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Sermon 34. The fifth excellent Saying of Christ upon the Cross, illustrated.
After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.
It is as truly, as commonly said, death is dry: Christ found it so, when he died. When his spirit laboured in the agonies of death, then he said, I thirst.
This is the fifth word of Christ upon the cross, spoken a little before he bowed the head and yielded up the ghost. It is only recorded by this evangelist; and, there are four things remarkable in this complaint of Christ, viz. The person complaining: the complaint he made: the time when, and the reason why he so complained.
First, The person complaining. Jesus said, I thirst. This is a clear evidence, that it was no common suffering: great and resolute spirits will not complain for small matters. The spirit of a common man will endure much, before it utters any complaint. Let us therefore see,
Secondly, The affliction, or suffering, he complains of; and that is thirst. There are two sorts of thirst, one natural and proper, another spiritual and figurative: Christ felt both at this time. His soul thirsted, in vehement desires and longings, to accomplish and finish that great and difficult work he was now about; and his body thirsted, by reason of those unparalleled agonies it laboured under, for the accomplishing thereof: but it was the proper natural thirst he here intends, when he said, I thirst. Now, “this natural thirst,” of which he complains, “is the raging of the appetite for moist nourishment, arising from scorching up of the parts of the body for want of moisture.” And, amongst all the pains and afflictions of the body, there can scarcely be named a greater, and more intolerable one, than extreme thirst. The most mighty and valiant have stooped under it. Mighty Samson, after all his conquests and victories, complains thus, Judges 15: 18. “And he was sore athirst, and called on the Lord, and said, Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant, and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” Great Darius drank filthy water, defiled with the bodies of the slain, to relieve his thirst, “and protested, never any drink was more pleasant to him.” Hence, Isa. 41: 17, thirst is put to express the most afflicted state, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them;” i.e. when my people are in extreme necessities, under any extraordinary pressures and distresses, I will be with them, to supply and relieve them. Thirst causes a most painful compression of the heart, when the body, like a sponge, sucks and draws for moisture, and there is none. And this may be occasioned, either by long abstinence from drink, or by the labouring and expense of the spirits under grievous agonies and extreme tortures; which, like a fire within, soon scorch up the very radical moisture.
Now, though we find not that Christ tasted a drop since he sat with his disciples at the table; after that no more refreshments for him in this world: yet that was not the cause of this raging thirst; but it is to be ascribed to the extreme sufferings which he so long had conflicted with, both in his soul and body. These preyed upon him, and drank up his very Spirits. Hence came this sad complaint, I thirst.
Thirdly, Let us consider the time when he thus complained. “When all things were now accomplished,” saith the text, i.e. when all things were even ready to be accomplished in his death. A little, a very little while before his expiration, when the pangs of death began to be strong upon him: and so it was both a sign of death at hand, and of his love to us, which was stronger than death, that would not complain sooner, because he would admit of no relief, nor take the least refreshment, until he had done his work.
Fourthly, and lastly, Take notice of the design and end of his complaint: “that the scripture might be fulfilled, he saith, I thirst;” i.e. that it might appear, for the satisfaction of our faith, that whatsoever had been predicted by the prophets, was exactly accomplished, even to a circumstance in him. Now it was foretold of him, Psal 69: 21. “They gave me gall for my meat, and, in my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink;” and herein it was verified. Hence the note is,
Doct. That such were the agonies and extreme sufferings of our
Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross, as drank up his very spirits,
and made him cry, I thirst.
“If I, (said one) should live a thousand years, and every day die a thousand times the same death for Christ that he once died for me, yet all this would be nothing to the sorrows Christ endured in his death.” At this time the bridegroom Christ might have borrowed the words of his spouse, the church, Lam. 1: 12. “It is nothing to you, all ye that pass by? See and behold, if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord has afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.”
Here we are to enquire into, and consider the extremities and agonies Christ laboured under upon the cross, which occasioned this sad complaint of thirst; and then make application, in the several inferences of truth deducible from it.
Now the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross were two fold, viz. His corporeal, and spiritual sufferings: we shall open them distinctly, and then show how both these meeting together upon him in their fulness and extremity, must needs consume his very radical moisture, and make him cry, I thirst. To begin with the first.
First, His corporeal and more external sufferings were exceeding great, acute, and extreme sufferings; for they were sharp, universal, continual, and unrelieved by any inward comfort.
First, They were sharp sufferings; for his body was racked or digged in those parts where sense more eminently dwells: in the hands and feet the veins and sinews meet, and their pain and anguish meet with them; Psal. 22: 16. “They digged my hands and my feet.” Now Christ by reason of his exact and excellent temper of body, had doubtless more quick, tender and delicate senses than other men: his body was so formed, that it might be a capacious vessel, to take in more sufferings than any other body could. Sense is, in some, more delicate and tender, and in others dull and blunt, according to the temperament and vivacity of the body and spirits; but in none as it was in Christ, whose body was miraculously formed on purpose to suffer unparalleled miseries. and sorrows in: “A body hast thou fitted me,” Heb. 10: 5. Neither sin nor sickness had any way enfeebled or dulled it.
Secondly, As his pains were sharp, so they were universal, not affecting one, but every part; they seized every member; from head to foot, no member was free from torture: for, as his head was wounded with thorns, his back with bloody lashes, his hands and feet with nails, so every other part was stretched and distended beyond its natural length, by hanging upon that cruel engine of torment, the cross. And as every member, so every particular sense, was afflicted; his sight with vile wretches, cruel murderers that stood about him; his hearing with horrid blasphemies, belched out against him; his taste with vinegar and gall, which they gave to aggravate his misery; his smell with that filthy Golgotha where he was crucified, and his feeling with exquisite pains in every part; so that he was not only sharply, but universally tormented.
Thirdly, These universal pains were continual, not by fits, but without any intermission. He had not a moment’s ease by the cessation of pains; wave came upon wave, one grief driving on another, till all God’s waves and billows had gone over him. To be in extremity of pain, and that without a moment’s intermission, will quickly pull down the stoutest nature in the world.
Fourthly, and lastly, As his pains were sharp, universal and continual, so they were altogether unrelieved by his understanding part. If a man have sweet comforts flowing into his soul from God, they will sweetly demulce and allay the pains of the body: this made the martyrs shout amidst the flames. Yes, even inferior comforts and delights of the mind, will greatly relieve the oppressed body.
It is said of Possidonius, that, in a great fit of the stone, he solaced himself with discourses of moral virtue, and when the pain twinged him, he would say, “O pain thou does nothing, though thou art a little troublesome, I will never confess thee to be evil.” And Epicures, in the fits of the colic, refreshed himself, ob memoriam inventorum, i.e. by his inventions in philosophy.
But now Christ had no relief this way in the least; not a drop of comfort came from heaven into his soul to relieve it, and the body by it: but, on the contrary, his soul was filled up with grief, and had an heavier burden of its own to bear than that of the body; so that instead of relieving, it increased unspeakably the burden of its outward man. For,
Secondly, Let us consider these inward sufferings of his soul how great they were, and how quickly they spent his natural strength, and turned his moisture into the drought of summer. And,
First, His soul felt the wrath of an angry God, which was terribly impressed upon it. The wrath of a king is as the roaring of a lion; but what is that to the wrath of a Deity? See what a description is given of it in Nahum 1: 6. “Who can stand before his indignation: and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him.” Had not the strength that supported Christ been greater than that of rocks, this wrath had certainly overwhelmed and ground him to powder.
Secondly, As it was the wrath of God that lay upon his soul, so it was the pure wrath of God, without any allay or mixture: not one drop of comfort came from heaven or earth; all the ingredients in his cup were bitter ones: There was wrath without mercy; yea, wrath without the least degree of sparing mercy; “for God spared not his own Son,” Rom. 8: 32. Had Christ been abated or spared, we had not. If our mercies must be pure mercies, and our glory in heaven pure and unmixed glory, then the wrath which lie suffered must be pure and unmixed wrath. Yea,
Thirdly, As the wrath, the pure unmixed wrath of God, lay upon his soul, so all the wrath of God was poured out upon him, even to the last drop; so that there is not one drop reserved for the elect to feel. Christ’s cup was deep and large, it contained all the fury and wrath of an infinite God in it! and yet he drank it up: he bare it all, so that to believing souls, who come to make peace with God through Christ, he saith, Isa. 27: 4. “Fury is not in me.” In all the chastisements God inflicts upon his people, there is no vindictive wrath; Christ bore it all in his own soul and body on the tree.
Fourthly, As it was all the wrath of God that lay upon Christ, so it was wrath aggravated, in divers respects beyond that which the damned themselves do suffer. That is strange you will say; can there be any sufferings worse than those the damned suffer, upon whom the wrath of an infinite God is immediately transacted, who holds them up with the arm of his power, while the arm of his justice lies on eternally? Can any sorrows be greater than these? Yes; Christ’s sufferings were beyond theirs in divers particulars.
First, None of the damned were ever so near and dear to God as Christ was: they were estranged from the womb, but Christ lay in his bosom. When he smote Christ, he smote “the man that was his fellow,” Zech. 13: 7. But in smiting them, he smites his enemies. When he had to do, in a way of satisfaction, with Christ, he is said not to spare his own son, Rom. 8: 32. Never was the fury of God poured out upon such a person before.
Secondly, None of the damned had ever so large a capacity to take in a full sense of the wrath of God as Christ had. The larger any one’s capacity is to understand and weigh his troubles fully, the more grievous and heavy is his burden. If a man cast vessels of greater and lesser quantity into the sea, though all will be full, yet the greater the vessel is, the more water it contains. Now Christ had a capacity beyond all mere creatures to take in the wrath of his Father; and what deep and large apprehensions he had of it may be judged by his bloody sweat in the garden, which was the effect of his mere apprehensions of the wrath of God. Christ was a large vessel indeed; as he is capable of more glory, so of more sense and misery than any other person in the world.
Thirdly, The damned suffer not so innocently as Christ suffered; they suffer the just demerit and recompence of their sin: They have deserved all that wrath of God which they feel, and must feel for ever: It is but that recompence which was meet; but Christ was altogether innocent: He had done no iniquity, neither was guile found in his mouth; yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him. When Christ suffered, he suffered not for what he had done; but his sufferings were the sufferings of a surety, paying the debts of others. “The Messiah was cut off, but not for himself,” Dan. 9: 26. Thus you see what his external sufferings in his body, and his internal sufferings in his soul were.
Thirdly, In the last place, it is evident that such extreme sufferings as these, meeting together upon him, must needs exhaust his very spirits, and make him cry, I thirst. For let us consider,
First, What mere external pains, and outward afflictions can do. These prey upon, and consume our spirits. So David complains, Psal. 39: 11. “When thou with rebukes correctest man for iniquity; thou makes his beauty to consume away as a moth,” i.e. look, as a moth frets and consumes the most strong and well wrought garment, and makes it scary and rotten without any noise; so afflictions waste and wear out the strongest bodies. They make bodies of the firmest constitution like an old rotten garment: They shrivel and dry up the most vigorous and flourishing body, and make it like a bottle in the smoke, Psal. 119: 83.
Secondly, Consider what mere internal troubles of the soul can do upon the strongest body: They spend its strength, and devour the spirits. So Solomon speaks, Prov. 17: 22. “A broken spirit drieth the bones,” i.e. it consumes the very marrow with which they are moistened. So Psal. 32: 3, 4. “My bones waxed old, and through my roaring all the day long: for day and night thy hand was heavy on me: my moisture (or chief sap) is turned into the drought of summer.” What a spectacle of pity was Francis Spira become, merely through the anguish of his spirit? a spirit sharpened with such troubles, like a keen knife, cuts through the sheath. Certainly, whoever has had any acquaintance with troubles of soul, knows, by sad experience, how, like an internal flame, it feeds and preys upon the very spirits, so that the strongest stoop and sink under it. But,
Thirdly, When outward bodily pains shall meet with inward spiritual troubles, and both in extremity shall come in one day; how soon must the firmest body fail and waste away like a candle lighted at both ends? Now strength fails a-pace, and nature must fall flat under this load. When the ship in which Paul sailed, fell into a place where two seas met, it was quickly wrecked; and so will the best constituted body in the world, if it fall under both these troubles together the soul and body sympathise with each other under trouble, and mutually relieve each other.
If the body be sick and full of pain, the spirit supports, cheers, and relieves it by reason and resolution all that it can; and if the spirit be afflicted the body sympathises and helps to bear up the spirit; but now, if the one be over laden with strong pains, more than it can bear, and calls for aid from the other, and the other be oppressed with intolerable anguish, and cries out under a burden greater than it can bear, so that it can contribute no help, but instead thereof adds to its burden, which before was above its strength to bear, then nature must needs fail, and the friendly union betwixt soul and body suffer a dissolution by such an extraordinary pressure as this. So it was with Christ, when outward and inward sorrows met in one day in their extremity upon him. Hence the bitter cry, I thirst.
Inference 1. How horrid a thing is sin! How great is to that evil of evils, which deserves that all this should be inflicted and suffered for the expiation of it!
The sufferings of Christ for sin give us the true account, and fullest representation of its evil. “The law (saith one) is a bright glass, wherein we may see the evil of sin; but there is the red glass of the sufferings of Christ, and in that we may see more of the evil of sin, than if God should let us down to hell, and there we should see all the tortures and torments of the damned. If we should see them how they lie sweltering under God’s wrath there, it were not so much as the beholding of sin through the red glass of the sufferings of Christ.”
Suppose the bars of the bottomless pit were broken up; and damned spirits should ascend from thence, and come up among us, with the chains of darkness rattling at their heels, and we should hear the groans, and see the ghastly paleness and trembling of those poor creatures upon whom the righteous God has impressed his fury and indignation, if we could hear how their consciences are lashed by the fearful scourge of guilt, and how they shriek at every lash the arm of justice gives them.
If we should see and hear all this, it is not so much as what we may see in this text, where the Son of God, under his sufferings for it, cries out, I thirst. For, as I shewed you before, Christ’s sufferings, in divers respects, were beyond theirs. O then, let not thy vain heart slight sin, as if it were but a small thing! If ever God shew thee the face of sin in this glass, thou wilt say, there is not such another horrid representation to be made to a man in all the world. Fools make a mock at sin, but wise men tremble at it.
Inf. 2. How afflictive and intolerable are inward troubles. Did Christ complain so sadly under them, and cry, I thirst? Surely then they are not such light matters as many are apt to make of them. If they so scorched the very heart of Christ, dried up the green tree, preyed upon his very spirits, and turned his moisture into the drought of summer, they deserve not to be slighted, as they are by some. The Lord Jesus was fitted to bear and suffer as strong troubles as ever befell the nature of man, and he did bear all other troubles with admirable patience; but when it came to this, when the flames of God’s wrath scorched his soul, then he cries, I thirst.
David’s heart was, for courage, as the heart of a lion; but when God exercised him with inward troubles for sin, then he roars out under the anguish of it, “I am feeble, and sore broken; I have roared, by reason of the disquietness of my heart. My heart panteth, my strength faileth me: As for the light of mine eyes, it is also gone from me,” Psal. 38: 8, 10. “A wounded spirit who can bear!” Many have professed that all the torments in the world are but toys to it; the racking fits of the gout, the grinding tortures of the stone, are nothing to the wrath of God upon the conscience. What is the worm that never dies but the efficacy of a guilty conscience? This worm feeds upon, and gnaws the very inwards, the tender and most sensible part of man and is the principal part of hell’s horror. In bodily pains, a man may be relieved by proper medicines; here nothing but the blood of sprinkling relieves. In outward pains, the body may be supported by the resolution and courage of the mind; here the mind itself is wounded. O let none despise these troubles, they are dreadful things!
Inf. 3. How dreadful a place is hell, where this cry is heard for ever, I thirst! There the wrath of the great and terrible God flames upon the damned for ever, in which they thirst, and none relieves then. If Christ complained, I thirst, when he had conflicted but a few hours with the wrath of God; what is their state then, that are to grapple with it for ever? When millions of years are past and gone, ten thousand millions more are coming on. There is an everlasting thirst in hell, and it admits of no relief. There are no full cups in hell, but all eternal, unrelieved thirst. Think on this ye that now add drunkenness to thirst, who wallow in all sensual pleasures, and drown nature in an excess of luxury. Remember what Dives said in Luke 16: 24. “And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame.” No cups of water, no bowls of wine in hell. There, that throat will be parched with thirst, which is now drowned with excess. The songs of the drunkard turned into cowlings. If thirst in the extremity of it be now so insufferable, what is that thirst which is infinitely beyond this in measure, and never shall be relieved? Say not it is hard that God should deal thus with his poor creatures. You will not think it so, if you consider what he exposed his own dear Son to, when sin was but imputed to him. And what that man deserves to feel, that has not only merited hell, but, by refusing Christ the remedy, the hottest place in hell.
In this thirst of Christ we have the liveliest emblem of the state of the damned, that ever was presented to men in this world. Here you see a person labouring in extremity, under the infinite wraths of the great and terrible God lying upon his soul and body at once, and causing him to utter this doleful cry, I thirst. Only Christ endured this but a little while, the damned must endure it for ever: in that they differ, as also in the innocence and ability of the persons suffering, and in the end for which they suffer. But, surely, such as this will the cry of those souls be that are cast away for ever. O terrible thirst!
Inf. 4. How much do nice and wanton appetites deserve to be reproved? The Son of God wanted a draught of cold water to relieve him, and could not have it. God has given us variety of refreshing creatures to relieve us, and we despise them. We have better things than a cup of water to refresh and delight us when we are thirsty, and yet are not pleased. O that this complaint of Christ on the cross, I thirst, were but believingly considered, it would make you bless God for what ye now despise, and beget contentment in you for the meanest mercies, and most common favours in this world. Did the Lord of all things cry, I thirst, and had nothing in his extremity to comfort him; and dost thou, who hast a thousand times over forfeited all temporal as well as spiritual mercies, condemn and slight the good creatures of God! What, despise a cup of water, who deserves nothing but a cup of wrath from the hand of the Lord! O lay it to heart, and hence learn contentment with any thing.
Inf. 5. Did Jesus Christ upon the cross cry, I thirst? Then believers shall never thirst eternally. Their thirst shall be certain satisfied.
There is a threefold thirst, gracious, natural, and penal. The gracious thirst is the vehement desire of a spiritual heart after God. Of this David speaks, Psal. 42: 1, 2. “As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God, when shall I come and appear before God?” And this is indeed a vehement thirst; it makes the soul break with the longings it has after God, Psal. 119. It is a thirst proper to believers, who have tasted that the Lord is gracious.
Natural thirst is (as before was noted) a desire of refreshment by humid nourishment, and it is common both to believers and unbelievers in this world. God’s dear saints have been driven to such extremities in this life, that their tongues have even failed for thirst. “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst,” Isa. 41: 17. And of the people of God in their captivity, it is said, Lam. 4: 4. “The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst. The young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them. They that feed delicately are desolate in the streets; they that were brought up in scarlet embrace dung hills.” To this many that fear the Lord have been reduced.
A penal thirst, is God’s just denying of all refreshments or relief to sinners in their extremities, and that as a due punishment for their sin. This believers shall never feel, because when Christ thirsted upon the cross, he made full satisfaction to God in their room. These sufferings of Christ, as they were ordained for them, so the benefits of them are truly imputed to them. And for the natural thirst, that shall be satisfied: for in heaven we shall live without these necessities and dependencies upon the creature; we shall be equal with the angels in the way and manner of living and subsisting, “isangeloi eisin”, Luke 20: 6. And for the gracious thirsting of their souls for God, it shall be fully satisfied. So it is promised, Mat. 5: 6. “Blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled:” They shall then depend no more upon the stream, but drink from the overflowing fountain itself, Psal. 36: 8 “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house, and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures: for with thee is the fountain of life, and in Thy light shall we see light:” There they shall drink and praise, and praise and drink for evermore; all their thirsty desires shall be filled with complete satisfaction. O how desirable a state is heaven upon this account! and how should we be restless till we come thither; as the thirsty traveller is until he meet that cool, refreshing spring he wants and seeks for. This present state is a state of thirsting, that to come of refreshment and satisfaction. Some drops indeed come from the fountain by faith, hut they quench not the believer’s thirst; rather like water sprinkled on the fire, they make it burn the more: but there the thirsty soul has enough.
O bless God, that Jesus Christ thirsted under the heat of his wrath once, that you might not be scorched with it for ever. If he had not cried, I thirst, you must have cried out of thirst eternally, and never be satisfied.
Inf. 6. Lastly; Did Christ in the extremity of his sufferings cry, I thirst? Then how great, beyond all compare, is the love of God to sinners, who for their sakes exposed the Son of his love to such extreme sufferings?
Three considerations marvellously heighten that love of the Father.
First, His putting the Lord Jesus into such a condition. There is none of us would endure to see a child of our own lie panting, and thirsting in the extremity of torments, for the fairest inheritance on earth; much less to have the soul of a child conflicting with the wrath of God, and making such heart-rending complaints as Christ made upon the cross, if we might have the largest empire in the world for it: yet, such was the strength of the love of God to us, that he willingly gave Jesus Christ to all this misery and torture for us. What shall we call this love? O the height, length, depth, and breadth of that love which passeth knowledge! The love of God to Jesus Christ was infinitely beyond all the love we have for our children, as the sea is more then a spoonful of water: and yet, as dearly as he loved him, he was content to expose him to all this, rather than we should perish eternally.
Secondly, As God the Father was content to expose Christ to this extremity, so in that extremity to hear his bitter cries, and dolorous complaints, and yet not relieve him with the least refreshment till he fainted and died under it. He heard the cries of his Son; that voice, I thirst, pierced heaven, and reached the Father’s ear; but yet he will not refresh him in his agonies, nor abate him any thing of the debt he was now paying, and all this for the love he had to poor sinners. Had Christ been relieved in his sufferings, and spared, then God could not have pitied or spared us. The extremity of Christ’s suffering was an act of justice to him; and the greatest mercy to us that ever could be manifested. Nor indeed (though Christ so bitterly complains of his thirst) was he willing to be relieved, till he had finished his work. O love unspeakable! He does not complain, that he might be relieved, but to manifest how great that sorrow was which his soul now felt upon our account.
Thirdly, And it should never be forgotten, that Jesus Christ was exposed to these extremities of sorrow for sinners, the greatest of sinners, who deserved not one drop of mercy from God. This commends the love of God singularly to us, in that “whilst we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” Rom. 5: 1. Thus the love of God in Jesus Christ still rises higher and higher in every discovery of it. Admire, adore, and be ravished with the thoughts of this love!
Thanks be to God for this unspeakable gift.
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