed it, fully dispelled from their minds any remains of obscurity, which might still envelop the person of him who was thus entering Jerusalem. But that which elevated their ideas of him to perfect certainty was the stupendous miracle which he had performed at Bethany, in raising Lazarus from the dead. After such an occurrence, how could they be silent, or cease exultingly to exclaim, "Hosanna to the Son of David!"
The Pharisees heard the rejoicing with secret indignation, and morosely said to him who was thus applauded, "Master, rebuke your disciples." But why did not they rebuke the rejoicing multitude themselves? Why did they not accuse them of being under a delusion? Why did they not adduce as a proof that the raising of Lazarus by their rabbi was only a tale, as well as that one born blind had been restored to sight by him? O had they been able to do so they certainly would not have refrained! But this was out of their power. The facts were too generally known and acknowledged. In despair, therefore, they apply to the master himself to rebuke his followers. O how does this significant trait tend also to strengthen our faith! But does the Savior comply with their wishes, and reprove the enthusiastic crowd? On the contrary, he rides on, surrounded by a thousand hosannahs; thus letting the ancient prophecy of Zechariah develop itself in all its aspects in his procession, and calmly received the homage as his due, while remarking to the Pharisees, "I tell you that if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out." My friends, what more can you desire? Nothing under heaven is more fully proved than that the Lord Jesus knew himself to be the God-man, who had been promised and expected for thousands of years; and this is in itself a sufficient weapon for us victoriously to repel and overthrow all objections which might be raised against our belief on him.
The whole scene of the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem has both its typical and prophetic side. The progress of our Lord, so destitute of pomp, neither clothed in purple, nor on a gayly caparisoned war-horse, nor accompanied by ribboned magnates or dignitaries, but in the simplest attire, on the foal of an donkey, and surrounded by poor fishermen and tradespeople, gives us a hint in what manner Christ, for centuries together, will manifest himself on earth until his second coming. And the expressly quoted, and now accomplished prophecy of Zechariah, confirms and attests this, in the words, "Behold, your king comes unto you lowly"—a word which implies at the same time the idea of an entire absence of display, pomp, and dignity; and this is the attribute which is peculiar to his government to this hour.
"But where do we discover him?" O descend into the basements of human society; become initiated into the privacy of experimental religion in the cottage; listen to the narratives of "the quiet in the land." Read the missionary records, which, like Noah's dove, fly toward us with the green olive leaf of refreshing intelligence from the regions of the home and foreign missions. Inquire of the many thousands, who, in every quarter, and in quiet concealment at Jesus' feet, are healed of their heartfelt maladies, and are desirous of salvation, or else, already comforted, fall asleep in his name to awaken to life eternal. Do it, and you will no longer ask, Where is Christ, the King? Truly he is still among you, with the same power, love, and miraculous grace by which he was formerly accompanied. The "Hosanna to the Son of David," has not yet ceased upon earth, and never will.
"But will his kingdom prosper in the world?" O be not anxious on this account! The passage we have been considering, affords a powerful panacea against such apprehensions. Observe, first, what our Lord commissions his disciples to say to the owner of the donkey and its colt: "Say to him, that the Lord has need of them, and immediately he will send them." "The Lord has need of them;"—more is not necessary. If he requires them, all must be at his command. He speaks, and it is done; he commands, and it stands fast. "The Lord has need of them!" What a glorious encouragement for missionaries; what valuable consolation for the Church, when fears are entertained for the supply of faithful witnesses! What an incomparable assurance that he can never be deficient of means for the accomplishment of his plans! Hide these words in your spiritual treasury, my friends, and refresh yourselves with them as often as you feel your courage fail.
Observe, further, how the Lord, while fulfilling to the letter the prediction of Zechariah by the manner of his entrance into the Holy City, confirms at the same time, the whole of the prophecies respecting him. You know what these passages predict. According to them his foes shall eventually become his footstool; the ends of the earth shall be his inheritance, and the Lord shall be one, and his name one. Jerusalem, cleansed and purified, shall become a praise in the earth; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd; and whatever else the Eternal Father may have sworn to give him. As infallibly as the one was accomplished, so surely will not the other remain a mere type and shadow. The literal fulfillment of Zechariah's prophecy is a most striking pledge of the eventual accomplishment of the vision of John in the Revelations. "Behold, a white horse, and he who sat upon him is called Faithful and True, and has on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords." And in like manner shall be fulfilled that other vision in which he beheld, around the throne of the Lamb, that host of adoring saints "which no man could number."
Finally, consider another expression of Immanuel's, which Luke records. When enraged at the loud rejoicings of his disciples and the people, the Pharisees called upon the Lord Jesus to reprove them, he uttered the following significant and ever-memorable words: "I tell you that if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out." The Lord, in these words, could not have more clearly evinced his inmost conviction of the invaluable blessing the world enjoyed in him, and the object of his mission. For what else do they imply than that 'I am such a Savior and bring you such aid, and offer you such felicity, that if it produced no exultation and rejoicing among mankind, the Almighty would animate the lifeless creature to celebrate his love and compassion!' The Lord, in these words, gives us also, the assurance, that on earth, men shall never be silent concerning him and his salvation; for should Israel and Christendom be silent, he would animate the sons of the desert, the dead heathen world, to sing hosannas to him.
This he has done, is still doing, and will continue to do. Earth's whole population shall eventually spread their garments on his path, and, strew it with palm branches, even as the people did on this occasion. As thousands did then, millions will hereafter shout, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" O let us mingle with the adoring crowd, and once more take our Lord's assertion to heart, that the salvation which God has prepared for us in him is so infinitely great that if we could keep silence, the very stones would cry out.
Christ Washing His Disciple's Feet
We are approaching, in our meditations, a very solemn section of our Lord's history. Jesus has completed his sojourn on earth, and the eve of the great and awful day of atonement has arrived. He assembles his followers around him once more, in the social chamber of a friend's house in Jerusalem. Once more they are permitted to look into their Master's faithful heart, and to feel how much God has given them in him. Never was the recollection of the affecting circumstances which took place that evening erased from their memory. The tranquil majesty displayed by their Lord and Master—the astonishing degree of ardent affection which manifested itself in every look, and every word—the heavenly peace which shone forth in his whole deportment—his cheerful and filial resignation to the will and counsel of God; and with all his dignity, such amiable condescension, while in every expression of his lips, and in all his actions and conduct, there was something divinely profound, consoling, and mysterious. The whole scene was overpowering and heart-cheering in a manner they had never before experienced. They felt themselves translated, as it were, into an outer-court of heaven, and would have felt infinitely greater blessedness than even in the glory of Mount Tabor, had it not been for the anticipation of their Master's approaching departure, which threw a melancholy gloom over their joy.
The Evangelist John informs us, that "before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them to the end." What a wonderful style of writing is this! Does it not seem as if the Evangelist's heart beat audibly through the whole passage? Does not His manner remind us of a mountain torrent, which rushes along, with irregular impetuosity over the rocks? Is it not as if the feelings, which overpowered the beloved disciple would not permit him to reflect on the proper disposition of the words—no, as if he had written under the influence of tears of adoring rapture, and with the consciousness of utter inability to record that which presented itself to him like a vision from another world, in language which might in any degree correspond with it? But that which so powerfully affects his heart above everything else, is the fact that the Lord Jesus, although he was then clearly conscious that his hour of return to the bosom of the Father was near at hand, and although he had already lived in spirit more above than on the earth, and heard from a distance the hymns of praise, amid whose echoes he was soon to re-ascend the throne of Divine Majesty—yet he did not forget his followers, but still retained so much room for these pilgrims in this valley of death, in his affectionate solicitude and recollection.
And yet how much sorrow of heart had these very disciples occasioned him only a short time before, by their lamentable strife for precedence, and especially by their conduct, when Mary poured the costly ointment upon him; just as if they grudged their master such honor, and, infected with the gloomy sentiments of the traitor, had even ventured to term the love-offering of the deeply affected woman, in a repudiating tone "a waste;" and had suffered themselves to be so far misled as to make the cold and heartless observation that it would have been better to have sold the ointment, and have given the money to the poor, rather than have spent it so uselessly. You remember the mild and gentle reply which our Lord then gave them; but so far was it from humbling them, and causing them to acknowledge their fault, that it created discordant feelings within them and even closed and estranged their hearts from him for a season. And yet—O comprehend this depth of fidelity and compassion! and yet—the Evangelist writes as if the tears were bursting from his eyes—and yet "having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them to the end." For it was to this end—is the Apostle's meaning—that he associated with sinners, that he might bear them eternally on his heart. Those whom his Father had given him, were more the objects of his affection than the holy angels around the throne of God and his love to them increased as the end drew near. O how he loved them, when he took their sins with him into judgment, and cast himself into the fire which their transgressions had kindled! How he loved them, when his own blood did not seem to him too dear a price to be paid for them, although it was they who were the transgressors! He loved them to the end; and to this day he loves them that are his in a similar manner. If a feeling of heavenly rapture thrilled through the apostle John at such a thought; let our hearts, my readers, vibrate in like manner! Whatever may befall us, his love continues the same; "For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, says the Lord, that has mercy on you."—lsa. 54:10.
We return to the chamber at Jerusalem, and find the company already reclining around the paschal meal. It would seem that at the commencement, little was spoken. But when the Lord is silent, his disciple speaks. Unveiling the heart of the incomparable Redeemer, like a sanctuary, he says, "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God." What a knowledge is this! Had such an idea sprung up in the heart of any one who was a mere man, though he were the most excellent of his kind; he must either have been an idiot, or the worst of blasphemers, that ever called down the curse of the Almighty upon his guilty head. We see the Lord Jesus, sitting at table, in the consciousness of his eternal majesty and godhead, of his being the King of kings and the Lord of lords, as well as the Mediator, to whose hands, for his work's sake, the Father has committed all things, including the divine authority to forgive sins; and, regarding the shedding of his blood, as having already taken place, to whom nothing more stands in the way of his acting as the high priest and intercessor of his people, at the bar of the Thrice Holy, in the heavens.
In this sublime and twofold consciousness, we see him unexpectedly rising up from supper; and for what purpose? To appear in his dignity? To display the splendor of his divine glory? To constrain his disciples to bow the knee in the dust before him? One might imagine so; but no, he has something very different in view. Look, what means that? He lays aside his upper garments, takes a towel and girds himself with it; pours water into a basin, bends down to the feet of the disciples, and begins to wash them in their turn, and then to wipe them with the towel. What a spectacle! It is enough to make one start, and to hold one's breath with astonishment! Are we not ready to exclaim aloud, "Lord, Lord, what are you doing?" Think of the Holy One, who came down from heaven, thus engaged with sinners; the Majestic Being, whom angels adore, abasing himself to the occupation of a menial servant! No, we should never be able to make such an action agree with his high dignity, were we not acquainted with his wonderful and peculiar sentiments. He no longer knows his followers "after the flesh;" he sees in them those whom his Father has given him—those whom God so loved, that he gave his only-begotten Son for them—the objects of an eternal and paternal council of mercy—beings, who, notwithstanding the sin which still cleave to them, carry in their bosoms the work of the Holy Spirit, and in it the seed of God; and still more than all this does he behold in them. They are to him the spiritual bride, clothed with the sun; for they stand before him arrayed in the royal robe of his righteousness; and ravished at the wondrous brilliance of his own glory, which he beholds reflected in them, he lovingly inclines toward them, and washes their feet! O great and significant symbol! O powerful exposition of the words "I came not to be ministered unto, but to minister!" O important testimony to that which is of value in his kingdom, and to that which is not! O impressive condemnation of all selfishness and self-exaltation in the children of men! O deeply affecting commendation of humility and self-denial, as the characteristics of his children, and amiable and ennobling instance of that love, which ought to animate us! And how much more than all this is there not comprised in this act of our Lord's? It testifies of the sweetest, most glorious, and most exalted things in store for us, as will now be exposed to our view.
The disciples continue motionless and lost in mute astonishment. Are they embarrassed, affected, or ashamed? All these feelings are mingled in them into one. If anything of an inimical nature still rankled in their breasts against their Divine Master, every trace of it now disappears. Had any mistrust of him arisen within them, it is now wholly erased, and, as it were, washed away from their souls. Every discordant sound with them dissolves into harmony. And how are they now ashamed of ever having striven among themselves as to who should be the greatest! They could almost bury themselves in the earth for confusion and regret. How humbled do they feel and what tenderness and love pervade their hearts! With feelings of blissful astonishment, they suffer their Lord to act as he pleases with them.
The work of unheard-of condescension proceeds in silence, until the turn comes to Simon Peter. Here, as might be expected, resistance is offered and a stand is made. When the Master approaches him, his face flushes with a fiery excitement. He hastily draws back his feet, and, as on a former occasion, he exclaimed, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" so now he cries out in the violence of his feelings, and almost in a reproaching and accusing tone, "Lord, do You wash my feet?" As if he had said, "No; I can never permit that!" How entirely does this correspond with Simon's character! In one point of view, his refusal seems to have nothing culpable in it. He cannot comprehend how anything so unseemly should take place. The glory of the Lord and the worthlessness of the creature contrast too strongly. How deeply does Peter abase himself in this expression of his feelings, and how highly does he elevate his Lord and Master! "You, the Holy One," is the language of his heart—"I, a worm of the dust! It cannot be."
But however commendable may have been such a feeling in Simon's soul, it was nevertheless, in other respects, culpable and improper. He ought to have remembered his Master's own words: "I came not to be ministered unto, but to minister." It is his peculiar office to cleanse the polluted and to purify the unclean. What would have become of us had he not condescended to the depth of that depravity in which he found us? Simon thought it would be more befitting for him to wash his Master's feet. Yes, do not cease to wash them with penitential tears; but in other respects let him wash and cleanse you, otherwise how will you escape eternal perdition? But Simon does not understand his Lord, and has no idea of his error. Jesus, therefore, replies to him in the well-known words, "What I do, you know not now, but you shall know hereafter."
But will not this remark of our Lord's induce Simon to resign himself wholly to him? On the contrary, Simon thinks he ought to preserve his Master's dignity, and therefore exclaims, in a very decided tone, "You shall never wash my feet!" Simon, however, forgot that obedience is better than sacrifice. Even to this day, we hear it not infrequently said, "For the honor of Christ, I cannot believe that he receives sinners, as such, without anything further." O, my friends, if you wish to honor Jesus, do so by submitting to his word! He says, "I am come to seek and to save that which is lost." "No," you reply, "I cannot imagine that his Divine Majesty will trouble himself about the prayers of such a worm as I! O unreasonable zeal for the divine dignity! It is the will of God that we should glorify him in this very particular, that we believe him to be the hearer of prayer.
"You shall never wash my feet!" said the mistaken disciple. But listen to the Savior's reply, "If I wash you not, you have no part with me." What an important declaration is this! O that I could indelibly inscribe it on the hearts of my readers! You perceive how the more profound and mystic meaning of our Lord's act shines forth in these words—namely, as having reference to the blood of atonement, to forgiveness, justification, and purification from sin. You know how much lies concealed in this passage, and how every syllable has its profound signification. "If I wash you not." Yes, You, Lord Jesus, must do it; for who ever purified himself from sin? "If I do not wash you." Yes, You must wash us; for teaching, instructing, and setting us an example, is not sufficient. "If I wash you not." Certainly, what does it avail me, if Peter or Paul is cleansed, and I remain defiled? I must be forgiven, and feel that I am absolved; and it remains eternally true, that he who is not washed in the blood of Christ, has no part with him, nor in the blessings of his kingdom.
It may easily be supposed that our Lord's words excited in Simon a degree of astonishment he had never before experienced; and the idea of having no part with Jesus, the supreme God, humbles him unspeakably. Resigning himself, therefore, without reserve, while guessing the profounder meaning of his Master's expression, he says, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head,"—that is, the whole man. When Jesus makes it appear that he is about to depart from us, it then becomes evident how closely and deeply we are connected with him, though for a time he may have been forgotten by us in the bustle of daily life. When it would seem that he is willing to leave us to walk again in our own ways, it becomes manifest how valueless is all beside compared with him. The anxious doubt, whether we have any feeling for him, disappears and the "bond of perfectness," which inseparably binds us to him in our inmost being, is again brought to light, and we feel, with renewed vitality and force, how suddenly the curse, death, hell, and Satan, would again break in upon us, were we no longer permitted to trust and hope in him. And how delightful it is, in the way of experience, thus to become again conscious of our connection with Jesus! How beneficial also may this be to us, when the feeling subsides, and the danger of mistaking our path again presents itself? Experience of this kind then gives "songs in the night," and encourages us in a time of darkness, even as King David was cheered by the remembrance of his former hymns of praise.
"Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head." Excellent, but again not altogether correct. Simon now oversteps the line to the right, as he had before transgressed to the left. He had previously rejected that which was indispensable; he now requires what is superfluous. He does not yet comprehend the whole of the matter clearly; and probably the following words of our Lord belonged also to those, the full meaning of which became evident to him only in the sequel; "He who is washed need not save to wash his feet, and is clean every whit, and you are clean, but not all." It is clear that the last words have reference to the traitor. But what is the meaning of this mysterious speech? I believe it to be as follows: he is washed, who, as a poor sinner, enters by faith into fellowship with Jesus. Such a one is then purified from sin, in consequence of being justified by grace. The blood of the Lamb was shed for him. The payment of all his debts was made. He is clean in the sight of God, for the merits of the Surety are imputed to him, and he continues to be thus regarded; for "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." He ought daily and hourly to rejoice in this his purified state. Peter, in his second Epistle, admonishes us not to forget that we are "cleansed from our old sins." But the individual is also pure as regards his sanctification; since, in consequence of being born again of water and the Spirit, he has forever renounced all that is sinful, and by reason of his new nature, though still assaulted and tempted in various ways by the flesh, he desires that the will of God may be accomplished in him, and that whatever he does may be well-pleasing in his sight.
But what is accustomed to happen in the progress of the life of faith? Unguarded moments occur, in which the man again sins in one way or other. He incautiously thinks, speaks, or does that which is improper, and is again guilty of unfaithfulness, although against his will; for only the devil and his seed sin willfully; while he who is born of God, says the apostle, cannot sin. The man's walk is polluted; his feet, with which he comes in contact with the earth, are defiled. What is now to be done? Two by-paths present themselves, and not infrequently one of them is taken. The individual either gives himself up to an excessive feeling of his guilt; openly cries out, "Unclean, unclean!" like one who is excluded from the fellowship of the pure; regards himself as fallen from grace; considers the bond of union with the Lord as rent asunder, and cries out with Peter, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" Or else the man takes his transgressions too easily; persuades himself that the faults he has committed are of no importance; soothes his conscience with the rash and vain idea that the iniquity belongs to the multitude of sins which have been atoned for and annihilated by the blood of Christ, and thus unconcernedly proceeds on his way.
In each of these cases there is a deviation, the one to the right, and the other to the left of the line of truth. In the former, the man gives way unnecessarily to an excessive idea of the fault he has committed, and ascribes to it an influence over his entire state of grace, which according to the word of God it does not exercise. The individual transgressions which a Christian may be induced to commit, are by no means to be compared to an apostasy from Christ. In the single advantages which the flesh gains over the spirit, the regeneration which has been experienced is no more lost than divine grace is withdrawn, or its superintendence and protection discontinued because of the transgression. In the other case, the sin committed is too lightly esteemed; and by an arbitrary act of the understanding, the man forgives himself, instead of letting himself be forgiven. But the little faults, as they are termed, are not thereby rendered less; and so far from being erased from the conscience, in consequence of our persuading ourselves that they belong to the multitude of those for which the atoning blood was shed, they remain in it, on the contrary, as a secret evil which gnaws the peace of our hearts like a cancer, and gradually robs us of filial boldness in our approaches to the throne of grace.
What, then, ought to be our conduct, according to the Scriptures, in situations like the foregoing? First, beware of despondency, by which we only prepare a feast for Satan. Next, withdraw not from the presence of the Lord, as if his heart were closed against us. Thirdly, do not think that it is necessary to make a fresh beginning of a religious life. The seed of the new birth remains within us; and the child of the family of God is not suddenly turned out of doors, like a servant or a stranger. "He who is washed," says our Lord, "is clean every whit; and you are clean, but not all." Who does not now understand this speech? Its meaning is, he who is become a partaker of the blood of sprinkling and of the baptism of the Spirit—that is, of the twofold grace of absolution from the guilt of sin, and of regeneration to newness of life,—is, as regards the inmost germ of his being, a thoroughly new man, who has eternally renounced sin, and whose inmost love, desire, and intention is directed to God and things divine. When such a one, from weakness, is overtaken by a fault, he has no need of an entirely new transformation, but only of a cleansing. He must let his feet be washed. Let this be duly considered by those who are in a state of grace, and let them resist the infernal accuser, lest he gain an advantage over them by his boundless accusations. Hold up the blood of the Lamb as a shield against him, and do not suffer your courage and confidence to be shaken.
The other danger which menaces us here, must be equally cautiously avoided; and we must beware of cloaking or underestimating any new act of unfaithfulness we may have committed. No fault is too trifling or inconsiderable. We must suffer the judge in our breasts to perform his office without hindrance, and not refuse to listen to his convictions. We must draw near to God as grieved, but not as despairing children, and sincerely confess our faults. Let our language be, "O Lord, my God, I have sinned against You afresh, and am grieved at it. I judge and condemn myself; but Your mercy is great, and therein do I trust. Sprinkle my conscience with the blood of atonement, and enable me, by faith, to appropriate, for this my fault, the suffering You have endured for me!" Let the humbled and contrite heart pray thus, and the Lord will graciously incline to it, and impart forgiveness to the soul by his Holy Spirit, and the peace of the heart with the consciousness of adoption will then remain undisturbed in the blood of the Lamb. And O, how do we feel ourselves again united to the Lord, and strengthened anew to fight against Satan, the world, and our own flesh and blood; and how does the joyful confidence bloom afresh in our minds, that we really possess a Savior, after such a renewed experience of his faithfulness! Then we arrive again at Penuel, and exultingly say with Jacob, "I have seen the Lord face to face, and my life is preserved;" and join, with deep emotion, in the words of David, "Return unto your rest, O my soul! for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you!"
This, my dear readers, is letting our feet be washed, in the sense intended by our Lord; and you will observe how blissful, refreshing, and reviving is the act. And in the eyes of him who is possessed of true simplicity, this daily renewed repentance, and the fresh experience of salvation which attends it, is nothing legal, but the real Gospel, and an exercise which is unspeakably sweet. The inward man is thus renewed day by day, and experiences a continued restoration. The flowers of joy and devotedness to God incessantly spring up in the heart, and it is always spring time within. There are many Christians who know of no other nourishment for their inward life than the moldy bread of long past experience. But no true peace results from this. Inward religion does not consist in a life of morbidity, arising from the recollection of having once received the forgiveness of sins. Where a real spiritual life exists, there is also constant activity, unceasing striving against sin, repeated humiliation before God, and renewed experience of his favor. Were it otherwise, why should the Lord put into his children's lips the daily petition, "Forgive us our trespasses!" He who is washed need not be again entirely washed, but only his feet, and that continually.
The inmost meaning of the scene under consideration has thus been unfolded before us. It belongs to the method of salvation, and as regards its whole extent, was certainly apprehended only in the sequel by the understandings of the disciples. That which they doubtless understood better, and at the time, was the exterior of the act, and the example it afforded. To this our Lord's closing explanation is limited, to which we have now in conclusion, to direct our attention.
After the Lord had resumed his upper garments, and re-seated himself at the table with his disciples, he again opens his gracious mouth and says to them, "Know you what I have done to you?" By this question he refers once more to the profounder meaning of his action, which he had brought sufficiently near to the comprehension of his disciples by the remark, "now are you clean, but not all." At these words every doubt must have vanished as to the spiritual cleansing here alluded to. But the Lord prepared the way by them to what followed: "You call me Master and Lord, continues he, and adds, in majestic self-consciousness, "You say well, for so I am." He then says further, "If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet: you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his Lord, neither he who is sent, greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them."
In these words, that part of Christ's act which is intended as an example, is set before us. The original word, translated in our version "example," includes in it the twofold idea of symbol as well as example, and therefore points out to us a deeper meaning than appears on the surface. It will be known to you that many have supposed our Lord here intended to institute an outward ecclesiastical solemnity for his Church. But there is not the slightest foundation for such an idea; nor is the Lord to blame that the washing enjoined by him, has in some places degenerated into the mere formality of an outward act. In it he recommended no empty ceremonial, much less a cloak for hierarchical pride, to which those make it subservient, of whom it has been justly observed, that "it would be more to be wondered at, if, in genuine humility, they washed the feet of one king, than their washing the feet of a thousand poor people in the manner in which it is now performed."
The Lord, by this act, commended to his disciples that brotherly love which flows from his own heart into ours, which manifests itself in real self-denial, and willingly condescends to the most menial offices. We ought also to wash one anther's feet, even in a literal sense, when necessity and circumstances require it. We ought not to imagine ourselves too high and lofty for any kind of assistance, however apparently degrading, since Christ has left us such a brilliant example in this respect. Acts of love never degrade, however menial they may be. They did not degrade the Lord of Glory; how, then, should they degrade us his unworthy servants?
But it is chiefly in a spiritual sense that we ought to follow the example of our Lord. We are naturally much inclined to accuse each other of faults, and we judge and grieve each other by our severity. But the Lord recommends a washing of the feet, which arises from the charitable intention of cleansing and divesting our brother of some besetting sin. This cannot indeed be done without mentioning the particular offense; but there is a great difference where humility, which never judges others without first judging itself, shows another his sins, and mercy, which never grieves, but only seeks to heal, discovers infirmities, when contrasted with the self-righteous loftiness and fault-finding Pharisaism, which holds up to the poor sinner the catalogue of his transgressions. He who washes a brother's feet in the sense intended by our Lord, places himself on the same footing with him as a sinner; enters compassionately into his fault; reveals it to him with forbearance and sincere frankness; melts his heart, by gently reminding him of the riches of divine goodness, which he has repaid with ingratitude; and after having thus washed his feet, while inciting him to repentance, he does not forget to wipe them also, by unveiling the throne of grace, depicting to his view the cross of Calvary, announcing to him the mercy of him who has received gifts, even for the rebellious, and by dropping into his wounds the balm of the Gospel.
Certainly we never wash each other's feet in this manner until we know what the Lord has done for us in particular. The mystery of his cross must first have been revealed to us in the light of the Holy Spirit before we are able thus to wash one another's feet. We must first have experienced that in the substantial antitype, which Simon Peter experienced in the type. Christ himself must first wash us before we can wash the feet of any in the manner intended by him. Let the words, then, ever sound in our ears: "If I wash you not, you have no part with me." May they expel all false security from our souls; give us no rest day or night until they cast us down at his footstool, and if he has not yet cleansed us, call forth from our bosoms the words of Peter: "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!"
The passover is just being celebrated—the most important glorious, and joyful of the festivals of Israel; the birthday-feast of the chosen people—that festival which has been kept for fifteen hundred years, and annually greeted with fresh delight; upholding, by its mere occurrence, the historical truth of the wonderful deliverance of Abraham's seed from the sword of the destroying angel, by the sprinkled blood of lambs. As the festive memorial of this great event, it continually called for renewed thanksgiving and humiliation before the Father of Mercies. With the necessity for spiritual deliverance, it equally revived the hope of redemption by the blood of the promised Prince of Peace, of which the deliverance experienced in Egypt was a mere type.
Let us then cast a transient look at the typical feast itself. The angel of divine justice had been sent from the throne of the Eternal Majesty to smite all the first-born in Egypt, and to sweep them away from the face of the earth. To the seed of Abraham, however, a means of deliverance was given, and you know wherein it consisted. Each head of a family was ordered to take a male lamb out of his flock, kill it, sprinkle its blood on his door-posts, and then quietly and confidently remain in his dwelling. "And the blood," said the Lord, "shall be to you for a token upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt"—Exod. 12:13. And it was done as the Lord commanded.
Who does not perceive in this divine ordinance the symbolic announcement of the eternal redemption projected for sinners in the counsels of God? Who still doubts that the Lamb, on which the deliverance depended, signified Christ, the only Savior—that the slaying of the lamb had reference to Christ's atoning sufferings and death for sinners—that the sprinkling of the door-posts with the blood of the victims, foreshadowed to the believing sinner, the divine imputation of the merits of the great Surety, and that the security of the Israelites who, in child-like simplicity obeyed the divine command, reflected the perfect forgiveness which the Eternal Father would gratuitously grant to all who should humbly submit to his method of salvation, by repentance and faith in the atoning blood of the Lamb of God?
"This great symbolical announcement of salvation was handed down through successive ages; and the wondrous deliverance in Egypt was annually brought to the recollection of the people in a lively manner, by the Feast of the Passover. They then beheld the lambs—those significant types of the expected Lamb of God—led to the slaughter, and at the sight of their streaming blood, the thanksgivings of the people were renewed for the deliverance wrought for their forefathers in Egypt, as well as the joyful hope of that spiritual deliverance for which they waited. In this hope they encouraged themselves, and exclaimed, with increasing confidence, "He who shall bear our sins, will come without fail, so we have here the seal and pledge of the faithful and true God." And while consuming the paschal lamb in the social family circle, after the observance of the sacrificial rites, they rejoiced to find another divine idea in this unpretending outward act, namely, that a faithful appropriation and reception of that which God would impart to sinners in the blood of Christ should form the only condition attached to a participation in the boundless treasures of grace and eternal salvation.
My readers, we have now arrived at the moment in which Christ connected the institution of his sacred Supper with the Passover. The word "connected," however, does not sufficiently convey our meaning. We designate the matter more correctly when we say that Christ has exalted the Mosaic festival of the Passover or deliverance, by changing it into his Sacrament. It is erroneous to suppose that the Old Testament is abrogated or put aside by the New. For in reality, not the minutest part of the Mosaic rites and ceremonies is abrogated; on the contrary, the whole is exalted from the state of type and shadow to that which is real and substantial. This is the meaning of that saying of Christ's—"Do not think that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, until heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law until all be fulfilled."—Matt. 5:17, 18. Even as the blossom on the tree is not annihilated, but, fading, passes over into the fruit, and experiences in the latter a more substantial life, so all the types and shadows of the Old Testament were divinely ordained to be realized in the New. The Old Testament figure of the priesthood, for instance, received its fulfillment in Christ, as well as the atoning sacrifices of the tabernacle and temple, which were types of his sufferings and death; while the whole of the Levitical ritual, with reference to purging, washing, and purifying, formed its substantial antitype in the spiritual purification by the word, blood, and Spirit of Christ.
This is a remarkable fact, and ought greatly to strengthen our faith. The whole of Christ's work of redemption thus appears in all its parts only as the vital fulfillment and realization of a cycle of types and figures, presented for upward of a thousand years, to the eyes of the people of Israel and of the whole world. Can this be mere chance, or only the contrivance of human forethought and calculation? Impossible! Here we see the overruling hand of the living and true God. Here is his plan, his work, his performance. He who doubts of this, doubts of the existence of the sun at noon-day. It is only in nature that we meet with God under a veil, while in the connection of his revelation, all veils and coverings are removed. Only seclude yourselves, for a time, for the purpose of biblical study, and send up repeated and heartfelt aspirations for divine enlightenment, and you will unceasingly observe infallible traces of Jehovah, and there will be no end to the discoveries you will make of all that is wonderful and glorious.
Now, as the deliverance in Egypt found in Christ's atoning sacrifice its fulfilled and substantial antitype, so likewise did the divinely-ordained Passover in the Lord's Supper. Come, therefore, and see! The table at Jerusalem is prepared; and all that the feast requires is served up. The mysterious act of the washing the disciples' feet has just been concluded, the bread may now be broken and the food enjoyed. The disciples are deeply affected. The Master, who was made like unto his brethren in all things, sin excepted, and in whose bosom beat a human heart, which deeply sympathized with the poor children of Adam, is so no less. He sees before him the paschal lamb, and in it the type of himself: He is "the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world," even as he had caused himself to be announced by his forerunner, John, at the commencement of his course. As a fresh testimony that he was so, he had made his entry into the Holy City on the same day on which the paschal lambs were accustomed to be brought in for the slaughter.
After they had again sat down at the festive board, Jesus begins, in tones of heartfelt tenderness, to say to his disciples, "With desire have I desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer." O, observe what a glimpse he here gives us into the sanctuary of his inmost soul! He has heartily desired to keep this feast with them. But for what reason? It doubtless appeared sweet and pleasant to him to pass the last hours of a life devoted to the service of others, in the peaceful circle of those who harmonized with him, and who were the germinating seed of his Church, away from the discordant sounds of unbelief and the noise of an opposing world. It must also have been consolatory to him to celebrate the close of his career in the bosom of affection, and in the society of his confidential followers, and then take his leave of them in an undisturbed and peaceful manner. But do not suppose that, in what has preceded, you have exhausted the causes of his desire. Beware, especially, of ascribing to the Lord, anything of that sickly nature, which is usually termed sentimentality. As in him all was sound, and full of pith and energy, so he was also a perfect stranger to our morbid sensibility, and our selfish pleasure in effeminate and visionary sensations. That which caused him to long so ardently for this Passover was, doubtless, love; not, however, a love that seeks enjoyment, but which burns to do good, to beatify, and bless.
Our Savior's desire to partake of this last Passover doubtless arose chiefly from his heartfelt longing for the coming of that hour in which he should be able to make an end of our state of condemnation, and nail to the cross the handwriting that was against us. He also cordially rejoiced in anticipation of this peaceful evening, as the point of time when he should be permitted, in his intended and mysterious institution, to make his will, so to speak, in favor of his beloved followers, and with the consent of his heavenly Father, to bequeath to them the fruits of his atoning life, sufferings, and death. In a word, it was for the sake of the Sacrament, to be then instituted, that he longed so ardently and earnestly for the approach of this his last Passover feast. Long had this institution of his love presented itself, as an attractive memorial, to his mind. Hence you may judge of the importance which ought to be attached to this sacred ordinance. An act which had simply reference to the establishment of a returning friendly festive memorial, would never have been to the Son of God the object of such a profound, ardent, and long-cherished desire. The words, "With desire have I desired," are of themselves sufficient to refute not merely the rationalistic, but also the otherwise so estimable Zurich Reformer's view of the Lord's Supper. They impress upon the sacred feast the stamp of a divine mystery—of a sacrament. O, my Lord and Savior, thus ardently did Your heart tong for the moment when You could bequeath this legacy of Your loving-kindness to us sinners! Even the horrifying night of death, which was so soon to close around You, did not hinder You from thoughts of such compassion! O, how have You loved us to the end! And yet who loves You in return, and thanks You as he ought for the rich inheritance bestowed upon us, or duly estimates this gift of Your grace! O Lord, how are we degenerated, sunk, and lost! Have pity upon us, O Jesus, and create us anew, according to Your promise!
With the expression of heartfelt desire our Lord connects one of a prophetic nature, and soon after adds another of a similar character: "For I tell you," says he, "that I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God." As if he had said, "We are about to part; our connection with each other will be henceforth of a different kind. But we shall see each other again, and once more sit at meat together." We ask inquisitively and anxiously, When? and, further, inquire what it is that now presents itself to the mind of our Lord, and elevates him above the pain of parting? The eye of his spirit looks into the distant future. He says, "I will not any more eat thereof until it be fulfilled (the passover) in the kingdom of God." The Lord knows what he is saying, and rejoicing in spirit, sees what he refers to clearly and distinctly before him. We only perceive something of it in the dawning distance; but even this is sufficient to cast a reflection of the Savior's joy into our hearts.
The Passover of the Old Testament, after its transformation into the Lord's Supper, has not yet experienced its final fulfillment. It points prophetically to something further, and even greater and more glorious. A feast of the reconciled and redeemed is yet forthcoming, with which our present Communion stands in proportion only like the copy to the original, or like the foretaste to the full enjoyment. When this feast shall be celebrated, Faith will have become Sight, that which is in part have become that which is perfect, and strife and conflict have terminated in enduring triumph. The high festival, which shall nevermore be interrupted, will be held at the moment when the kingdom of God shall be accomplished and completed, and with the renewal of Nature. Something new will then take the place of our present Communion. Ask me not wherein it will consist. It is certain, however, that our Lord, in the words, "I will not any more eat this passover with you, until it be fulfilled," does not merely intend to say, "until we shall rejoice together in the perfect glory of my kingdom, with all the redeemed." We are not entitled thus generally to explain his language. The mode of expression he makes use of, does not even admit of this reference to something indefinitely spiritual; and the addition, which the Lord afterward makes, is quite at variance with it.
It belonged to the ritual of the Passover, that in it, four cups should be handed round, having reference to the four promises in the divine announcement of the miraculous deliverance in Egypt, viz.: "I, Jehovah, will bring you out, deliver, redeem, and take you to be my people, and will be your God." After presenting one of these cups, during the social meal at Jerusalem, probably the first of the four, which must not be confounded with the cup after supper, mentioned in Luke 22:20, the Lord thus expresses himself, "I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the day when I shall drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."
What does this mysterious sentence mean? Does he only mean to say, "I will drink no more passover wine, but will eventually enjoy that heavenly felicity with you which is signified by the wine, in fall measure, in the Church triumphant?" The Lord could not possibly have intended that we should thus generalize and subsidize the meaning of his very striking language, so solemnly introduced with the words, "I say unto you." But in Christ's perfected kingdom on earth there will be something similar to our communion prepared for us, at which, perhaps, as from the tree of life in Paradise, we shall again eat and where we shall again drink as from the fountains of Eden. Our Lord really seems to hint at something of this nature, although the kind of eating and drinking, for which the glorified creation will furnish the elements, may, for the present, remain a mystery to us.
Suffice it to say that the Savior here undoubtedly points out the passover of the New Covenant—in which he elevates and transforms that which was typical in the Old—as the prelude of a great and festal jubilee, which awaits his believing followers in the future of the kingdom of God. That which exalts the sacrament of the Lord's Supper to such a prelude will appear in the sequel of our meditations. O that it may be manifested as such to the experience of all who approach it, and cause them to exclaim with delight "This is none other than the house of God, this is the gate of heaven!" This would assuredly be the case, if they only came duly hungering, thirsting, and filially believing. A single participation of the sacred ordinance would then teach them more of its true nature and object than a hundred theological discourses. They would then leave the holy place inwardly rejoicing in the language of the Psalmist, "You prepare a table for me in the presence of mine enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup runs over!"
The Institution of the Lord's Supper
The Passover has been kept, according to Israelitish usage, the paschal lamb has been consumed by the guests with feelings of deep emotion, and the festive cup has been several times sent round as was customary. The moment had now arrived when after singing the great of "Hallel," or psalm of praise, the meal should be concluded, and the signal given to the guests to rise up and depart. Instead of this, what occurs? The Master, to whom all eyes were directed, rises from his seat—not, as is soon perceived, to leave the room, but—to commence a new and still more solemn act than that of eating the passover. In the capacity of the head of the family, he again takes the bread, breaks it, and after giving thanks, distributes it to his disciples; and you know the words with which he accompanied this act. He then likewise reaches them the cup, commands them all to drink of it, and what he said at the time you also know. Heaven alone can satisfactorily explain to us why the Evangelists have not transmitted to us the words of institution used by the Savior, in perfect coincidence with each other as to their form and manner.
"But," you say, "have they not done so?" No, my friends. In Matthew and Mark, the Lord, in breaking the bread, says, "Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." According to Paul (1 Cor. 11:24), He used the expression, "broken for you," instead of "given for you." In Matthew, he says, on presenting the cup, "Drink you all of it; for this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." In Mark, both the words, "Drink you all of it," as well as "for the remission of sins," are wanting. In Luke, we find the Lord saying, "This cup is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you." Paul expresses it in like manner, but describes the Lord as adding, "This do you, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
Here are, therefore, manifest differences, although anything but opposition and contradiction. Now how are these variations in the four narratives to be explained? A variety of suppositions, as you may imagine, have been suggested during eighteen centuries. But I must protest, on the outset, against the idea, unaccountably entertained by many pious people, that one or other of the Evangelists had made a mistake, and was unable minutely to remember the precise words used by the Lord Jesus. The apostles, in compiling their sacred records, were preserved from every error. For their Lord and Master had expressly promised them that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, should lead them into all truth, and bring all things to their remembrance that he had spoken to them. And can we, for a moment, suppose that this Spirit should have been deficient in his office in such an important matter as the institution of this sacrament, and not rather have attended to it with the greatest exactness? Let whoever will believe it, I never can.
But perhaps you say, "How will you be able to make the deviations which really exist agree?" My readers, I do not for a moment doubt that the Lord uttered all the words which are recorded, and that the four witnesses only enlarge each other's description of what occurred; and it is my conviction, that on distributing the bread and presenting the cup he several times uttered the words of institution, and repeated them, first in one form and then in another.
Certainly, it is not a matter of indifference to be able to place our foot on firm ground in this matter, and with perfect confidence to say, "These are the original words of institution used by our Lord, in their authentic and proper connection. This is their essential and real meaning; this the sacred formula which is to continue in use forever, according to the will of our Lord himself, and to be always uttered at the celebration of his supper." But in order to provide for the real requirements of his Church on earth, the Lord was subsequently pleased to give his apostle Paul, by express revelation, an unambiguous disclosure respecting the formula of the institution of his sacred ordinance. Hear what the Apostle says,—1 Cor 11:23-25: "For I have received of the Lord, that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, on the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread," etc. The substance of the words of the institution is consequently expressed as to the bread, in the formula, "This is my body which is broken for you; this do in remembrance of me;" as to the cup, in the words, "This cup is the new testament in my blood; this do you, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
So much with regard to the formula of the institution. Let us now cast a look at the actions with which our Lord accompanied the words:—We read, first, that "the Lord took bread." Observe, he took bread, and not the flesh of the paschal lamb. This he did that he might not countenance, in any way, such crude and gross ideas of the sacrament as those expressed by the Jews at Capernaum (John 6.), and that he might, beforehand meet the error, as if there were still room in the New Testament for the sacrifices of the Old. The bread which he took was the unleavened passover cake, which, however, was not subsequently used; for the first Christians, with the apostles at their head, at their communion, which they were accustomed almost daily to celebrate at the close of their love-feasts, made use of the customary bread; that is, of such as was used at table, and therefore leavened.
"The Lord took bread"—this most indispensable of all the means of nourishment and sustenance, the product of the most valuable of earth's fruits, which presents, at the same time, such an extremely striking image of him without whom we have no spiritual life. But you ask, "Is the bread only an emblem, a figure?" I inquire, in reply, whether you wish to dispute the position, that we must regard the elements of the sacred ordinance, in the first instance, as signs, symbols, and figures? If so, you must overlook the Lord's words in John, 6:51, "I am the living bread, which came down from heaven, and give life unto the world;" as well as many other of his expressions of a similar kind. The divine "corn of wheat," which, that it might not remain alone, but bring forth much fruit, fell into the ground, and, by the heat of Gethsemane, and the fire of the cross, was prepared to become the spiritual food of poor sinners, is reflected, like the sun in the dew-drop, in the sacramental bread, and by the latter is exhibited to our view.
After the Lord had taken the bread, he lifted up his eyes toward heaven, and "gave thanks"—that is, he poured out his heart in praise and thanksgiving to his heavenly Father. For what did he render thanks? O my friends, for what else than for the decision of divine mercy, to save such poor sinners as we, which he saw in spirit, as already accomplished in his blood, and for the deliverance of the children of Adam from the curse of the law, the power of Satan, and the gulf of perdition. It was they who lay continually upon his heart; to whose restoration all his cares and anxieties were directed, and whose exaltation and beatification was the object of his highest interest and sweetest hope. He gave thanks. O, with what adoring delight will the holy angels have caught this costly incense in their golden censers, and, have borne it up to God! He gave thanks. We ought also to give thanks. But it is well for us, that in this, as in everything else, he intercedes for us, and covers our guilt with his obedience, and our deficiencies with his fullness.
However he did not merely give thanks, but, according to Matthew's expression, he also blessed. It is true the word used by this Evangelist signifies both thanking and praising, like the word used by Luke and Paul, nor would any greater stress require to be laid upon it, as including the idea of blessing, if Paul, in employing the same word in 1 Cor. 11:16, had not called the cup, "the blessed," or "the cup of blessing." The Savior, however, pronounced his benediction, not only upon the cup, but also upon the bread. And wherefore! Was it in order to separate the elements from a common and profane use to one that was higher, spiritual, and holy? Doubtless, he had this also in view. But where Jesus, the High Priest, blesses, we ought to think of something more substantial than a mere designation and setting apart of the kind above-mentioned. We ought to expect that influence is then exerted, and reality produced. And O, what superabundant richness and fullness of blessing have rested on the bread and wine of the communion from the benediction, which our Lord pronounced upon them! Since that festal evening, how many thousands have received heavenly refreshment, invigoration, and encouragement by their means! How many a wounded heart, in the course of eighteen centuries, has been healed, how many fainting spirits revived, and the passage through the dark and mortal valley illumined, alleviated, and sweetened! and how innumerable are those who, until the end of time, will joyfully experience all this! Such is the blessing of the Prince of Peace, which extends even to the bliss of the eternal hills.
After our Lord had given thanks and blessed, he "broke" the bread. Nor is this without a deeper meaning, as he himself declares immediately afterward, in the words, "This is my body, which is broken for you." Hence the whole of the apostolic statements of the institution of this sacred ordinance do not fail to record this breaking of the bread. Jesus broke it as symbolic of that which should soon occur to his own body, by which he should become our atoning sacrifice and the bread of life. In the breaking of the bread he depicted his own death to the eyes of the disciples; and the sublime and admirable tranquillity with which he did so, again testifies of the infinite love to sinners which pervaded his heart.
Our Lord presented the bread, thus broken, to his disciples, and it is here that we see him in his proper office and favorite vocation. Giving, presenting, and communicating, is his delight. As then, so now, his hand is stretched out in his feast of love, although at present concealed in the hand of his human messenger and minister. We, his servants, retire, as regards ourselves, entirely into the background, while administering the communion. We are then nothing but his instruments. He himself is always the dispenser and giver. Hence his words alone are heard at the sacred feast; and none else, however beautiful and believing they may sound, are permitted to be used.
At the consecration of the cup, the same formula was repeated as at the consecration of the bread. After renewed thanksgiving and blessing, our Lord presented it to his disciples, and invited them all to drink of it. He calls the wine his blood, even as he designated the bread his body; and, both elements united, indicate and represent the whole Christ, inasmuch as he gave his life, which is "in the blood," unto death, as an atoning sacrifice for us.
That the Lord did not select water but wine, for the symbol of his shed blood, was done from the wisest motive; and only enlarges and diversifies the meaning of the selected symbol. Christ is the real vine, and we possess divine life, only in so far as we, like the branches, grow through him, and are pervaded by his influence. Besides, the wine reminds us of the wine-press of torture and agony, in which the Son of God was capacitated to become our Savior and Mediator, and signifies the fullness of heavenly encouragement, joy, and delight, which Christ imparts, as an addition and superabundance to his believing people; while the bread represents more what is necessary and indispensable for the deliverance and blessedness, which they possess in his redemption and mediation.
What an incomparable legacy, therefore, has the Lord left us in his sacred Supper! What a fullness of heavenly blessings and mercies has he showered down upon us in this unpretending institution! Let us therefore highly estimate this precious bestowment. Let us often avail ourselves of it by repeated and devout approaches to the sacred table for the sanctification and glorification of our inner man. Only, let us be careful to appear in true communion attire—in child-like simplicity and godly poverty of spirit; and on our return from the holy place, we shall feel ourselves constrained to render heartfelt and joyful thanks unto him, who has bought us with his blood, and be more than ever resolved to live and die to his praise.
"Lord, Is It I?"
We return to the chamber in which our Lord and his disciples had assembled to eat the passover, and previous to the institution of the sacred ordinance of which we have been treating. We find the disciples in a state of great excitement, in consequence of the unexpected announcement, which had fallen from the lips of their beloved Master, that one of them should betray him.
The Lord had revealed to them a painfully affecting secret. He had told them that among them was an unhappy mortal, who would have no part in the kingdom of God, and would never see life. The blood of the Lamb would not cleanse him from sin, nor the righteousness of the Mediator cover him; on the contrary, he would continue what he was, a child of the devil, with regard to whom it would have been better had he never been born. This reprobate would spurn from him the only ground of salvation, betray the Lord of Glory, and thus become irrecoverably the subject of death and the curse, and hasten to plunge himself into eternal perdition. It was this which Jesus revealed to them; and how do they receive it? Do they say, "Talk as you please, the consequences will not be so fatal. Eternal perdition? there is no one who need apprehend anything of the kind, since God is love." No, they do not think thus. The idea which pervades their inmost souls and retains the upper hand is this: "He, who at one glance surveys heaven and earth, the present and the future, and in whose mouth no deceit was ever found, affirms it;" and hence it is that this expression causes them such anxiety and alarm.
The Lord has also revealed something of a similar kind to us. We likewise hear from his lips, that in all ages, though many are called, yet only few are chosen and find the path to life; while, on the contrary, many, who had likewise better never have been born, walk the road that leads to destruction, and thus become meet for hell. There is therefore no want of such pitiable characters in the present day; for he asserts it who cannot lie.
The peace of the disciples is at an end, after this appalling disclosure. They cannot leave the matter thus; they must ascertain who is intended; and they do not seek the culprit at a distance, but among themselves.
Observe here, that it is no infallible sign that we are not ourselves the sons of perdition, because people regard us as the children of God, and because our external deportment seems to justify their opinion. For among those who are respected, and reputed as blameless characters, among churchmen and those who are apparently devout, no, even among those who frequent the Lord's Table, may be found such as are rushing onward to destruction. In congregations where the Gospel is preached, Satan entraps individuals in the snare of religious self-deception, as well as in the pits of infidelity and ungodliness. Among those to whom the dreadful words will be addressed, "I never knew you," not a few will be found, who, with good reason, are able to say, "Lord, have we not eaten and drunk in your presence? have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name done many wonderful works?" The disciples were aware of this; and hence, on the Lord's informing them, that there was one among them, who was accursed, they were by no means satisfied with being merely in their Master's immediate vicinity. Let us follow their example in this respect, and not seek at a distance those who shall eventually perish. Let us commence the inquiry within our own walls, and not exclude ourselves from those whom we regard as being possibly the deplorable people in question. On the contrary, let each, first, examine himself. It is not only those who openly revolt, and swear allegiance to the enemies of God and his Anointed, who are hastening to perdition, but there are also others, with the Bible in their hands, and the name of Jesus on their lips, who finally perish.
In order that their investigation may not prove fruitless, the disciples resort to the light—the brightest and most penetrating in the world,—which never deceives nor shines with a delusive radiance. It is to Jesus they refer—to him who tries the heart and the thoughts, and fathoms every depth. "Lord," they ask, one after the other, deeply concerned and grieved, "Is it I? Is it I?" And O, how affecting is this trait, how pleasing and worthy of imitation!
David drew near to this light when he prayed, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me." Those who try themselves by any other light, only deceive themselves like the Pharisees of old, who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. O, you all-penetrating light of God, may each one turn to you, that you may aid him in discovering the man of sin, the son of perdition! How soon would he then be tracked, even into his most secret recesses; and how much nearer would he be found to be, to the surprise of the seeker, than the latter could have believed!
Let us now inquire into the result of the investigation, and in so doing, we arrive at the most important and pleasing part of the subject. The son of perdition is discovered. Each of them brings him bound to the Lord, and delivers him up to his judgment. "Each of them?" you ask with surprise. Yes: with one exception, all of them have found the sinner in their own persons. Hear the anxious inquiry which they address to their Master, "Lord, is it I?" and observe the downcast look and tearful eye with which they accompany it. What do they mean by this? They each intend to say—"Lord, I feel my heart so corrupt that I am capable of committing any evil, and when the wind of temptation blows in that direction, it were even possible for me to betray you as you have said; unguarded, and left to myself, I cannot depend upon myself in any respect. Alas, I feel that I am sold under sin, and with my best resolutions, I find I am only like a reed, shaken by the wind."
Such, we may suppose, were the feelings of the disciples. But while they thus judge and condemn themselves, a gracious look from their beloved Master assures them of their mistake; and this is immediately confirmed to them, still more intelligibly, by his declaration that it was not one of the Eleven, but that he who dipped his hand with him in the dish, was the man that should betray him.
Let us now attend to the important lesson to be derived from this striking scene. They who really perish in the world—the children of wrath—are those who either do not acknowledge themselves to be sinners in the sight of God, or who, when conscious that they have the son of perdition within them, neither judge themselves nor deliver him over to the Lord to execute judgment upon him, but only seek how they may rescue him and disguise him, like Judas among the Twelve, with his hypocritical imitation of innocence and sincerity, while exclaiming with the rest, "Master, is it I?" All those, however, who have discovered in themselves the sinner, who is capable of all evil, and in holy indignation bring him bound before the Holy One of God, and honor the sentence of condemnation pronounced upon him by the Supreme Judge as just and righteous, and imploringly entreat that he may be destroyed by the lightning of the Holy Spirit, and a new man, a man of God, may be produced within them in his stead—such characters we pronounce blessed; for from the moment of this self-condemnation, they are marked out as individuals against whom the judicial sentence of the supreme tribunal is withdrawn, and who have no need to tremble at any accusation either of Moses or Satan "If we judge ourselves," says the word of God, "we shall not be judged;" and in another place, "Those who humble themselves shall be exalted."
Let us, then, listen to the exhortation of the prophet Jeremiah, and "let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord:" And may he grant that "in his light we may see light."
About the same time that the Word became flesh in Bethlehem, and the angels of God sang their seraphic anthem at his appearance, there was joy also in the cottage of Simon of Carioth, in the tribe of Judah, for there likewise had a son, though only a mortal, seen the light of this world. I imagine that the heavenly guardians of the little ones also offered him their greetings of welcome; and his parents, thankful and hopeful, called the boy "Judas," that the praise of God, or the Confessor; and thus with silent emotion dedicated him to the Almighty, who had graciously given him to them.
The little boy was well-formed, and of pleasing appearance; for it was not yet written on his forehead what he should eventually become, and what should befall him in the course of his earthly pilgrimage. Ah! we now regard that domestic event with other eyes, and look upon the unhappy parents with poignant grief, for we know that prophetic passages, such as the following had reference to him: "Yes, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, has lifted up his heel against me."—Psalm 41:9. "As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him; as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him."—Psalm 109:17. "Let his days be few, and let another take his office."
We are without any tradition respecting Judas's earlier life; but we certainly do not mistake if we take it for granted that his gradual development was such as to justify uncommon hopes. He soon showed himself possessed of superior abilities, acute understanding, strong excitability, and energetic will, and therefore seemed, as he was probably soon conscious of himself, to be capable of deeds of a superior kind than the limited current of quiet, civil life, affords opportunity for performing. Like the electric fluid which pervades the air, and according as the conditions meet either concentrates itself to a destructive thunderbolt, or thickens into sheet-lightning which purifies and refreshes the atmosphere. Such was the alternative which lay in the nature of the man of Carioth. It was to be foreseen that he would eventually render himself conspicuous on the stage of public life in some way or other. Accordingly, as with the abundance of his talents, he fell under heavenly or adverse influence, he would necessarily develop himself, either as a chosen instrument of God or as an apostle and standard-bearer of Satan. Alas! he took the left-hand road, and we exclaim respecting him, with deeper and more well-founded grief than Isaiah concerning the King of Babylon, "How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!"
The heathen world is ignorant of a Judas, and could not produce such a character. Such a monster matures only in the radiant sphere of Christianity. It was Judas's misfortune that he was born under the most propitious star. He entered into too close contact with the Savior not to become either entirely his or wholly Satan's. There was a time when, with reference to Judas, "the candle of God shone upon his head, and when the secret of God was upon his tabernacle." Once he was not wanting in susceptibility for impressions of the most devotional kind, and his soul was capable of every noble elevation of feeling. The appearing of the "fairest of the children of men" in the glory of his marvelous deeds, attracted him, though less excited by him in his character of Savior and the friend of sinners. He swore fealty to the banner of Jesus with youthful enthusiasm, though with an unbroken will; and the Searcher of Hearts, perceiving the promising talents of the young man—who was really zealous for the cause of God in a certain degree—confidingly admitted him into the circle of his nearest and most intimate disciples. This favor would never have been granted to Judas if he had attached himself to the Savior simply from interested motives. At the moment when he offered his services to the latter, he was no hypocrite, at least not consciously so. And when he afterward prayed, studied the word of God, and even preached it with the other disciples, it was doubtless done for a time with a degree of inward truthfulness: it was only in the sequel that he resorted to intentional deception and dissimulation.
The Lord appointed him to the office of receiver and almoner in his little circle; and assuredly did so for no other reason than that he perceived he was the fittest for that vocation. Many have profanely supposed that the Lord committed the purse to him in order to tempt him; but such a thought is wholly to be rejected. On the contrary, that circumstance affords us an additional confirmation of the fact that Judas, at the commencement of his discipleship, possessed the full confidence of his Master, although it could not have been hidden from the latter that the disciple was still deficient in a thorough knowledge of himself, and especially in contrition of heart, to which a participation in the salvation of God is inseparably attached.
Amid the superabundance of pious sentiments, an evil root remained within, which was the love of the world, and especially of its gold and empty honor. And, in fact, Judas deceived himself when he ascribed his admission among the disciples of Jesus to much deeper and holier motives than the longing for the realization of those earthly and enchanting ideas which his lively imagination depicted to him as connected with that kingdom which the Lord had appeared to establish. As, on attaching himself to the cause of the great Nazarene, he fully supposed he was following the attraction of a higher and nobler excitement; so his fellow-disciples believed it no less of him. The latent wound did not escape the Savior's eyes, but the mischief was not incurable, and Christ had appeared in order that, as the Divine Physician, he might heal the sick, and bind up the wounded.
The compassionate love of Jesus left no means untried to accomplish the cure; but alas! the result did not correspond with his tender and unwearied solicitude. It only too soon appeared that the pleasing enthusiasm which had borne Judas on its wings so near the Prince of Peace, was, in its inmost center, anything but pure fire from heaven. For the more his delusive ideas concerning the real nature of Christ's kingdom were dispelled by the Lord's manner of life, as well as by his expressions and discourses, the fainter burned the torch of his specious zeal, and what remained of it in his heart was the impure fire of a selfish, earthly expectation and desire. The observation that "every one has his price, at which he may be bought," seems almost too strong; but the words are actually applicable to every unregenerate man, however long a time may elapse until they are fulfilled. O do not let us deceive ourselves! even the most magnanimous characters, as long as they are not sanctified by Christ, are capable, according to circumstances, of acting not only meanly, but even basely and vulgarly. The natural man, in his most intellectual form, does not lose his centaur-like nature; the consequence of which is, that after having been engaged in possibly the most elevated pursuits, he is found the next moment creeping, like the serpent in Eden, upon his belly, and eating of the dust of the earth.
The awful period arrived in which Judas actually succeeded in mastering the serious reflections which arose in his still susceptible conscience, against the impious desire of his heart for a self-chosen indemnification for the disappointment he had experienced. Probably, under the deceitful idea that he only intended to borrow, he laid his thievish hand, for the first time, upon the charitable fund intrusted to him; and after he had once broken through the barriers of his moral consciousness, the next and every subsequent embezzlement became easier and less objectionable. But the condemning voice of conscience was now awakened by the sight of his Sacred Master. The Light of the World was to him a burning fire; the Savior of sinners, even by his mute appearance, an inquisitor before whom he must either expose himself as a guilty criminal, or envelop himself in the veil of hypocritical deceit; and he chose the latter.
For a considerable time he thought himself safe in the disguise of his conscious hypocrisy, until the scene occurred in the house of Simon the Leper at Bethany. Mary's devotedness to the Savior induced her to pour the costly ointment upon him. Judas, destitute of feeling for the tenderness and deep significancy of the act, endeavored to depreciate it by the sanctimonious, and yet crude remark, that the ointment had better have been sold, and the product given to the poor. But the Lord, immediately interfering for the aggrieved woman, praised her work as "good," and as an act which should never be forgotten; at the same time reproving the ill-timed censure of the heartless hypocrite with the serious words, which must have penetrated into his inmost soul, "The poor you have always with you, but me you have not always." From those words, and still more from the painfully compassionate look which accompanied them, the hypocritical disciple became fully aware that the Lord saw through him, and knew of his crime.
This was a decisive moment for Judas—a moment in which blessing and cursing were once more offered to his choice, and one which must necessarily exercise a definite influence for good or evil on the further development of his inward life. The erring disciple must now either cast himself down at Jesus' feet, with streams of penitential tears, and seek, by a frank confession of his lost condition, deliverance and mercy at the throne of grace or his mortified pride must gain the victory, and by urging him to the opposite course of a willful hardening, afford Satan the opportunity of imparting the infernal spark of secret bitterness against him.
You know which of these two courses Judas took. Immediately after his Master uttered these words, which were only mild reproof, and intended to heal, Judas hastened away from the company at Bethany. He now felt himself more at home and more in his element among the adversaries of Jesus than in the sphere of his previous confederates. The bargain of the thirty pieces of silver was concluded—more from a secret thirst of revenge, than from avarice and the love of money. Judas met the remonstrance of his conscience with the excuse that it would be an easy thing for the wonder-working Rabbi, if he chose, to save himself from the hands of his enemies. However, he knew only half of what he was doing. He had plunged himself into a vortex against which he was unable to struggle. He no longer guided himself; another dragged him away behind him. He had reached the horrible state of those whose "feet stumble upon the dark mountains."
It might have been supposed that Judas would have been no longer able to bear the company of Jesus. We nevertheless soon see him again in his old place among the Twelve. I know not whether that which drew him there was the tormenting uneasiness he felt, and the inward curse, or whether it was the apprehension of drawing down suspicion upon him if he were absent; or perhaps he even calculated on the possibility of the Savior's establishing a kingdom, according to his views of it, and was desirous of reserving the part he had to play in such a case. Probably all these motives co-operated to induce him to present himself among them. Suffice it to say that we meet the son of perdition in the last social evening circle at Jerusalem; and we see the Lord again trying everything to save the soul thus sick unto death. From a delicate wish to spare his feelings, he does not require him to give up the custody of the money, but leaves him still in the office assigned him.
It was necessary, however, that the Lord should give him to understand the danger in which he knew the poor man's soul to be placed; and hence, while sitting at table, the Savior begins, with deep emotion and affectionate grief, to say to his disciples, "Verily, verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me!" The eleven are struck with inexpressible amazement. They look at each other with alarm and grief, and break out in turn into the anxious inquiry, "Lord, is it I?" The son of perdition does not discover himself. Ah, only a few minutes now remain of his day of grace! A voice from within, as though it were his good angel, says to him, "Reveal yourself, Judas; throw down the mask, and escape from eternal perdition before the door of mercy is closed." But Judas resists, and envelops himself still more deeply in his disguise; for another voice still more powerfully pervades his soul, and drowns every better feeling within him. The Lord then defines his meaning more particularly, and says, "One of the Twelve that dips his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me," and then solemnly pronounces the Woe upon the man who should commit this heinous crime, and reveals to him his fate.
The hearts of the Eleven tremble. Simon Peter beckons to the disciple who leaned on Jesus' bosom to inquire who it is of whom their Master is speaking. John then ventures, though timidly, to ask, "Lord, who is it?" The latter now tears away the last shred of the mask from the traitor's face, and says, "He it is to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon." The disciples shudder, and Judas stands, pale as a corpse, trembling, his eyes wandering, and completely unmanned. "O Judas, there is still time! The sounds that have hitherto smote your ear were all intended to call you to repentance. Bethink you; cast away your disguise; confess, and cry for mercy!" "But shall I confess?"—thinks Judas to himself. "Shall I give honor to him who has so mercilessly exposed me?—condemn myself, in the presence of my comrades, to eternal disgrace, and show myself before all the world as a miserable coward? No, I'll be a man, and act accordingly."
Such was probably the language of his soul, and with a mixture of horrible boldness and profound perturbation, while swallowing the sop, in hypocritical indifference, notwithstanding the unmistakable words of the Master, he still ventures to stammer out the question, "Master, is it I?" The Lord now giving up the son of perdition, with infinite grief of heart replies, "You say it." That moment, the evil will of Judas overcame the last and most powerful attraction of mercy, and the sin against the Holy Spirit was perpetrated. The day of salvation closed; the hour of the visitation of divine mercy expired; the angels of peace sorrowfully removed from his side, and Satan triumphantly entered into him. The saying of the Savior "One of you is a devil," was now verified. The most terrible specimen of humanity which had hitherto trod the earth, now appeared upon the stage.
Then said Jesus unto him in conclusion, "That you do, do quickly!" thereby giving him to understand that he was fully aware of his intention. He intimated to him at the same time that he henceforth regarded him as the instrument by which his heavenly Father would deliver him up to the sufferings to which he was on the point of submitting from voluntary love to sinners. The Eleven knew not how to explain the words, "That you do, do quickly." Some of them thought, in their simplicity, that because Judas carried the bag, the Lord had said to him, "Buy those things we have need of against the feast:" while others imagined their Master had given Judas a hint to distribute something to the poor—so far were they from having any idea of the crime which one of their number was about to commit. The latter, however, understood the Lord Jesus better. But let us not overlook the circumstance, that Jesus while saying, "That you do, do quickly!" dismissed the traitor from the circle of his confidential followers, and from the chamber in which they were assembled. And probably those expositors were in the right who, on the testimony of the beloved disciple, consider that Judas was no longer present when the Sacrament was instituted.
Scarcely had the son of perdition left the room, on the hint he had received, and the Lord Jesus saw himself alone with his eleven faithful disciples, when the burden was removed from his heart. It seemed as if the whole atmosphere had suddenly changed, and been purified from some noxious and oppressive element. The Savior breathes more freely, and then begins with sublime elevation of soul to say, "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall immediately glorify him."
Judas went out. With awful significance--the narrative adds, "And it was night." Yes, night externally and internally. We see the deplorable being now entirely sold under the influence of the powers of darkness, and fitted for committing the most horrible crimes. For what is his object? It is as if a spirit of darkness, in hatred of the light, should prepare, in his wrath, to extinguish the sun which reveals his deformity. As if some insane Titan should undertake to cast down, in the Holy One of Israel, the throne of the moral government of the world, in order that henceforth sin might have no more cause to tremble. And as if one, who is wounded by the arrows of conscience should endeavor to choke and expel from the world its personified light, which was manifested in Christ, and which first impressed the divine seal upon the sentence of individual conscience. Such are the heinous acts for which Judas is preparing himself, although confusedly and half unconscious of what he is doing. The gloomy power to which he has submitted himself, hurries him away in its whirl, and he is no longer able to direct his steps as he pleases.
O Judas, Judas! happy would it have been were you the only one of your kind! But the name of your brethren, even in the present day, is "Legion." They were not, indeed, at any time your like-minded apostles; but, like you, they once inhaled the pure air of the Gospel, and were shone upon, like you, by the rays of the eternal Morning-Star. They were baptized like you; they grew up, nourished by the views of divine truth; and on the day of their confirmation devoted themselves, more or less sincerely, in the most solemn manner, to the Lord and his cause. But unfaithful to their sacred vows, they revolted with the inmost tendency of their hearts to the god of this world; and instead of the kingdom of divine light and peace, the idea of another presented itself to their minds, in which the flesh should have its unrestrained and complete gratification. This object they pursued, but the Holy One upon the throne of David, in the power of religion, interposed in the way to its attainment. He requires the crucifixion of the flesh with its affections and lusts; unconditional submission to the divine commands, and unceasing endeavors after godliness. He protects property, sanctifies the marriage state, introduces order into families, condemns revolt, perjury, deceit, uncleanness, intemperance, and every offense against the moral government of the world, as the supporter and advocate of which he appears. And they who would gladly elevate their lusts to be the world's law, feel, more or less, in their consciences, the weight of his requirements as the sting of their condemnation; and without confessing it, are inwardly constrained, even against themselves, to justify the warnings and teachings of Christ's religion, as absolute and irrefutable truth. But this fills them with bitterness, and enkindles in them the internal spark of enmity against the Gospel, and against the Lord as its author. Thus they become enemies of God, and join in Satan's colossal attempts to war against the power and majesty of God in the Christian religion, and to bury the whole world of religious and moral sentiments in the gigantic grave of an atheistic materialism, which denies the existence of a future state. They prepare for Jesus the cross of an enthusiast; for his Gospel, the sarcophagus of what they profanely call antiquated ideas; for his whole Church, the stairs of Pilate, on which, in their view, it descends from the scene of reality into a kingdom of shadows; and thus renew the treachery of Judas to his Lord for the wretched reward of an expected state of things, in which, in a short time, every consciousness of a superior fate for mankind would perish by the poisonous nutriment of a base and transitory lust.
Only open your ears, and you will hear from the camp of the world the infernal war-cry, "Away with Jesus and the doctrine of his cross!" Phenomena, such as those which meet us in the present day, were never before seen in the world in such anti-christian atrocity and massiveness. The traitor, Judas, is again visible on the stage, full of deadly hatred to God, in a thousand colossal antitypes: and if there is one doctrine of the Holy Scriptures which finds in the present day its tangible confirmation, it is that of the existence of a Ruler of Darkness, and of a kingdom of infernal powers. It is now that the prophetic expression in the Revelations is fulfilled, "The devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has but a short time." The pentecost of hell is being accomplished, and it pours out its spirit over mankind like a shower of fire and brimstone, and its shield-bearers and apostles shoot up from the earth, like the fungus, in a night.
Let every one beware of being baptized with such a baptism! He who does not decide for the Lord today, may tomorrow be found opposed to him, and carrying the banner of Satan. Neutrality is a forlorn position. He who enters but half-way into the prevailing tendency of the present day, finishes his course before he is aware and in spite of his best resolutions, in the hatred of Judas, that is in the snare of the devil. And he who reaches the spirit of the times only the tip of his finger, may rest assured that soon his whole hand will be taken.
Let us therefore hasten to the Lord Jesus, and devote ourselves, with body and soul, unto him as an entire offering, which is but our reasonable service. Recourse to his wounds is still open today, but may perhaps not be so to-morrow. Rise up, therefore, and secure your souls; and pray that you may be preserved from the snares of Satan, and from the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the inhabitants of the earth.
The Woe Denounced
Were any one to ask me what passage in the whole Bible I regarded as the most awful and appalling, I should not require to reflect long before giving him an answer. I should neither refer to the words in Deut. 27:26, "Cursed be every one that continues not in all the words of this law to do them;" nor to the assertion in John, 3:36, "He who believes not the Son of God shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." Nor should I call to mind the overwhelming words of the Apostle Paul to Bar Jesus, Acts, 13:10, "O full of all subtlety and all mischief, you child of the devil!" nor the denunciations of our Lord himself against the Scribes and Pharisee, Matt 23. On the contrary, I would refer the inquirer to the dreadful woe pronounced upon Judas, and feel assured that he would confess that nothing more appalling and awful can be found in the sacred volume, than is contained in the woe which Jesus uttered upon his betrayer. Many a one who has passed unscathed by Sinai, has been compelled by it to cry for mercy with a broken heart.
Listen: "Woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed; it had been good for that man that he had never been born!" Who is it that utters these dreadful words? Consider this on the outset, and the words will then begin to unfold their horrors. O that another had uttered them, and not He from whose lips they emanated! O that they had come forth from the mouth of one like ourselves, a mortal, a human prophet, a poor sinner! Room would then have been afforded for a variety of considerations, which might, in some measure, alleviate the dreadful sentence, and we might think ourselves justified in deducting something from its horrible import, and place it to the account of the irascibility of the speaker, or ascribe it to a well-meant intention, by the appalling awfulness of his words, to deter the sinner, if possible, from his impious purpose. But it is Jesus from whose lips the denunciation proceeds; it is the King of Truth, the Friend of Sinners, who utters it; and it is impossible to state what an enormous weight and dreadful emphasis this circumstance alone attaches to the words. For in them we hear not the voice of passion, but the voice of him who could justly say of himself, "I am meek and lowly of heart." It is, therefore, not blind fury, unconscious of what it utters, that raves and rages here, but it is the considerate testimony of One whose own heart bleeds at being obliged to pronounce such a sentence on the man who had been his confidant.
The speaker, in this instance, is one who is not accustomed to deal in exaggerations; but he who thus pronounces sentence, calls himself the "Truth," and is unequaled for modesty of expression and correctness of language. It is no short-sighted person, nor one subject to error like ourselves, who utters these words; but they proceed from the lips of him who is infallible, of whom it is written, that he needed not that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man. Yes, the dreadful anathema is uttered by One, the sphere of whose vision takes in time and eternity, whose spiritual eye pierces through the gloom of the realms of darkness, and before whom, as the future Judge of the living and the dead, the life and fate of every individual, even beyond death and the grave, lies open and exposed. Such is he who testifies concerning Judas Iscariot, "It had been good for that man if he had not been born." This must therefore, be the case, and that dreadful sentence cannot contain one syllable more than is necessary. O horror of horrors without a parallel! Who does not tremble here as if hell were open before him?
But it may be asked, "Why was he born, if it had been better that he had never been born?" Cease such inquiries, lest they should only increase the awful import of the words. Listen to what the Lord says, "The Son of Man goes as it is written of him (he fulfills his destiny according to his heavenly Father's counsel and will); but woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!"
Observe the Lord's object in these words. He evidently designs to let the whole onus of the betrayal rest wholly upon Judas, as being voluntarily committed by him, and to justify the Almighty, on the contrary, as altogether guiltless of the act, and as in no respect operating to produce it. You may, however, object, and say, "Certainly, we are far from wishing to deny that grace and strength did not stand at the command of the degenerate disciple to withstand Satan, and to enable him to return to the Lord; but the omniscient God foresaw that he would not resist the temptation, but would fall into the snare of the devil, and eternally perish." I reply, that he doubtless foresaw this, and even predicted it by his prophets. "But," say you, "since the Lord knew that it would have been good for that man had he never been born, why did he not prevent his birth? Why did he not hinder the marriage of his parents? Why did he not smite the mother of Judas with barrenness, as he formerly smote Michal? Or why did he not take the babe to himself while in the cradle? Why did he give him time and space to ripen for such a state of reprobation? Why did God do this, since he is Almighty, and love itself?"
Restrain such inquiries, my readers. Be satisfied to remain in ignorance. No human spirit fathoms the depths of God's government of the world. To us it is a sealed mystery how the all-loving God can suffer men to be born whose course of life he sees, by virtue of his omniscience, will terminate in the abyss of eternal perdition. We can only infer from hence that the unsearchable God must love in a different manner to us men, who have no idea of a love which goes hand in hand with justice. Consider, besides, what would become of liberty, if God were, in a compulsory manner, to hinder any one from destroying himself and perishing? What would become of the splendor of his throne, if, in order to avoid punishing, he put aside the objects of his retributive justice, or forcibly restrained their free and active development? Finally, we have no need to be anxious how the Eternal God will eventually account for every single act of his universal government, but may rest assured that on the great day of revelation, while developing his guidance and his ways, he will constrain all that have breath to join in the words of Moses, "The Lord is a rock; his work is perfect; for all his ways are judgment; a God of truth and without iniquity; just and right is he."
Let us now consider, a little more closely, the woe denounced by our Lord upon his betrayer, and let it unfold its horrors to our view. The Lord commences his sentence with a "Woe!" and when Christ pronounces a woe! no one in heaven or in earth can any longer say, "Peace be with you!" or bless with any effect. "It would have been good for that man"—an uncommon mode of expression in the mouth of the Good Shepherd. He does not otherwise call poor sinners thus. That appellation has in it something of a repudiating nature, and a sound of separation pervades it. Judas no longer concerns the Savior. Jesus dismisses him from the circle of his disciples, and regards him henceforward as a stranger. How awful is this, and how overwhelming! What will become of the unhappy man, now that the only one who could have saved him, lets him go? God grant that the Prince of Peace may call us by another name than the strange and icy appellation, "That man!" I cannot imagine anything more horrible than to be compelled to hear him say, "I know you not: I know not whence you are; I never knew you, Depart from me!"
"It had been good for that man had he never been born." The Lord could not have expressed himself in a more appalling manner respecting the desperate condition of the traitor, than he does in these words. A mere denunciation of woe would still have left us some hope for the deeply-fallen being; or, at least, would not have excited in us such dreadful ideas of the misery to which he was hastening as this declaration forces upon us, by which the last prospect of a possible rescue of the disciple is annihilated. O the heart-rending view, which this assertion affords us into the depths of perdition! How horrible must the fate of the reprobate be, when the Lord himself affirms that Judas had cause to curse the day of his birth! O if the fate of the rejected were only partially tolerable, the King of Truth would never have spoken thus. But while giving us most plainly to understand that nothing better could be desired for the son of perdition than a return to nonentity, he thereby gives us an idea of hell, which ought to make all our hopes to quake. And can we suppose that there really exists a way of escape from such a state of condemnation, and that the angel of hope still lingers in its horrid abyss, or that repentance is still preached and mercy offered to the finally impenitent? If such were the case, would our Lord have made use of language such as he here employed concerning Judas? No, never! We should then have heard milder words from his lips. Then indeed, it would have been better to be born, than never to have been. In this case a man would still have reason to bless God for the hour of his birth, and none to execrate and curse it. But Jesus himself asserts that it would have been good for Judas had he never been born; and we, therefore, know enough to banish the last hope of his recovery. It is dreadful to see ourselves compelled to this alternative; but according to our Lord's words, it is unavoidable. The eternity of hell-torments, therefore, is established. The worm dies not, neither is the fire quenched in those haunts of woe.
Now, let my readers judge whether a more awful inscription could have been written on the tombstone of Judas than that we have just contemplated. He now proves its truth. The flames of eternal despair now blaze around him, and if he is now crying out, as Job once did, "Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, there is a man-child born," he only puts the seal upon his Master's words and denunciation, "It had been good for that man had he never been born."
After having considered the dreadful import of these awful words, let us now inquire respecting their application and limitation. We lament over the unhappy disciple; but let us beware lest the denunciation pronounced against him, be uttered respecting us; seeing that it is possible for the same reasons, as with Judas, that it were good for some had they never been born. It is, of course, not in my power to point out with certainty the individual to whom these appalling words are applicable; but I may say that he who finds within him certain characteristics, has reason to fear for his soul. For he who shares them with Judas, shares also in his condemnation. You anxiously inquire, "What are those characteristics?" I will therefore cursorily bring them before you, that you may examine yourselves by them.
Let me, first of all, point out to you, that a degree of outward propriety affords no reason for the tranquilizing idea that you do not belong to those who had better never been born. For observe, that Judas had also outwardly forsaken the world, and had been nourished up with the milk of the Divine Word; had lived, subsequently, continually among the children of God, been innocently regarded by them as a brother, had prayed and fasted with them, belonged to the immediate retinue of the Prince of Peace, had been his disciple and confidant, had assisted in preaching his Gospel, had suffered reproach for Christ's sake, had—like the rest—wrought miracles in the name of Jesus; and yet, notwithstanding all this, "It had been good for him if he had never been born." O take this to heart, my dear readers, and beware of regarding your respectability, your devotions, your religious knowledge, your good name among believers, and the like, as a secure defense, behind which you are safe from the flames of hell!
But now turn your eyes inward, and give an account of yourselves, to me, or rather to Him, in whose name I address you. There are those in the world who envelop themselves in the mantle of religion, in order, like Judas, to conceal a devil beneath it. Secured from the judicial eye of the world, they would gladly serve the demons of lust, avarice, or pride; and on this very account they put on the mask of religion. I now ask, are you one of this description of people?
There are those also, who, though often aroused and awakened, still refuse to give themselves to Christ, because they are held in bondage by some secret sin, which they have not the courage to condemn and renounce. Hence, they indulge in it with a gloomy composure, the result of habit; and in time, their guilt increases to such a degree that they would consent to anything rather than it should be brought to light. Are there any of this class among my readers?
Again, there are people who, minutely examined, have only one care, which is, lest they should be seen behind the mask, and lest it should be discovered that they have never been converted, although they have been for years regarded as being so. Hypocrisy has become instinctive within them, and without being aware of it, they are always occupied in disguising their words, looks, gestures, and actions, in such a manner that their true character and sentiments may not be discovered. Is this the case with any of you?
There are likewise individuals, who have so often succeeded in withstanding, by dint of defiance or intentional dissipation and self-persuasion, the thunders of truth directed against their carnal security, that they have at length attained a facility in weakening the attractive influences of the grace and Spirit of God, and are become, as it were, bomb-proof against the most appalling horrors of the eternal world, and equally unsusceptible of the sweetest allurements of Divine Love. Are any of my readers thus hardened?
Further, there are those who, at the cost of a little of their mammon, aid in building the ark of the kingdom of God, yet are displeased on hearing that this kingdom flourishes and progresses. Had they been present at Mary's evidence of tender and sacred affection in anointing the Savior, they would also have been ready to say with Judas, "Why this waste? The money had been better spent for worthier purposes." No, such people even experience a malicious pleasure; if; for instance, the Missionary cause, to which, for the sake of appearances, they may possibly have contributed, seems to retrograde, and when, generally speaking, the zeal for the cause of God appears to abate. I ask, Are there any of my readers who are the subjects of such feelings?
Finally, there are individuals, who are so far overcome by the truth of the Gospel, as to feel compelled to bear witness to it in their consciences, but do so reluctantly, and against their will. Hence, as often as they hear or read anything that encourages the idea in them that they can obtain admittance into heaven without Christ, from whose method of salvation they would gladly escape, they feel inwardly comfortable. Are there such among you? Examine your inmost motives, and know, that whoever belongs to one or the other of these classes, I do not indeed say of him that it would have been good for him had he never been born; but I do say that there is the possibility of this being the case. Such a one has reason to fear that the awful inscription on the tombstone of Judas may at length be transferred to his.
O my friends, when I think that perhaps it would have been good had your cradle been your coffin; that the nurse who laid you in your mother's arms, was perhaps depositing there an infernal firebrand; that your parents had greater reason for greeting the hour of your birth with weeping than with rejoicing; that the sacred water of baptism was wasted upon you, and was sprinkled, as it were, in derision over you; and that while in joyful hope, your first festival was celebrated, your names instead of being recorded in the Book of Life, were inserted in that of Death—when I imagine all this to myself, the blood in my veins is ready to freeze with horror. I do not indeed say that such will actually be the case with any of my readers; but that it is possible it had been good if you had never been born. And does not your having cause for the belief in such a possibility hurl you, as with a thunderbolt to the ground?
Yes, you tremble; you are horrified. At least let me take it for granted that you are so. For if it were otherwise, and you could yawn amid such startling truths, or even laugh at them in Satanic defiance; really, there would not require much more to authorize me to tell you, in the name of God, that "it had been good for such a one that he had never been born." But God forbid that I should exceed the limits of my duty! I am not empowered to trouble the seed of Abraham, or to speak anything but comfortably to Jerusalem, however deeply degraded I know there are those to whom the sentence upon Judas does not refer, although they fear lest it should apply to them. Let me characterize, in a few brief traits, these individuals, that no one may despair who is justified in praising God for his mercy.
I make no reference here to those who can exultingly say, with Paul, "I know in whom I have believed;" for, being firmly rooted in the life of grace, and "sealed by the spirit of promise," they would only smile were I to endeavor to prove to them that the sentence in question did not apply to them. That which I might say to them has, long before, been testified by another. But I address myself to you, you troubled ones, who are tossed to and fro on the sea of doubts, and who are still in uncertainty whether you may bless the day of your birth, or have reason to curse it.
Be patient, my friends! I understand the cause of your unhappiness. Neither the fact of your feeling yourselves destitute of faith, love, and strength to lead a holy life, nor that you daily stumble and feel defective, decides anything. This state is painful to you; but is it not the real cause of your grief and your greatest sorrow, that it is thus with you? Do you desire anything so much as to be able to say with the bride in the Canticles, "My beloved is mine, and I am his?" And if as a condition of this happiness, you were compelled to bear the cross, in its most painful form, after the Lord Jesus, and openly to confess your guilt before the whole world, would you not resolve to do so without hesitation? Would you not sacrifice that which is the dearest to you, in order to be able to assure yourselves that you belong to Christ, and could rejoice in his mercy? If you reply in the affirmative to these inquiries, I will declare to you, in the name of him who "hears the cry of the needy, and will not despise their prayer," that the woe pronounced upon Judas has no reference to you, and that the glad tidings that you may bless the hour in which you first saw the light of this world, are for you.
O it is good that you have been born! You are set apart for great things. You are destined to serve the Lord God as vessels of his mercy. He intends to adorn his temple with you as the mirrors of his glory. He desires to exhibit you in the sight of heaven, earth, and hell, as proofs of what the blood of the cross is able to accomplish. He has selected you to join the choir of those who chant the mighty Hallelujah to himself and the Lamb. When you were born, kind angels stood around your cradle. Over your head a sublime voice whispered, "I have loved you from everlasting!" Your parents pressed in you an heir of heaven to their bosoms. A divine legacy fell into your lap when the water of baptism bedewed your foreheads. You entered upon this valley of tears only to pass through it with rapid steps, and then to find your abiding home in "the Jerusalem that is above." The King of kings wrote your names in his Book of Life. The Righteousness of his Son was the first robe he threw around you; and the last with which he will adorn you, will be the radiant garment of heavenly glorification. It is well for you, therefore, that you have been born. It would have been grievous if you had been wanting in the rank of beings; for one voice less would then have resounded in the vast jubilee chorus at the throne of God, and one pearl less would have glittered in the diadem of the heavenly Prince of Peace. Therefore, thrice hail that you exist! In spite of all the wretchedness you may be experiencing, you have infinite reason to bless the Lord. We heartily rejoice at joining with you in praising him.
But you, who pass with indifference by the cross of Immanuel, or even resist the Holy Spirit, who reproves you of sin, and is desirous of directing you to Jesus, what shall I say to you? I can only address you in the words of a well-known hymn:
"Sinner, O why so thoughtless grown—
Why in such dreadful haste to die?
Daring to leap to worlds unknown,
Heedless against your God to fly.
"Will you despise eternal fate,
Urged on by sin's fantastic dreams,
Madly attempt th' infernal gate,
And force your passage to the flames?
"Stay, sinner, on the Gospel plains!
Behold the God of love unfold
The wonders of his dying pains,
Forever telling, yet untold!"
The Walk to Gethsemane
We return to our narrative at a solemn moment. The Lord Jesus has just instituted the sacred ordinance of his love—the Lord's Supper—and, according to custom at the feast of the Passover, he commences with his disciples, in the silence of the night, the "Hallel," or great song of praise, which consisted of Psalms 115 to 118. It is the first time that we find our Savior singing; for the original Greek word admits of no other interpretation. The Lord, thereby, forever consecrates vocal music in his Church. Singing—this language of the feelings, this exhalation of an exalted state of mind, this pinion of an enraptured soul—is heaven's valuable gift to earth. Adopted into the service of the sanctuary, how beneficial and blissful is its tendency! Who has not experienced its power to raise us high above the foggy atmosphere of daily life; to transport us so wondrously, even into the precincts of heaven; to expand and melt the heart; to banish sorrow, and burst the bonds of care? And it can effect greater things than these, when the Spirit from above mingles his breath with it. A thousand times has it restored peace in the midst of strife, banished Satan, and annihilated his projects. Like a genial gale of spring, it has blown across the stiff and frozen plain, and has caused stony hearts to melt like wax, and rendered them arable, and capable of receiving the seed of eternity.
We find the Lord of glory singing with his followers. O, if David, who wrote those psalms, could have supposed that they would experience the high honor of being sung by the gracious lips of him who was the supreme object of his songs and the sole hope of his life, he would have let the pen drop in joyful astonishment from his hand. But what a seal does the Lord impress upon those psalms, as the real effusions of the Holy Spirit, by applying them to himself, while thus singing them in the most solemn hour of his earthly course! Would he have sung them, especially at that moment, if they had not contained the pure words of God? The Lord's singing them, therefore, is a powerful proof of the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. In fact, we are only treading in his footsteps when we resign ourselves unhesitatingly to this sacred word. And ought not this consciousness greatly to encourage us, and to overthrow every fresh doubt that may arise? What happiness to have been permitted to listen to that peaceful nocturnal chant! Doubtless the holy angels lay listening, with silent attention, in the windows of heaven while the human soul heard, in those sounds, the cradle—and inauguration—hymn of its eternal redemption.
Millions in Israel had already sung the great "Hallel" after the feast of the passover, during the thousand years which had elapsed since David—many, such as the prophets, and the more enlightened among the people, assuredly with profound emotion and zealous fervor. But with feelings such as those with which the Lord Jesus sang it, no one had ever joined in it; for the four psalms treated of himself, the true paschal lamb, and of his priesthood and mediatorship. His sufferings, conflicts, and triumphs, first gave to those psalms their full reality. The 115th Psalm praises the blessings of divine grace, for which a channel to our sinful world was to be opened by the Messiah's mediation. In Psalm 116 the Savior himself lifts the veil from off the horrible abyss of suffering to which he was to be delivered up for sinners: "The Sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell got hold upon me," is its language. But the psalm also praises the glorious deliverance which he should experience after enduring those agonies—"You have delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living." The 117th Psalm calls upon the nations to glorify the riches of divine grace with hallelujahs, which they were to derive from the atonement of the Divine High Priest. The 118th Psalm concentrates what had been previously testified—first, as regards the cross: "They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched as a fire among thorns. You have thrust sore at me that I might fall." Then the Redeemer's confidence: "The Lord is my strength and my song.—The Lord is on my side, therefore will I not fear. I shall not die but live, and declare the works of the Lord." Then the deliverance: "I will praise you, for you have heard me, and are become my salvation." Then the redemption which resulted from the offering up of himself: "The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous. The right hand of the Lord is exalted: the right hand of the Lord does valiantly. Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go into them and praise the Lord. This gate of the Lord (that is free of access), into which the righteous shall enter." And, finally, the victorious and all-subduing power of the kingdom of his grace upon earth: "The stone which the builders refused, is become the headstone of the corner. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes."
These are all features in the portrait of the future Messiah, and references to what would befall him on earth, and to the work he would accomplish. And he, in whom all this was to be fulfilled, had now appeared, and his foot already trod the soil of this world. The Lord Jesus beheld his own image in the mirror of the words of prophecy generally, as well as in these passover psalms in particular; and he sang the sacred verses with the clear and full consciousness of his position as High Priest, Redeemer, and Mediator. After the singing he went out to the Mount of Olives. What great things depended upon this eventful and mysterious walk! We exclaim, "Earth, which he is about to rescue from the curse, salute his feet! Hell, against which he is buckling on his armor, tremble! Heaven, for which he is going forth to gain a new population, look down, and be astonished at his amazing undertaking!"
He proceeds upon his path, and O how much is laid upon him at that moment! The guilt of thousands of years, the world's future—The salvation of millions! He goes in order, in his own person, to plant the seed-corn of a new heaven and a new earth, Alas! where should we have been going had he not traversed this path for us? Our lives would have been a progress to the place of execution; our future state would have ended in unquenchable fire. He knew this. That which he undertook stood every moment, in all its magnitude, present to his soul. But the glorious result of his undertaking was equally obvious to him. At every step he apprehended himself as being sent by the Father to close up the chasm which sin had caused between God and the creature, between heaven and earth.
The Savior walks onward in the silence and obscurity of the night, accompanied by his disciples, all of them deeply affected by the solemn transactions which had just taken place in the chamber at Jerusalem, and yet greatly cheered by the gracious words which had proceeded from the lips of their Divine Master, and which sounded in their ears as from the heavenly world. The Lord then breaks the thoughtful silence, and says, to the no small astonishment of his disciples, "All you shall be offended because of me this night; for it is written, 'I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered.'"—Matt. 26:31. In these momentous and significant words our Lord indicates the point of view from which he contemplated his approaching sufferings. He is minutely acquainted with the anguish to be endured. "This night," says he. O, sacred night, from whose bosom the brightest morning-star of hope and consolation has risen upon us, although with a blood-red light! The Lord regards his passion as an unconditional necessity. Had he not viewed it as such, how easy would it have been for him to have withdrawn himself from it in the darkness of the night! But he voluntarily yields himself up to it; for, while saying, "This night," he is on his way, with a firm step, to the garden of Gethsemane, the first stage of his sufferings.
He perceives, most clearly, the end and object of his passion; "for," says he, "it is written, 'I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.'" These words are taken from Zech. 13:7, where we read as follows: "Awake, O sword! against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, says the Lord of Hosts. Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered, and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones." The Lord explains this passage by his own words. Its chief import is, "I, the Lord of Hosts, will smite, with the sword of justice, my shepherd—the man that is my fellow, the Messiah; and the sheep of the flock—his disciples, friends, and followers—shall be scattered." "Thus it is written," says the Savior; and that which is written in the Book of God will come to pass.
The Lord Jesus now says expressly, that this prophecy was about to receive its fulfillment in him. He therefore represents himself as smitten of God, and for what cause, is sufficiently evident from other passages. He appeared in our stead as suffering and atoning for sin. In him, as Mediator, was realized the execution of the irrevocable sentence—"Cursed is every one that continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them," for the honor of God, the restoration of the majesty of the law, and our own absolution and redemption.
It is thus, and in no other way, that the subject must be apprehended, or the entire history of the passion becomes an obscure labyrinth. It must be thus, or hundreds of passages stand before us as inexplicable enigmas. It must, or the horrible fate of the Holy One of Israel sounds like a shrill discord through the history of mankind, and renders questionable the very existence of a Divine Providence and government of the world. Thus it must be, or the Lord from heaven has sown seeds of error instead of truth; for he said, "That which is written will now be fulfilled in me: 'I will smite the Shepherd,' says the Lord of Hosts."
The Lord well knew what reason would object to this; he therefore said, "All you shall be offended because of me this night." Reason mistakes, and knows nothing of divine things, until the heart obtains an insight, a living insight, into its own necessities. Only become as anxious for salvation as Zaccheus, or the thief on the cross—how different will the words then sound in your ears, "I will smite the Shepherd." You will then know that the Almighty must smite. The judge in your own bosom tells you so, and your conscience, aroused from its deadly sleep, testifies the same. Whatever may be told you of God's universal kindness, mercy, and love, you maintain that he must smite. So deeply and impressively is this written henceforth in your convictions, that even an angel from heaven could not persuade you otherwise. God is holy, just, and true, and you a rebel against him, a transgressor in his sight. You abide by this position, and already hear the thunder of his wrath rolling over your head; and nothing in the world can divest you of the idea that a satisfaction is required before you, as a sinner, can be saved. If, amid these feelings and convictions, you hear the words, "I will smite the Shepherd," O, how peaceful and blissful is their sound! What a happy change in your state! You do you seek for the Shepherd, who was smitten in your stead, and find him in the bleeding Surety of Gethsemane, on Gabbatha, and on the cross. You cleave to him with all the tenacity of your inmost reliance, and testify to every one who will hear you, that you would be destitute of comfort in life and death, if the Son of God had not judicially suffered in your room and stead. Experience daily shows that the Gospel seems foolishness to them who do not feel their need of it; that it manifests itself to be the power of God to the contrite in heart, and that knowledge of this nature does not proceed from the understanding, but solely from the heart, when enlightened by the Holy Spirit, under a feeling of its guilt. The natural man, as the Scriptures assert, knows not the things that are of God, neither can he understand them, because they must be discerned spiritually. He who takes offense at the vicarious sacrifice of Christ, only makes it evident, that however believing he may be in other respects, he at least possesses very shallow and superficial ideas of the nature and culpability of sin.
The words, thus quoted by our Lord, clearly manifest his consciousness of the true meaning of his sufferings. We therefore easily understand his exclamation, "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished;" as well as his subsequent agonizing prayer, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me!" Doubtless, the love of the Father to his only-begotten Son never forsook him for a moment. Jesus continued the object of his supreme good pleasure and tenderest affection. But the experience and feeling of his Father's love was to be for a time withdrawn from him, and the consciousness of being forsaken of God was to take its place. He was to descend into the lower parts of the earth, and endure all the fiery assaults of Satan and his infernal hosts, and it was at this that he shuddered and trembled. But through the gloom of these oppressive feelings, the dawning rays of a more cheering consciousness shed themselves gloriously upon him—the consciousness of the triumph that awaited him after the conflict. This the Lord Jesus also expresses in the words, "But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee."
Admire here, first, the faithfulness of the good Shepherd. He had just told them expressly, that they should all be offended because of him that night. What tender forethought is here manifested! The offense was now unable to extend too far. When the sufferings of their Master commenced, they were able to say to themselves, "He knew what would befall him, and yet he voluntarily met his sufferings. It was, therefore, requisite for the accomplishment of his work, that he submitted to them."
But the Lord informs them further, that the Holy Scriptures and with them the will and counsel of God, were to be fulfilled in his sufferings. What a powerful support did he thus afford them against the days of sorrow—a support which alone was not able to sustain them, but which nevertheless secured their faith from a total shipwreck. He told them, in conclusion, that though the sheep of the flock would be scattered, yet they would continue his sheep, and not be cast off because of their unfaithfulness. This he stated to them when informing them, that after he should come forth triumphantly from all his sufferings, and have overcome death itself, he would again gather them around him in peace and joy. O what comfort did they derive from this, and what encouragement for their faith, in expectation of the hour, when, after being thus scattered, they should hear that he, who had been so shamefully forsaken by them, had again appeared victorious over all his foes! There was then no need for them to be afraid, but they were at liberty to resign themselves to the delightful hope that he would not reward them according to their deeds, but pardon everything, and lovingly re-assemble them around him. Thus did his parental care provide for them, not merely with reference to the present but also to the future, and prepared the way to prevent evil ensuing, and to bring them every needful blessing. O how secure we are, when once we intrust ourselves to his superintendence! It may happen occasionally, that we may feel offended, no, even depart from him for a time, and follow our own ways; but he does not leave us long to go astray. He again seeks us out; for with respect to all his sheep, his words remain true, "They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand."
"But after I am risen again," says the Lord: he here looks with joyful confidence across the anxious sea of his approaching sufferings, to the subsequent triumph. He feels assured that he shall reach the opposite shore, where the crown of victory awaits him. He doubtless called to mind the ancient prediction, "When you shall make his soul an offering for sin, he shall prolong his days." He who knows how to follow his steps, in thus laying hold of the divine promise, has discovered the secret how to cry out with joy, "Land! land!" in the midst of the surge, and to sing songs of victory in the heat of the conflict. Let us abandon, therefore, the anxious position in which we see only what is immediately before us, and are tossed about, like a ball, by the calculations of reason. Rather let us place our feet upon the lofty and immutable rock of the word and promises of God. How safely and pleasantly may we then abide, even when the gloom of night spreads itself around us, and the storm and tempest assail us! We are then conscious that the clouds, which cause us apprehension, cover only a part of our real heaven; for the distant horizon continues bright; and that which is still more remote, promises, after every night of sorrow, a day in which the sun will no more go down.
"But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee." Galilee is therefore the rendezvous, the land of reunion and meeting. Once there, he has no further cup of agony to drink, and his followers will no more be offended in him. He is then no longer the Man of Sorrows, but clothed in majesty and the victor's glory, he meets his beloved friends, and greets them with the salutation of peace.
"I will go before you into Galilee." Even for us, there is something in these words, if we are able to read between the lines. "After I am risen again." Assuredly, that resurrection for which we wait, will not tarry—the final elevation of his kingdom from its deep reproach—the manifestation of him, on whose head are many crowns, after his long envelopment in gloom. Perhaps the day will soon appear. When he shall have made his foes his footstool, have gathered his elect from the four winds, and bound and shut up Satan in the bottomless pit—then shall we also remove to the Galilee of peace and joy, where we shall behold him, face to face, whom, having not seen, we love, and shall greet him with songs of rejoicing and rapture.
But though we may see the dawn of this period upon earth, yet we know another Galilee, where he has preceded us, and which probably lies nearer us than the former. I mean that Galilee, on the shores of which so many weary pilgrims daily cast anchor; that Galilee, where the hand of Jesus wipes away the last tears from the eyes of the favored new-comers; that Galilee, where the song is continually sung of "the Lamb that was slain," and of the blood in which our robes are washed and made white. O you Galilee above, you land of perfect union with him, who is the object of our love, how does the thought of you exalt and cheer our spirits, during our pilgrimage through this valley of tears! You Galilee beyond the clouds, how blessed is he, whom Jesus has preceded, in order to prepare a place for him on your ever verdant vales and sunny hills!
"Blessed, indeed," you respond, "if we were only sure of landing there at last." If you are not yet sure of it, my readers, delay not to let the Lord assure you of it. Every where, and at every hour, he inclines his ear to you, and especially where he spreads his sacred table for you. There, also, is a kind of Galilee, where he has preceded you, in order to meet with and bless you. Ah, he already waits for you with his mysterious elements of bread and wine. His word informs you that you shall also see him face to face, eventually; and he is willing now to favor you with a foretaste of this vision. Draw near, therefore, and receive grace for grace out of his fullness; be blissfully assured of his presence, and of his willingness to take you eventually to his heavenly home, where there is fullness of joy, and where there are pleasures for evermore.
The Converse by the Way
The apostle casts a profound look into the heart of Jesus, when he testifies concerning him, that "For the joy which was set before him, he endured the cross, and despised the shame."—(Heb. 12:2.)
In our previous meditation, we saw the Lord, on that eventful night, when his sufferings commenced, courageously leaving Jerusalem, after singing the song of praise. What was it that enabled him to tread the path of suffering so serenely, except the joy which he had thus in prospect?
Think of the situation in which the Savior was placed. It may possibly have happened to some of my readers, that the apprehension of some great calamity suddenly presented itself to their minds, as vividly as if they were already realizing it. Thus it was also, that all the horrors which the Savior was about to experience, appeared to him in clearer outlines than any one ever regarded the future, and that not merely in the light of probability, but of certainty. But while in such seasons of painful anticipation, our minds and spirits are overwhelmed, the Lord on the way to Gethsemane, felt his heart enlarged; and through the gloomy visions which passed before him, found his way to the sunny height of perfect and joyful composure, while regarding the joy which afterward awaited him.
We left the Lord Jesus proceeding to the lonely garden, to which he was accustomed to resort, in the darkness and stillness of the night. His mind is occupied with the thought of his approaching death. His followers press more closely around him, as is usually the case when the moment of separation is at hand, and the grief of parting overwhelms the oppressed mind. Conversation becomes brief and monosyllabic, and long pauses of entire silence intervene. Jesus now opens his mouth. The thought of himself and his approaching sufferings retires into the background. That which affects him more deeply is his love for and care of his flock.
Addressing himself to Peter, who appears to be the most grieved, and who clings to him the closest, he says, while regarding him with melancholy seriousness, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat."—(Luke 22:31). What language is this, rendered doubly appalling by the darkness, and the circumstances under which it is uttered! At the very moment when the disciples are to be deprived of their only help and shield, they are informed of the approach of the most dreadful of enemies. The Lord expresses himself strangely, and in a manner calculated to excite the greatest astonishment. "Satan," says he, "has desired to have you"—that is, he has challenged you, laid claim to you, and begged to have you, that he might manifest his power in you, in order to prove that your goodness is nothing, and your conversion only specious and deceptive. And you know that the Lord occasionally permits the Wicked One to try his power to tempt the redeemed to a certain point. He does so, in order to prove to the infernal spirits the invincibility of those who confide themselves to him, and thereby to glorify his name; and also, that he may purify his children as gold in such a furnace of temptation, and draw those, who live no longer to themselves, deeper into the fellowship of his life.
It was an ordeal of this kind to which the disciples were now to be subjected. The murderer from the beginning had wagered, so to speak, that if liberty were given him, he would cause their entire apostasy, the weapons for which he expected to find in the infinite abasement and disgrace, which their Master was about to experience. But the latter is aware of the horrible design. He already sees the infernal vulture wheeling round the heads of his followers. He dares not conceal it from them, lest the assault could take them by surprise; and he therefore says to them emphatically, fixing his eye especially upon Simon, whom the adversary had principally in view, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat."
They are now aware of the adversary's design. O that they would take every syllable of this address to heart! Warning and comfort are here wonderfully mingled. "Like wheat," says he, "would they be sifted"—an operation which, as is well known, only scatters the chaff, while the noble grain remains. The result, therefore, is salutary. It will only be a cleansing and purifying—certainly not according to the devil's plan and design, but wholly through the intervention of divine grace. Those who are thus sifted overcome indeed, but only after being made painfully conscious of their own weakness; and hence they know more assuredly to whom their victor's crown in reality belongs.
But let us listen to the Lord Jesus further. He displays to us, still more deeply, the greatness of his affection. After uttering the appalling warning just mentioned, he looks kindly at his disciples, and, as if he would encourage them, he says to Simon, "But I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not." O where is there a faithful friend and guardian to be compared to him? The Gospel narrative often conducts us to the scene of his acts and miracles, and not infrequently removes the veil from his more quiet converse with his beloved disciples, and reveals to us the sacred spots where he exercised his priestly office; but here it favors us with a look into the solitude of his closet. Scarcely was the Lord aware of the intended assault, especially upon Peter, than he sought retirement, and in prayer, commended the endangered disciple to the protection and preservation of his heavenly Father. And the object of his prayer was, that Simon's faith might not fail in the storm of temptation.
Do not, however, suppose that Simon alone was privileged above other believers, in being the object of such affectionate solicitude. Listen only to the Savior's intercessory prayer, in John 17, and you will be convinced of the contrary. Hear him exclaim, "Holy Father, keep, through your own name, those whom you have given me, that they may be one, as we are." "I pray not that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil." "I in them, and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that you have sent me, and have loved them, as you have loved me." Do not think that these sublime words have reference only to our Lord's immediate disciples; for, listen further—"Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word. That they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you."
Thus has the faith, which the Holy Spirit produces in us, a pledge of endurance in our Lord's intercession. It may be assaulted, tried, and shaken, but cannot be extinguished or annihilated. Simon was given to know this, in order that he might be in possession of a sufficient weapon when assailed. But in case of his succumbing, this consciousness was to serve him as a staff, by means of which he might successfully leap over the abyss of despair.
"I have prayed for you," says our Lord, "that your faith fail not." He knows that Peter will fall. He already sees in him the faithless disciple who denied his Master; and yet he feels toward him only like a tender mother, in seeing her darling child in danger. The Savior's chief care is lest Simon should despair after his fall; and that, at the proper time, he should take courage to return to him. Hence, he says, with the kindest forethought, "And when you are converted, strengthen your brethren." After your grievous fall, the Lord herewith permits you to return. After your unfaithfulness, you may again take comfort in your Good Shepherd, and regain his flock. No, you shall be still further empowered, for when you have returned to him, you shall strengthen your brethren; you shall continue his apostle, and, in future, feed his lambs.
But Simon does not appreciate the compassion shown by our Lord. At the moment, he is unconscious of the tenderness which dictated his words; he has no idea what they mean. He thinks he will never need a second conversion; for, in that case, he must first have apostatized, and says to himself, "the Master shall never have cause to think me an apostate." But though his Lord's words may, for a time, lie slumbering in his memory, the day will come when they will awake and prove an invaluable treasure. The Savior himself is not so bent upon seeing the immediate effect of his words as we are. He possesses patience and knows that every tree produces its fruit "in its season."
"When you are converted, strengthen your brethren." Scarcely are we able to cease listening to these words. It almost seems as if Simon would only become a real apostle after his fall. And such was really the case; for otherwise God would not have permitted it. The first and essential quality of a herald of the Gospel is ever a thoroughly broken and contrite heart. For it is only after having obtained mercy as guilty criminals, that we are in a position to "strengthen the brethren." After having ourselves vitally experienced that without Christ we can do nothing, but everything with him, we then become real evangelists, who no longer lay intolerable burdens upon the people, which we refuse to touch with a little finger, but meek and gentle like him, who came not to "break the bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax," but to "bind up the broken-hearted," and to "strengthen the feeble knees."
Simon does not enter into the spirit of our Lord's words. "Lord," he exclaims almost angrily, as if some false imputation had been cast upon him, "though all men should be offended because of you, yet will I never be offended. I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." How excellent, and yet how full of self-confidence! Nevertheless, a zeal for his Master flames forth from him, which I can only wish pervaded us likewise. No self-estimation is more tolerable and pardonable than that which is founded upon such a zeal for the Savior. O what were Peter's feelings during this nocturnal walk! How they warmed, glowed, and boiled within him! He had never before felt how much he loved his Master than just now, when the hour of parting approached. And at the very moment when his feelings were the most excited, he hears his Master express his fears lest he should prove unfaithful to him. What? thinks he—"That is surely an impossibility. Rabbi, do not mistake your disciple. Not even bonds or death shall divide me from you." A holy earnestness dictated these words; but ah! he promised too much!
"How so?"—You inquire with astonishment. "Had not Jesus prayed for him, that his faith might not fail?" Assuredly; and had Peter founded his confidence on this, he might have vowed unshaken fidelity even unto death. But Simon vaunted himself on his own strength, and meant to say, "My love is a pledge to you that I will not deny you;" and this was just his misfortune. "The heart of man is deceitful above all things;" and he who depends on sensations and feelings leans upon rotten supports. However spiritually rich and strong we may believe ourselves to be, let us never promise anything in self-dependence, nor ever plant our feet upon the waters until the Lord calls to us to come, and stretches out his helping hand toward us. But he who rests on the strong arm of Immanuel, and seeks strength from him, may say more boldly still than Simon, "Lord, I am ready to go with you, both to prison and to death!" The Lord will not put his faith to shame, but be a strong refuge for him in the midst of the storm.
Scarcely had Simon, in all simplicity, uttered his heroic assertion, than he receives a second warning from his Master's lips. The Lord now informs him plainly what threatens him: "I tell you, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day before you shall thrice deny that you know me." What an alarm do these words sound in Simon's soul! But the latter, in the warmth of his affection, repulses it. "Be not afraid of that," thinks he, "Your disciple will not deny you; he will die with you, if necessary, but will never deny you."
"The Lord foresaw that he would not think otherwise; then why give him the warning?" It was directed more to the restoration of the fallen, than to the invigoration of the combatant. After Peter had denied his Master, he could say to himself, "He told me beforehand what would occur. He saw it coming, and warned me. Although he perceived that I rejected his warning, yet he did not reject me, but spoke kindly and graciously to me as before." It was thus he was able to converse with himself, and in due time, to recover and encourage himself by the remembrance of his Master's words. The Lord appointed the cock to incite him to repentance, and by his morning call, at the proper time, to bring the fallen man again to himself, and cause him to shed tears of contrition. Thus the Savior's affectionate solicitude extended far beyond the temptation and the conflict; and prepared, beforehand, a remedy for the wounds occasioned by the fall and defeat. O with how much reason may he say, "As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you;" and how much occasion have we to exclaim, on thus looking into the depth of his affection, "His love is stronger than death!"
After the Lord had finished speaking to Simon, and arranged everything for the restoration of the zealous disciple, in the season of contrition and weeping, he turns to the disciples in general. They had now finished their years of tuition, and the time was at hand when they were to let their light shine in the darkness of this world, and in the midst of storm and pressure, tumult and strife, to unfurl the banner of the cross among the nations of the earth. Jesus is now going to tell them so; and he does it in such a kind, careful, tender, and affectionate manner, as to make one's heart rejoice. "He said unto them, when I sent you without purse, and bag, and shoes, lacked you anything?" The disciples cannot call to mind that they had ever been in want, and must cheerfully confess it to their Master's honor, by saying, "Lord, never!" The Lord had acted toward them as he generally acts toward his children whom, in the time of their first love, he leads very gently, and with parental care and kindness. Not only what they desire is granted them, but even the manner in which they desire it; the intention being that they may thus accustom themselves to him, and may receive an indelible impression of the loveliness of his peaceful kingdom during their future journey through life, as well as to divest them of every doubt of their being really accepted and sharing in his affections.
It might be thought that after this declaration of his disciples our Lord would say, "Be not careful, therefore, in future, for such will always be the case." Instead of which, he tells them just the reverse, and that in future they would not infrequently find it otherwise. "But now," says he, with reference to the whole of their future course of life, "he who has a purse, let him take it, and likewise his bag. But he who has none—neither purse nor bag—let him sell his garment and buy a sword."
How are these words to be understood? Generally speaking, they announce to the disciples, that conflict, danger, distress, and manifold trials awaited them, for which they must timely prepare; but that they might then firmly confide in him, whom they had ever found a faithful friend in time of need. At the same time, he gives them clearly to understand that henceforth they must not rest too confidently on the same obvious and wondrous guidance which they had hitherto experienced, because their life would in future partake more of the common course of human affairs, and that the direct interposition, by means of which the hand of eternal love had hitherto sustained and provided for them, would give place to a more indirect divine aid, for which faith would be required. It would then be necessary, besides prayer and looking up to heaven, to apply the ordinary means of provision, defense, and aid. Let him who had a purse and a bag not cast them away, but take them, and make use of them. Manly resolution, foresight, and prudent calculation are no longer to be despised, but to be practiced and employed. No, he who had no sword ought to sell his garment and buy one.
Perhaps you suppose that by the latter our Lord meant a spiritual sword, the sword of the Word, or of faith. No, my readers, the Lord thinks as little of spiritual weapons, when he mentions the sword, as of spiritual traveling equipments when he speaks of the purse and the bag. Nor does he intend that his disciples should provide themselves with swords in the literal sense of the words. His language is allegorical, and its meaning is, "Your future course and calling will lead you into situations and circumstances in which you will have to bear your souls in your hands, and to strive with firmness and resolution for your liberties and lives."
But then, as if the Lord had intended to say, "Be not astonished at that which I have just told you, for the disciple is not above his Master, and what is hostile to me, will also be so to you:" he reminds them that his own path would terminate in ignominy and suffering: "For I say unto you, that this that is written of me, must yet be accomplished in me, 'and he was reckoned among the transgressors,' for the things concerning me have an end." The Lord here refers to Isaiah, 53, particularly to the 12th verse of that chapter, and expressly testifies that what is written there of Jehovah's servant,—that he should bear the sin of many, make intercession for the transgressors, and by his obedience and vicarious sacrifice, justify and eternally redeem his people—is said of himself. He thus dispels every doubt respecting the only correct interpretation of that portion of Scripture. It treats of him, his person, work, and kingdom. He also affords his disciples a strong light upon the mysterious obscurity of his approaching passion; and, finally, points out to them that the way to the crown is by the cross, and that his people ought scarcely to expect a better fate, in this evil world, than himself, who would have to endure the accursed death of the cross, and to be numbered with transgressors, and accounted and rejected by the world as the offscouring of all things.
But what does our Lord mean by the words which immediately follow—"For the things concerning me have an end?" Certainly not what he had intended to convey in the words, "This that is written must yet be accomplished in me." The Lord there unmistakably refers to the warning previously given to his disciples; and the import of his language is threefold. He intends to say, in the first place, "You must not arm yourselves on my account, nor in my defense; for, as the Lamb of God, slain from the foundations of the world, I must patiently resign myself to the appointed sufferings, which are indispensable for your reconciliation to God." Next, "The measure of that agony on which your redemption depends is exhausted by my passion. You may, therefore, boldly go forward, as being by one offering forever perfected." And, lastly, "Whatever you may have to suffer in future has nothing to do with your reconciliation to God, since that which had to be endured to atone for sin and to extinguish guilt, is laid upon and has an end in me. If you suffer, it is only for your purification, and while it does not become me, it is befitting for you to defend your lives and preserve them for my service, for the brethren, and, in case of need, to protect them by all legitimate means."
Such was our Lord's meaning, which, however the disciples do not comprehend, but explain it as a call upon them to protect him by force against his enemies, as Peter actually endeavored to do in the sequel. Under this idea, they show him the swords, with which two of them, including Simon, were armed, as was customary with wandering Galileans, and childishly, though with the best intention, say, "Lord, behold, here are two swords!" "It is enough," rejoined the Savior, breaking off mournfully—as if he had said, "Let us leave the matter for the present; you will better understand my meaning in the sequel."
THE HOLY PLACE
Gethsemane—Conflict and Victory
It is night. The Lord has left Jerusalem with his eleven confidential followers, fully aware of what awaits him. In deeply affecting converse he descends with them into the dark valley of cypresses, where once, during the reign of the kings, the fire blazed, in which the abominations of idolatry were consumed to the honor of Jehovah. Here he crosses the brook Kedron, over which his royal ancestor, King David, when fleeing from his son Absalom, passed barefoot and in sackcloth, deeply bowed down by his own guilt and that of his people. Affected by momentous recollections, and sunk in the contemplation of expressive types and shadows, the Savior arrives at the entrance of the garden of Gethsemane (the oil-press) at the foot of the Mount of Olives, where ancient gigantic olive-trees, to this day, point out to the pious pilgrim the very spot where the Lord of Glory wept over the misery of the human race, and prayed and agonized for their redemption. We know that the Lord frequently retired to the solitude of that peaceful inclosure, after the heat and burden of the day, in order, by sacred converse with his heavenly Father, to strengthen himself anew for his great work. Luke expressly remarks that he went "as he was accustomed," to the Mount of Olives, but with feelings, such as on this occasion, he had never before entered that silent retreat.
The song of praise, with which he had left the friendly chamber at Jerusalem with his disciples, had long been ended. The conversation by the way seems, according to the concluding words, "It is enough!" to have assumed a more aphoristic and monosyllabic character than before. Longer pauses occurred. The Lord's solemnity increased the nearer they approached the end of their night-wandering; and it was evident that his soul became increasingly oppressed. Every one perceived the alteration in the Master's feelings; and, therefore, it did not seem strange to the disciples that, on arriving at the garden-gate, he should say to them, with deep emotion, "Sit you here, while I go and pray yonder." In the mildest possible form, he announces to those of his disciples who were to remain at a distance from the mysterious scene, the events which awaited him. With true parental kindness he seeks to prevent their being too much alarmed. "He would go yonder and pray." It was prayer for which he was preparing himself; but what a prayer! How clearly does he make it evident, by the preparatory measures he takes, that he regards, and wishes the conflict he is about to enter upon to be regarded, not as anything arising from within him, but as breaking in upon him from without! That which awaits him presents itself to him as impending over him. He sees it like a thunder-cloud brooding over his head.
The disciples, obedient to their Master's dictate, seat themselves at the entrance of the inclosure, while he himself, after beckoning to Peter, John, and James, his most confidential friends, to follow him, goes before them deeper into the interior of the garden. It is of importance to him, for the sake of his future Church, to have eye-witnesses of that solemn scene. He is also incited to take the three disciples with him, by the purely human feeling of the need of affectionate and comforting fellowship in his approaching conflict. How beneficial it is, in seasons of trial, to be surrounded by like-minded friends, who watch and pray with us, and impart to us valuable encouragement from the Word of God and their own spiritual experience! How the conflict may thus be rendered easy and sweet; while solitude is accustomed to increase the feeling of horror, and to open the gates of imagination to terrific ideas, in addition to the distress which really exists. Christ was not a stranger to any purely human feeling of necessity. He was made in all things like unto us, but without sin.
The voice which resounded through the garden of Eden, cried "Adam, where are you?" but Adam hid himself trembling, behind the trees of the garden. The same voice, and with a similar intention, is heard in the garden of Gethsemane. The second Adam, however, does not withdraw from it, but proceeds to meet the High and Lofty One, who summons him before him, resolutely exclaiming, "Here am I!" Let us follow him into the nocturnal gloom. But what awe seizes upon us! The beings we there meet are well known to us; but how is their appearance changed! All is enveloped in mysterious obscurity, and the distress of our hearts increases every moment at the sight.
It is the Eternal Father himself who here presides; but what is left for us, in his presence, except to exclaim with Job, "Behold, God is great, and we know him not, and darkness is under his feet!" His only and supremely beloved Son appears before him in a position which might melt the flinty rock to pity; but compassion seems a stranger with him, who yet said to Zion, "Though, a woman may forget her nursing child, yet will I not forget you!" We are tempted to break out with David into the piteous cry, "Has God forgotten to be gracious, and is his mercy clean gone forever?" For look, what a scene! Again and again does the Son of Love cast himself on his Father's bosom, with ardent supplication; but his ear listens in vain for a favorable Amen! from on high. There is neither voice, nor response, nor attention, as if the Eternal had in wrath retracted his words, "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, you shall glorify me!" and had no longer a heart for him, who lay in his bosom, before the foundation of the world. The cup of horror does not pass from the trembling sufferer; on the contrary, its contents become every moment more bitter. Louder sound the complaints of the agonizing Savior; more urgent becomes his prayer but the Lofty One is silent and heaven seems barred as with a thousand bolts. A holy angel, indeed, at length approaches; but why an angel only, instead of the immediate and consoling vision of the Father? Does it not almost seem like irony that a creature should be sent to strengthen the Creator? And what kind of invigoration was that which was only attended with an increase of suffering? For we read, "And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground." O the horrors of that hour, when Jesus, our Surety, appeared at the bar of Divine Justice, and paid the penalty for us sinners, that we might escape!
But now let us fix our eyes upon the suffering Savior. Scarcely do we know him again, so enveloped is he in an impenetrable covering of agonizing mystery and contradiction. He is the man beheld in spirit by Jeremiah, and described in the words, "His heart is turned within him, and all his members quake." He is the desolate individual, who testifies of himself in the Psalms, "I am a worm, and no man." He announced himself as the Redeemer of the world, and yet, who seems to require deliverance more than he? He bears the sublime title of "Prince of Peace;" yet where ever was there one more destitute of peace than he? See how he applies at one time to his Father, and at another to mere human beings for comfort to his desponding soul, and does not find what he seeks, but is compelled to return disappointed and trembling. His eye is filled with tears, his lips with cries and complaints, while his heart is crushed as in a wine-press, which forces a bloody sweat from all his veins. Is this the hero, who was once the strength of the weak, the comfort of the sorrowful, the support of the feeble, and the shield of the combatant? Is this the Holy One of Israel, who formerly was prepared for everything, and joyfully exclaimed, "Lo, I come to do your will, O my God! yes, your law is within my heart." I ask again, Who recognizes, in this most wretched of men, the incarnate Son of God; and who perceives in this bruised reed and trembling worm, the "Fairest of the children of men?"
And now look also at his disciples, who fill up the measure of these incomprehensible things; while their Master is struggling with death in indescribable agony, we see, even the most select of the little troop, lying on the ground, overpowered with sleep. He rouses them, and almost supplicates them to watch with him only a little while; but they slumber again, as if unconcerned about him, and leave their Master to his sufferings. One of their number is he who said, "Though all should be offended with you, yet will not I, though I should die with you!" Another is the beloved disciple, who once lay on Jesus' bosom, and the third is he who formerly answered so resolutely in the affirmative to the question, "Can you drink of the cup of which I shall drink, and be baptized with the baptism, with which I am baptized?" Behold here the little dependence to be placed on human fidelity! One only is faithful, and on him alone can we, in every case, rely; and he never slumbers nor sleeps, when his people are distressed. But how could the disciples sleep during that awful scene? we may well inquire; but must we not suppose that it was out of the natural course of things? Does not the idea of an influence, exercised by infernal powers, force itself upon us? See how we are enveloped with horrors in Gethsemane; like terrific and feverish dreams in a waking state, or like spectral and delusive phantoms in a delirious condition.
But let us contemplate this mysterious conflict in Gethsemane a little more closely. Scarcely had Jesus, with his three disciples, penetrated a few paces into the garden, when "he began"—therefore before their eyes, "to be very sorrowful and very heavy." In these words, the history gives us a hint that something unheard of before, now came over him. At the same time, it intimates that the distress which seized him was voluntarily endured by him, after due preparation. Indescribable melancholy took possession of his soul; mysterious apprehension oppressed his mind. Mark, according to his peculiar manner of depicting the awful scene, more in detail, gives us a clearer idea of the Savior's distress, by saying, "He began to be sore amazed." He makes use of a word in the original which implies a sudden and horrifying alarm at a terrific object. The Evangelist evidently intends to intimate thereby that the cause of Jesus' trembling must be sought, not in what might be passing in his soul, but in appearances from without which forced themselves upon him; something approached him which threatened to rend his nerves, and the sight of it to freeze the blood in his veins.
Immediately after the first attack of agony, Jesus returns to his three disciples, with words which cast a strong light upon his inmost state of mind. He says, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. Assuredly the import of this complaint is not confined to the idea expressed by, "I am grieved to death," or "sorrow threatens my life;" although the words certainly assert this in the first place. Even according to this explanation of them, they convey an idea of the sorrows of the Redeemer's soul, which is the more appalling the less exaggeration we can suppose in the words of him who was himself the Truth. The being "sorrowful, even unto death," however, does not indicate merely the measure, but also the nature and kind of suffering. We read in the sequel, that "he was in an agony," or, as other translators have it, "he wrestled with death." It was in the horrors of this state that our Surety felt himself placed—not merely in the way of beholding them, but also in that of a mysterious entering into them. Whatever men may say, without holding firmly by the idea of a mediator, the horrors of Gethsemane can never be satisfactorily explained. A mere representation of the death of the sinner, from which Christ came to redeem mankind, could not have laid hold of the Holy One of Israel so overpoweringly. He entered into much closer contact with "the last enemy." He emptied the cup of its terrors.
Observe now to what a height his distress increases. With the candid confession, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death," he hastens back to his three friends, like one who, in his feebleness, welcomes even the slightest support and consolation, and speaks to them no longer like a master to his servants, but like one who is oppressed and in need of comfort, to his brethren who may possibly be able to afford him help. "Tarry you here," he says, "and watch with me." He means, "Do not leave me, your presence is a comfort." It is not they but himself, who is to be pitied.
"Tarry you here." In what terrific vicinity must he have found himself, that even the sight of these poor, frail disciples, seemed so desirable and beneficial to him. "Tarry you here." How could he have besought them in this manner, if he had seen heaven open above him, and had felt that he was lying on his Father's bosom? "Watch with me." This expression points out still more minutely the distress of his soul; for, though intended to serve as a warning to his disciples, to be upon their guard in this hour of temptation; yet he claims, at the same time, their sympathy for himself, and requests their compassion, possibly, even their intercession. Certain it is, that the Lord Jesus was never in a state of deeper humiliation, either before or afterward, than here in the garden of Gethsemane.
Scarcely had he uttered these words to his disciples, when he tore himself from them, and proceeded about a stone's throw into the recesses of the garden. Here we see him sinking on the ground, first upon his knees, and then on his face, and the supplicating cry now forces itself, for the first time, from his deeply agitated soul, "Abba, Father, all things are possible unto you, take away this cup from me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will." Yes, he would gladly have been spared the cup which was given him to drink, the contents of which were so horrible; for it is not a senseless stone, but a real man, susceptible of every painful feeling, that suffers within him. He wishes its removal, however, simply on the condition which is invariable with him, that it should be in accordance with his Father's counsel and will. He says, "If it be possible;" he does not, however, mean this in the general sense, for he had already said, "All things are possible unto you;" but he thinks only of a conditional possibility, within the limits of the object for which he had appeared in the world.
But it may be asked, "How can Christ still inquire whether the redemption of mankind can be accomplished without the cross and the shedding of his blood?" This, however, is not his object. The Lord's question confines itself to the present horrors—the cup of Gethsemane. Let this circumstance, therefore, again remind us that the self-renunciation of the Son of God essentially consisted in his divesting himself, to a certain point, of the use of his divine perfections generally, and of his unlimited omniscience in particular; in consequence of which he was in a position to walk in the same path of faith with us, and, according to the expression of the apostle, to "Learn obedience by the things which he suffered."
The prayer of the divine sufferer knocked at the door of the divine audience-chamber with all the force of holy fervor and filial resignation, but no echo greeted his ear. Heaven maintained a profound silence. The suppliant, then rising up with increased anguish from the ground, hastens again to his disciples, but finds them—how inconceivable!—sunk in deep sleep. He hastily awakens them, and says with mournful earnestness to Peter, first of all—"Simon, sheep you? Could you not watch one hour?" An overwhelming question for the presumptuous disciple, whose mouth had just before been so full of assertions of fidelity even unto death. He then addresses this solemn warning to the whole three—"Watch you, and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak."
That which led him back to the disciples this time, beside the need he felt of consolation for his agitated soul, was his ardent affection for them, who, like himself, were surrounded by dangerous and infernal powers. "The hour of darkness," to which he had referred in a warning manner on a previous occasion, had arrived. The prince of this world had appeared on the stage in complete armor. Hell saw every barrier to its devices removed. The mysterious stupefaction and inability of the disciples manifests the baneful influence of the atmosphere they breathe. It was, therefore, necessary that they should summon up all the powers of their mind and spirit in order not to succumb to the temptation to offense, unbelief, and apostasy. For the expression, "enter into," signifies here the being entangled in the snares of temptation. The injunction to "Watch," includes in it an alarming call to vigilance and foresight against a misapprehension of the threatened danger. The exhortation to pray is an imperative note of preparation, a direction to the armory of Jehovah, and an invitation to the source of all help and strength—the grace of God. The words, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak," must not be explained as an excuse for the slumberers, but be regarded as an additional reason for the warning he addresses to them. The Lord intends to say, "Do not trust to your pious resolutions. Your sinful and easily ensnared nature needs much stronger restraint, especially when baneful influences from without are superadded."
The Lord again returns to the deeper shade of the garden, and prays a second time in a somewhat altered form—"O my Father, if this cup may not pass from me, except I drink it, your will be done!" One of the evangelists mentions that he prayed "more earnestly this second time." He does not mean that he urged his suit to be spared more importunately than before; but that, on the contrary, as soon as he perceived from the silence of his heavenly Father, that his petition was refused, he strove, with an increased expenditure of strength, to enter still more deeply into the obedience of faith. Meanwhile his inward horror continued to increase.
After rising up from prayer, he again sought his disciples, but found them still sleeping—"Sleeping for sorrow," as the narrative informs us; and my readers may probably have themselves experienced how grief and dejection can paralyze and bind the animal spirits; "for their eyes were heavy." And on being awoke, "they know not," in their stupor, "what to answer him."
The Lord withdrew a third time into solitude, and prayed the same words. An angel now descends to the suppliant Savior, and approaches him in order to "strengthen him." This sudden appearance of a heavenly being must, in itself, have afforded the Lord no small comfort, after his mental imprisonment in the sphere of sinful men and lost spirits. What the radiant messenger brought the divine sufferer, was not, however, the news that his Father was willing to grant his petition for exemption from the cup of suffering; but, if he came with any message at all, it was only the express intelligence that the plan of salvation did not admit of its removal. The probability, however, is, that the mission of the angel was only intended to strengthen his exhausted frame, and revive his fainting spirit, which had been shaken to their center, in order that in the last and most painful part of the conflict, the body, at least, might not succumb. For immediately after the return of the angel, "Being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground." What a spectacle! It is asserted only of one individual, Charles IX. of France, whose conscience was burdened with the massacre of the Protestants on the eve of St. Bartholomew, that on his deathbed, under the accusations of the inward monitor, he literally sweat blood in the anguish of his soul. What a parallel between the murderer of thousands of Christ's flock, and Christ the Holy One himself! Who is not horrified at the contrast; but to whom does it not at the same time afford a dawning apprehension of the nature and importance of Immanuel's sufferings, and shed a degree of light upon the darkest and most terrific moment of the conflict in Gethsemane?
Let us refer, once more, to that mysterious prayer at which the world is so often inclined to stumble. It has been found difficult to make it agree with the Lord's love to mankind, with his submission to his Father's will, with his omniscience, and with his previous composure and resolution in announcing the sufferings that awaited him, that he could suddenly desire to be freed from these sufferings. And when, to objections of this kind, it is answered that the soul of Jesus, during the conflict in Gethsemane, must be supposed to have been involved in a state of gloomy obscurity, in accordance with the divine will—it is rejoined that the perspicuity and fervor with which he addressed God as his Father, both before and after, by no means leave us to infer such a state of darkness. Inexplicable enigmas and contradictions seem to accumulate upon us here; but the obscurity will pass away, if we consider what follows.
First, as regards the objection derived from our Lord's omniscience, we repeat what we have formerly stated. The self-renunciation of the Eternal Son consisted essentially in this, that during his sojourn on earth, he divested himself of the unlimited use of all his divine attributes, and leaving that eternity, which is above time and space, he entered upon an existence circumscribed by time and space, in order that he might tread the path of the obedience of faith, like ourselves, and perfect himself in it as our Head, High Priest, and Mediator. As "the Servant of Jehovah," which title is applied to him in the Old Testament, it was his part to serve, not to command; to learn subjection, not to rule; to struggle and strive, but not to reign in proud repose above the reach of conflict. How could this have been possible for one who was God's equal, without this limitation of himself? All his conflicts and trials would then have been only imaginary and not real. He did not for a moment cease to be really God, and in the full possession of every divine perfection: but he abstained from the exercise of them, so far as it was not permitted by his heavenly Father.
Observe, secondly, that the Lord, in Gethsemane, does not pray to be delivered from his impending sufferings generally but only for the removal of the horrors he was then enduring. How could he desire anything contrary to the counsel of God, who, when his disciples had exhorted him against thus giving himself up to suffering, rebuked them so severely? He only asks, if it be possible for the cup to pass from him; and means that cup alone, whose bitterness and horrors he was then tasting.
That Christ, in his conflict, still acknowledges God as his Father, had nothing strange in it, and does not contradict the assumption that in Gethsemane he emptied the cup of divine judgment for our sins. For it is one thing to know God as his Father, only by faith, and another to feel him present in his paternal capacity, and experience him in the enjoyment of his favor and affection. The Spirit of Jesus, in its grievous conflicts, certainly always struggled through all opposition to the comfortable consciousness of Sonship; but what his human soul experienced, was only curse, estrangement, and rejection.
Finally, the doubt whether the urgency of Christ's prayer stands in accordance with his love to sinners, as well as with his submission to his Father's counsel, is completely destitute of foundation. The love of Jesus as well as his obedience, celebrate, in Gethsemane, their most brilliant triumphs. He only asks his Father whether, without infringing upon the work of redemption, this cup might pass from him. That he has only this conditional possibility in view, and does not claim the divine omnipotence in general for his rescue, he clearly shows by that which precedes his question. "Father," says he, "to you all things are possible;" by which he intends to say, "I well know that my conflict shall end at your pleasure; "but will you be able to will its termination without thereby frustrating the redemption of sinners? If not, then refuse my request; I will then drink the cup to the dregs."
His obedience to his Father resembles his love to him. The invariable language of his heart was, "Not as I will, but as you will." If the sinless weakness of the will of his human soul strove against it, the will of his Spirit immediately laid hold of it, and overpowered it with the feeling of the most decided resignation, which exclaimed, "Father, your will be done, not mine!" This cry had indeed to be wrung from resisting nature in her distress; and like a vessel in a storm, which steers firmly and undeviatingly, according to the direction of the needle, toward its port, yet not in so direct and equable a course as during a calm: so the will of Christ's Spirit entered into the will of God. As long as the unconditional necessity of the cup of suffering was still in question, his heart was tossed to and fro like the surging sea. But as soon as he became assured, by the continued silence of his heavenly Father, that the world could not be otherwise redeemed than by his completely emptying this cup: he did not permit the wish to avoid the suffering to be heard again; but with the words, "My Father, if this cup may not pass from me except I drink it, your will be done!" He accomplished the great sacrifice of the most unreserved, filial, and willing resignation of his whole self to the counsel and determination of his heavenly Father.
The cup of horror has been emptied to the very dregs. Our Lord raises himself up from the dust, and hastens back to his disciples. The whole manner of his behavior, tone, and deportment is now essentially changed, and indicates encouragement, manliness, and consciousness of victory. We behold him coming forth triumphantly from the conflict, and armed and prepared for all that is to follow. "Sleep on, now, and take your rest," he begins to say with mournful and reproving seriousness, "It is enough." "For my sake"—is his meaning—"you need no longer watch; I require your assistance no more. My conflict is ended."
But what means the addition, "It is enough?" What else than "Your slumbers will now cease of themselves?" The words that immediately follow require this explanation. "The hour is come; behold the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners." He intends by these words to say, "The body is now concerned, and your liberty is at stake; who will think any longer of sleeping under such circumstances? He knows what hour has struck. Not without a degree of apprehension, but still perfect master of his feelings, he courageously prepares for being delivered into the hands of sinners, with whom, by this expression, he evidently contrasts himself as the Holy One.
"Rise up!" says he at the close, expressive of the valorous resolution which his language breathed. "Let us go," continues he, "Lo, he who betrays me is at hand!" What a momentous appeal is this! The champion of Israel goes forth to attack and overcome, in our stead, death, hell, and the devil, in their strongest holds. Let us adoringly bow the knee to him and accompany him with hallelujahs.
Thus, has the most mysterious scene the world ever witnessed passed before us in all its affecting circumstances; and which of my readers has not felt that to solve its enigmas, the keys which human science puts into our hands are insufficient. In no earthly martyrdom is there anything which remotely corresponds with the conflict in Gethsemane. It is obvious, on the contrary, that in treating of it, we have to do with sufferings which are unique in their kind. I might however, observe that the antithetical obscurity of the conflict places itself in light and splendor before us, as soon as it reaches its culminating point. It is only by the guiding clue of these ideas, that we find our way out of the labyrinth. If we believingly follow that clue, which is not drawn by the arbitrary will of man, but is put into our hands by the word of God, we shall discover the source of our eternal peace, where, at the commencement, nothing but horror and distress took possession of us; and shall joyfully finish, by ascribing thanksgiving, and blessing, and praise unto him, who endured such great things for us.
Gethsemane—Import and Result
The apostle, in writing to the Hebrews, concerning the priesthood of Jesus Christ, expresses himself in a remarkable manner, when he says in chap. 5:7, 8, "Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared: though he were a Son yet learned he obedience from the things that he suffered."
The apostle has evidently reference here to the conflict in Gethsemane, and expressly designates what the Lord Jesus endured and accomplished there, as sacrificial. According to the apostle's view, the Lord there struggled in the agonies of death; and he represents the deliverance from death as the object of his supplications. But the death with which the divine sufferer strove, could not be that which delivers the soul from the prison of the body: but only that the power over which is possessed by the devil, and which, while separating mankind from fellowship with God, weighs upon them as the curse and wages of sin.
The apostle says, Christ was "heard in that he feared"—that is, was delivered from the fear and horror of God. It follows of course, that this fear must not be understood as godly fear or filial reverence; but as horror and terror at the majesty of the Thrice Holy One in the heavens; for the being heard, can only have reference to this fear. But the Father's "hearing" was experienced only after Christ, by his sufferings, had learned obedience—that is, when he uttered the words, "Father, not as I will, but as you will," and had, without reserve, accepted the cup from him. In the midst of strong crying and tears, the Lord offered himself up as the Lamb which, as the representative of a sinful world, presented himself at the bar of divine judgment. For as Isaiah says, "He was taken from prison and from judgment."—Chap. 53:8.
I confess that whenever I am called upon to treat of the sacred mysteries of Gethsemane, I cannot divest myself of a certain degree of awe. I feel as if there stood at the gate of that garden a cherub, who, if not with a flaming sword, yet with a repelling gesture refused admittance, and emphatically repeated our Lord's injunction to tarry outside, while he retires to pray. A feeling always seizes me, as if it were unbecoming to act as a spy on the Son of the living God in his most secret transactions with his heavenly Father; and that a sinful eye ventures too much in daring to look upon a scene in which the Lord appears in such a state of weakness and abandonment that places him on the same footing with the most miserable among men. Besides, I know that I am expected to introduce the reader into depths which make the head turn giddy to look down upon; to solve enigmas, the complete deciphering of which I must despair of on this side of eternity; to explain mysteries, for the unsealing of which, my own soul vainly languishes; and to draw aside veils, which, as often as I attempt it, seem the more to thicken. But the Gospel brings the mysterious narrative before us for consideration, and hence it is incumbent upon us to enter into its sacred gloom, and seek to comprehend as much of it as human apprehension is capable of.
The events in the garden of Gethsemane, with their scenes of horror, have passed in review before us. If we are not entitled to regard the position in which we find the Savior there, as altogether extraordinary, superhuman, and singular; we should do better to close the gate of that enclosure, and withdraw the Holy One of Israel from the eyes of the world, if we wish to save his honor, and that of his Father. If, in Gethsemane, we have to do with Jesus only as a prophet or teacher, his office, as such, there suffered the most complete shipwreck; since we cannot then avoid the conclusion, that he must, himself, have been at fault with regard to his doctrine, and have lost the courage to die for it. If he is to be regarded in Gethsemane only as the model of unconditional resignation to God; we must say that he scarcely attained even to this; since Stephen and many other martyrs have appeared infinitely greater than the trembling Jesus, with his bloody sweat and agonizing prayer that the cup might pass from him. If we are to look upon Jesus only as a man desirous, by his example, of sealing the truth that in the time of distress, the Lord God is near his people with his help and consolation—the question again recurs, where does such a tranquilizing fact appear; since the very opposite shows itself, and the holy sufferer languishes from being forsaken of God? If, finally, he must be viewed as a proof of that overcoming peace which never departs from the just, but accompanies him in every season of distress: we look around us in vain, even for such a testimony; for instead of peace, a horror seizes upon the Holy One of God, like that of a guilty malefactor, which renders him restless and fugitive, and even gives him the appearance of one who is on the brink of despair.
We must, therefore, have to do, in Gethsemane, with something essentially different to what I have just mentioned, or Gethsemane becomes the grave of the Lord's glory. If he were fighting a battle, only similar to that which every martyr for the kingdom of heaven has fought before and since—the scholars are then superior to their Master, and the latter is thrown by them far into the shade. All belief in the government of a holy and righteous God in the world, must be stamped as a delusion, if, in the suffering of Jesus, we apply no other criterion than that of an ordinary testing and purifying trial. Heaven must fall, the order of the divine government be annihilated, and Christianity be forever destroyed, if the Holy Scriptures compel us to regard the cup, which Jesus drank, as essentially the same as that of which Job, Jeremiah, Paul, and many others partook.
Know, however, that the combatant in Gethsemane loses nothing in our esteem by his being "sore amazed and very heavy;" nor are we mistaken in him, in whatever degree he may seem to have lost his self-possession. We do not stumble at seeing him tear himself loose from his disciples, with the violence of one beside himself, and then, prostrate in the dust, hear him mournfully exclaim, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death! "Even his thrice uttered anxious petition, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me!" and his taking refuge with his weak disciples, as well as his requesting them to watch with him one hour for his consolation—no, even the bloody sweat, which flowed from his veins, and dropped from his sacred body to the ground—however much we may feel astonished, whatever sorrow it may cause our hearts, and however deeply it may horrify us—it does not make us take offense, nor cause our faith to suffer shipwreck. In our view, brilliant stars shine over the darkness of Gethsemane. We possess the key to its mysteries and the depth of its horrors; and we find it in the sentiment, which, in every variety of form, pervades the whole Bible: "God has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." As long as Christ's position, as Mediator, is not acknowledged, the events in Gethsemane will continue a sealed mystery. Every attempt to explain them, otherwise than by the fundamental article of his vicarious mediation, must be forever unavailing. Only through the light which it affords us, is everything rendered clear and intelligible to us in that appalling scene. The most striking contradictions are then reconciled, and that which is the most strange and apparently incomprehensible, disappears, and seems perfectly natural. The divine sufferer in Gethsemane must be regarded, not as that which he is abstractedly, but in his mysterious relation to sinners. He here appears as "the second Adam," as the Mediator of a fallen world, as the Surety, on whom the Lord "laid the iniquities of us all."
Three causes lay at the basis of Jesus' mental sufferings—the one more awful than the other. His agony was caused, first, by his horror of sin, by amazement at the abominations of our misdeeds, and by penitential conflict. The transgressions, which were divinely imputed to him, that he might suffer for them as the representative of sinners, crowd into the sphere of his vision in the most glaring light. He beholds them very differently to the view taken of them by man in his darkened state. They present themselves, to his holy eyes, in their naked deformity, in their unutterably abominable nature, and in their soul-destroying power. In sin, he sees apostasy from the Almighty, daring rebellion against the Eternal Majesty, and base revolt against the will and law of God; and surveys, at one view, all the horrible fruits and results of sin, in the curse, death, and endless perdition. How was it possible that the pure and holy soul of Jesus, at the sight of such horrors, should not tremble and shudder, and be seized with a nameless abhorrence, of which we, who are so deeply infected by sin, have no conception? Only imagine personified holiness placed in the midst of the pool of the world's corruption! May it not be supposed, how a sinless messenger sent to him from the Father, needed only to enter into such a horrible sphere of vision, in order, by his mere appearance, greatly to comfort and refresh the Savior?
But do not let us conceal it from ourselves, that the sore amazement and heaviness, which the Savior experienced in Gethsemane, would still remain an inexplicable mystery, were we not permitted to conceive of him as standing in a still nearer relation to our sins than that of merely beholding them. We not only may do so, but are even compelled to it by the Scriptures. The assertion is true, that the Redeemer as Mediator, would only have been able to suffer the punishment due to our sins, by having a consciousness of them. The personal feeling of guilt—that worm in the marrow of life—certainly renders punishment what it is, and forms its peculiar essence and focus. But if the doctrine of the satisfaction rendered by Christ is opposed on the ground that he was holy, and that, therefore, it was a contradiction and an impossibility for him to have inwardly felt the condemning sentence of the law like a criminal—those who do so would become guilty of a very hasty and presumptuous procedure. They would then be overlooking the supernatural and mysterious union, into which the God-man and second Adam entered with us, as our Head, and by which he received into himself—not our sinfulness, for he remained immaculate as before—but our consciousness of guilt, together with its terrors. You ask how this was practicable? Something corresponding with it, though in a remote degree, may be met with, even in our human affinities and relations. Natural affection and consanguinity are able to establish sympathies, in consequence of which a father may take his son's faults and improprieties to heart, or a friend those of his friend, in such a manner as to be compelled to sigh, mourn, humble himself with brokenness of heart, and wrestle with God for mercy on account of them, as if they were his own. Now, imagine to yourselves, if you are able, apart from his mystic union with our sinful race, the energy of love and sympathy with which Christ immersed himself in us and our guilty state, and you will more easily conceive how, though supremely holy in himself, he could feel our guilt as his own. Add also to this, that supernatural connection which, in its mysterious depths, is unfathomable by all human thought, by which he was incorporated, as a graft, into the stem of humanity, with which he became identified, and the doctrine that the Savior took the consciousness of our guilt upon him in another and more intimate manner than that of a mere objective representation, will no longer appear unreasonable. You will now comprehend how the Psalmist could exclaim, concerning the Messiah: "My iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head;" nor any longer wonder at Christ's behavior in Gethsemane. The mystery of his horror, amazement, and dismay is solved. His anguish in the garden is the distress occasioned by sin, the pangs of contrition, and the terror at the judicial majesty of the holy God, endured in our names, and tasted in our stead. It is repentance—a repentance commensurate with the greatness of our sin, and which, in his priestly capacity, he offers for us to the Eternal Father.
Besides the abominable nature of sin, the Lord experiences its curse; and in this we perceive the second explanatory cause of the terrors of Gethsemane. He feels himself as a culprit before God. All that is implied in being separated from God, deprived of his favor, estranged from his affection, and a child of wrath, he feels as deeply, inwardly, and vitally, as if he himself were in that situation. He descends the gradations of such feelings into the distress of the damned, and into those infernal horrors where the prophetic lamentations in Psalm 22 find their fulfillment: "Be not far from me, for trouble is near, for there is none to help. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, my tongue cleaves to my jaws, and you have brought me into the dust of death." He is only able, by naked faith, to struggle through the flood of opposite impressions and feelings, to the consciousness that God is still his Father as before. His soul is unconscious of God's gracious presence, and tastes only the pain and distress of abandonment. Alas! the sight of his Father's smiling face was his heaven; the consciousness of paternal favor, his entire felicity. But he now beholds it enveloped in gloomy clouds; and instead of intimate nearness, he experiences only a feeling of distance on the part of God. But he was not to be spared these bitterest drops in our "cup of trembling," in order that the words of prophecy might be fulfilled in him: "He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows."—(Isaiah 53:4). Even the heavenly peace of his heart belonged to the things which it was necessary for him to sacrifice as the ransom for our souls. Can we, therefore, feel surprised that when his sufferings rose to this state of inward abandonment, the inquiry as to the possibility of the removal of the cup should, with still stronger effort, be wrung from his soul?
The third cause of our Lord's bitter distress in Gethsemane, is to be sought in the world of fallen spirits. It is beyond a doubt that Satan essentially contributed to the horrors of that scene. The Lord himself intimates as much in the words, "The prince of this world comes," and "This is the hour and the power of darkness." And his repeated call to his disciples, when overcome by gloomy slumber, to watch and pray, lest they should enter into temptation, places it beyond question in what kind of society and atmosphere they were at that moment. The infernal powers have been let loose upon the Divine Redeemer. They are permitted to array against him all their cunning, might and malice. If they are able to drive the soul of the Holy One of Israel to despair, they are at liberty to do so. It is in their power to distress and torment him to death, for no one hinders them. They may try him as much as they please, no one stands by him to help him. He must look to it, how he can maintain his ground. What I am saying sounds horribly; but he who voluntarily endured the punishment due to us, was not permitted to escape being given up to the assaults of the powers of darkness. What the latter did to him is not expressly mentioned; but it is certain that they assailed him in the most fearful manner, and strove, with terrific visions, which they conjured up before him, with revolting blasphemies, which they poured into his ear, and with lying suggestions, to induce him to suspect the conduct of his father toward him, and tortured him with insidious dissuasions from the work of human redemption. Suffice it to say that our Lord's faith, as well as his patience, fidelity, and perseverance in the work he had undertaken, were never put to a fiercer ordeal than under the fiery darts of the "Wicked One," which he endured in Gethsemane. Here the complaints of the Psalmist, in Psalm 18, were realized: "The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. The sorrows of hell compassed me about, the snares of death prevented me."
Thus has the night of Gethsemane become light to us, although that light be glimmering. The connection between that scene of horrors and the garden of Eden, of which it is the awful antitype, is unmistakable. While in paradise the first Adam reposed in the lap of Divine Love, and, like a child at home, held peaceful converse with Jehovah and his holy angels, we see, in the garden of Gethsemane, the second Adam sinking in agony to the ground, under the oppressive burden of guilt, languishing, forsaken of God, and horrified in the company of dark and infernal spirits. How evident it is, from this contrast, that what was transgressed and violated in the former, was suffered and compensated for in the latter; and how loudly does the narrative itself testify to the truth, that Christ suffered in the character of a satisfying surety, and an atoning representative!
After having thus developed the mystery both of the causes and nature of Christ's suffering in Gethsemane, so far as we have been enabled so to do, let us now inquire into the blessed result which has accrued to us from them. For this purpose it is necessary that we should apprehend the conflict in Gethsemane, not in the abstract, but in its inseparable connection with the whole of Christ's mediatorial sufferings. We see, however, in every single stage of our Savior's passion, some particular part of the salvation he accomplished brought before us in a clear and obvious light; and, accordingly, as we find ourselves placed in circumstances which require especial consolation, first one and then another station on his path to the cross invites us under its peace-inspiring shade.
Let us hasten to Gethsemane, therefore, beloved readers, when we feel oppressed in a world where selfishness reigns paramount, and what still remains of the charity of the Gospel threatens to expire in self-seeking and self-love. The loving Savior, whom we behold struggling for us in Gethsemane, continues ours; and how faithfully, ardently, and disinterestedly is he attached to us! What a price did it cost him to elevate such unworthy creatures as we are from our misery, and to procure eternal salvation for us! O love divine, how do our hearts expand at the contemplation of your beauty! How blissful it is to escape from a selfish world to meditate on you, to sun ourselves in your light, and to know that we are reposing on your bosom! What a happiness is this—what a foretaste of heaven in the house of our pilgrimage! O love, stronger than death, and more invincible than the grave, never depart from our view! Be you the star to shine upon us day and night; and the colder the wind of a self-loving world blows upon us during our sojourn here below, the more brightly do you display to the eyes of our spirits the gracious radiance of your heavenly beauty!
Resort to Gethsemane, my readers, when you stand uncertain which way to choose—whether to give yourselves to God or to the service of the world. Gethsemane will make it evident to you what sin is. Look at Jesus. He did no sin, but only took upon him that of others. How did it fare with him? "Now is the hour and the power of darkness," said he. He was given up to the assaults of the infernal hosts. How they fell upon him! How they tormented his holy soul! What horrible company! what nameless terrors! But know that what tortured him for a time, menaces you forever! Think of being eternally doomed to endure the society and the scourges of the infernal powers! Is it possible to conceive of anything more terrible? Jesus prayed that the cup might pass from him, but no answer was afforded him. God heeded not his agonizing cries; and yet Jesus was only the sinner's representative, while you must answer, each one for himself. Remember the rich man in the Gospel, who vainly besought a drop of water to cool his parched tongue. Who among you can bear to dwell with devouring fire, or abide with everlasting burnings? Be irresolute no longer. On the left yawns the pit, on the right shines the crown! Sin begets death, but the fruit of righteousness is life and peace.
Let us repair to Gethsemane, lastly, when the storms of temptation roar around us, and Satan goes about seeking whom he may devour. The days in which our lot has fallen are dangerous, and few there are who are not carried away with the stream of impiety. Even in the circle of the believing and the pious how much weakness of faith, decrepitude of spirit, want of peace, and discouragement do we perceive! How do the complaints increase of inward darkness, doubt, and blasphemous imaginations, which cannot be repelled! All these are signs that the Wicked One is using every effort, and as the Scripture says, is "in great wrath." He, therefore, who wishes to be secure, must resort to Gethsemane. There we shall not only find a confederate in the conflict, who will point the way to victory—there we shall not only be aroused with the alarming cry, "Watch and pray lest you fall into temptation;" but there the conviction is renewed within us, that the prince of this world is already judged—that every rightful claim of the adversary upon us is extinguished, and that what the Evil One suggests to us of an abominable nature against our wills, falls upon his own head, and not upon ours, since it has been long ago atoned for by the bloody sweat of Immanuel, in the case of penitent sinners, and can only have a purifying effect upon us according to the will of God. This faith is the victory, which has already overcome the prince of darkness.
Looking thus at Gethsemane, in its proper light, it becomes to us an "Eden," and is transformed, with its horrors, into a peaceful retreat. Within its circuit we are safe from the judicial inquiry, "Adam, where are you?" In this garden flows the never-failing river of God, which waters the new paradise. How many thousand anxious souls have gone forth out of it, from the conflicting bustle of the world, into divine Sabbatic repose! Its holy gates are open to us. Come, therefore, let us reverentially enter, and inhale its peaceful atmosphere!
The Sudden Assault
After coming off victorious from his spiritual conflict in Gethsemane, the divine sufferer prepares to enter upon the thorny path of bodily affliction. We must bear in mind that under the latter the former not only continues, but each of the trials to which he is subjected must be regarded only as the reflection of incomparably more, real and inward states and situations. His being taken prisoner, his being brought before the bar of judgment, his condemnation by the Sanhedrin, and his passage to the cross, are only symbolical representations of infinitely more exalted events, which were behind the veil, in the relations of the Mediator to God, the supreme Judge. He who is unable to regard the individual scenes of our Lord's passion from this point of view, does not penetrate through them, and will never find his way in the labyrinth of the history of our Savior's sufferings.
We imagine ourselves still enveloped in the darkness of that eventful night, in which our Lord said, in a tone of serious warning, to his disciples, and which may still be uttered to thousands in the present day, "All of you shall be offended because of me this night." Scarcely has the Savior risen up from the ground when a new cause of alarm awaits him. Before his disciples are aware, lanterns and torches are seen glistening amid the gloomy bushes of the valley, and a murderous band, armed with swords, staves, and spears, is seen approaching along the banks of Kedron. The powerful preparation made for this occasion is partly in order to serve as a mask, as if they were banded together for the purpose of seizing a dangerous conspirator and rebel; and partly in consequence of a secret fear and apprehension in the minds of the adversaries that they might probably meet with some unexpected opposition. The superfluous torches and lanterns, in light of the full moon, likewise manifest their conscience-smitten fears. They might, however, have in view the hypocritical announcement that the individual they were about to arrest, despairing of his cause, was only to be found in secret corners and hiding-places. Scarcely ever were so much devilish wickedness, baseness, and craftiness joined with so much inward cowardice, timidity, and faintheartedness, as we meet with in this band of ruffians. It is truly an infernal host with which we have to do—the bodyguard of Satan.
Let it not disturb us to inspect it a little more closely. We first perceive the priests, the ministers of the sanctuary. What accusation have they to bring against Jesus? This—that he is undermining their proud hierarchy, stripping them of their false glory, snatching from their hands the scepter of despotism over the consciences of the poor people, diminishing their tithes and resources, and, intimating to them, that they ought to place themselves in the ranks of publicans and sinners. All this was intolerable to these proud and domineering servants of mammon, and hence their hatred of the Lord of Glory. Hence also the animosity of numbers of our contemporaries. All enmity to Christ, regarded in this light, is nothing but the rebelling of proud, self-righteous, human nature, devoted to the service of the world, against a Gospel which places self-denial and the crucifixion of the flesh, with its affections and lusts, at the head of its requirements.
Near the priests we behold the Pharisees, those blind leaders of the blind, the representatives of the delusive idea of individual merit, and hence, also of repugnance to a doctrine which while stamping every one as a delinquent, affords a hope of salvation only by grace, and even to the most pious as the object of their boasting before God, leaves nothing but the freely bestowed righteousness of another. It is easy to understand how these men were offended at a Teacher who set up regeneration as a vital condition for all: whose language was, "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister," and who testifies of himself saying, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no man comes to the Father but by me." Let us here ask ourselves, whether, until the Spirit enlightens our darkness, we are willing to be nothing, and that grace should be everything? Whether we are better pleased than these sons of Gamaliel, to see our justification before God founded solely and exclusively on the blood of the Lamb, and that we are therefore naturally less offended with the Prince of Peace than they? I doubt whether this question will be decided in our favor. The Pharisee dwells in all of us from our infancy.
In the Scribes, who appear next in the band, we see the expression of a spurious wisdom, accompanied by spiritual ambition. No wonder, therefore, that such characters are also met with among the conspirators against Jesus. They, the learned among the people, were told that they must sit on the scholar's bench with the rest, and condescend to take their places at the feet of the Rabbi of Nazareth. They, the masters in Israel, who were stared and wondered at, and who sat with the heads of the people—were they to submit to this? How could such an idea fail to rouse and enrage the self-conceited men to the utmost? But do not the words of Jesus continue in force, even to this day? "You have hid these things from the wise and prudent;" as well as those of the apostle, "Not many wise men after the flesh are chosen?" In addition to the universal disinclination to Jesus, which is peculiar to every one who is not healed of the hereditary darkness of the human mind, there was also in the case of the Scribes, a latent vexation at the numerous defeats and mortifications they had sustained in the face of the people, as often as they had ventured to assail him. How victoriously had he always driven them from the field! How had he caught them in their own craftiness! How had he taken them captive in the very snares they had laid for him, and then openly disgraced and triumphed over them! These were the things for which they could not forgive him. And after the weapons of their sophistry had been wrenched from their hands, they were neither noble-minded nor ingenuous enough not to regard those of the basest treachery and rudest violence as suitable for their purpose. O speak no more of the natural man's nobility of spirit! Whatever stage of refinement and mental culture he may boast of occupying, there is always a price for which he will unhesitatingly barter this cause for boasting.
Under the command of the ringleaders above mentioned, we observe the servants of the high priests, those blind instruments of their superiors, who, though less guilty, are anything but guiltless; and then also, the mercenaries of the Roman temple guard. It becomes, indeed, people of this class unconditionally to obey the command of those who are set over them. Yet they are not mere machines, incapable of guilt in so doing, but answerable, as well as all other men, to God the final judge, for their moral conduct; whose obedience ought to be limited by the well-known maxim—"We must obey God rather than man;" and whose duty it therefore was, in the present case, to prefer dying by the hands of the executioner, to the doubtful praise of having done their duty in the perpetration of the most heinous of crimes. However, for the most part, they know not what they are doing. More reprobate than they, appears the despicable troop, who, for money or favor, have voluntarily joined the band. These cowardly flatterers and men-servers, to whom it is a trifle, for one approving look from a man of rank, to smite their conscience in the face, remind us of those miserable imitators of others, who, because this or that person, on whom they depend, thinks in this manner or that, do not dare to speak otherwise; and carry their baseness to such a point that they even dispose of their independent judgment in affairs of supremely vital importance, for the most miserable price in the world. Woe to such worthless characters!
But let us cast a look also at the troop of catchpoles. Who is it walks at their head, with a gloomy face and confused look? Who is the man, muffled up in a cloak, and bearing the impress of a forced, rather than of a natural bravery, in his mien? Ah, we recognize him! Our hearts shudder at the sight of him, and the blood stiffens in our veins. It is the son of perdition, of whom it was written a thousand years before: "He who did eat of my bread has lifted up his heel against me." It is the wretched man who wears the garb of discipleship only as the poisonous adder is clothed in its glistening skin; the hypocrite, who conceals himself in his apostolic office, like the murderous dagger in its golden sheath. Sin is perfected in him, and condemnation ripened to maturity. In darkness, bitterness, and a deceiver to the inmost center of his being: he now hates Jesus as the darkness hates the light. He has got beyond the period when he might have broken with Jesus with indifference, and then have gone on his way without troubling himself any more about him. But he has now given way to all the feeling of an infernal revolt. He is furious against him, as though the meek and lowly Jesus were an implacable judge, by whose holiness, purity, and love, he feels himself condemned for his own treachery, hypocrisy, and malice. He had long felt painfully uneasy in the company of Jesus. How could it be otherwise? A bird of night cannot bear the light of the sun. At the anointing in Bethany, where he became conscious that Jesus saw through him, he resigned himself wholly to the spirit of fury and bitterness, instead of to the Holy Spirit; and swore deadly vengeance against the man who had done him no other wrong than that of looking into his heart. Do not think that the lure of the thirty pieces of silver was a sufficient cause for his treachery. It was infernal in its nature, and must be sought much deeper. The unhappy disciple had already imbibed that furious spirit, which incessantly stings the lost in hell, to curse and blaspheme him who judged them, and of whom they are obliged to testify, that all his judgments are just. Alas! a spark of this fury is every where found in fallen human nature. As often as the Lord is on the point of shedding his light into the depths of its darkness, the hidden serpent begins to move. The natural heart cannot bear the disturber of its idle peace; and thus, the only Savior of sinners is greeted, even by those whom he came to save, with the salutations of the rebellious citizens: "We will not have his man to reign over us;" and with that of the Gergesenes: "We pray you to depart out of our coasts."
"Rise, let us be going. Behold, he is at hand that does betray me!" From whence resounds this courageous and resolute call? From the same lips, out of which the cry of pressure and distress had only just before ascended to heaven, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me!" But now, behold the glorious conqueror! He emerges from the horrible conflict in Gethsemane, as if steeled both in body and soul. His whole bearing breathes self-possession, manliness, and sublime composure. No sooner was he aware who it was that presented the cup to him in Gethsemane, than he willingly emptied it, and knows henceforth that the terrors and horrors which may be in reserve, belong to the indispensable conditions with which the completion of his great mediatorial work is connected. This consciousness enables him to take firm steps on the path of suffering. He clearly sees that whatever of evil awaits him, is the result of his Father's counsel.
When the Lord says to his disciples, "Rise, let us be going!" he does so, in the next place, in order to show them his altered state of mind, and because he was desirous that they should all be present at his arrest, that, as eye-witnesses, they might afterward inform the world how their master had voluntarily delivered himself up into the hands of his enemies, and not as one who was vanquished by them.
But see what occurs? Before the multitude that came against him has reached the place, he proceeds several paces toward them with a firm step. In opposition to the conduct of our progenitor in paradise, who, on the inquiry, "Adam, where are you?" sought concealment, our Lord approaches the armed band, and asks them the simple question, "Whom do you seek?"—a question at which the ruffians ought to have felt deeply ashamed, because it revealed the lying character of their whole procedure, and especially of their warlike array against him. But the world was to learn that the Lord was led to the slaughter, not by mistake, but intentionally, because he was the Just and Holy One of Israel; and it was for this reason also, that the Savior asked, "Whom seek you?"
The answer of the armed band was clear and decisive: "Jesus of Nazareth," say they. After thus making known their object, the Lord, with the sublime composure of the divine Mediator, who not only knew all that should befall him, but was also clearly conscious of the cause, results, and final consequences of it all, said to them, "I am He!" Great and significant expression! It was never uttered by the Savior without being accompanied with the most powerful effects. "It is I!" exclaimed he, to his astonished disciples, when walking on the waves of the sea; and, as at the sound the raging storm immediately subsided, so, a flood of peace and joy poured itself into the hearts of his followers. "I that speak unto you am He!" said he to the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well; and immediately she left her waterpot and hastened back home, as the first evangelist to the borders of Samaria. "I am He!" was his testimony at the bar of the Sanhedrin, as we shall subsequently find; and the conviction that he was really the Messiah, smote the minds of his judges so powerfully that it was only by means of the stage-trick of rending his clothes, that the high priest was able to save himself from the most painful embarrassment. And what occurs on his making use of the words on the present occasion? On hearing them the whole band of officials start, give way, stagger backward, and fall to the ground as if struck by an invisible flash of lightning, or blown upon by the breath of Omnipotence.
That which thus powerfully affected them was, undeniably, the deep impression of the holiness and innocence of Jesus, by which they were for a time overpowered. His majestic, though simple declaration, called forth in them, in its full strength, the forcibly repressed conviction of his superhuman glory. But this mental emotion would not alone have sufficed to stretch the whole troop bodily, as by magic, in the dust, if an act of divine omnipotence had not accompanied it. The Lord overthrew them, in order, in the most forcible manner, to stamp their appellation of "Jesus of Nazareth" as a falsehood, and to force upon them the conviction of his divine superiority, as well as to leave the world an actual proof that it was not through compulsion or weakness that he became a sacrifice for it, but in consequence of his free determination.
The murderous band lie at his feet, prostrated by a single expression from his lips. And what would have hindered him from walking triumphantly over them; and, after fixing them to the ground, departing uninjured and uninterrupted? But he only aims at displaying his supremacy and independence, and after attaining this object, he permits them to rise again from the ground. Their prostration in the dust before him, points out to unbelievers the situation in which they will one day be found. The homage which they refused to Jesus here below, he will in due time compel them to render him. The knee that would not bow to him in voluntary affection, will at length be constrained to do so by the horrors of despair. A threefold woe will light upon them as obstinate rebels, when the Lord shall appear, no longer with the palm branch and shepherd's crook, but with the sword and scales of even-handed justice. There is no rising up, or recovering from the amazement and terror which will then seize upon them, at the sound of the words, "I am He!"
After the armed band, by the Lord's permission, had again raised themselves up, he repeats the question to them, "Whom seek you?" accompanied this time by an overwhelming irony. As when one, who had been mistaken for a vagrant, and arrested as such, should suddenly display to the view of his captors the royal star on his bosom, and were calmly to say to them, "Whom did you think to catch?" So here, likewise, with our Lord's question, "Whom seek you?" only that here is more than an earthly king. The banditti at his feet have just been made aware of it; the question, therefore, as it respects them, puts on the form of the bitterest mockery, for what folly for a straw to attack a fire, or a spark the foaming ocean! They feel the sting of the reiterated question in their consciences, and are confounded. The monitor within condemns them as reprobates and fools; nevertheless, they readily overcome their inward impression of the truth, and mechanically give the same reply as though it were the word of parole. It was uttered, the first time, with a certain military rudeness and boldness, but now it escapes from them timidly and without emphasis, and testifies of an inward overthrow, which gives way to a degree of assurance, only after the Lord has voluntarily delivered himself up to them.
"Jesus answered, I have told you that I am He. If, therefore, you seek me, let these go their way." How sweet and full of promise are these sounds! O how well the Lord was able to preserve the most perfect self-possession in every situation, however terrible; and, with his anxiety for the completion of the work of redemption, to mingle the minute and inconsiderable with the stupendous and sublime. While girding himself for his mysterious passage to the cross, he does not forget, in his adorable faithfulness, to rescue his disciples from the approaching storm; "If you seek me," says he, "let these go their way." To this expression, however, we must attribute an application far beyond its immediate meaning. The evangelist, nevertheless, acts quite correctly in applying it, in the first instance, to the apostles, and adds, "that the saying might be fulfilled which he spoke, 'Of them which you gave me have I lost none.'"
"If you seek me, let these go their way." An expositor has very judiciously remarked on these words, that there was a delicate propriety in Christ's not saying, "These my followers," or "These my disciples," but only indefinitely, while pointing to them, "these." For had he applied either of the previous appellations to them, it would have been construed by the armed band as meaning "my partisans," and that in a sense which he would be careful not to countenance. In the sense in which the world is accustomed to understand it, the Lord Jesus was not at the head of a party, and he was desirous of avoiding the least appearance of being so.
In other respects, the simple expression, "Let these go," uttered with emphasis, was all that was needed for the safety of his disciples. It was not a request, but a royal command, and at the same time, a hint to the disciples as to what they had to do. It was the signal for their temporary retreat from his scenes of suffering. It would have been well for Simon Peter had he obeyed his Master's faithful hint. At that period they were unable to cope with such a "fight of afflictions," and would certainly, for a time, have all of them suffered shipwreck as regards their faith, if they had followed their Master further on his path of humiliation, not to speak of the danger which would besides have threatened their liberty, and even their lives. Therefore, adored be the foreseeing circumspection, and the admirable collectedness and composure which we see the Lord Jesus exercising at a time when the most excellent of men could not have found room to think of anything but themselves, while bearing upon his heart the welfare and safety of his followers, and so graciously providing for their security during the approaching storm.
But do not let us overlook the rich consolation for believers in every age, which this act of our Lord's includes. For he has uttered the words, "If you seek me, let these go their way," to other bands than those at Gethsemane, on our behalf. In their more profound and general sense, he spoke them also to hell, earth, and the devil, for it was he whom they really sought, laid hold of, and brought low. But as regards his believing people, they have forever exhausted their power upon him, and have left in him their sting. And as far as these hostile powers extend, in the present day, anything more than to sift, try, or purify the followers of Jesus, an insuperable barrier is placed before them by these words. They can never destroy those who are in Christ. In the words above mentioned, we have a passport which insures us a safe escort across the frontier into the heavenly Jerusalem. Let us therefore honor this document, for the seal of God beams upon it.