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Chapter XVIII.

Showing How The Sorrows And Pains Of Christ Should Teach Us To Subdue The Lusts Of The Flesh.

My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.Matt. 26:38.

The third branch of the cross of Christ consists in the unspeakable sorrow and sufferings which began at his very birth. For as his most holy human soul was filled with the light of divine knowledge and wisdom, by virtue of the personal union of his two natures, he saw all that he should experience in the future, as if it were already present; and thus his soul was, from the beginning, filled with the deepest sorrow, and suffered inward pain. He foresaw his future inconceivable and inexpressible agony of soul, and his unspeakable bodily pains. For the more delicate, pure, and innocent, the human nature in Christ was, the greater were the pain and anguish that affected him. Of this those sorrows and spiritual torments, that are wont to work upon the inmost soul, are a sufficient proof. For inasmuch as the constitution of the soul, by reason of its immortality, exceeds that of the body in worth and delicacy; so also her pains exceed those of the body in depth and acuteness. For this reason the Lord never rejoiced upon his own account, and with reference only to himself; but it was when he saw that his Heavenly Father was known and worshipped, and his divine works manifested unto the world. Hence “he rejoiced in spirit” at the return of the seventy disciples. Luke 10:21.

2. Since all those things, which he was to suffer, from his own people and countrymen, were known to him, he could not but be highly afflicted and in constant sorrow; and this was also still more the case, the more nearly he approached the time appointed for his passion. This he himself testifies, saying, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” Luke 12:50. And the time of this baptism being come, he says, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matt. 26:38): intimating thereby the excessive and unutterable grief and anguish of spirit, that forced from him that sweat, which “was as it were great drops of blood.” Luke 22:44. And what pains he suffered besides, in his tender and sensible body, no tongue can sufficiently declare. First, because sin is an infinite and inexpressible evil. For, its full punishment and atonement could not but cause torment so exquisite, that to a mere man it had been altogether insupportable.

3. The second reason of this exquisite grief was, because he bore the sins of the world: not merely those sins which from the beginning of the world had been committed, but those also which men should become guilty of through all ages, down to the very end of the world. And, therefore, such as are the number and malignity of all sins, of all men, through all generations; such also were the pain and sorrow endured by the Lord. For 231 which cause he prayed in Gethsemane, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Matt. 26:39.

4. Thirdly, the sufferings of Christ were heightened by that perfect love which he bore to his heavenly Father. The greater our love is, the greater is also the grief occasioned by what interferes with it: as on the contrary, the less it is, the less are we troubled by that which thwarts it. Since, therefore, Christ loved his heavenly Father with most exalted and consummate love, his affliction must needs have been the more grievous, on account of the heinousness of sin, with which fallen men so shamefully insulted so beloved a Father. Hence the sins of the whole world, with the pains he endured for them, did not so much affect him, as the sorrow he felt on account of the indignity offered to a God, who, in his very nature, is love itself. And it was upon account of this love of the Father (which deserved all the returns of love the creature was able to make), that Christ sustained most exquisite pains, and a most ignominious death; in order that by a satisfaction proportionable to the offence, he might regain for wretched mortals that love and favor of God which they had forfeited by their offences.

5. In the fourth place, the suffering of Christ was endured on account of his perfect love to mankind. For as he died for all, and bore the sins of all, so also was he exceedingly desirous to see the object of his death accomplished, which is the salvation of all men. Hence the unbelief and impenitence of men, which hindered this love from taking effect upon sinners, caused him most grievous and bitter torments: but especially was he pained that they threw away their souls when he desired to save them. Not to mention the cruel hatred and envy, wrath and blasphemy, by which some were hurried on, even to trample on that blood which was designed to redeem them. He himself says, “Reproach hath broken my heart” (Ps. 69:20); lamenting not so much his own, as the condition of them who reproached him in so heinous a manner.

6. Fifthly: another circumstance which pierced the very heart of our Lord, was his being forsaken of God, notwithstanding he was the Son of God himself. For though it is true that God could not forsake him, who himself was God, and did not cease to be God even when he hung on the cross, when he expired, and when he was buried; yet does he complain of being forsaken by him. Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46. But this lamentable complaint the Lord poured out, in order to show that God withdrew from him, as a man, the support of his comfort, hiding himself for a while in this dark hour. He manifests also, by this exclamation, the extreme misery in which he then was.

7. The sixth aggravation of the anguish of Christ, was on account of his Person, for he was very God. Whence it is plain, that all the reproaches and blasphemies uttered against him were an infinite evil, as being directed against the entire Person of Christ, who was true God and man; and so he endured, both as God and man, the revilings of his enemies in his whole Person. All this left a most exquisite impression of sorrow upon his soul.

8. And, in the seventh place, who is able sufficiently to explain what pains the Lord suffered in his most innocent, most holy, most tender, and delicate body? Or who can doubt that a body 232 most innocent, most delicate, most noble, most pure, conceived by the Holy Ghost, personally united with the divine nature, filled with the Spirit of God, and with all the fulness of the Godhead; I say, who can doubt that such a body should not feel most grievous and bitter pains, when smitten, scourged, wounded, pierced, crucified, and put to death? No words are sufficiently expressive to set forth the pain and acuteness thereof. What is all our affliction, if compared with this suffering of the Lord? We, as sinners, have justly deserved eternal death and damnation; and yet even the smallest cross is too heavy a burden for tender Christians, who do what they can to shake it off, though it is designed as wholesome medicine, to procure the health of the soul. Surely, he who is a sincere lover of Christ, can wish no other condition, of life, but such as comes up nearest to the original of the blessed life of Christ. 1 Peter 2:21. This conformity of our lives to the life of Christ we ought to account our greatest gain and dignity in this world. Let the true lover of Christ rejoice in this, that he has been thought worthy to suffer with Christ, his Head and Saviour.

9. Since, then, affliction is to be the companion of a Christian in his way to heaven, or, to use the apostle's phrase, since he must, “through much tribulation, enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22); what cause can we assign why we should not willingly walk in the same path? For we know that the Son of God himself travelled this way before us, and by his holy example sanctified it, not having “entered into his glory but by sufferings.” Luke 24:26. And since, notwithstanding all the insults of the enemy, he entered into glory at last; we may also assure ourselves, that our affliction, which is but for a moment, shall be followed in the end by an everlasting weight of glory and happiness. 2 Cor. 4:17.

10. In fine, as the Lord did not spare himself, but devoted himself entirely to the service of others, undergoing all from no other impulse than fervent love and charity; so this love, of our Redeemer should awaken love in our souls, and never should we grow faint and weary under any affliction whatever.

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