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364

CHAPTER XXIV.

THE WATCH IN GETHSEMANE.

Hitherto the life of Jesus has been comparatively free from sorrow and from pain. With the exception of the narrow strip of wilderness which fell between the Baptism and His inaugural miracle, the Divine Life has lain for the most part in the sunshine, above the fret and fever of anxious thought and care. True, He had enemies, whose hatred was persistent and virulent; the shafts of calumny fell around Him in one steady rain; His motives were constantly misconstrued, His words misunderstood; but with all this His life was peace. How could He have spoken of "rest" of soul, and have promised it to the weary and heavy-laden, if He Himself were a stranger to its experience? How could He have awoke such songs and shouts of gladness, or have strewn the lives of men with such unusual brightness, without having that brightness and music coming back in reflections and echoes within His own heart—that heart which was the fontal source of their new-found joys? And if many doubted, or even hated Him, there were many who admired and feared, and not a few who loved and adored Him, and who were glad to place at His disposal their entire substance, nay, their entire selves. But if His anointing thus far has been the anointing of gladness, there is a baptism of sorrow and365 anguish prepared for Him, and to that ordeal He now proceeds, first girding up His soul with the music of a thanksgiving psalm. Let us, too, arise and follow Him; but taking off our shoes, let us step softly and reverently into the mystery of the Divine sorrow; for though we must ever stand back from that mystery more than a "stone's cast," perhaps, if we keep mind and heart awake and alert, we may read something of its deep meaning.

The whole scene of Gethsemane is unique. Like the Mount of Transfiguration, the Garden of the Agony stands "apart" from all other paths, in a profound isolation. And in more senses than this these two august scenes are related and coincident. Indeed, we cannot fully understand the mystery of the Garden but as we allow the mystery of the Mount to explain it, in part at least, so threading the light of the one into the darkness of the other. On the Mount of Transfiguration the Divine Life, as we have seen, reached its culminating point, its perihelion as we may call it, where it touched the very heavens for one brief night, passing through its out-streaming glories and crossing the paths of celestials. In Gethsemane we have the antipodal fact; we see the Divine Life in its far aphelion, where it touches hell itself, moving round in an awful gloom, and crossing the paths of the "powers of darkness." And so our best outlook into Gethsemane is not from the Mount of Olives—though the two names are related, as the two places are adjacent, Gethsemane lying at the foot of Olivet—but from that more distant Mount of Transfiguration.

Leaving the "guest-chamber," where a Passover of a new order has been instituted, and the cup, with its fruit of the vine, has received a higher consecration,366 Jesus leads the broken band down the stairs, which still vibrate with the heavy tread of the traitor, and in the still, full moonlight they pass out of the city, the gates being open because of the Passover. Descending the steep ravine, and crossing the brook Kedron, they enter the enclosure of Gethsemane. Both St. Luke and St. John tell us that He was accustomed to resort thither—for, strangely enough, we do not read of Jesus spending so much as one night within the city walls—and so probably the garden belonged to one of His adherents, possibly to St. Mark. Bidding the eight remain near the entrance, and exhorting them to pray that they enter not into, or, as it means here, that they "yield not to," the temptation which is shortly to come upon them, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John farther into the garden. They were witnesses of His Transfiguration, when His face shone like the sun, and the spirits of the perfected came to do Him homage; they must now see a transfiguration of sorrow, as that face is furrowed by the sharp lines of pain, and half-masked by a veil of blood. From the narratives of St. Matthew and St. Mark it would appear as if Jesus now experienced a sudden change of feeling. In the guest-chamber He was calmly confident; and though we may detect in His words and symbolic acts a certain undertone of sadness, the salutation of one "about to die," yet there was no tremor, no fear. He spoke of His own death, which now was near at hand, as calmly as if the Mount of Sacrifice were but another mountain of spices; while to His disciples He spoke words of cheer and hope, putting around their hearts a soothing, healing balm, even before the dreadful wound is made. But now all this is changed: "He began to be greatly amazed and367 sore troubled" (St. Mark xiv. 33). The word we here render "amazed," as St. Mark uses it, has sometimes the element of fear within it, as when the women were "amazed," or "affrighted," by the vision of the angels (xvi. 5); and such, we are inclined to think, is its meaning here. It was not so much wonder as it was trepidation, and a certain dread, which now fell of a sudden upon the Master. Over that pure soul, which ever lay calm and serene as the bright heaven which stooped to embrace it, has broken a storm of conflicting winds, and dense, murky clouds, and all is disquiet and distress, where before was nothing but peace. "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;" such is the strange confession of tremulous lips, as for once He opens the infinite depths of His heart, and shows the mortal grief which has suddenly fallen there. It is the first contact of the eclipse, as between Himself and the Father's smile another world is passing, the world of the "outer darkness," even hell, throwing down upon His soul a chilling, awful shadow.

Jesus understands its meaning. It is the signal for the final battle, the shadow of the "prince of this world," who, rallying all his forces, cometh to find "nothing in Me." Jesus accepts the challenge, and that He may meet the enemy single-handed, with no earthly supports, He bids the three, "Abide ye here, and watch with Me." "With Me," and not "for Me;" for what could avail to Him the vigilance of human eyes amid this felt darkness of the soul? It was not for Himself He bade them "watch," but for themselves, that waking and praying they might gain a strength which would be proof against temptation, the test which would be keenly severe, and which now was close at hand.

368"And He was parted from them about a stone's cast." The verb implies a measure of constraint, as if, in the conflict of emotion, the longing for some human presence and human sympathy held Him back. And why not? Is not the very presence of a friend a solace in grief, even if no words are spoken? and does not the "aloneness" of a sorrow make the sorrow tenfold more bitter? Not like the "stricken deer that left the herd," the human heart, when wounded or sore pressed, yearns for sympathy, finding in the silent look or in the touch of a hand a grateful anodyne. But this wine-press He must tread alone, and of the people there must be none with Him; and so the three who are most favoured and most beloved are left back at a stone's cast from the physical suffering of Christ, while from His heart-agony they must stand back at an infinite distance.

It was while Jesus was praying upon the holy mount that the heavens were opened unto Him; and now, as another cloud envelopes Him, not of glory, but of a thick darkness, it finds Him in the same attitude of prayer. He at whose feet sinful man had knelt, all unrebuked, Himself now kneels, as He sends to heaven the earnest and almost bitter cry, "O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me!" The three Evangelists differ in their wording of the Saviour's petition, showing that the spirit is more than the letter of prayer; that Heaven thinks more of the inner thought than of the outward drapery of words; but the thought of the three is identical, while all make prominent the central figure of the "cup."

The cups of Scripture are of divers patterns and of varied meanings. There was the cup of blessing, like that of the Psalmist (Psalm xxiii. 5), filled to the brim369 and running over with mercy. There was the "cup of salvation," that sacrament of the Old Testament which kept in memory one deliverance, that of Israel, while it prophesied of another, the "great salvation" which was to come. What, then, was the cup Jesus so feared to drink, and which He asked, so earnestly and repeatedly, that it might pass from Him? Was it the fear of death? Certainly not; for how could He be afraid of death, who had so triumphed over it, and who had proclaimed Himself the Resurrection and the Life? How could He fear death, when He knew so well "the seraph face that smiled beneath the frowning mask," and knew that it would end for ever all His sufferings and His pain? Death to Him was a familiar thought. He spoke of it freely, not either with the hard indifference of the Stoic, or with the palsied speech of one whose lips shake with an inward fear, but in calm, sweet accents, as any child of earth might speak of going home. Was this "cup," then, the death itself? and when He asked that it might pass away, was He suggesting that possibly some mode of atonement might be found other than the cross? We think not. Jesus knew full well that His earthly life would have, and could have, but one issue. Death would be its goal, as it was its object. Whether, as Holman Hunt represents, the cross threw its shadow back as far as the shop at Nazareth, we do not know, for the record is silent. But we do know that the shadow of death lay across the whole of His public life, for we find it appearing in His words. The cross was a dark and vivid certainty that He wished neither to forget nor to evade, for must not the Son of man be "lifted up," that He may draw all men to Himself? Must not the corn of wheat be hidden in its grave before it can370 become fruitful, throwing itself forward down the years in hundredfold multiplications? Yes; death to Jesus is the inevitable, and long before the Roman soldiers have pieced together the transverse beams Jesus had made His cross, fashioning it in His thought, and hiding it in His words. Nay, He has this very night instituted a new sacrament, in which, for all generations, the broken bread shall be the emblem of His bruised and broken body, and the wine, of His blood, the blood of the New Testament, which is shed for man. And does Jesus now seek, by reiterated prayers, to shift that cross from the Divine purpose, substituting in its place something less painful, less cruel? does He seek now to annul His own predictions, and to make His own sacrament void and meaningless? This cannot be; and so, whatever the "cup" may mean, we cannot take it as a synonym for His death.

What, then, is its meaning? The Psalmist had long before sung—

"For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine foameth;

It is full of mixture, and He poureth out of the same:

Surely the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them" (Psalm lxxv. 8);

while St. John, speaking of the last woes (Rev. xiv. 10), tells how they who have the mark of the beast upon their foreheads "shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is prepared unmixed in the cup of His anger." Here, then, is the "cup" which now is set before the Son of man, the very touch of which fills His soul with unutterable dread. It is the cup of God's anger, filled to the brim with its strange red wine, the wine of His wrath. Jesus comes to earth as the Representative371 Man, the Second Adam, in whom all shall be made alive. He voluntarily assumes the place of the transgressor, as St. Paul writes (2 Cor. v. 21), "Him who knew no sin He made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him," a passage which corresponds exactly with the prophetic idea of substitution, as given by Isaiah (liii. 5), "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed." And so "the iniquity of us all" was laid on Him, the Holy One. In His own Person He must feel, in its concentrated forms, the smart and consequence of sin; and as His physical sufferings are the extremest pain even sin can produce, so Jesus must suffer, too, all the mental anguish, the agony of a soul bereft of God. And as Jesus, on the Transfiguration mount, passed up to the very gate of heaven, so lighting up with splendour and glory the lost path of unfallen man, so now, in the Garden, Jesus tracks the path of fallen man, right on to its fearful consummation, which is the "outer darkness" of hell itself. This vivid consciousness has been graciously withheld from Him hitherto; for the terrible pressure would simply have unfitted Him for His ministry of blessing; for how could He have been the "kindly Light," leading humanity homeward, heavenward, if that Light Himself were hidden in "encircling gloom," and lost in a felt darkness? But ere His mission is complete this is an experience that He must know. Identifying Himself with sin, He must feel its very farthest consequence, the awful solitude, and the unutterable anguish, of a soul now bereft of hope and forsaken of God. In the heathen fable Orpheus goes down, lyre in hand, to the Plutonic realm, to bring372 back again to life and love the lost Eurydice; but Jesus, in His vicarious sufferings, goes down to hell itself, that He may win back from their sins, and bear in triumph to the upper heavens, a lost humanity.

Rising from the ground, and going back to His three disciples, He finds them asleep. The Synoptists all seek to explain, and to apologize for, their unnatural slumber, St. Matthew and St. Mark telling us that their "eyes were heavy," while St. Luke states that their sleep was the result of their grief; for, happily, in the wonderful compensations of nature, intense grief does tend to induce somnolence. But while the Evangelists refer their slumber to natural causes, might there not be something more in it, some supernatural element? Sleep can be caused by natural means, and yet be an unnatural sleep, as when narcotics benumb the senses, or some mesmeric spell muffles the speech, and makes the soul for a time unconscious. And might it not have been some invisible touch which made their eyes so heavy? for it is an exact repetition of their attitude when on the holy mount, and in that sleep sorrow certainly had no part. When St. John saw the vision upon Patmos, he "fell at His feet as one dead;" and when Saul beheld the light, near Damascus, he fell to the ground. And how often we find the celestial vision connected with a trance-like state! and why may not the "trance" be an effect of the vision, just as well as its cause, or rather its circumstance? At any rate, the fact is plain, that supernatural visions tend to lock up the natural senses, the veil which is uplifted before the unseen world being wrapped around the eyes and the soul of the seer. And this, we are inclined to think, was a possible, partial cause for the slumber upon the mount and in the garden, a sleep which, under373 the circumstances, was strangely unnatural and almost unpardonable.

Addressing Himself directly to Peter, who had promised to follow His Lord unto death, but whose heart now strangely lagged behind, and calling him by his earlier name—for Jesus only once made use of the name He Himself had chosen; the "Rock" was at present in a state of flux, and had not yet settled down to its petrine character—He said, "What, Simon, could ye not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation." Then, for a moment forgetting His own sorrow, and putting Himself in their place, He makes the apology for them which their lips are afraid to utter: "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak;" so compassionate is He over human weakness and infirmity, even while He is severity itself towards falsity and sin.

St. Luke records the narrative only in a condensed form, giving us the salient points, but not entering so fully into detail. It is from St. Matthew and St. Mark that we learn how Jesus went back a second time, and falling prostrate on the ground, prayed still in the self-same words, and how He returned to His disciples to find them again asleep; even the reproof of the Master has not been able to counterbalance the pressure of the supernatural heaviness. No word is spoken this time—at any rate the Evangelists have not repeated them for us—but how eloquent would be that look of disappointment and of grief! and how that rebuke would fall burning hot upon their heart, focussed in the lenses of His sad and tearful eyes! But the three are dazed, bewildered, and for once the ready tongue of Peter is speechless; "they wist not what to answer Him" (Mark xiv. 40).

374Not yet, however, is the conflict ended. Three times did the tempter come to Him in the wilderness, and three times is the fierce battle to be waged in the garden, the last the sorest. It would almost seem as if the three assaults were descending steps of sorrow, each marking some lower deep in the dark mystery; for now the death-sorrow becomes an "agony" of spirit, a pressure from within so fearful as to arrest the flow of blood, forcing it through the opened pores in an awful sweat, until great drops, or "clots," of blood gathered upon His face, and then fell to the ground. Could there be possibly, even for the lost, an anguish more intense? and was not Jesus then, as man's Surety, wringing out and drinking the very last dregs of that cup of His anger which "the wicked of the earth," if unredeemed, had been doomed to drink? Verily He was, and the bloody sweat was a part, an earnest, of our atonement, sprinkling with its redemptive virtues the very ground which was "cursed" for man's sake (Gen. iii. 17). It was the pledge and the foregathered fruit of a death already virtually accomplished, in the absolute surrender of the Divine Son as man's sacrifice.

And so the thrice-uttered prayer of Jesus, even though He prayed the "more earnestly," was not granted. It was heard, and it was answered, but not in the specific way of the request. Like Paul's prayer for the removal of the thorn, and which, though not granted, was yet answered in the promise of the "sufficient" grace, so now the thrice-uttered prayer of Jesus does not remove the cup. It is there, and it is there for Him to drink, as He tastes for man both of the earthly death and of the bitterness of the after, the second death. But the answer came in the strengthening375 of His soul, and in the heavenly greetings the angel brought down to Him when the conflict was over. But in this reiterated prayer for the removal of the cup there was no conflict between Himself and the Father. The request itself was enveloped in submission, the contingent "if" which preceded it, and the "not My win, but Thine," which followed, completely enclosing it. The will of Jesus was ever adjusted to the will of the Father, working within it in an absolute precision, with no momentary breaks. But here the "if" implies uncertainty, doubt. Even Jesus is not quite sure as to what, in the special case, the Father's will may involve, and so, while He asks for the removal of the cup, this is the smaller request, inlaid within the larger, deeper prayer, that "not My will, but Thine, be done." Jesus did not seek to bend the Father's will, and make it conform to His desires, but He sought, whatever might be the cost, to configure His desires to that all-wise and all-loving Will.

So in our smaller lives there may be hours of distress and uncertainty. We may see, mingled for us, cups of sorrow, loss, or pain, which we fear to drink, and the shrinking flesh may seek to be exempted from the ordeal; but let us not too hastily ask that they may be put away, for fear we may dismiss some cup of blessing from our life. Let us seek rather for a perfect submission to the will of God, conforming all our desires and all our prayers to that will. So in that "perfect acquiescence" there will be for us a "perfect rest." Gethsemane itself will become bright and all musical with songs, and where the powers of darkness mocked us Heaven's angels will come, with their sweet ministry. Nay, the cup of sorrow and of pain, at which we trembled before, if we see how God's will has376 wrought and filled it, and we embrace that will, the cup of sorrow will be a transfigured cup, a golden chalice of the King, all filled to the brim, and running over, with the new wine of the kingdom.

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