Having thus spoken of the cause of his peculiar grief, I think we shall be able to support our view of the matter, while we lead you to consider,
WHAT WAS THE CHARACTER OF THE GRIEF ITSELF?
I shall trouble you, as little as possible, with the Greek words used by the evangelists; I have studied each one of them, to try and find out the shades of their meaning, but it will suffice if I give you the results of my careful investigation. What was the grief itself? How was it described? This great sorrow assailed our Lord some four days before he suffered. If you turn to John 12:27, you find that remarkable utterance, “Now is my soul troubled.” We never knew him say that before. This was a foretaste of the great depression of spirit which was so soon to lay him prostrate in Gethsemane. “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour.”
After that we read of him in Matthew 26:37, that “he began to be sorrowful and very heavy.” The depression had come over him again. It was not pain, it was not a palpitation of the heart, or an aching of the brow, it was worse than these. Trouble of spirit is worse than pain of body; pain may bring trouble and be the incidental cause of sorrow, but it the mind is perfectly untroubled, how well a man can bear pain, and when the soul is exhilarated and lifted up with inward joy, pain of body is almost forgotten, the soul conquering the body. On the other hand, the soul’s sorrow will create bodily pain, the lower nature sympathizing with the higher. Our Lord’s main suffering lay in his soul—his soul-sufferings were the soul of his sufferings. “A wounded spirit who can bear?” Pain of spirit is the worst of pain, sorrow of heart is the climax of griefs. Let those who have ever known sinking spirits, despondency, and mental gloom, attest the truth of what I say!
This sorrow of heart appears to have led to a very deep depression of our Lord’s spirit. In the 26th of Matthew, 37th verse, you find it recorded that he was “very heavy,” and that expression is full of meaning—of more meaning, indeed, than it would be easy to explain. The word in the original is a very difficult one to translate. It may signify the abstraction of the mind, and its complete occupation by sorrow, to the exclusion of every thought which might have alleviated the distress. One burning thought consumed his whole soul, and burned up all that might have yielded comfort. For awhile his mind refused to dwell upon the result of his death, the consequent joy which was set before him. His position as a sinbearer, and the desertion by his Father which was necessitated thereby, engrossed his contemplations and hurried his soul away from all else. Some have seen in the word a measure of distraction, and though I will not go far in that direction, yet it does seem as if our Savior’s mind underwent perturbations and convulsions widely different from his usual calm, collected spirit. He was tossed to and fro as upon a mighty sea of trouble, which was wrought to tempest, and carried him away in its fury. “We did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.” As the psalmist said, innumerable evils compassed him about so that his heart failed him. His heart was melted like wax in the midst of his bowels with sheer dismay. He was “very heavy.” Some consider the word to signify at its root, “separated from the people,” as if he had become unlike other men, even as one whose mind is staggered by a sudden blow, or pressed with some astounding calamity, is no more as ordinary men are. Mere onlookers would have thought our Lord to be a man distraught, burdened beyond the wont of men, and borne down by a sorrow unparalleled among men. The learned Thomas Goodwin says, “The word denotes a failing, deficiency, and sinking of spirit, such as happens to men in sickness and swounding.” Epaphroditus’ sickness, whereby he was brought near to death, is called by the same word; so that, we see, that Christ’s soul was sick and fainted; was not his sweat produced by exhaustion? The cold, clammy sweat of dying men comes through faintness of body, but the bloody sweat of Jesus came from an utter faintness and prostration of soul. He was in an awful soul-swoon, and suffered an inward death, whose accompaniment was not watery tears from the eyes, but a weeping of blood from the entire man. Many of you, however, know in your measure what it is to be very heavy without my multiplying words in explanation, and if you do not know by personal experience all explanations must be vain. When deep despondency comes on, when you forget everything that would sustain you, and your spirit sinks down, down, down, then can you sympathize with your Lord. Others think you foolish, call you nervous, and bid you rally yourself, but they know not your case. Did they understand it they would not mock you with such admonitions, impossible to those who are sinking inward woe. Our Lord was “very heavy,” very sinking, very despondent, overwhelmed with grief.
Mark tells us next, in his fourteenth chapter and thirty-third verses that our Lord was “sore amazed.” The Greek word does not merely import that he was astonished and surprised, but that his amazement went to an extremity of horror, such as men fall into when their hair stands on end and their flesh trembles. As the delivery of the law made Moses exceedingly fear and quake, and as David said, “My flesh trembleth because of thy judgments,” so
our Lord was stricken with horror at the sight of the sin which was laid upon him and the vengeance which was due on account of it. The Savior was first “sorrowful,” then depressed, and “heavy,” and lastly, sore amazed and filled with amazement; for even he as a man could scarce have known, what it was that he had undertaken to bear. He had looked at it calmly and quietly, and felt that whatever it was he would bear it for our sake; but when it actually came to the bearing of sin he was utterly astonished and taken aback at the dreadful position of standing in the sinner’s place before God, of having his holy Father look upon him as the sinner’s representative, and of being forsaken by that Father with whom he had lived on terms of amity and delight from all eternity. It staggered his holy, tender, loving nature, and he was “sore amazed” and was “very heavy.”
We are further taught that there surrounded, encompassed, and overwhelmed him an ocean of sorrow, for the thirty-eighth verse of the twenty-sixth of Matthew contains the Greek word “perilupos,” which signifies an encompassing around with sorrows. In all ordinary-miseries there is generally some loophole of escape, some breathing place for hope. We can generally remind our friends in trouble that their case might be worse, but in our Lord’s griefs worse could not be imagined; for he could say with David, “The pains of hell get hold upon me.” All God’s waves and billows went over him. Above him, beneath hind around him, without him, and within, all, all was anguish, neither was there one alleviation or source of consolation. His disciples could not help him—they were all but one sleeping, and he who was awake was on the road to betray him. His spirit cried out in the presence of the Almighty God beneath the crushing burden and unbearable load of his miseries. No griefs could have gone further than Christ’s, and he himself said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful,” or surrounded with sorrow, “even unto death.” He did not die in the garden, but he suffered as much as if he had died. He endured death intensively, though not extensively. It did not extend to the making his body a corpse, but it went as far in pain as if it had been so. His pangs and anguish went up to the mortal agony, and only paused on the verge of death.
Luke, to crown all, tells us in our text, that our Lord was in an agony. The expression “agony” signifies a conflict, a contest, a wrestling. With whom was the agony? With whom did he wrestle? I believe it was with himself; the contest here intended was not with his God; no, “not as I will but as thou wilt” does not look like wrestling with God; it was not a contest with Satan, for, as we have already seen, he would not have been so sore amazed had that been the conflict, but it was a terrible combat within himself, an agony within his own soul. Remember that he could have escaped from all this grief with one resolve of his will, and naturally the manhood in him said, “Do not bear it!” and the purity of his heart said, “Oh do not bear it, do not stand in the place of the sinner;” and the delicate sensitiveness of his mysterious nature shrank altogether from any form of connection with sin; yet infinite love said, “Bear it, stoop beneath the lead”; and so there was agony between the attributes of his nature, a battle on an awful scale in the arena of his soul. The purity which cannot bear to come into contact with sin must have been very mighty in Christ, while the love which would not let his people perish was very mighty, too.
It was a struggle on a Titanic scale, as if a Hercules had met another Hercules; two tremendous forces strove and fought and agonized within the bleeding heart of Jesus. Nothing causes a man more torture than to be dragged hither and thither with contending emotions; as civil war is the worst and most cruel kind of war, so a war within a man’s soul when two great passions in him struggle for the mastery, and both noble passions too, causes a trouble and distress which none but he that feels it can understand. I marvel not that our Lord’s sweat was as it were great drops of blood, when such an inward pressure made him like a cluster trodden in the winepress. I hope I have not presumptuously looked into the ark, or gazed within the veiled holy of holies; God forbid that curiosity or pride should urge me to intrude where the Lord has set a barrier. I have brought you as far as I can, and must again drop the curtain with the words I used just now,
“’Tis to God, and God alone,
That his griefs are fully known.”
Our third question shall be,
WHAT WAS OUR LORD’S SOLACE IN ALL THIS?
He sought help in human companionship, and very natural it was that he should do so. God has created in our human nature a craving for sympathy. We do not amiss when we expect our brethren to watch with us in our hour of trial; but our Lord did not find that men were able to assist him; however willing their spirit might be, their flesh was weak. What, then, did he do? He resorted to prayer, and especially to prayer to God under the character of Father. I have learned by experience that we never know the sweetness of the Fatherhood of God so much as when we are in very bitter anguish; I can understand w
hy the Savior said, “Abba, Father”; it was anguish that brought him down as a chastened child to appeal plaintively to a Father’s love. In the bitterness of my soul I have cried, “If, indeed, thou be my Father, by the bowels of thy fatherhood have pity on thy child;” and here Jesus pleads with his Father as we have done, and finds comfort in that pleading. Prayer was the channel of the Redeemer’s comfort, earnest, intense, reverent, repeated prayer, and after each time of prayer he seems to have grown quiet, and to have gone to his disciples with a measure of restored peace of mind. The sight of their sleeping helped to bring back his griefs, and therefore he returned to pray again, and each time he was comforted, so that when he had prayed for the third time, he was prepared to meet Judas and the soldiers and to go with silent patience to judgment and to death. His great comfort was prayer and submission to the divine will, for when he had laid his own will down at his Father’s feet the feebleness his flesh spoke no more complainingly, but in sweet silence, like a sheep dumb before her shearers, he contained his soul in patience and rest. Dear brothers and sisters, if any of you shall have your Gethsemane and your heavy griefs, imitate your Master by resorting to prayer, by crying to your Father, and by learning submission to his will.
I shall conclude by drawing two or three inferences from the whole subject. May the Holy Spirit instruct us.
The first is this — Learn, dear brethren, the real humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do not think of him as God merely, though he is assuredly Divine, but feel him to be near of kin to you, bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh. How thoroughly can he sympathize with you! He has been burdened with all your burdens and grieved with all your griefs. Are the waters very deep through which you are passing? Yet they are not deep compared with the torrents with which he was buffeted. Never a pang penetrates your spirit to which your covenant Head was a stranger. Jesus can sympathize with you in all your sorrows, for he has suffered far more than you have ever suffered, and is able therefore to succor you in your temptations. Lay hold on Jesus as your familiar friend, your brother born for adversity, and you will have obtained a consolation which will bear you through the uttermost deeps.
Next see here the intolerable evil of sin. You are a sinner, which Jesus never was, yet even to stand in the sinner’s place was so dreadful to him that he was sorrowful even unto death, What will sin one day be to you if you should be found guilty at the last! Oh, could we tell the horror of sin there is not one among us that would be satisfied to remain in sin for a single moment; I believe there would go up from this house of prayer this morning a weeping and a wailing such as might be heard in the very streets, if men and women here who are living in sin could really know what sin is, and what the wrath of God is that rests upon them, and what the judgments of God will be that will shortly surround them and destroy them. Oh soul, sin must be an awful thing if it so crushed our Lord. If the very imputation of it fetched bloody sweat from the pure and holy Savior, what must sin itself be? Avoid it, pass not by it, turn away from the very appearance of it, walk humbly and carefully with your God that sin may not harm you, for it is an exceeding plague, an infinite pest.
Learn next, but oh how few minutes have I in which to speak of such a lesson, the matchless love of Jesus, that for your sakes and mine he would not merely suffer in body, but consented even to bear the horror of being accounted a sinner, and coming under the wrath of God because of our sins: though it cost him suffering unto death and sore amazement, yet sooner than that we shall perish, the Lord smarted as our surety. Can we not cheerfully endure persecution for his sake? Can we not labor earnestly for him? Are we so ungenerous that his cause shall know a lack while we have the means of helping it? Are we so base that his work shall flag while we have strength to carry it on? I charge you by Gethsemane, my brethren, if you have a part and lot in the passion of your Savior, love him much who loved you so immeasurably, and spend and be spent for him.
Again, looking at Jesus in the garden, we learn the excellence and completeness of the atonement. How black I am, how filthy, how loathsome in the sight of God—I feel myself only fit to be cast into the lowest hell, and I wonder that God has not long ago cast me there; but I go into Gethsemane, and I peer under those gnarled olive trees, and I see my Savior. Yes, I see him wallowing on the ground in anguish, and hear such groans come from him as never came from human breast before. I look upon the earth and see it red with his blood, while his face is smeared with gory sweat, and I say to myself, “My God, my Savior, what aileth thee? “I hear him reply, “I am suffering for thy sin,” and then I take comfort, for while I fain would have spared my Lord such an anguish, now that the anguish is over I can understand how Jehovah can spare me, because he smote his Son in my stead.
Now I have hope of justification, for I bring before the justice of God and my own conscience the remembrance of my bleeding Savior, and I say, Canst thou twice demand payment, first at the hand of thy agonising Son and then again at mine? Sinner as I am, I stand before the burning throne of the severity of God, and am not afraid of it. Canst thou scorch me, O consuming fire, when thou hast not only scorched but utterly consumed my substitute? Nay, by faith,
my soul sees justice satisfied, the law honored, the moral government of God established, and yet my once guilty soul absolved and set free. The fire of avenging justice has spent itself, and the law has exhausted its most rigorous demands upon the person of him who was made a curse for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Oh the sweetness of the comfort which flows from the atoning blood! Obtain that comfort, my brethren, and never leave it. Cling to your Lord’s bleeding heart, and drink in abundant consolation.
Last of all, what must be the terror of the punishment which will fall upon those men who reject the atoning blood, and who will have to stand before God in their own proper persons to suffer for their sins? I will tell you, sirs, with pain in my heart as I tell you it, what will happen to those of you who reject my Lord. Jesus Christ my Lord and Master is a sign and prophecy to you of what will happen to you. Not in a garden, but on that bed of yours where you have so often been refreshed, you will be surprised and overtaken, and the pains of death will get hold upon you. With an exceeding sorrow and remorse for your misspent life and for a rejected Savior you will be made very heavy. Then will your darling sin, your favourite lust, like another Judas, betray you with a kiss. While yet your soul lingers on your lip you will be seized and taken off by a body of evil ones, and carried away to the bar of God, just as Jesus was taken to the judgment seat of Caiaphas. There shall be a speedy, personal, and somewhat private judgment, by which you shall be committed to prison where, in darkness and weeping, and wailing, you shall spend the night before the great assize of the judgment morning. Then shall the day break and the resurrection morning come, and as our Lord then appeared before Pilate, so will you appear before the highest tribunal, not that of Pilate, but the dread judgment seat of the Son of God, whom you have despised and rejected. Then will witnesses come against you, not false witnesses, but true, and you will stand speechless, even as Jesus said not a word before his accusers. Then will conscience and despair buffet you, you will become such a monument of misery, such a spectacle of contempt, as to be fitly noted by another Ecce Homo, and men shall look at you and say, “Behold the man and the suffering which has come upon him, because he despised his God and found pleasure in sin.”
Then shall you be condemned. “Depart, ye cursed,” shall be your sentence, even as “Let him be crucified” was the doom of Jesus. You shall be taken away by the officers of justice to your doom. Then, like the sinner’s substitute, you will cry, “I thirst,” but not a drop of water shall be given you; you shall taste nothing but the gall of bitterness. You shall be executed publicly with your crimes written over your head that all may read and understand that you are justly condemned; and then will you be mocked as Jesus was, especially if you have been a professor of religion and a false one; all that pass by will say, “He saved others, he preached to others, but himself he cannot save.” God himself will mock you. Nay, think not I dream, has he not said it: “I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh”? Cry unto your gods, that you once trusted in! Get comfort out of the lusts ye once delighted in, O ye that are cast away for ever!
To your shame, and to the confusion of your nakedness, shall you that have despised the Savior be made a spectacle of the justice of God for ever. It is right it should be so, justice rightly demands it. Sin made the Savior suffer an agony, shall it not make you suffer? Moreover, in addition to your sin, you have rejected the Savior; you have said, “He shall not be my trust and confidence.” Voluntarily, presumptuously, and against your own conscience you have refused eternal life; and if you die rejecting mercy what can come of it but that first your sin, and secondly your unbelief, shall condemn you to misery without limit or end. Let Gethsemane warn you, let its groans, and tears, and bloody sweat admonish you. Repent of sin, and believe in Jesus. May his Spirit enable you, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.