The last of these pictures is like Raphael's Sistine Madonna in the Dresden gallery; it is in a room by itself. One enters with a holy hush over his spirit, and, with awe in his eyes, looks atJesus in Gethsemane. There is the Kidron brook, the gentle rise of ground, the grove of gnarled knotty old olive trees. The moon above is at the full. Its brightness makes these shadowed recesses the darker; blackly dark. Here is a group of men lying on the ground apparently asleep. Over yonder deeper in among the trees a smaller group reclines motionless. They, too, sleep. And, look, farther in yet is that lone figure; all alone; nevermore alone; save once—on the morrow.
There is a foreshadowing of this Gethsemane experience in the requested interview of the Greeks just a few intense days before. In the vision which the Greeks unconsciously brought the agony of the olive grove began. The climax is among these moon-shadowed trees. How sympathetic those inky black shadows! It takes bright light to make black shadows. Yet they were not black enough. Intense men can get so absorbed in the shadows as to forget the light.
This great Jesus! Son of God: God the Son. The Son of Man: God—a man! No draughtsman's pencil ever drew the line between His divinity and humanity; nor ever shall. For the union of divine and human is itself divine, and therefore clear beyond human ken. Here His humanity stands out, pathetically, luminously stands out. Let us speak of it very softly and think with the touch of awe deepening for this is holiest ground. The battle of the morrow is being fought out here. Calvary is in Gethsemane. The victory of the hill is won in the grove.
It is sheer impossible for man with sin grained into his fibre through centuries to understand the horror with which a sinless one thinks of actual contact with sin. As Jesus enters the grove that night it comes in upon His spirit with terrific intensity that He is actually coming into contact—with a meaning quite beyond us—coming into contact with sin. In some way all too deep for definition He is to be "made sin" (2Co_5:21). The language used to describe His emotions is so strong that no adequate English words seem available for its full expression. An indescribable horror, a chill of terror, a frenzy of fright seizes Him. The poisonous miasma of sin seems to be filling His nostrils and to be stifling Him. And yonder alone among the trees the agony is upon Him. The extreme grips Him. May there not yet possibly be some other way rather than this—this! A bit of that prayer comes to us in tones strangely altered by deepest emotion. "If it be possible—let this cup pass." There is still a clinging to a possibility, some possibility other than that of this nightmare vision. The writer of the Hebrews lets in light here. The strain of spirit almost snaps the life-thread. And a parenthetical prayer for strength goes up. And the angels come with sympathetic strengthening. With what awe must they have ministered! Even after that some of the red life slips out there under the trees. By and by a calmer mood asserts itself, and out of the darkness a second petition comes. It tells of the tide's turning, and the victory full and complete. A changed, petition this! "Since this cup may not pass—since only thus can Thy great plan for a world be wrought out—Thy—will"—slowly but very distinctly the words come—"Thy—will—be—done."
The changed prayer was wrought out upon His knees! With greatest reverence, and a hush in our voices, let us say that there alone with the Father came the clearer understanding of the Father's actual will under these circumstances.
"Into the woods my Master went
Clean forspent, forspent;
Into the woods my Master came
Forspent with love and shame.
But the olives they were not blind to Him,
The little gray leaves were kind to Him;
The thorn-tree had a mind to Him
When into the woods He came.
"Out of the woods my Master went
And He was well content;
Out of the woods my Master came
Content with death and shame.
When death and shame would woo Him last
From under the trees they drew Him last
'Twas on a tree they slew Him—last
When out of the woods He came" (Sidney Lanier).
True prayer is wrought out upon the knees alone with God. With deepest reverence, and in awed tones, let it be said, that that was true of Jesus in the days of His humanity. How infinitely more of us!
Shall we not plan to meet God alone, habitually, with the door shut, and the Book open, and the will pliant so we may be trained for this holy partnership of prayer. Then will come the clearer vision, the broader purpose, the truer wisdom, the real unselfishness, the simplicity of claiming and expecting, the delights of fellowship in service with Him; then too will come great victories for God in His world. Although we shall not begin to know by direct knowledge a tithe of the story until the night be gone and the dawning break and the ink-black shadows that now stain the earth shall be chased away by the brightness of His presence.