« Prev XI. Christ’s Agony, or Moral Suffering. Next »

XI.

CHRIST’S AGONY, OR MORAL SUFFERING.

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”—Luke xxii, 44.

What Christian has not many times wished that he could lay hold of the precise condition and feeling of Jesus, in this very remarkable scene or chapter, commonly called his agony? And yet a suspicion may well be indulged that we not seldom push it quite away from us, and make it unrealizable, by dogmatic solutions that rather confound than solve it. Mystery, in some sense, it certainly is, and must be; for the person itself of Christ is, internally viewed, a mystery, and the What and how, of his personal pains, in what part they affect him, under what laws of intensity, and by what internal force he is able to support them, we can never know, till we understand his psychology itself—as we certainly shall not here on earth.

Still the agony is given us, because it can somehow be seen to be for us; yielding impressions of Christ and of God, manifested in him, which it is important for us to receive. And to receive these impressions from 226 it is, at least so far, to understand it. All the more to be regretted is it, if we interpose theologic constructions that make it impossible to all receptive sympathy. Thus if we conceive, or dogmatically assume, that Christ is in this hour of distress, because the sin of the world is upon him, to be punitively treated in his person; that God withdraws judicially from him, to make him suffer, and that the “cup” over which he groans is the cup of God’s eternal indignations; may it not be that we ourselves so far violate the subject matter, as to make it an offense to our most inborn convictions of right, and raise up mutinous questions that even forbid the discovery of its meaning to our hearts?

A much less artificial, tenderer, and, I think I shall be able to show, truer and more affecting conception of the agony is, that it rises naturally out of the perfect feeling, and the personal relations and exigences of the sufferer. Such. a being, on such a mission, meeting such objects of feeling, at such a crisis, will have just this agony, without any infliction to produce it.

The facts of the scene briefly and freely related are these. The Saviour, attended by his disciples, goes up into a dell on the slope of Olivet, and enters a certain garden or olive yard, where he had often before communed with them apart. He requires them to sit down. But there is something peculiar in his manner. A feeling of depression makes him droop in his action, and gives a drooping accent to his voice. He signifies to three of their number that he wants their company 227 while he goes forward a little way, to pray. Heretofore he has commonly sought to be alone in prayer, going apart at dead of night, and ascending this or that high mountain top, there to be closeted with God in solitude. The depression that before appeared now becomes a crushing weight upon him. In the language of the narrative, he begins to be sorrowful and very heavy. He speaks too, unable to suppress his feeling—“My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” And then he adds what indicates even greater anguish, such as almost takes away his self-possession—“do not leave me, do not sleep, stay here and watch with me!” He goes forward a few steps, falling upon his face, which is the eastern posture of extreme sorrow and despair, and there he cries aloud—“O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” He rises and turns back to his friends, but the weight is still heavy on his heart, and he throws himself again upon his face. And he does it again, even a third time. There is also given us, in the narrative made out by Luke, the pathology of his feeling—“And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Which is the same as to say, that the agony of feeling he was in was so intense that, under the laws of bodily affection, there were forced out, through the pores of the skin, large drops resembled to blood. An ancient writer reports the fact of a bloody sweat, or a sweat exceeding like to blood, produced by the bite in India of a poisonous serpent, and the same thing is reported, I 228 believe, as a result of certain bodily diseases that produce very intense suffering. But the symptom is none the less peculiar here, since it is not the effect of any poison, or physical pain, but of a purely mental anguish.

Thus far, as relates to the agony, or crisis of pain itself, reported in the narrative. Other points relating to his conduct in the scene, will come into view as we inquire into the causes of the agony, and need not be recited. Whence and why, this very strange crisis of mental anguish? According to a very common impression, as already intimated, the suffering has a judicial character, and is to be taken as a theologic factor, in a scheme of retributive justice. The conception is that Christ has somehow come into the place of transgressors, to receive upon his person what is due to them, and that God, accepting him in that office, launches upon him the abhorrence or displeasure, that is clue to them; inflicting upon him, as it were, deserved pains by withdrawing from him and letting fall upon him the horror of darkness under which he groans. The facts of the narrative have been so frequently, or even habitually, submitted to this construction, that our first concern will be to make a revision of the facts, ascertaining how far they give it their support.

Thus it is alleged, as a striking peculiarity of the scene, that the suffering appears, on a merely human footing, to be out of place. Before the arrest, in a quiet place out of the city, at a still hour of the night, 229 when he has all his friends about him, and judging by outward tokens, has far less reason to apprehend violence from his enemies than he has had many times before—such is the time and place, where Jesus falls into his dreadful agony and great horror of distress. In which he certainly appears to be exercised in a way that is not human, invaded by a suffering that can not on mere human principles be accounted for. And this fact favors the conviction, it is imagined, that he suffers because some mysterious judicial infliction is descending upon him, from a source invisible. But such a conclusion is rather made up theologically for the scene, than drawn from the facts themselves. No single intimation of any such thing is, either contained in the facts, or given out by the narrative.

Again his language, in the figure of the “cup”—“if this cup may not pass away from me except I drink it”—is taken as favoring the idea of some suffering, in the nature of infliction. But do we not use the same kind, of language ourselves, having still no such thought as that the cup of anguish we speak of, or pray to have taken away, is a judicial infliction? This figure too of the cup is used, in scripture, for all kinds of experience, whether joyful, or painful. Thus we have the “cup of salvation,” “the cup of consolation,” “the cup of trembling,” “of fury,” “of astonishment,” “of desolation.” Whatever God sends upon a man to be deeply felt, and by whatever kind of Providence, whether benignant, or disciplinary, or retributive, is called his cup. How then does it follow, when Christ speaks of 230 his cup, that it is a cup of judicial chastening? Besides, does he not say to his followers—“ye shall indeed drink of my cup;” and is any thing more fixed in this penal view of Christ’s agony, than that no human being can, at all, participate in such matter of atonement? And, that being true, his cup, as he himself speaks, can not, in this particular instance at least, have reference to any penal suffering, and probably has not in any other.

Again the agony is accounted for as having been caused by the judicial withdrawment of the Father; leaving him to feel the weight, in his human person, of that displeasure which is due to the sins of the world, now upon him. There is no intimation whatever, to this effect in the narrative, but his exclamation afterward, in the scene of the cross—“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,”—is carried back to the agony to fix this construction upon it. But there is not the least reason to suppose that Christ means literally to say, in the exclamation referred to, that God has forsaken him. Did he not comfort himself but a short time previous, in the assurance—“therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life for the sheep?” how then can he imagine that God is forsaking him, in just the sacrifice for which he loved him? Nay it was only an hour ago that he was saying, in the dearest confidence, and in tender appeal even to the Father—“I have glorified thee on the earth, and now I come to thee.” Besides it is represented by Luke, in his account of the agony itself, that an angel is sent 231 unto him to strengthen him; does God then send his angels to support whom he himself forsakes? And again, when he says in his prayer, three times repeated—“Not as I will but as thou wilt,” what does he indicate, according to all human methods of judgment, but the dearest present confidence in God and repose in his favor? It must also be noted, again, that, between the agony and the crucifixion, and even before he leaves the garden, he formally declares just this confidence, saying—“Thinkest thou that I can not now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” The whole account in short, is crowded full of the most decisive proofs that he does not himself imagine any such thing as that he is forsaken of God and judicially given up to suffering. Let it also be observed, that when he utters the cry, “why hast thou forsaken me,” he is just reeling out of life; requiring his outcry therefore to be taken as a mere interjectional utterance of distress. Nothing could be further from him than to be protesting God’s severity thus, in the article of death.

But he does it nevertheless, some one will say; for if we take his words interjectionally, why should he vent his sufferings by the outcry of what is not true? Because, I answer, the not true is often the most vehemently, best uttered truth. Thus when Jonathan and his armor bearer broke into the camp of the Philistines, the wild commotion, or panic, they two raised in the army, and the garrison, and all the people, is described by saying, “and the earth quaked; so there 232 was a very great trembling.” Does any one suppose that the earth really quaked on that occasion, or is it said only to set off the trembling? So when Paul, in the shipwreck, says, “not one hair of your head shall perish,” it is not impossible that a good many hairs of the multitude were lost in their drifting ashore. He only said there should not, as a way of promising the safe landing more emphatically. Outcries too, of this kind are always to be taken freely, as the utterance of tragic feeling, or suffering, not as the language of historic allegation. Exactly so Zion cries in her distress, “the Lord hath forsaken me;” when immediately God answers, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” It will be a great day, I must add, for the scriptures, when the dull soul of dogmatism has done with its undiscerning inflictions; when poetry is taken for poetry, passion for passion, and the hyperbolic intensities of interjection, never again for propositional statements.

I will further add what ought, by a short method, to finish the argument, apart from all criticism on the terms of the narrative, that the absolute morality of God makes any such withdrawment of the Father impossible. That eternal goodness should forsake goodness in suffering, and even to make it suffer, in a way of gaining ulterior ends or advantages however merciful, is to pawn the eternal chastities of character for ends of beneficence; which, as certainly as God is God, will never be done.

Dismissing now this artificial, over-theological, way 233 of conceiving the agony as a judicial infliction, let us endeavor

Secondly to find the spring of it, in a way that looks to the simple character and conditions of the sufferer himself. I greatly mistake, if it does not so become, at once, more intelligible, and as much more effective on our feeling, as it is closer to the range of our human sympathies.

That it is not resolvable into fear is, I think, sufficiently evident. It is quite incredible that a character of such transcendent worth and majesty should be thus appalled, thus miserably shaken, or dissolved, by fear of any kind. Besides, in fear the blood flies the skin, rushing back upon the heart, and leaving a deadly pallor over the whole exterior aspect; while here we have a kind of agony that racks the soul, in some way, at the very center of life, forcing the blood outward and driving it even through the skin. In which we may see as conclusively as possible, that fear, the common human weakness, had nothing to do with his suffering. It must also be noticed that the account given of his agony does not call it fear. It simply declares that he was sorrowful, “exceeding sorrowful,” a state which has nothing to do with fear.

And yet he is shaken, somehow, in a degree that would not be considered honorable in a man of ordinary spirit, when about to die. Not only does the very great and wise man Socrates surpass him in the noble composure of his last hours, but thousands of malefactors 234 even have received the sentence of death for their crimes, with a better show of serenity and self-possession.

We have a great matter then to account for, viz., that Jesus Christi the incarnate Word of God, a being who has never had to acknowledge a sin, or had the feeling of it, a perfect character who has confronted every sort of peril in his works of mercy, one who shows the most perfect confidence in God and the final success of his cause, is yet somehow shaken by the most dreadful agony—rent as it were asunder, by his agitated sensibility—when he meets the prospect of death.

The first thing that occurs to us is that this agony can not be simply human. It visibly exceeds, in its degree, all that we know of human sensibility. Calling it then divine, if only we could think it possible for the divine sensibility to be a suffering sensibility, the question would begin to open. That this suffering sensibility should not fearfully wrench, and burden even to crushing, the human vehicle it occupies, is scarcely credible. A suffering that exceeds the proportions of the vehicle must needs appear by violent symptoms—even as a powerful engine in a frail, light-timbered vessel, must needs make it groan heavily, or shake it even to wreck.

What then is the fact? Is there any sensibility in God that can suffer? is He ever wrenched by suffering? Nothing is more certain. He could not be good, having evil in his dominions, without suffering even according to his goodness. For what is goodness but a perfect feeling? and what is a perfect feeling but that which feels toward every wrong and misery according 235 to its nature? And thus it is that we freely impute to him, whether we observe it or not, every sort of painful sensibility that is related to bad and suffering subjects. We conceive of him as feeling displeasure, which is the opposite of pleasure. We ascribe it as one of his perfections that he compassionates, which means that he suffers with, the fallen. We conceive that he loathes what is disgusting, hates what is cruel, suffers long what is perverse, grieves, burns, bears, forbears, and is even afflicted for his people, as the scripture expressly declares. All which are varieties of suffering. We also ascribed it to God, as one of his perfections, that he is impassible; but here, if we understand ourselves, we mean that he is physically impassible, not that he is morally so. Moral impassibility is really to have no sensibilities of character, which is far as possible from being any perfection. Indeed there is a whole class of what are called passive virtues that can not, in this view, belong to God at all, and his perfection culminates without including more than half the excellencies demanded even of us, in the range of our humble, finite capacity.

There is then, we conclude, some true sense, in which even God’s perfection requires him to be a suffering God—not a God unhappy, or less than perfectly, infinitely, blessed; for, though there be many subtractions from his blessedness, there is never a diminution; because the consciousness of suffering well brings with it, in every case and everlastingly, a compensation which, by a great law of equilibrium in his and all spiritual 236 natures, fully repays the loss; just as Christ, assailed by so many throes of suffering sensibility—in the temptation, in his ministry, in the garden—still speaks of his joy, and bequeathes it as a gift most real and sublime to his followers.

Now it is this suffering sensibility of God that most of all needed to be revealed, and brought nigh to human feeling, in the incarnate mission of Jesus; not being revealed in any sufficient measure through nature and the providential history of men. It was necessary for us to feel God in his feeling, to know him in his passive virtues—his patience, forbearance of enemies, compassion, pity, sympathy, and above all, his deep throes of love, agonizing for the salvation of transgressors and wanderers from his fold. This, accordingly, is just what we are to look for in the agony so called, viz., a true discovery to our hearts of God’s intensity and depth, in those suffering virtues by which his transcendently sovereign nature is exercised.

Christ then, we shall expect to find, suffers in his agony, not because it is put upon him judicially from without, but only as his better nature should and must in the crisis that has overtaken him. Not to particularize further, two great sources, or causes of anguish open upon him at once; firstly the chastity of his pure feeling recoils, with horror, from the hell-gulf of wrong and wild judicial madness into which he is now descending; and secondly the love he has for his enemies brings a burden of concern upon his heart, that oppresses and, for the time, well nigh crushes him. Of 237 these two modes or kinds of anguish I will speak in their order.

Christ, is a being of unsullied innocence, or even of divine purity, though incarnated into the corporate evil and retributive disorder of the world, to bear its liabilities and be himself a part of it. This retributive disorder of the race is what is called in scripture “the curse;” and, being himself a man, he is just so far in it as he is human. In all his previous ministry—in his temptation, in his healings, in the arts of hypocrisy and the cruelties of wrong he has encountered, he has been struggling often with the sense of recoil, or even with pungent visitations of horror difficult to be suppressed. But now, as he nears the great crisis of his life, he beholds the corporate evil, or curse, gathering itself up to a deed upon his sacred person, that will display just all that is most horrible in it. He is not afraid, but his pure feeling shudders at the madness which is ready to burst upon him—shudders even the worse that it is to be judicial madness. For, though God is not going to deal judicially with him, he does perceive that the rage of sin, ordinarily restrained and graciously softened by God’s Spirit, is now to be let forth in his betrayers and crucifiers, in just the madness that judicially belongs to it—so to glass itself before conviction, in a deed of murder upon the only perfect being that ever trod the world, nay a deed of murder upon divine love itself! This it is that, in sad note of warning, he testifies, when his enemies come shortly after, to arrest him—“For this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” 238 He refers to no power of darkness, as many contrive to understand, upon himself; it is darkness upon them, his enemies—judicial darkness, the full, unmitigated, natural curse of wrong. This is “the cup” over which he groans, and which he is now to drink; the wormwood and the vinegar of the world’s wild malice. The suffering and death are penal upon him, only in the sense that all martyrs suffer penally, when the corporate judgments of God upon their wicked times and wicked fellow-men, infuriate and even dehumanize their natural feeling. But the martyrs are sinners, suffering as such at the point of their faith; he is the sinless, suffering at the point of his innocence. They suffer as men, still bronzed in their susceptibility, by the old demoralization of sin; he as the celestial one, and as a pure superhuman feeling must. The recoil of his horror is dreadful, quite unimaginable probably by us, and his poor human vehicle breaks under the shock, even as a stranded ship under the heavy blows of the sea. He groans aloud, falls upon his face, calls to his friends to stay by him, utters anguished cries to God, shows discolored drops resembled to blood exuding from his face—suffers in a word more incontinently, a great deal, than either soldier, philosopher, or man of spirit should, nay than many a malefactor would! And so, it truly seems to me, that he ought: for who of all mankind had ever a tithe of his sensibility to evil. Indeed one of the most difficult things for us mortals is to be duly shocked by wrong and feel a just horror of its baseness. Impassive to fear, even as God himself, 239 he is yet wrenched all through, in every fiber of sensibility, by the appalling and practically monstrous scene before him—human creatures!—creatures in God’s image!—going to crucify their Divine Friend from above!—God’s messenger and their Saviour! By their bloody hands he is himself to die! Verily it is given unto men to die, but ah! it was not given unto him. Death has no rights against him. Nothing but the corporate liability of his incarnation puts him under it. He shudders in throes of recoil, even as God’s pure angels would, meeting such a death; nay more and worse, as he has a vaster nature, and a deeper sensibility, with only a human apparatus to support the shock!

Now this suffering of the agony is the suffering, in one sense, of justice, answering doubtless many of the uses conceived by those who contrive to make it a suffering divinely inflicted. It is a suffering that he undergoes in God’s retributive order. In one view it is the curse that murders him, being that power of darkness and corporate evil that has come upon the world, as disordered and shaken out of God’s harmony, by the recoil of transgression. His very incarnation had put him into or under it, and he would not even by the power of miracle push the liability away; for it was one of his purposes to offer such a tribute of respect to God’s retributive order, as would sanctify it in the feeling, and fix it in the convictions of mankind. Thus, by his power of miracle, he could have made to himself a testudo, so to speak, of inviolable protection 240 against the rage of his enemies, but he preferred instead to suffer just what men are suffering, in that penal disorder and social dislocation, which God, in judgment, has appointed for the fact of sin. It was in his heart to let God’s justice have its due honors, breaking out, at no one point, from the fiery liability into which he had come, in becoming a man. He consented thus to let the hell which scorches wrong scorch him too, claiming no exception even for his innocence. Behold, he would say, O man, God’s sacrament of wrath that is on thee, revealed by the wrath its poison stirs within thee; and because it is the ordinance of his justice, bear witness that I spurn it not, neither ask that my integrity excuse me from it! Sacred it shall be because it is right; and being for man as man, a power of darkness for all sin, I will take the bitter cup for thy sake! Only this be noted, since the malediction working in thee will not suffer even goodness to live, how certain it is that blindness, madness, murder, all that is called hell, goes with thy sin, whose eternally just and sufficient penalty it is that it shall live in its own fires, and be itself!

After such a tribute paid to the instituted justice of God, who will imagine that the forgiveness of penitent souls will loosen the joints of governmental order? By this submission of Christ to man’s curse or lot of penalty—penalty in no other sense to him—an impression will be made for God’s justice, and a sting of conviction sharpened against sin, that will even start a new sense of his law, and the penal order of his rule in the hearts 241 of all mankind. Even as Christ himself anticipated when he said—“Of sin because they believed not on me.” Also as it was anticipated for him that under and by his suffering mission, “the thoughts of many hearts should be revealed.” And again, still further back, in the ancient prophecy—“They shall look on me whom they have pierced.” All which was to be signally proved by the result of his crucifixion—“And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts and returned.” When had they ever felt the horrible nature and the justly damning power of their sin as now?

It remains to speak of yet another and very distinct kind of suffering included in the agony, viz., the suffering Christ bore on account of his love. As he recoiled in horror from the spirit and deed of his enemies, so he was oppressed by his anguish of concern for the men. He had come into the world, in the fullness even of God’s love, to unbosom that love to the sight and feeling of mankind. As respects all enemies and rejectors, it had been a suffering love even from eternity, and it will be none the less a suffering love that it has taken humanity for its vehicle. Every sort of love connects some kind of suffering greater or less—desire, concern, affliction, anguish. A bliss in itself, it is even a bliss intensified, by the burden it so willingly or even painfully bears. Thus it is that friendship, charity, motherhood, patriotism, carries each its burden, light or heavy, according to the nature and degree of its love 242 and according to the want, or woe of its object. What then must the feeling of Christ be, when he looks upon his enemies in the near prospect of death at their hands—death horrible to him, and a sacrilegious murder in them. If the great liberator Moses, discouraged and crushed in feeling by the perversity of his people, cried—“I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me, and if thou deal thus with me kill me;” if Paul, himself a man, was constrained, by the burden of a man’s love, to say—“I have great heaviness and continued sorrow in my heart; for I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the faith;” who shall wonder at the anguish of Christ’s burden, when he bows himself under it to the ground, when he calls it his “cup,” when he cries, “my soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death?” If the love of a human benefactor will sometimes beget anguish, what will the love of God do less than to create an agony?

And yet how little will our dull-hearted world bronzed in evil, habitually unloving, unvisited or seldom visited, by a consciously tender compassion; how little, indeed, will the most unselfish, or even beneficently Christian of us, conceive this agony of the divine love for men! Our hearts make feeble answer to it at the best; so feeble that there even seems to be a kind of overdoing, or overfeeling in it. Indeed we are even wont ourselves, for dignity’s sake, to halve our own little emotion and we do the same unconsciously for the emotion of God; halving it also again, by the consideration 243 here let in, that his love is only love to transgressors and enemies. Ah! if we could think it, that is just the fact, in which God’s love becomes an agony; leaving, as it were, the ninety and nine of his friends, to go after that one who has gone astray, and rejoicing more over that, as he has felt the loss with a more painful concern. God’s love has no burden of pain for the good; it sharpens to a pain only when it looks upon the evil. And here precisely is the stress of Christ’s agony.

When I consider thus who Christ was, what the love he bore, what the crime his enemies were going to perpetrate, invoking, in horrible delusion, his blood upon themselves and their children; I seem to get some little, dim, conception of his anguish for them, in this dreadful hour. I can not go to the depth of it, I can not ascend to the height of it, but I can perceive why it should transcend my feeling and even the possible reach of my conceptions. It is even the more credible too that its tokens do so plainly exceed all human demonstrations. The most adequate and complete thing we can say of it is, that it reveals the Suffering Holiness of God.

The reason of the agony then—this is our conclusion—lies in the facts themselves; in the sensibilities of the sufferer and the causes acting on those sensibilities. No theologic reason, such as makes him suffer by infliction, or by the judicial forsaking of God, has even a tolerable pretext, aside from the theory that makes up such a construction for its own sake. Even the justice 244 of God is more adequately impressed and set before the world more convincingly, without any so revolting conception, than with it. Never was there made before such an expression of God’s abhorrence to sin, as in this recoil of Christ’s agony from it; never such honor put upon God’s instituted justice, as in Christ’s submission to the corporate woe and penal madness of it. Never was the horrible nature of sin so revealed to human conviction, as by this agony of compassion, on one side, met by such judicial blindness and even phrenzied malice, on the other.

Can there now my friends, be any thing more strange than that multitudes of you, having had full time to ponder this scene, and take its meaning after the fact, should still adhere to your sin, nay should even be quite insensible to it and the feeling of God concerning it. Beholding this immense sensibility of God, you still have none! O it is even appalling! Rightly conceiving such a fact, you would even start from yourself! Were you called by some angel, in the brightness of the sun, or by voices of thunder in the clouds, it would signify much less; but that you should not feel the silent call of God’s feeling ought to make you think even with dread of yourself. When the Christ of Gethsemane meets you bathed in the sad drops of his divine sorrow, there certainly ought, if there be any feeling left, to be some answering sorrow in you. Is there still none? What a relation this between your sensibility and goodness—functional death, lying as a rock in 245 Gethsemane, feeling as little that horror of sin, softened as little by that sorrowing love! O thou highly gifted creature, what kind of attainment hast thou made!

The lessons derivable to us, my brethren, from this subject are many; I can only call attention specially to this one, that as Christ suffers in his agony, not by the forsaking of God, not by any kind of infliction making compensation to eternal justice; but naturally, because of his character, and the crisis into which he has come, so there will be times and conditions where we shall suffer in like manner, according to our measures, and the degree of our likeness to him. Purity in us will shudder, love in us will bear its burden of sorrow. It is no presumption or profanation for us to think of being with him in his passion, we shall even require it of ourselves, as a necessary Christian evidence. Even as he himself declares—“ye shall indeed drink of my cup.” Not that we are to be as deep in the pains of holy sensibility as he—that is impossible. Not that we are to make a point of suffering much, and be always talking of some dreadful burden that is on us, and having it as a point of merit to be always in a groaning testimony. Christ did not make a three-years’ funeral of his ministry. Once he had a heavy struggle of temptation, telling never a word about it but the close. Once, and again, he wept. Once he declared that his soul was troubled. Once he fell into an agony, and was very soon through with it. It was never his way to suffer more than he must, or to call for sympathy by a show of his sorrows. On the other hand, no disciple is to make 246a merit of being always floated in a luxury of bliss, as if the gospel had no purpose more rugged and practical than simply to beget an elysian frame. Much less may a disciple think it well that he suffers nothing, or is never overcast in his feeling, when the simple reason is that his soul is cased in the indifference of sloth and worldly living. No pangs of life are suffered by the dead! As certainly as your Master’s love is in you, his work will be upon you. His objects will be yours, and also his divine burden. And sometimes that burden will be heavy. If your heart grows pure, it will just so far be shocked and revolted by the wrath and wrong of evil-doers. As certainly as you have feeling, you will have the pains of feeling. Expect to have your part then with Jesus in his Gethsemane. Come in freely hither, tarry ye here and watch. Out of his agony learn how to bear an enemy; what to do for your enemies and God’s. If your intercessions sometimes turn to groans, if you sometimes wonder that being a Christian you are yet so heavily, painfully, burdened, almost crushed with concern for such as you are trying to save, let your comfort be that so you drink indeed your Master’s cup. If your love is repelled with scorn, and your good work baffled, and your heart grows heavy under sorrow and discouragement—ready to sink under its load—come hither and pray with Jesus in his sweat of blood, “let this cup pass from me.” If wickedness grows hot in malice round you, if conspiracy and violence array themselves against you, go apart into this Gethsemane of your 247 Lord’s troubles, and be sure that some good angel shall be sent to strengthen you; is not Christ’s heart wringing for you more bitterly than yours for itself—tarry ye here and watch. If some demon of impatience whispers, here or there, “why not give it up?” behold the agonizing obedience of Christ, faithful unto death, and say, with him, “not as I will but as thou wilt.” Look for no mere holiday of frames, but for such kind of joy as a heart may yield that is many times broken by sacrifice. Behold your Master prostrate on the ground, and by his agony and bloody sweat, be girded for a passion of your own. Consent with Christ to suffer; and when having gotten his victory, he says “rise, let us be going,” go, not faltering, even though he lead you to the cross.

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