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Many qualities of the soul go to make this eloquence. Sincerity, conviction, determination, courage, intense purpose. But in the voice of Jesus how much more! There was in it something not human merely, but divine; a heavenly influence, an angelic force coming from on high. No wonder that Peter could never forget those syllables, which went into his heart and engraved themselves there forever.
Another of those untranslatable sentences was. that uttered on the cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani !” It was spoken from the depths of a “divine despair.” What profound pathos in that terrible cry, the most dreadful, perhaps, ever uttered on the earth! Oh, children of sorrow,
who count up your miseries and complain of Providence, listen to that wail which comes down through the centuries in the very words in which it was spoken! What are our woes and sorrows, our selfish and momentary losses? Has not that mighty heart throbbed with a deeper anguish than all of ours? He has explored that mystery of evil far below the depths our plummet can sound; for it takes a mighty soul to bear a mighty sorrow. Our agonies are for a day, and for ourselves alone. He saw and felt for the miseries of mankind. For a moment the world seemed to him forsaken of God, left to go its own way into ruin. That was the blackest hour ever seen on earth, when even the hope of Jesus was darkened, though but for a moment. I know that he quoted the language of the Psalm of David, but surely
took that language because it best expressed his own sense of being forsaken of his Father, of being for that one short instant without God in the world. And thus we have him for our companion in the deepest of all woes. When to us all things seem to go wrong, and there is no sun in the skies, no hope, no courage, no sense of human or divine love; even then there is one stay left, that Jesus has been down even as low as that into despair, and has returned to the bosom of the Father's love. This is the anchor which holds still. There needs no scholastic dogma of God's wrath having been laid on him, no theological figment of his being punished in our place. He bore our sins and carried our sorrows in a more human sense, by being tried in all points as we are, and yet remaining sinless. Having suffered such trials, he is able to help us, tried in the same way. If there is any one to whom life seems very dark, and God far away, remember that Jesus, God's blessed son, has also felt this weight of woe, and yet risen above it all.
The next untranslated word I will mention is that uttered, not by Jesus himself, but to him, by Mary Magdalene, when she first recognized him on the morning of the resurrection. It was the echo returned by her voice to the depths of love in his own. “Jesus said to her, Mary! She answered, Rabboni ! that is, Master !" Why was that foreign word left in the record ? Because there was a sound in it which no other could convey. When Mary came back and told her story, and they asked her, “What did you say ?” she answered, I suppose, “I could say nothing. I could only burst forth in one wild cry of wonder, joy, love, — Rabboni !” And when she repeated it to them there still lingered in the words the same tones.
Oh, marvellous history! instinct throughout with all the experiences of the human heart; how we find continually as we study it fresh proofs of its reality! How dull our eyes if they do not see in it the very inspiration of truth ! How human nature shows itself in every line of this divine narrative!
Have we not felt hours of similar joy, when, after years of routine and sin, of discouragement and doubt, we also seem again to meet the full smile of God? Are there not moments when this tide of heavenly love comes to us, and when Jesus our Master seems a real living person by our side ? He has been nailed to the cross by our sin, he has been buried in the tomb of our black despair, he has been swathed in the winding-sheet of some hard theology, or our Lord has been taken away from us by the bigot or the sceptic. We know not where they have laid him. The dear human friend of our childhood and youth has gone, and in his place we have critical doubts or theological discussions. One man, with vast labor and ingenuity, resolves that dear life into legends and myths. Another makes of it a supernatural mystery. But at last, as we read the Gospels, the whole humanity of Jesus reappears to us. We see him there again as we saw him in our childhood, our dear human brother. He walks by our side once more, and our heart burns within us by the way. We forget all these doubts and questions; we leave them behind; we care not concerning questions of natural and supernatural; the mists of controversy are dissipated, and the face of our best friend appears to us again to forgive, to comfort, to give us rest, and with Mary we can only say, “Rabboni ! - Master!”
These little incidental proofs of the truth of the Gospel story are the most valuable of all. These cannot be counterfeited. They are hidden deep in the texture of the story, and only appear when we look very closely at the narrative. But they are like the circumstantial evidence, which, when woven into a complete chain, becomes irresistible. A thousand little traits, each in itself insignificant, combine to produce an overwhelming sense of reality.
I will speak of only one other specimen of the remains of an ancient language which thus continues imbedded in the strata of successive translations. It is that in which Jesus cries in his prayer in the garden, “ Abba! Father!” That word abba was the Aramaic-Syrian form of the infant's first uttered word, and equivalent to " papa in our speech. Paul refers to it afterwards when he says, " Because we are sons, God has put his spirit
in our hearts, by which we cry, Abba! Father!” The disciples did not often hear their Master use this word. It was not worn hard by familiarity. It had not become a mere phrase, as it too often is
It kept all the freshness of its first impression. Jesus did not pray much in public. He went alone into the mountain to pray. He told his disciples to go into their closets to pray, and to shut the door. He did not approve praying at the corners of the streets to be seen of men. Therefore I suppose even the disciples did not hear him pray very often. But sometimes he wished them to be with him; he longed to have them by his side while he prayed. And then they heard this wonderful word, “ Abba,” from his lips, and they never forgot the tone in which it was said : Abba! Father! if it be possible let this cup pass away; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Such words brought heaven near to them and made God real. I think that they had never before dreamed of the possibility of such intimacy between man and God.
To us, too often, in our prayers, God seems far away, - some vast power in the distant depths of the universe. Our prayers are mere forms, empty repetitions, words, and nothing more.
But sometimes God himself puts his spirit into our hearts, and enables us to cry “ Abba! Father!” he seems very near and very
real. His divine arms are beneath us, and we rest safe and sure.