Then they came to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus told His disciples, "Sit here while I pray."
I. ITS SORROW.
1. The manner in which it was experienced. There were premonitions. All through life there ran a thread of similar emotions, which were now gathering themselves into one overwhelming sense of grief, fear, and desolation: it was crescent and cumulative. He did not artificially create or stimulate the emotion, but entered into it naturally and gradually. Gethsemane was sought, not from a sense of aesthetic or dramatic fitness, but through charm of long association with his midnight prayer, or simply as his wonted place of retirement in the days of his insecurity. As a good Israelite observing the Passover, he may not leave the limits of the sacred city, yet will he choose the spot best adapted for security and retirement.
2. At first awakening conflicting impulses. He craved at once for sympathy and for solitude. The general company of disciples were brought to the verge of the garden, and informed of his purpose; the three nearest to him in spiritual sympathies and susceptibilities were taken into the recesses of the garden, into nearer proximity and communion. And yet ultimately he must needs be alone. All this is perfectly natural, and, considering the nature of his emotion, explicable upon deep human principles: "Sympathy and solitude are both desirable in severe trials" (Godwin). There was a sort of oscillation between these two poles.
3. To be attributed to the influence of supernatural insight upon his human sympathy and feeling. What it was he saw and felt cannot be adequately conceived by us, but that it was not emotion occasioned by ordinary earthly interests or attachments we may assure ourselves. The exegesis which sees in "exceeding sorrowful to die" a reason for concluding that it was the idea of dying which so overwhelmed our Savior, may be safely left to its own reflections. The "cup" he felt he had to drink to its dregs he had already alluded to (Mark 10:38). It had "in it ingredients which were never mingled by the hand of his Father, such as the treachery of Judas, the desertion of his disciples, denial on the part of Peter, the trial in the Sanhedrim, the trial before Pilate, the scourging, the mockery of the soldiery, the crucifixion, etc." (Morison). "He began to be sore amazed [dismayed, sorrowful], and to be very heavy [oppressed, distressed]," are terms which are left purposely vague. He saw the depths of iniquity, he felt the overwhelming burden of human sinfulness.
4. He betook himself to prayer as the only relief for his surcharged feeling. The safest and highest way of recovering spiritual equilibrium. Well will it be for a man when his grief drives him to God! There is no sorrow we cannot take to him, whether it be great or small.
II. THE SOLITUDE.
1. Symbolized by his physical apartness from the three disciples. "Is there any sorrow like unto my sorrow?" We may not intrude. God only can fathom its depths and appreciate its purity and intensity.
2. Suggested by their failure to "watch."
III. THE CONFLICT. The physical effects of this are given by St. Luke. His prayer was a "wrestling," not so much with his Father as with himself. But the struggle gradually subsides to submission and rest. This shows itself in his detachment from his own emotions and attention to the condition of his disciples, and soon in his movement towards the approaching band of the betrayer. There is a complete "grammar" of emotion gone through, however, ere that spiritual result is attained. Uncertainty, dread, the weakness of human nature, are overcome by the resolute contemplation of the Divine will. His own will is deliberately and solemnly submitted to his Father's, and the latter calmly and profoundly acquiesced in as best and most blessed for all it concerns. - M.
Which was named Gethsemane.I. THE PLACE OF THE CONFLICT CALLS FOR A BRIEF NOTICE.
II. THE STORY OF THE CONFLICT. Its intensity is the first fact in the story that strikes us. "His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground." This conflict wrung from the Saviour a great cry. What was it? "O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt." We have a glimpse of the conflict carried on by Christ for us, single-handed.
III. THE SLEEP OF THE DISCIPLES WHILST THIS CONFLICT WAS GOING ON.
(Charles Stanford, D. D.)
The Preacher's Monthly.I. Gethsemane suggests to reverent faith our blessed Redeemer's longing for human sympathy.
II. It reminds us of the sacredness of human sorrow and Divine communion.
III. It reveals the overwhelming fulness of the Redeemer's sorrow.
IV. It reminds us of the will of Christ yielded to the will of the Father.
V. It has lessons and influences for our own hearts.
(The Preacher's Monthly.)I. WOE'S BITTEREST CUP SHOULD BE TAKEN WHEN IT IS THE MEANS OF HIGHEST USEFULNESS. Wasted suffering is the climax of suffering. Affliction's furnace heat loses its keenest pangs for those who can see the form of One like unto the Son of Man walking with them by example, and know that they are ministering to the world's true joy and life, in some degree, as He did.
II. FROM OUR LORD'S EXAMPLE WE LEARN THE HELPFULNESS IN SORROW OF RELIANCE UPON HUMAN AND DIVINE COMPANIONSHIP COMBINED. But to do both in proper proportion is not easy. Some hide from both earth and heaven as much as possible. Others lean wholly upon human supports; others, yet, turn to God in a seclusion to which the tenderest offices of friends are unwelcome. Our Lord's divinity often appears plainest in his symmetrical union of traits, mainly remark. able because of their combination. He was at once the humblest and boldest of men; the farthest from sin and the most compassionate towards the returning prodigal; the meekest and the most commanding. So, in the garden agony, he leaned upon human and Divine supports; the one as indispensable as the other. Whatever the situation, we are not to act the recluse. Life's circles need us and we need them. Neither are we to forget the Father in heaven. Storms and trial only increase His ready sympathy and succour.
III. OUR LORD'S CRUCIAL OBEDIENCE IN THE GARDEN AGONY REFLECTS THE MAJESTY OF THE HUMAN WILL AND ITS POSSIBLE MASTERY OF EVERY TRIAL IN PERFECT OBEDIENCE TO THE DIVINE WILL. However superhuman Jesus' suffering, He was thoroughly human in it. He had all our faculties, and used them as we may use ours. It is no small encouragement that the typical Man gives us an example of perfect obedience, at a cost unknown before or since. In the mutual relations of the human and Divine wills all merit is achieved and all character constructed. Learned authors dwell with deserved interest upon the world's "decisive battles," the pivots of destiny. The soul's future for time and eternity turns upon contests in which the will is in chief command. Intellect and sensibilities participate, but they are always subordinate. It were helpful to bear this in mind under every exposure. Let the inquiry be quick and constant, What saith the will? Is that steady and unflinching?
IV. JESUS' SOUL COULD HAVE BEEN "SORROWFUL EVEN UNTO DEATH" ONLY AS HIS SUFFERINGS WERE VICARIOUS. He was always sublimely heroic. Why such agony now? It was something far deadlier than death. It was the burden and mystery of the world's sin. The Lamb of God was slain for us in soul agony rather than by physical pain. His soul formed the soul of His sufferings.
V. GETHSEMANE'S DARKNESS PAINTS SIN'S GUILT AND RUIN IN FAITHFUL AND ENDURING COLOUR. It is easy to think lightly of sin. Having never known guilt, Christ met the same hidings of the Divine countenance as do the guilty. This was man's disobedience in its relation with God's law and judgment.
VI. GETHSEMANE THROWS PORTENTOUS LIGHT UPON THE WOE OF LOST SOULS. He suffered exceptionally, but He was also a typical sufferer; every soul has possibilities beyond our imagination; and terrible the doom when these possibilities are fulfilled in the direction to which Gethsemane points.
VII. OUR LESSON GIVES TERRIBLE EMPHASIS TO THE FACT AND SERIOUSNESS OF IMPOSSIBILITIES WITH GOD. Our time tends strongly towards lax notions of the Divine character and law and of the conditions of salvation. The will and fancy erect their own standards. Religion and obedience are to be settled according to individual notions, a subjective affair. Our Lord's agonized words, "If it be possible," establish the rigidity and absoluteness of governmental and spiritual conditions. God's will and plans are objective realities; they have definite and all-important direction and demands. Man should not think of being a law unto himself either in conduct or belief; least of all should he sit in judgment upon the revealed Word, fancying that any amount or kind of inner light is a true and sufficient test of its legitimacy and authority. But, how futile all attempts at fathoming Gethsemane's lessons.
(H. L. B. Speare.)I. GETHSEMANE SAW CHRIST'S AGONY ON ACCOUNT OF SIN.
II. GETHSEMANE WAS A WITNESS OF CHRIST'S DEVOTION IN THE HOUR OF DISTRESS.
III. GETHSEMANE WAS A WITNESS OF CHRIST'S RESIGNATION TO THE WILL OF GOD.
IV. GETHSEMANE WAS A WITNESS OF CHRIST'S SYMPATHY WITH, AND AFFECTION FOR, HIS TRIED FOLLOWERS.
(J. H. Hitchens.)I. Let us notice, in the outset, THE SUDDEN EXPERIENCE WHICH LED TO THIS ACT OF SUPPLICATION. He began to be "sore amazed and to be very heavy." Evidently something new had come to Him; either a disclosure of fresh trial, or a violence of unusual pain under it. Here it is affecting to find in our Divine Lord so much of recognized and simple human nature He desired to be alone, but He planned to have somebody He loved and trusted within call. His grief was too burdensome for utter abandonment. Hence came the demand for sympathy He made, and the persistence in reserve he retained, both of which are so welcome and instructive. For here emphatically, as perhaps nowhere else, we are "with Him in the garden." Oh, how passionately craving of help, and yet how majesterially rejectful of impertinent condolence, are some of these moments we have in our mourning, "when our souls retire upon their reserves, and will open their deepest recesses only to God! Our secret is unshared, our struggle is unrevealed to men. Yet we love those who love us just as much as ever. It is helpful to find that even our Lord Jesus had some feelings of which He could not tell John. He "went away" (Matthew 26:44).
II. Let us, in the second place, inquire concerning THE EXACT MEANING OF THIS SINGULAR SUPPLICATION. In those three intense prayers was the Saviour simply afraid of death? Was that what our version makes the Apostle Paul say He "feared"? Was He just pleading there under the olives for permission to put off the human form now, renounce the "likeness of men" (Philippians 2:7, 8), which He had taken upon Him, slip back into heaven inconspicuously by some sort of translation which would remove Him from the power of Pilate, so that when Judas had done his errand "quickly," and had arrived with the soldiers, Jesus would be mysteriously missing, and the traitor would find nothing but three harmless comrades there asleep on the grass? That is to say, are we ready to admit that our Lord and Master seriously proposed to go back to His Divine Father's bosom at this juncture, leaving the prophecies unfulfilled, the redemption unfinished, the very honour of Jehovah sullied with a failure? Does it offer any help in dealing with such a conjecture to insist that this was only a moment of weakness in His "human nature?" Would this make any difference as a matter of fact for Satan to discover that he had only been contending with another Adam, after all? Would the lost angels any the less exult over the happy news of a celestial defeat because they learned that the "seed of the woman" had not succeeded in bruising the serpent's head by reason of His own alarm at the last? Oh, no: surely no! Jesus had said, when in the far-back counsels of eternity the covenant of redemption was made, "Lo, I come: I delight to do Thy will, O my God" (Psalm 40:7, 8). He could have had no purpose now, we may be evermore certain, of withdrawing the proffer of Himself to suffer for men. There can be no doubt that the "cup" which our Lord desired might "pass from" His lips, and yet was willing to drink if there could be no release from it, was the judicial wrath of God discharged upon Him as a culprit vicariously before the law, receiving the awful curse due to human sin. We reject all notion of mere physical illness or exhaustion as well as all conjecture of mere sentimental loneliness under the abandonment of friends. In that supreme moment when He found that He, sinless in every particular and degree, must be considered guilty, and so that His heavenly Father's face and favour must at least for a while be withdrawn from Him, He was, in despite of all His courageous preparation, surprised and almost frightened to discover how much His own soul was beginning to shudder and recoil from coming into contact with sin of any sort, even though it was only imputed. Evidently it seemed to His infinitely pure nature horrible to be put in a position, however false, such as that His adorable Father would be compelled to draw the mantle over His face. This shocked Him unutterably. He shrank back in consternation when He saw He must become loathsome in the sight of heaven because of the "abominable thing" God hated (Jeremiah 44:4). Hence, we conceive the prayer covered only that. That which appears at first a startling surrender of redemption as a whole, is nothing more than a petition to be relieved from what He hoped might be deemed no necessary part of the curse He was bearing for others. He longed, as He entered unusual darkness, just to receive the usual light. It was as if He had said to His heavenly Father: "The pain I understood, the curse I came for. Shame, obloquy, death, I care nothing for them. I only recoil from being loaded so with foreign sin that I cannot be looked upon with any allowance. I am in alarm when I think of the prince of this world coming and finding something in me, when hitherto he had nothing. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint, my heart is like wax, when I think of the taunt that the Lord I trusted no longer delights in Me; this is like laughing God to scorn. Is there no permitted discrimination between a real sinner, and a substitute only counted such before the law in this one particular? All things are possible with Thee; make it possible now for Thee to see Thy Son, and yet not seem to see the imputed guilt He bears! Yet even this will I endure, if so it must be in order that I may fulfil all righteousness; Thy will, not Mine, be done!"
III. Again, let us observe carefully THE EXTRAORDINARY RANGE WHICH THIS PRAYER IN THE GARDEN TOOK. It is not worth while even to appear to be playing upon an accidental collocation of words in the sacred narrative; but why should it be asserted that any inspired words are accidental? The whole history of Immanuel's sufferings that awful night contains no incident more strikingly suggestive than the record of the distance He kept between Himself and His disciples. It is the act as well as the language which is significant. Mark says, "He went forward a little." Luke says, "He was withdrawn from them about a stone's east." Matthew says, "He went a little farther." So now we know that this one petition of our Lord was the final, secret, supreme whisper of His innermost heart. The range of such a prayer was over His whole nature. It exhausted His entire being. It covered the humanity it represented. In it for Himself and for us "He went a little farther" than ever He had in His supplication gone before. One august monarch rules over this fallen world, and holds all human hearts under His sway. His name is Pain. His image and superscription is upon every coin that passes current in this mortal life. He claims fealty from the entire race of man. And, sooner or later, once, twice, or a hundred times, as the king chooses, and not as the subject wills, each soul has to put on its black garment, go sedately and sufferingly on its sad journey to pay its loyal tribute, precisely as Joseph and Mary were compelled to go up to Bethlehem to be taxed. When this tyrant Pain summons us to come and discharge his dues, it is the quickest of human instincts which prompts us to seek solitude. That seems to be the universal rule (Zechariah 12:12-14). But now we discover from this symbolic picture that, whenever any Christian goes away from other disciples deeper into the solitudes of his own Gethsemane, he almost at once draws nearer to the Saviour he needs. For our Lord just now "went forward a little." There He is, on ahead of us all in experience! It is simply and wonderfully true of Jesus always, no matter how severe is the suffering into which for their discipline He leads His chosen, He Himself has taken His position in advance of them. No human lot was ever so forlorn, so grief-burdened, so desolate, as was that of the Great Life given to redeem it. No path ever reached so distantly into the region of heart trying agony as that it might not still see that peerless Christ of God "about a stone's cast" beyond it, kneeling in some deeper shadows of His own. No believer ever went so far into his lonely Gethsemane but that he found his Master had gone "a little farther."
"Christ did not send, but came Himself, to save;
The ransom price He did not lend, but gave;
Christ died, the Shepherd for the sheep, —
We only fall asleep."
IV. Finally, let us inquire after THE SUPREME RESULTS OF THIS SUPPLICATION OF OUR LORD.
1. Consider the High Priest of our profession (Hebrews 12:2-4). What good would it do to pray, if Christ's prayer was unsuccessful?
3. Have we been "with Him in the garden"? Then we have found a similar cup" (Mark 10:38, 39).
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
(H. Clay Trumbull.)I. WITH REGARD TO THE POSITION OUR LORD WAS IN, HE STOOD THERE AS THE GREAT SIN BEARER. Here, beloved, we see what the burden was which our Lord bore: it was our sins.
II. BUT NOW OBSERVE, SECONDLY, THE GREAT WEIGHT OF THIS BURDEN. Who can declare it?
(J. H. Evans, M. A.)
(R. N. Cust.)
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
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