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§ 280. The Agony in the Garden. (Matt., xxvi.; Mark, xiv.; Luke, xxii.)

In prayer and retirement Christ had prepared himself for the beginning of his public ministry; in prayer and retirement he now prepared to close his calling on earth. As then, so now, before entering upon the outward conflict, he passed through it in the inward struggles of his soul. Then he had in spirit gained the victory, before he appeared openly among men a conqueror; now the conquest of suffering was achieved within, before the final, outward triumph.

Arrived at the garden, he took apart Peter, James, and John, his three best—loved disciples, to be the honoured witnesses of his prayer, and to pray with him. From the nature of the case, we could not have so full an account of this as of his prayer for his disciples (John, xvii.) In the pains of suffering that are pressing upon him he prays, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” But this feeling could not for a moment shake his submission to the Divine will. All other feelings are absorbed in the fundamental longing, “Thy will be done.” The Divinity is distinguished from the Humanity; and by this distinction their unity, in the subordination of the one to the other, was to be made prominent. As a man, he might wish to be spared the sufferings that awaited him, even though from a higher point of view he saw their necessity; just as a Christian may be convinced that he ought to make a certain sacrifice in the service of God, and yet, in darker moments, his purely human feelings may rise against it, until his conviction, and his will guided by his conviction, at last prevail. It was not merely that Christ’s physical nature had to struggle with death, and such a death, but his soul had to be moved to its depths by sympathy with the sufferings of mankind on account of sin.758758   By the “cup” we must understand not only his suffering of death, but all that preceded and followed it: the treason of Judas, the rage of Christ’s enemies, the delusion of the multitude. It is not my object here to set forth the higher doctrinal and theological import of the death of Christ; yet I agree heartily in the following, from Dettinger’s beautiful dissertation on Christ’s agony (Tübing. Zeitschrift, 1838, i., 95, 96): “While, on the one hand, in a sinful nature, the conviction that death is a judgment for sin is blunted in proportion as the power of sin in the individual is greater, and the sense of its guiltless; in a word, in proportion as the harmonic unity of life is disturbed by sin, so much the more powerful, on the other hand, in a sinless human nature, in which the unity of life’s harmony is undisturbed, must be the conviction that death is a judgment for sin, a dissolution and separation, not originally belonging to human nature, of elements which in all stages of the developement of life belong together.” I can make this agree, also, with the view of the connexion between sin and death presented in my “Apostol. Zeitalter,” vol. ii. Thus the wish might arise within 408him, as a man, to be spared that bitter cup; only on condition, how ever, that the will of God could be done in some other way. But the conviction that this could not be, immediately followed; he knew, from the beginning,759759   Cf. p. 82. that, according to the plan of Divine wisdom, the kingdom of God was to be founded through his self-sacrifice in the struggle with the sins of the people; and he submitted to what he knew was the will of God and the work of his life.760760   Cf. p. 344.

As a proof how little the higher calmness of his spirit was disturbed by these uprisings of human feeling, we find him, a moment after the first struggle, caring for his yet weak disciples. Finding them overcome with sleep, he roused them, saying, “Could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation (that the outward temptation become not an inward one761761   Cf. p. 209.); for, though the spirit is willing (as in their fulness of love, when danger was not pressing upon them, they had declared themselves ready to suffer all things with him and for him), the flesh is weak.” (The impressions of outward danger may affect the flesh so strongly as to bear down the spirit; there is need, therefore, of Divine power, gained by prayer, to strengthen the spirit amid these fearful impressions, that it may triumph over the weakness of the flesh.)

Again he bends in prayer. And now he does not say, “If it be possible, let—;” but, penetrated by the conviction that the counsel of Divine Wisdom demands the sacrifice, “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me except I drink it, Thy will be done.” And the third time he repeats the same words. The victory of his soul was gained; the struggle was over, until the brief conflict of the final pang. Finding the disciples still asleep, he said to them, “ Sleep on now; I will762762   The words τὸ λοιπόν, in Matt., xxvi., 45, compel us to take these words as a warning, or reproof; otherwise the word καθεύδετε might be taken as the indicative, with or without interrogation. rouse you no more to watch and pray with me; but your sleep shall be rudely disturbed; for behold, the hour of my suffering is at hand. Already my captors are near.”


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