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We dare not imagine or invent or conceive anything on this awful subject; but two or three facts are plainly stated to us in the Bible narrative, and those facts it would be no merit, but a fault, to overlook or pass over.
First, there was the awful struggle in Gethsemane. Knowing all that was before him, all that was now close at hand, Christ's human nature shrank and quivered at the prospect. At what prospect? At the mere shame and spitting, the scoarging and the hanging on the cross? These were trifles not worthy of a place in his thoughts. Thousands of his followers—some, weak women, nay, even children-have gone boldly through similar sufferings. It was not of these that Jesus was thinking, when he prayed, “in consternation and distress," and yet again "more earnestly,” “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me!” Nor was it the mere prospect of a martyr's death,—which Paul and John Bradford looked forward to with rejoicing,-it was not this which so appalled his soul, that “falling into an agony, he prayed till his sweat became as clots of blood, dropping to the ground.”
Dr. Stroud, himself a physician of long experience, thus describes this awful scene :
“The intense grief and consternation which the Saviour experienced at the commencement of his sufferings in the garden, and under the shock of which he fell prostrate to the earth, might possibly have destroyed him by simple exhaustion, but would never have produced the bloody sweat reported by Luke; who, independently of his guidance by the Holy Spirit, was, as a physician, peculiarly well qualified to notice and record such an occurrence. He therefore ascribes this sweat to a cause by which it is fully and solely explained, namely, the communication of supernatural strength; - There appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.'-It was then that,-'falling into an agony, [Christ) prayed most earnestly, and his sweat became as it were clots of blood dropping to the ground:'-implying that he was no longer prostrate as at first, but on his knees. Attempts have been made to explain away the strong terms used by the evangelist, but they certainly denote a sweat mixed with blood in a half-coagulated state, so profuse as to fall from the head and neck, (the parts chiefly liable to be uncovered, and from which sweat of any kind is most readily furnished,) in thick and heavy drops to the ground. Unless Luke meant to convey this meaning, his employment of such expressions is unaccountable. The fact is well stated by M'Lean.—[Christ] 'is said to be in an agony. An agony is the conflict of nature in the extremity of distress. The Lord was now bruising him, and putting him to grief. So great was the agony and conflict of his soul, that it produced the most wonderful effect upon his body; for we are told that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground."-A common sweat in the open air, and exposed to the cold damp of night, when those within doors required
a fire of coals to warm them, must have been the effect of very great fear and agony. What then must his agony have been, which induced a bloody sweat, and so copious as to fall down in great drops to the ground?'—It was then that, as intimated by the apostle Paul, - he offered prayers and supplications, saccompanied) with tears and loud cries, to him who was able to save him from death, and was heard on account of his pious fear;'-in other words, these peculiar and overwhelming sufferings were by divine interposition suddenly terminated, leaving him with restored strength, ready to undergo the trials which next awaited him.”
This, however, was but the preliminary. It was “the horrible dread” which filled the soul of the sufferer, when he came in sight of the tremendous burden which he had undertaken to bear. Since then, martyrs have often been shown the fire, or the rack, or the tortures which were before them, in the expectation that they would be terrified, and would recant; and in some cases this device has succeeded. The prospect before Jesus was a thousand times worse than ever was opened to any other sufferer; and it filled him with such dread that the blood started from every pore. But all the recantation it wrong from him, was this:-"Father! if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.” The Father loved the Son with a perfect love; but the answer was, “It is not possible.” Why not, will be a subject for future consideration.
Jesus, therefore, entered upon his crowning work. He took the cup. He knew,-he could not but know, that it was in his power to put the cup from him,—to abandon the work which he had undertaken, at any moment. “Cannot I now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels : but how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” At no time was “the great God our Saviour" under bonds which he could not have broken. At no time was he any other than a willing sacrifice.
He went, therefore, unresistingly with the officers of the chief priests; he stood calmly before the Sanhedrim; and went with the same submissiveness to the bar of Pilate. He quietly received the scourging, the insults, the crown of thorns. These were to him the lightest, the most insignificant of all the things which he had to endure. He was carried to Golgotha; and there the final act took place. For three hours, from the sixth to the ninth, the great transaction took place, of which we dare not speak in any words of our own. The Great Substitute for man cried out, “ All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me;"—“My heart is like wax, it is melted within me.” “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me!”
The earth and the heavens sympathized with the awful work
then going on. A darkness overspread the land, the sun was darkened; the earth quaked; the rocks were rent. But we pass on at once to the great central fact of the case.
The death of Jesus was not a natural death under the circumstances;-it was not the ordinary result of the crucifixion, or of the nails, or the spear. Pilate, when told, that evening, that the prisoner was dead," marvelled,” and could not believe it, until he had received the evidence of the centurion. (Mark Xy. 44.) It was usual for persons so suffering to linger one or two days. Origen, discussing this point, says,
“Since those crucified persons who are not stabbed, suffer greater torment, and survive in great pain, sometimes the whole of the following night, and even the whole of the next day; and since Jesus was not stabbed, and his enemies hoped that by his hanging long on the cross he would suffer the greater torment, he prayed to the Father and was heard, and as soon as he had called was taken to the Father; or else, as one who had the power of laying down his life, he laid it down when he chose. This prodigy astonished the centurion, who said, — Truly this man was a son of God.'—For it was a miracle that he who would otherwise perhaps have survived two days on the cross, according to the custom of those who are crucified but not stabbed, should have been taken up after three hours, so that his death seems to have happened by the favour of God, and rather through the merit of his own prayer than through the violence of the cross."*
Origen, however, like Tertullian, took an imperfect and therefore an erroneous view of the case. Dr. Stroud has in. vestigated the question with medical skill and experience, in a chapter occupying eighty-four pages of his valuable work. The conclusion to which he comes, is thus stated :
“ It may therefore with certainty be affirmed, that between the agony of mind which the Saviour endured in the garden of Gethsemane, and the profuse sweat mixed with clotted blood which so rapidly followed it, violent palpitation of the heart must necessarily have intervened ; this being the only known condition which could have been at once the effect of the former occurrence, and the cause of the latter. In like manner, when on the cross this agony was renewed, and by the addition of bodily suffering was increased to the utmost intensity, no other known condition could have formed the connecting link between that mental anguish and his sudden death, preceded by loud exclamations, and followed by an effusion of blood and water from his side when afterwards pierced with a spear, than the aggravation, even to rupture, of the same violent action of the heart, of which the previous palpitation and bloody sweat were but a lower degree and a natural prelude. If, whilst every other explanation hitherto offered has been shown to be untenable, the cause now assigned for the death of Christ, namely, RUPTURE OF THE HEART FROM AGONY OF MIND, has been proved to be
* Origen. Op. v. ij. p. 237. Vol. 68.--No. 376.
the result of an actual power in nature, fully adequate to the effect, really present without counteraction, minutely agreeing with all the facts of the case, and necessarily implied by them, this cause must, according to the principles of inductive reasoning, be regarded as demonstrated.” (p. 156.)
The common idea, then, that the sacrifice offered up on the cross was merely that of a human body-a man, submitting, for the sake of other men, to suffer a cruel death, is utterly inadequate, and therefore untrue. It does not include a thousandth part of the facts of the case. And its inadequacy leads to several important and lamentable errors. By allowing our thoughts to rest solely on the visible and material sufferings of a human body, we partly countenance the error now so prevalent, of attaching great importance to the bodily—the seen and material-part of the sacrifice offered up on the cross. We also give room for the Rationalistic objection, that sin was in some way atoned for by the bodily and fleshly sufferings of one human being—a notion which is not unnaturally questioned and carped at by many writers of the present day. We are only safe from cavil and criticism, when we receive, embrace, and hold forth the truth-the whole truth. An imperfect view is always, intrinsically, an untrue view; and so far, an untenable one.
The death of Jesus on the cross was like no other death that ever took place in this world. Nor was it merely an unusual death; a death marked by circumstances of remarkable suffering : it was wholly and intrinsically a fact by itself; a fact, nothing resembling which ever occurred before, or, we may safely conclude, ever will occur again.
The highest, chiefest, noblest characteristic of this sacrifice had reference, not to the body, but to the soul, of Jesus. We have already said, that if we descend to merely external and visible points of comparison, we know not how to measure or weigh the bodily sufferings sustained on the cross, and to estimate their weight or worth when balanced with the pains endured by many of Christ's servants in various ages. We have no means of valuation, or standard of comparison. Nor do we know that God's word anywhere declares, that, in point of bodily pain, the Saviour was the greatest sufferer that the world ever saw.
The peculiarity of His case lay in a different region. Even among ourselves we may see and understand, daily, the far greater weight of mental than of bodily sufferings. Hundreds of men and women, in various countries, are sentenced to die by the hands of the public executioner; but to be told that any one of them had gone mad, had lost his senses in consequence, would be a strange, and almost an unprecedented
thing. In former ages, to be burnt, or broken on the wheel, was not an unusual sentence; yet even then, the condemned did not lose their senses on being informed of their coming fate. As to the martyrs, whether in primitive or in mediæval days, we hear of many of them who went to their deaths joyfully; but of any who were driven to distraction by terror, we cannot remember that we have ever heard. But wretchedness, or insanity, or brain fever, inducing self-destruction, is not at all uncommon among men, as a result of evils or calamities affecting the inner being. Some men lose their fortunes; others, some object of their affections; and they find the calamity unendurable. They rush into the water, or into the fire; they poison, hang, or otherwise kill themselves, because they find life a burden. Their souls, not their bodies, are “so sore troubled," that they feel impelled to rush
Out of the world!” These every-day occurrences—the narratives of which meet us every now and then in the newspapers-make it easy to see, that soul-troubles are harder to bear than body-troubles. We have ourselves seen a man, who, we feel assured, would have borne bodily pain with fortitude, and would have heard a physician's warning of his coming death with equanimity; but who, when “the desire of his eyes was taken away with a stroke,” was so crushed by the calamity, that a lunatic asylum received him for the rest of his days.
As to the still greater horrors of remorse, secular history affords as many instances; but the case of Judas lies close at hand. Some have fancied, and the thought is not unreasonable, that Judas did not foresee or intend the death of his Lord, but had imagined some other issue of the matter. However this may be, it is clear that, as soon as his eyes were opened, and he saw the real extent of his own guilt, life became altogether unendurable. “He departed, and went and hanged himself.” Since his day, many men have sinned after the same fashion, and have rushed headlong into the same fate.
Jesus had not sinned at all, in thought, word, or deed; and yet it is abundantly clear that a horror of the same kind had fallen upon him. This is an assertion of so fearful a nature, that we should utterly shrink from making it, “ did not the Scripture, as it were, lead us by the hand.” Everywhere, in those prophecies of the Messiah which were placed on record a thousand years before Christ's birth, do we find horror of soul described as the chief part of his sufferings. Thus, in Psalm xxii. he complains :
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me? ....O my God, I cry in the daytime, but