The agony of our Lord in the garden, and his complaints upon the cross, are the most extraordinary parts of his life. A dread of those sufferings which he was to undergo, appears to have made a strong impression upon his mind. Forebodings of them frequently disturbed his repose, and overwhelmed his spirits. Many days before his passion, he cried out, “Now am I troubled, and what shall I say? Father save me from this “hour.” It was probably with a view to console his mind in such a dejected state, that he was transfigured; that he re-assumed the glory which he had with the Father before the foundation of the world, and was favored with the presence of Moses and Elias from the mansions of immortality; for, as we are in formed by the Evangelist, they talked of that task which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Magnanimity in all its exertions was a conspicuous part of his character. He who walked upon the water, who slept in tranquility amid the storm, and who encountered the foe of mankind in the desert, cannot be accused of a defect in courage. When a band of soldiers, with Judas at their head, came to apprehend him, and enquired for Jesus of Nazareth, he said unto them, “I am He,” and by the dignity of his demeanor, struck them with awe. When he was accused by the chief priests and elders before the judgment-seat of Pilate, with that majestic silence which is sometimes the best expression of fortitude, he answered not a word. Nay, when he underwent the severest of his bodily sufferings upon the cross, he endured them with tranquility, a firmness, and magnanimity, which display a mind truly great and undaunted. How therefore, on some other occasions, his spirit was overwhelmed, is a subject worthy of our enquiry at all times and more particularly on this day, when we have assembled together to renew the memorial of his death upon the cross, and to recall the remembrance of all his sufferings.
In further discoursing upon this subject, I shall, in the first place, set before you the account which is given of his sufferings; and, secondly, endeavor to assign the causes of them.
That night in which he was betrayed, the Savior of the world went into garden of Gethsemane, and ascended the mountain of Olives, as he was wont to do. This had been his accustomed retreat from the world. Here was the hallowed ground to which he retired for prayer and contemplation; here he had often spent the night communing with heaven. He was accompanied by Peter, James, and John, the very same disciples who had been the witnesses of his glorious transfiguration, when Moses and Elias had appeared to him, and a voice had come form the overshadowing cloud, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” What a different scene now presented itself! The rays of glory shone no more; the Divine presence was withdrawn; the voice from heaven ceased; and the time was now come, which is so emphatically called THE HOUR OF DARKNESS.
He had lately partaken of the Passover with his disciples; that Passover which, with so much earnestness, he had desired to eat; he had instituted the holy sacrament of the supper; he had delivered those Divine discourses recorded in the Gospel of John; he had warned them against deserting him in the hour of temptation; he had selected three of them to attend him in his sorrows; Nevertheless, even these three thus favoured, thus honoured, thus warned, forgat all that had been said and done, and unconcerned sunk into sleep. He was left alone to endure the bitterness of the hour. The severity of his sufferings in the garden, the anguish and the horror which then overwhelmed him, appear from the strong colours in which they are drawn by the sacred writers. They speak of his sorrow as He says, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death.” They speak of his agony, that is the most inexpressible torment of mind, “And being in agony..” They speak of his fears, “He was heard in that he feared.” They speak of his cries and his tears, “He offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears: They speak of the prodigious effects his agony had upon his body, “His sweat was as it were great drops of blood.” They speak of the desire he had to withdraw from his sufferings for a time, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”
This leads me to the second thing proposed, which was to count the causes of our Lord’s peculiar sufferings.
First, that he died in a state where he was abandoned by his friends and by mankind. From the beginning he found they worked against him. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. He had not only to carry his own cross, to have his head crowned with thorns, to be humiliated and scorned, to be extended upon the accursed tree, to suffer the scourge, the nails, and the spear. No, all this he was superior to. But to be abandoned by his friends, and by all mankind, at the very time he was suffering for their sakes, was the peculiar and forlorn fate of the Saviour of the world. The high and the low, the Jew and the Heathen, entered into the conspiracy against Christ. The priests and elders accused him. The High Priest cried out, “He is guilty of death.” Pilate, his judge, though he washed his hands from the guilt of his death, ordered him to be scourged, and allowed him to be crucified. The very people who, a few days before, upon his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, had strewed the way with palm-branches and cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David” now cried out, “Crucify him, crucify, him.” Thus, in his sorrows, he stood by himself. He trod the wine-press alone and when he died for all…he was pitied by none.
Now there is a misapprehension into which we are apt to fall, in considering the sufferings of Jesus Christ. Whenever he appears before our eyes, the splendor of the Divinity overcomes the mind, and in the Lord of glory the man of sorrows is forgotten. But, my friends, you are to remember that as God is by his nature incapable of pain or sorrow, in all of our Lord’s scenes of distress, the Divinity withdrew, that Humanity might suffer.
Oh, Christians! What an hour was that, which our Saviour passed in the garden of Gethsemane! In the time of his passion, his torments succeeded one another. He was not at the same time betrayed, mocked, scourged, crowned with thorns, pierced with a spear, extended on a cross, and forsaken by his Father; but here in the garden all these torments rose before him at once; All his pains were united together; What he was to endure in succession, now crowded into one moment, and his soul was overcome.
Add to this, that our Saviour having now come to the close of his public life, his whole undertaking presented itself to his view. His eye ran over the history of that race which he came to save from the beginning to the end of time, and he had the weight of all the misery and guilt of mankind. If he looked back into past times, what did he behold? The earth a field of blood, a vale of tears, a theater of crimes. If he cast his eyes upon that time in which he lived, what did he behold? That nation to whom he was sent, rejecting the counsel of God against themselves, shouting that his blood be upon them and their children, and bringing upon themselves such a desolation as has not happened to any other people. And when he looked forward to succeeding ages, what did he behold? He saw that the wickedness of men was to continue and abound, to erect a Golgotha in every age, and by obstinate impenitence, to crucify afresh the Son of God. He saw that in his blessed name, and under the banners of his cross, the most atrocious crimes were to be committed, the sword of persecution to be drawn, the best blood of the earth to be shed, and the noblest spirits that ever graced the world to be cut off; he saw that for many of the human race all the efforts of saving mercy were to be defeated; that his death was to be of no avail; that his blood was to be shed in vain; that his agonies were to be lost, and that it would be happy for some, if he had never been born. He saw that he was to be wounded in the house of this friends, that his name would be blasphemed and dishonored by the wicked lives of those who called themselves his followers; that one man was to prefer the gains of sin, another the blandishments of pleasure, a third the indulgence of malicious desire, and all of you, at times, preferring the gratification of your favorite passions, over the tender mercies of the God of peace, and the dying love of a crucified Redeemer. And while the hour revolved that spread forth all these things before his eyes,… we need not wonder that he began to be in agony, and that he sweated as it were great drops of blood.
On the cross that agony returned, and was redoubled. For here is what that constituted what the ancient church called the “unknown sufferings” of Christ. In the cup which the Father gave him to drink, there was something sharper than the vinegar, and more bitter than the gall. What the degree of these unknown sufferings was, how they were inflicted, or how they were sustained, we cannot tell. But the agony in which the Saviour then uttered his words, the sense which all of nature had of its Creator rising in wrath, when the earth trembled, the rocks were rent asunder, and the grave gave up its dead, testify that they, the “unknown sufferings,” were such as GOD only could inflict, and the Son of God only could sustain.
Never was there sorrow like unto this sorrow wherewith the Father now chastened him in the day of the fierceness of his anger. Upon Christ’s agony in the garden an angel from heaven strengthened him. But in this hour, when he bore the sins of all his people, when the pangs of death took hold of him, and the sorrows of hell encompassed him; in this hour of unutterable woe, where were the heavenly messengers, and where was the countenance of his Father, which used to comfort and smile upon him? Alas! From his Father proceeded those very sufferings, and severest of all which he was now experiencing. From the Father came the cup of trembling which the Son of God was now doomed to drink, and the vials of vengeance which were now poured upon his head. Abandoned and smitten, and overwhelmed, he cried out, “My God, my God! Why hast thou forsaken me?”
The measure of his woe was now full; the sufferings of Christ were completed. Before he bowed the head and yielded up the ghost, he looked up to the heavens, and saw the darkness disappearing from before the throne of God. Filled with celestial satisfaction, “Father,” said he,” into thy hands I now commit my spirit.”
From such a subject, Christians, what sentiments arise in your breasts, and what reflections ought we to conclude with? How is the condition of our Redeemer now changed! From a scene of terror and distress, he is exalted to the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. Shame, and sorrow, and suffering, were succeeded by glory, and victory, and triumph.
I shall conclude with another reflection.
Persons of humane and compassionate feelings, when they hear the account of their Saviour’s sufferings, are apt to be moved with pity for his distresses, and to be actuated with indignation against his enemies. But these passions, my brethren, are misapplied. “Weep not for me, ye daughters of Jerusalem,” said our Lord, when in the midst of his sufferings. His sufferings were not intended to excite your tears and distress. Sympathy is not the proper return for his love. Instead give him your gratitude. Neither vent your wrath against the enemies and the crucifiers of your Saviour. Look inwards, O man, and search thine own heart,… for there dwell the murderers of thy Lord. Thy sins, thy crimes, thine unhallowed desires and unmortified passions were the actors in that dreadful scene. The Jews and Romans were but instruments in thine hands. On your sins therefore exhaust thy vengeance!
And How will it affect the mind with contrition and godly sorrow, when, on this solemn occasion, you call up your past sins to your remembrance! How will it grieve you to think, as one by one they pass before you in review, that each of them added a pang to your Saviour’s agony on the cross and formed the bitter ingredients of that cup from which he drank! Can you ever again cherish those sins in your heart, which not only crucified the Lord of glory upon mount Calvary, but which even now crucify him afresh, and put him to open shame? Oh Christians, today, bring forth those enemies of thy Saviour, and slay them before his eyes!
Let me beseech you therefore, by the sufferings of your crucified Redeemer, to break off your iniquities by repentance. Resolve sincerely, by the grace of God, to live no longer in sin. And finally, implore the assistance of the Divine Holy Spirit, to renew your wills, and purify your souls. Then may ye rejoice in this the day of your solemnity, and be welcome guests at the table of the Lord. Then shall ye be joyfully invited to the marriage-supper of the Lamb. There Jesus shall manifest himself to you in the breaking of bread. He shall say unto your souls, “Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee;” And one day you shall sit with him at his table above, where in his presence ye shall rejoice for ever and ever.
Let us pray.
Son of the Most High! Thou art worthy to take the book of life, and to open the seals thereof: for by thine sufferings and death upon the cross, thou hast redeemed us unto God by thy blood. Thou didst tread the wine-press alone; thou stainedst thy garments in blood: thou pouredst out thy soul unto death. But thine agony is now over. Thou art now ascended on high, and exalted to the right hand of the Father! thou hast the keys of hell and of death; the powers of darkness tremble at thy name; the heaven and the earth are subject to thy dominion.
In obedience to thy commands, we now come to shewforth thy death. Bless us, we beseech thee, and manifest thyself to us in the breaking of bread. Lord, remember us, when thou art now come to thy kingdom. Hear our prayer, O Lord, as we say together the prayer which thou gave us to pray and accept:
Our Father, which art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.