Luk_22:39-46. And he came out, and went, as he was was wont, to the Mount of Olives; and his Disciples also followed him. And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being m an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his Disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow, and said unto them, Why sleep ye? rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.
IT was foretold of the Messiah, that he should be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief:” and we are informed that he had scarcely come into the world before his life was sought for, and he was carried by his parents a fugitive to a foreign land, in order to escape the cruel effects of Herod’s jealousy. During the four years of his ministry, much is told us of his trials: but the principal scene of them was reserved for the close of his life. We propose to contemplate them, from their commencement in the garden of Gethsemane till the time that he expired upon the cross. At present we shall confine our attention to the words before us; in which we may see,
The tremendous sufferings of our Lord—
Now, beyond any former period of his life, “were the troubles of his heart enlarged.” That I may bring them before you the more distinctly, I will call your attention to three things;
The terms by which his sufferings are described in the inspired volume—
[If we look into the Prophets who foretold those sufferings, we shall see that they almost exhaust the powers of language in order to convey some idea of their inconceivable greatness. The Psalmist, personating the Saviour, says, “The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid: the sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me [Note: Psa_18:4-5.].” “My heart is sore pained within me; and the terrors of death are fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me; and horror hath overwhelmed me [Note: Psa_55:4-5.].” “The waters are come in unto my soul: I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God [Note: Psa_69:1-3.].” To mention only one passage more, the Saviour complains, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death [Note: Psa_22:14-15.].” Who that reads such passages as these, is not prepared for that distressing appeal, “Was ever sorrow like unto my sorrow, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger [Note: Lam_1:12.]?”
The Evangelists also, in their report of these sufferings, vie with each other in the extraordinary force of the words by which they endeavour to express them. St. Matthew speaks of him as so surrounded with grief, as to be brought by it into the utmost dejection and consternation
, Mat_26:38. with Psa_42:5.]. St. Mark uses one term which implies a high degree of fear, and terror, and amazement [Note:
.]; and another denoting the utmost excess of grief and anguish [Note:
, Mar_14:33. See Bishop Pearson on the Creed, p. 190.].” St. John also expresses his sufferings by a word of exceeding strength to denote the extremity of his troubles
.]; and St. Luke, in my text, tells us he was in an agony, in the greatest possible straits in his conflict [Note:
.]. In fact, “his soul was exceeding sorrowful even unto death.” And the depth of his sufferings will further appear from,]
The effects produced by them—
[It must be remembered that as yet no man had inflicted on him any pain at all. Yet we behold him deprecating his present sufferings in the most earnest way imaginable, even “with strong crying and tears [Note: Heb_5:7.],” renewing his entreaties again and again, not only on his knees, but in a posture of the most abject prostration [Note: Mat_26:39.]: yea, and we see him “sweating great drops of blood” from every pore of his body through the excess of his agony. What an idea does this give us of the intensity of his sufferings!
It will be asked perhaps, Why should he, whom we believe to be God, as well as man, betray such a fear and dread of sufferings, which thousands of martyrs have sustained with cheerfulness; and why, when he had voluntarily undertaken to endure them, should he afterwards deprecate them with such extreme fervour? I answer, Martyrs in their sufferings have had to bear only what could be inflicted by men; whereas the Saviour had to endure the wrath of God, even the penalty which was due to the sins of the whole world: and, in deprecating that misery, he acted precisely as it became him to act both as a man, and as a good and holy man. As man, it was quite allowable to him to deprecate sufferings which he had not deserved; and as a good man, it became him to deprecate the wrath of God. These two things therefore he did: but he did them with most unreserved submission to the will of God; and thereby gave to us the most perfect pattern of resignation under sufferings of whatever kind.
But we may further learn the greatness of his sufferings from,]
The means used for his support—
[At the commencement of his ministry, when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, “angels were sent from heaven to strengthen him [Note: Mat_4:11.]” And thus it was in this his last hour, which was more especially “the season when all the powers of darkness assaulted him [Note: ver. 53.];” an angel was sent from heaven to administer to him that strength and consolation which he needed after so severe a conflict [Note: ver. 43.]. What an idea does this give us of his sufferings, when he who was God as well as man, needed such assistance to sustain and support him in that dread hour!]
But how were his three favoured Disciples occupied in the mean time? He had bidden them to watch and pray with him: and “had gone only about a stone’s cast from them,” that he might with the more liberty pour out his soul before God. But alas! the Saviour’s sorrows were yet further increased by,
The lethargic indolence of his Disciples—
It might have been supposed that they, at such a season as this, would have been particularly wakeful and earnest in prayer—
[Their Lord had counselled them to employ this time in prayer, not only in interceding for him, but in imploring strength for themselves, that they might be able to sustain the trials which were now coming fast upon them. But they were so overpowered with sleep, that notwithstanding they were again and again wakened by their Lord, they were no sooner left to themselves than they fell asleep again. “Not a single hour could they watch with their Lord,” notwithstanding all their recent protestations and professions. The fact was that they were “overcome with sorrow,” which, in some cases, when it is exceeding deep, operates as a blow, that, for a season, only stuns and stupifies. The whole of our Lord’s late conversations with them respecting his approaching sufferings and death had altogether oppressed their minds, so that they were no longer able to exercise their faculties as the occasion required. “Their spirits were willing; but their flesh was weak.”]
This ill-timed somnolency added yet further to the sufferings of their Lord—
[He did indeed administer reproof to them with the utmost tenderness, and even apologize for them, as he afterwards did for his very murderers. But to be so neglected by them in this his last extremity, and to behold them so indifferent about him, and so careless about themselves, after all the exhortations he had given them, must have occasioned him the most poignant grief; and still the more, when he saw that the time for prayer was now lost, and that the traitor, with his armed bands, was at hand, to deliver him up into the power of his blood-thirsty enemies.
We are told indeed, that “they knew not what to answer him [Note: Mar_14:40.].” And well might they be confounded, when they saw how shamefully they had violated their obligations to their divine Master, and how regardless they had been of their own eternal interests. And what shall we ourselves answer in the last day, when called to account for our present carelessness in the midst of all the warnings that are given us, and the dangers to which we are exposed? Verily, whatever excuses we may now make, our mouths will then be shut: and to all eternity shall we reproach ourselves, that when we could watch whole nights about our temporal concerns, as the Apostles had done with their nets, we have not been able to “watch with Christ one single hour” in fervent and persevering prayer; so “stupid have we been and brutish, even as beasts before him.”]
May we not see from hence, my brethren,
How terrible we shall find it to bear the penalty due to sin!
[If it so oppressed and overwhelmed our incarnate God, what will it effect in us? “If it so consumed the green tree, how will it burn up the dry [Note: Luk_23:31.]!” I tremble to think how careless all around us are, when in a few more days or hours they may have to sustain without any alleviation, and to all eternity, the wrath of God. Dear brethren, though your Lord bore in his own sacred person all your sins to make atonement for them, his atonement will be of no avail to you, unless you repent of your sins, and plead the merit of his blood for the expiation of them. No indeed, all that the Saviour has done and suffered for you will but aggravate your guilt, if you lose your present opportunity of calling upon him for the pardon of it. Do not, I pray you, give way to a sleepy careless state of mind. You have been again and again called, in order to awaken you; and if you continue with folded arms to waste, as it were, your day of grace, death will ere long come, with irresistible energy, like Judas with his armed bands, and transport you to the bar of judgment, where nothing but condemnation will await you, and the wrath of an offended God. O that to-day, while it is called to-day, you may arise and call upon your God, that so iniquity may not be your ruin! But, if you will “sleep on now and take your rest,” wonder not if you be left, like Peter, to deny and forsake your Lord, and to perish with Judas, under an accumulated load of guilt and misery.]
How different a cup God is willing to put into our hands!
[Our blessed Lord prayed, that, “if it were possible, the cup of bitterness might pass from him.” But God had decreed, that, “without shedding of blood there should be no remission of sins;” and therefore if the Lord Jesus would be a surety for us, he must discharge our debt; and consequently, if he would take the cup out of our hands, he must drink it for us. And drink it he did, even to the very dregs. And now, brethren, he puts into our hands the cup of salvation, with all its inconceivable and eternal blessings. O drink ye of this, and let your souls live for ever! I will not promise that you shall never in this life taste of the Saviour’s cup of sorrows. You may taste of it; you may even drink deeply of it, in order that you may be the more conformed to him. But of this I assure you, that, however bitter a cup God may at any time put into your hands, there shall be no wrath in it, no, not a drop of wrath: it shall all be sweetened with love: it shall be altogether medicinal, and not penal. And, to counteract its bitterness, there shall be put into your hands “a cup of which the Lord himself shall be the portion [Note: Psa_16:5.].” Yes, the Lord Jesus drank the one, that you might drink the other. Only believe in him; and trust in him; and cleave to him; and watch and pray with him; and all the blessedness of heaven shall be yours. And when the cup of God’s wrath shall be put into the hands of the impenitent and unbelieving to drink to all eternity [Note: Rev_14:10.], the cup of salvation shall be yours, and “the pleasures which are at God’s right hand for evermore.”]