Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering: 17. Chapter 17: Christ’s Sorrows Have Their Own Peculiar Origin

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Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering: 17. Chapter 17: Christ’s Sorrows Have Their Own Peculiar Origin

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SUBJECT: 17. Chapter 17: Christ’s Sorrows Have Their Own Peculiar Origin

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Christ’s Sorrows Have Their Own Peculiar Origin

Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane ....

And (he) BEGAN to be sorrowful and very heavy.

—Mat_26:36 a and Mat_26:37 b

We shall follow the Master out of the room of the Passover now and into the garden of Gethsemane.

Gethsemane — people generally let their voices drop when they reach that point in the story of the passion. The Bible itself, however, shocks us by the use of the word; it does not put us into a mystical twilight so much as it startles us by it.

It is as if the gospel of the passion simply lets us drop out of the heights into the abyss. The transition is so abrupt that it almost hurts us.

Certainly the contrast of what Jesus did in the room of the Passover to what He is to experience in Gethsemane is sharp enough to arrest the attention of everyone.

In the room of the Passover we saw Christ in His exalted strength and in the beauty of the harmony of His life. How calm His voice was when He spoke to Judas, when He took the bread, when He sang the hymn; how quiet His voice, whispering when they asked that He whisper, loud at other moments, engaging in long discourses, even, when that was His pleasure.

The restlessness of Gethsemane is set in sharp contrast to that picture of poise and calm.

He leaves the room and crosses the Kidron. He is looking for the garden He had frequently visited. We know that He is familiar with the place. Its strangeness is, therefore, not the reason for which restlessness suddenly enters into Him and seizes on His soul. The place itself is not strange to Him. The circumstances, the exigencies of the place, cannot account for the turbulent passion arising in Jesus’ soul.

In this we confront a riddle. A quiet voice almost engaging in recitative calm before God. That in the room of the Passover. And here in Gethsemane the black shadow. There He progressed from one act to another. Here He repeats the same act, He goes and comes back, He prays and returns to pray again.

In the room He engaged in an organized discourse; its structure, its artistic interrelationship of part and whole still amazes us. That high-priestly prayer, too, rising from the more ordinary to the sublime in a beautiful crescendo of significance — how artistic that was! That prayer reaching down to the bases of God’s good pleasure, reaching up to communion with God, reaching out to include more and more, the gamut of His people, the apostles first and then the one holy, catholic, Christian church — how amazing the restrained eloquence of that temperately evolved prayer! And in its stead, in Gethsemane, there is the repetition of the same words, a constant returning of the same theme. Instead of the progressive prayer in the room of the Passover comes the retrogressive prayer in Gethsemane.

And those are not all of the contrasts.

We cannot name them all; we need not name them all, for they all arise from the same cause. We can concentrate the contrasts into this one: In the room of the Passover, Christ is He who gives, He who gives Himself to His own. Exalted and absolute, He performs His work for them. But in Gethsemane Christ is the poor and naked one who receives. He is a child; so very helpless that He cries for a few faithful friends, who, be it for but one hour, may watch with Him—

What is this, anyway? A riddle, of course, which arrests the attention of everyone. But what is the reason, the cause of it? What calls the stark contrast into being? What unseen hand smote Christ down from that poised assurance into this profound misery and undoing?

We shall have to discriminate carefully in this matter.

There are those who put the problem in such a way that their very formulation of it protests that the problem itself, not its

solution, is the issue of contention between them and us. Their way of stating the question indicates that their notion of Scripture and their view of Christ is diametrically opposed to ours. The riddle as they see it does not startle, does not perturb us at all—although we dare not suppose that we can fathom all of the implications of what we think we know about the night in Gethsemane.

But there is another riddle which busies and baffles us, even when we separate ourselves from all who view the Christ in a way differing from ours.

Perhaps we ought to say first in what the riddle does not consist for us; and to say then in what it does consist.

Over against those who say that what baffles them in Gethsemane is the fact of Christ’s being sorrowful and heavy even unto death, in other words, of His terrible suffering, we confess that His sorrow in itself, that the fact as such of His being sorrowful unto death does not constitute the riddle for us.

Let there be ever so many who can no longer “believe” because of Christ’s “sorrow”: our faith teaches us to reason in the precisely opposite direction. Wash those awful drops of sweat from the face of the Man of sorrows, retouch the outlines of the face which is wrung with sorrow, let the turbulent waters of His soul subside and become placid — but then Christ is no longer our Saviour .We cannot follow Him, cannot believe, cannot even see Him except as He is in this nameless anguish.

We know there are those for whose “faith” the anguish of Christ is the one great stumbling block. If only Jesus had not stumbled upon any stone they would gladly have accompanied and followed Him to the temple of worship, and have religiously identified themselves with this great example of spiritual nobility. And now, alas! They complain that Christ was not as great as that. He stumbled on the way. He trembled. He was heavy even unto death. Consequently they now fall over the stumbling Christ. A Christ who cannot maintain His poise is a rock of salvation for their own unintimidated haughtiness. But a Christ who falls over, a rock of offense becomes a rock of offense to them.

They do not know that by that very attitude they are confessing their own essential smallness and, although unconsciously, are really honoring Him.

To say that the sorrows of Christ must make them surrender their faith in Him is to propose an argument which unbelief cannot justify on its own bases. If Christ by simply remaining always erect, and without ever creeping in the dust, can be our guide, and if; we lift “ourselves” up by grasping Him — then His going before us is less His glory for leading than ours for being able to keep pace with Him. Our fitness for life is not His steadfastness in such a case, but is simply His illustration of steadfastness which we in our own strength can then proceed to emulate. There lies the inconsistency. If Christ were acceptable without suffering, without quailing under the wrath of God, and if everything depends, as it then does, upon our ability to lift ourselves — why, then, does our ability fail when His does? When I claim to be the hero, when I arrogate to myself the courage to judge or condemn His heaviness and sorrows, you may certainly expect me to prove my claim to such arrogance, my right to such criticism, my warrant for such self-trust by standing erect myself, by standing out above every storm with perfect poise.

But — if I cannot do that, I should have the good sense to begin on the other side: not on that where I illuminate the Christ with my own poor searchlight; but on the other, where I let Him explain Himself also as He is in His sorrows, and in that way learn to tremble before Him.

That, over against the unreasonableness of all belief, would be the reasonableness of faith.

However that may be, this much is certain: If the stumbling Christ is an offense to me, if His falling causes me to stumble,

then His greatness is exhibited even by that fact. If I really amount to so much, my heroism will be but the better illustrated in contrast with the smallness of Him who in Gethsemane called Himself not man but worm. However, if I can allow myself no such haughtiness, I must be honest and cry out before God that His misery proves mine far worse—or else, with a profound respect, believe on Him.

Obviously, this is a case of choosing or sharing.

Any comparison which puts Christ in a class with other men in an effort to measure and weigh His worth is a terrible analogy and is folly in God’s eyes.

This artist, that psychologist, yonder philosopher, the expounder of revelation, the poet, the biographer who produces his “life of Christ” — these and many others almost invariably pause in the argument, introduce a caesura in their poem or soul-analysis the moment they come to Gethsemane, the place where Christ is depressed, is sorrowful, is heavy even unto death, and is sweating blood. It becomes tiresome, almost, to notice that this is the case again and again in the abundant literature of the world and of recent times.

One can hardly turn to an “essay” on Gethsemane without hitting upon that characteristic usage of bringing Socrates or some other hero of the spirit into comparison with Christ. It is so easy to find examples of people who died without a sense of dread, without the experience of intense anguish, or at least of people who approached death less anxiously than Christ. World history, national history, the history of culture, the galleries of great men dead will afford such examples. People read us their names and ask: What is your opinion? Are these who drink the hemlock courageously, who serenely approach death by the sword, in the arena, or by suffocation — are these not greater than the man Jesus Christ?

We should like to answer this question with a counter-question, for it is warranted “to answer a fool according to his folly”.

We would ask: Why go so far afield? The dying chambers of philosophers, the battlefields of the world, the guillotines where political betrayers met death, are not the only places affording examples of people who faced death with a calmer mien than Christ in Gethsemane. His own brethren, His co-heirs with God, those whose redemption He purchased, have often confronted a martyr’s death courageously, faced it with a sureness, a trust, a calm very different indeed from the turbulence, the humiliating misery, the quailing of the Man of sorrows in Gethsemane. How does it happen, we would ask in turn, that you appeal to all of those others, to philosophers, soldiers, political agitators in order to disparage the Christ, while you fail to scrutinize the equally interesting personalities of Jesus’ own martyrs.

You do not want to see these, we should have to add. For if you would really look squarely into the martyr’s eyes, your whole argument would crumble by the message you would read there. These Christian martyrs never asserted that their awaiting death calmly puts them in a position above the Christ. What they did say, the one thing they did aver, was that precisely the adequacy of Christ, and their eye of faith kept fixed upon the afflictions and sorrows of hell which He suffered, enabled them to stand firmly poised. Just because Christ was “a worm and not a man” they, judged by human standards, and in principle even by God’s, were “men, not worms.”

Hence, it must be admitted that any comparative study of Jesus’ anguish, that is, any purely comparative study of it, is unscholarly, dishonest, and secretly antipathetic if it has not the courage to include Jesus’ own martyrs, and nevertheless rests its case upon the comparison solely.

If anyone who has the courage of his own criteria will as objectively place himself before the urns that hold the ashes of the martyrs as he does before the biers of philosophers, generals, and political agitators who died serenely, then he must admit that those too did not suffer the anguish which Jesus suffered. The carefully formulated questions will disappear before those urns. The blood of the martyrs will spatter upon the dainty vellum on which this or that “scholar” compares Jesus with others and finds Him wanting. These martyrs are the very ones who proved, not in the comfort of a study, but in the gory medium of mud and slaver, of fire and battle, of wild beasts and fanatic people, that we must not measure Christ but weigh Him, to the extent that is possible — they, precisely, have said that we must not ask whether the “apparatus” of His humanity functions exactly as it does in other members of humanity, that there is another view according to which Christ is not merely “a member” of the body of humanity (that would have to function exactly as all other members) but that He is the Head of the body. That stipulation means that a different law of life lives in Him than obtains in people not included in Him. The Head must necessarily differ from the members. The Head must be thrust under the breakers of wrath in order that the members may remain standing in freedom and joy. In Jesus, the Mediator who is the Guarantor of a better covenant is punished and afflicted for the sake of the others. He must suffer all sorrows for them, must writhe because of awful anguish in order that the members of His body may without any dread at all see God’s judgment seat standing behind the arena, the guillotine, or the deathbed.

If only the concept of substitution is brought into the argument, the folly of thinking the discovery that Socrates acted differently than Jesus in a similar situation a significant one, will become obvious.

The most superficial observer will notice a pronounced difference between these two, even in regard to peripheral aspects of their life and death. But there is an infinite difference between them in respect to the principle, the point of view, the life-secret of each.

Yes, it is obvious that even a casual observer will notice a peripheral difference in the “phenomena” of Socrates and Jesus. That difference alone names every comparison of the two a piece of folly.

Socrates calmly drank the cup of poison which had been concocted by misinterpretation and bad faith; he took and drank it serenely when legal coercion and the popular will extended it to him. But when Socrates entered into his death serenely, he did so at the cost of much that is lovely and beautiful. In him we can afford to lose the lovely and beautiful, but we may not dare to lose them in Christ. Socrates’ scorn of the judges and people represents a haughtiness and arrogance which knows not love. Do we want to see Jesus as such?

Again: Do we want to think of Jesus as one who lives on a plane far above that on which one’s wife and children try to get on, as an aristocrat of the spirit who is hardly affected by such domestic responsibilities? On the contrary, Jesus cries for and weeps about His disciples now and again, assigns His mother a son later on, engages in no abstract discourses about His right doctrine, but bears that doctrine in Him as His life, clinging to doctrine and life together and sealing them with His death.

We need not dodge the issue any longer: Socrates was able to face death fearlessly simply because he succeeded so enormously well in the art of suppressing. And we have seen repeatedly that Christ never suppresses anything. Therefore, it is folly to compare the serene courage (probably legendary at that) of Socrates with the sorrows of Christ, the “historical” one. Socrates lives only a half-life (in that he suppresses the bitterness of death) and consequently can die only a half-death. But Christ lives with all that is in Him. Therefore, He also dies in entirety.

Moreover, Socrates only lets us guess at his life-secret. Yes, his speeches were notated by his friends, but who can say what he experienced as he lay in his solitary cell awaiting the gaoler, the cup, and the last nod of the judges. But Christ permitted the anguish He felt to be recorded for us. In fact, He wrote the description of His sufferings Himself, through the Spirit. He took His disciples with Him up to a distance a stone’s throw removed, and later He revealed His anguish and groanings to us in the Holy Gospel.

Whoever cannot see these differences, peripheral as they are, is blind. It is about time for Christendom to cease responding to such “comparative” studies by “apologetic” arguments supported with material borrowed from psychology and from religious-philosophical theories.

And we are certain that similar differences, even such external ones, obtain between Jesus in Gethsemane and those other figures who, according to report, approached death unafraid.

Enough of that, however. We must not forget the most important thing. We must not answer the fool according to his folly—that, too, is written in the book of Proverbs. And, remembering that warning, we wish by a few brief indications to point to the principal reasons which compel us to call such “comparative” studies the product of the devil.

a. Christ’s task differs from that of any other human being. His task is to suffer the penalty sin has deserved. Hence, it is part of His calling to quail in anguish before our God. What sense, then, is there in making any comparisons if we accept this His own pronouncement concerning His work. One would need to have been in hell for some time in order to understand what it is that is tearing Jesus apart in the garden. Hence, because neither subject nor object of hero-worship has any sense of the reality of hell’s temptation and pain, the problem of suffering for those others was never what it is for Christ. And therefore the two kinds of suffering cannot be spoken of in the same breath.

b. Christ is a human being in a way very different from that of other human beings. He is the sinless one. Who can say how intensely or in what manner the discharges of sin, of curse, of suffering, of Satan, and of death affected him? It would be difficult to compare the effect light has upon a photographic lens or plate with that which it has upon a stove-plate. We should call anyone mad who could seriously contend as follows: A stove- plate does not change its nature when light plays upon it; a photographic plate does change under such a circumstance: I conclude that a stove-plate is a useful article because it retains its character in contact with light; and that a photographic plate is a useless thing, a luxury, a piece of foolishness, for it cannot stand the light. But it is not less stupid for anyone who acknowledges Christ as the Sinless One to compare those stove-plate personalities who do not react to outside influences, or who are affected by the play of light and shadow but very little, with Jesus, who, like a finely prepared photographic plate, reacts immediately to every change of light and shadow, and upon whom God is today directing His carefully aimed arrows of righteousness, truth, and judgment. A human being who is himself suffocated by sin should not allow himself the luxury of talking about the reaction of light and shadow upon the sinless soul of Jesus. Or, if we may continue with the figure just alluded to, without becoming trivial, we can say that no one in the world ever “worked with” this particular photographic plate. This is the first time and the only time that such a light falls in this way through such a lens upon such a plate. Even the sensitive lens of Adam’s soul in the state of sinlessness had a different law of reaction from that of Jesus’ soul. The time was a different one, and especially—the reception was different. Neither sin nor curse, neither suffering nor death had a place on earth. And what shall we say of Christ’s soul, which suppressed nothing, neither God nor devil. We who suppress so much cannot judge of Him. We must believe or be silent.

c. The way which death takes in the life of Christ, and consequently the way the threat of death takes, is very different for Him than for other human beings. Those others who have to die and who bear the burden of it bravely—but without faith— subordinate death to their thoughts (the “suppression” referred to above has relevance here also). But Christ may not ride “rough-shod” over death. On the contrary, He must look death squarely in the face, must to a certain extent so master and draw out death’s complication that He Himself, when the time comes, can work. His way towards death and implicate Himself in it. He will do that the moment the imperative of death has appeared to be God’s way for Him.

d. Other people who are about to die debate with themselves until the thought of death wins over the thought of life after death, or the thought of immortality wins over the dread of death. They play off life against death, and then laugh; or if so be they complain, because fate, or God, gives them death for life—in that case the skies re-echo their groaning. But Christ may never play off death against life. He may not wrench himself, or leap, over the river of death by a tow de force. If in His heart or His head He wants to chant a hymn in praise of the spacious Elysian fields of a life after death, He can do so. But He may never accelerate the motor of the hope that is in Him to such vehemence that its noise drowns out the sighs and groanings of His soul. There is only the one law for Him: He can achieve life only by losing it completely, by paying the whole of it as ransom, and only by experiencing this loss with full consciousness of it. The life to come may be a sedative, a resting-place, for others in confronting the present death, but because Christ is the Surety for His own, the life to come simply is another force compelling Him to die, and in no sense a compensation while death itself is swallowing Him.

e. And still another difference is related to that last one. Those other heroes of death which we designated conquer the death of the body, and do it with the soul, or better, with the spirit. Their bodies die, but their spirits do not in the way their bodies do. The spirit, in fact, often whets itself on the dying body. That spirit does not “taste” death. That spirit retains mastery of what it has not itself tasted or felt. Suppose we call the planes of body, soul, and spirit planes A, B, and C, respectively.[1] The situation in the case of these heroes, then, is this. They suffer, they experience death only on plane A (the body); little more than the smoke of the firing line on plane A reaches plane B (the soul); on plane C (the spirit), the heavy cannon of strong argument are put into action against the enemy on plane A; and this is done solely to keep that enemy from subduing plane C. The plane on which they prove to be heroes (C, the battle-ground of the spirit) is in essence different from plane A upon which the attack is directed. The spirit does not rejoice in keeping death from conquering it, for death cannot touch it, but the spirit comforts itself in its aloofness from body and soul. It comforts itself on plane C in thinking of an enemy which is destroying plane A. Plane B meanwhile feels only the shocks of the concussions going on below it. Really, then, this is not a conquering of death; it merely represents a kind of victory of the personality in itself, a personality, you see, which has discovered that it does not have to die. No blood actually flows in the sphere of the spirit. There is no man-to-man conflict in it. All speeches made by dying people at the hour of death, all speeches of comfort not deriving their content from Christ, have been motivated by the saying: non omnis moriar: “I shall not wholly die.”

[1] It will not be necessary, I trust, to say that, in using these terms, I am using them simply as figures of speech, and that I refuse to be drawn into any discussion of the psychology of the matter, especially of the great issue of soul and spirit.

Christ is entirely different. When He sees death coming upon Him, He sees it coming upon every plane of His life. His body must die (plane A), His soul must die (plane B), and His spirit[2] must die (plane C). He must take full cognizance of death, and must experience it fully; He must know and He must sense temporal death (the separation of soul and body), spiritual death (the grievous, temporally experienced separation from God, in the sense of being forsaken by Him) and eternal death (the complete realization of the consequences of being forsaken of God according to the spirit). Who, pray, can now dare to undertake comparing Christ with others? Christ could not set up any cannon on plane C with which to stifle the firing on plane A, to the extent He was bothered by its din on planes B and C. The vapors of death penetrate each part of His human being. God disarms Him completely because God Himself by means of that death enters into Him—and that Christ knows. To Christ, death is not an enemy which His spirit can avert as a bystander; death comes upon Him; no, death forces its way into Him. It completely enters into Him, and it enters into His whole being.

[2] Not His person: for the person of the Son of God must also will to die in His perfect human nature.

f. It is quite possible for people who must die to put themselves on guard against the fear of death and against its overwhelming effect, but such activity is always partial.

A man may act very bravely, may set up a great ado with his weapons against the great tyrant Death, and may succeed in suggesting to himself and to others that he is master of the situation; secretly, however, the one certainty nevertheless remains that nothing can be done about it, that he is going to die anyway. His poise could be taken seriously only if he could say: I have power (the qualifications) to lay it down and I have power (the qualifications) to take it up again (Joh_10:18). But he cannot say that; the thought does not occur to him. Hence the struggle he carries on is never perfect; he can act never so bravely, but he has not the chances of a lion in the woods; his chances are those of the lion in the zoo. He simply reconciles himself with a death which he must accept as his lot. He can exert himself actively over against it? Yes—but his activity is circumscribed within the boundaries of passivity. His activity has such an easy task, moving about as it does, and orientating itself in a room locked by a higher power. As long as people are still alive and well and in full possession of all their desires, the distance between passivity and activity is as wide as life itself. But the moment a person discovers that the door giving access to liberty and the ability to move about freely, has been locked, and that the cell will never open again, then a limited activity exerts itself within that small bourne as in an arena ever getting smaller and smaller. The race which the soul then undertakes to run with itself is confined to the tiniest course which life was friendly enough still to afford.

Jesus Christ is not that man. His door has not been locked behind Him. The awfulness of His griefs can only be seen properly against this ideational background: I have the power to lay down life, and to take it up again. His race-course does not get smaller and smaller. His responsibility never diminishes. The tension remains. Passively and actively, His task is equally exacting. The pressure is never taken off. He cannot “rest” in the fact that He has to die “anyway” and accordingly conclude: Since the door of liberty is locked to me, I shall undertake once more to move about freely within the bounds of my fixed limitations. For Him the tension between passive and active obedience persists to the very end. If it had been so that Christ first had to see the passion approach Him up to a certain point, and that He then could have done the deed of obedience within the limited pale still left Him—then the awful tension would have decreased progressively as the end approached. That, however, is not the case: in Him passive and active obedience simultaneously grow stronger and stronger.

g. Human beings other than Jesus confront only an individual struggle. An individual man must die: he lives, his own life first and dies his own death then. And his death represents his own judgment alone. Christ on the contrary, is not “a man”; He is “the man”; He dies very conscious of the fact that He is the second Adam, that He is the Head of the new humanity which is included in the covenant of grace. In His death, it is not a single chip which is broken from some rock jutting off the mountain of mankind; in it the shock of death is felt in the base, in the foundation of all humanity for whom He is entering into death. He stands solitary over against God, not as an individual but as the second Adam. Death separates them, and God says: Take thou and eat. Judged by human standards there is but a step Between Jesus and death, for that is the sense, the tragic content of the statement of David and Jonathan, of everybody, of you and me, of anyone who has no command over death, no power over it; it is the grievous plaint of all who must suffer death as their lot. But Christ does not have to suffer death as His lot; He must accept it as His righteous judgment, because He is the Surety for His own, and because His suretyship, though it obligates Him to perfect passivity must nevertheless be actively desired by Him from moment to moment. Hence it is not true that there is but one step between Him and death. He must count His steps, but they are numberless because each one represents

an act of infinite might. An infinity divides Him and death, even though that infinity is but a step. The way between Him and death is as long and heavy as the way from His forsaken soul to the strict, and silent, and condemning God. A whole eternity is between Him and death. He must take death in full awareness of the fact that He is the second Adam, who as the very image of God, and in full possession of His powers, takes it over from the first Adam for all those whom the first Adam conferred upon the second for salvation. The Mediators passion, vicariously suffered anguish—who can dare to compare that with the suffering of a faithless debtor?

h. Another matter is related to this last one. Other people, to the extent that they have a comfort in death or suppose they have one, are always dealing with the problem of death in terms of time and space. For example, they comfort themselves with examples like these: Here I must suffer a little while; there I shall live an eternity; or: Here a light affliction—there a “more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”; or: On this side of the grave I must suffer this, on the other side I shall enjoy that. So when time comforts itself with the thought of eternity at all, it does so as seen from the viewpoint of time, and in that way eternity is so much more readily set in contrast to temporal suffering. In such comforts the weight of the glory to come always weighs heavier in itself than the burden of suffering itself.

This is not so for Christ. The limitations of time and space are not valid references for Him. True, according to His human soul, which is finite and created, He suffers in time and space, but according to His Person He is infinite. The burdens He bears, the weights He sees lying in the balances of His scale— both of these have infinite worth. The contrast for Him is not that of a little time confronting an eternal life, but of an eternal life. The contrast is not that of a light affliction over against a more exceeding weight of glory but one of an exceeding weight of misery opposed to an exceeding weight of glory. Christ’s conflict is not conditioned by any play of force against force going on outside of Him. He must bear these two eternal weights in His own hands, must freight His soul with the heaviness of both. Who can say anything about that? Who would venture a comparison?

i. The sense of serenity that others have is either the fruit of Christ’s suffering or else the unnatural fruit of a vaguely conceived idea of redemption. But Christ Jesus cannot pluck the fruit of a tree that has been planted by another person. He must produce His own fruits, must produce them. He suffers the griefs of the sower; hence He will taste the joy of the reaper. There is but one absolute sower: He is Christ. Therefore He is the only One who absolutely “sows in tears.”

j. Hence others, when their ship arrives in port, may fasten its ropes to the pier; the pier will not recede from him who really seeks. Others may throw out their anchors; these will bite on solid ground for all those who want to anchor in God. And Christ also wants to fix His anchor in God, to moor His ship to the solid pillars of the fidelity and justice of God. But the awfulness of His situation is that God recedes from Him. God forsakes Him at this time. The solid ground recedes from the anchor that would bite on it, the pier recedes from the ship that would be fastened to it. Only after He has been entirely forsaken, after His ship refuses to hold to anything save to God alone, only when His faith, abandoning everything, has infinitely deepened itself—only then will He be accepted, and will He arise from bondage of death.

Once more, and finally, who can venture to make “comparisons”?

We return to our point of departure and repeat that the fact of Christ’s sorrows and afflictions does not constitute the riddle for us.

On the contrary, without that anguish He is not oar Mediator. The “back” that is beaten for the sins which mankind has perpetrated by means of Adam’s hand, must necessarily feel the pain of the beating.[1]

[1] The figure is that of Dr. A. Kuyper and in E Voto.

Nevertheless, another difficulty exists for those of us who confess Christ’s mediatorship. For us the difficulty arises from the fact that there is a beginning of this anguish for Christ, that He sinks down so suddenly out of the poised confidence of the room of the Passover into this oppressiveness and anguish. Not the fact of its existence, but the sudden genesis of the anguish baffles us, even when we observe from the viewpoint of faith.

What can be the cause of this sudden release of the fountains of suffering which bury Christ’s head under their own turbulence?

Does the answer lie in the nature of the life of Jesus’ soul? Is His soul really un-steadfast, fickle? Is the apparent inconstancy the product of His own self? Does He throw the beams of His searchlight this way now and that way next, leaving the rest in darkness?

To reply affirmatively would be to do injustice to the soul of Christ. His soul combines in itself the firmness of a controlled life with the serenity and harmony of an equilibrium which is never disturbed, or confused, or thrown out of balance from within. Even though Christ were placed in the chaos of hell, where sirens shriek, and devils scream, and every storm breaks abruptly into the quiet, His soul would not lose its equilibrium there. As long as He moves and stands with God His harmony continues. The pauses and intervals of life outside of Christ cannot be the cause of the variations within.

No, the sudden retrogression from the quiet of the Supper to the anguish of Gethsemane cannot be ascribed to the nature of Jesus’ soul. Consequently, it cannot be explained in terms of that.

Since we must look for the cause of the change outside of Christ, can we discover it, perhaps, in what Satan or what the people are doing?

We shudder at making any too definite declaration in reply. Faith so easily goes beyond the boundaries of reverence and caution.

Nevertheless we venture to say something of the matter. The solution to our difficulty can be found in this in part. Christ’s sensitive soul felt Judas approaching and sensed the coming of the party with sticks and swords to take Him captive. Impending dangers, the immediate approach of “bulls and dogs” (Psalms 22) really were new pricks to His sensitive feeling. For Him, too, the griefs are of graduated intensity; when the storm’s violence outside of Him increases, the experiences in His re-echoing soul increase proportionately in intensity. Jesus’ soul was purer than that of a telepathist; it was more finely aware of things than a clairvoyant. Hence, in proportion to the extent to which the murderous mob give stronger emphasis to their intention by their deed, the suffering of Jesus increases. They are interfering in this moment with—His prayer; and He must immediately include that disturbing power in His prayer. Jesus’ impressions respond perfectly to the expressions made outside of Him.

However, that does not fully account for the sudden change in Jesus’ soul. For we have repeatedly observed that Christ’s passion before this time was very intense precisely because He saw everything coming beforehand. Jesus has seen long ago what Judas is at the point of doing now. What Satan has Him experience in the present He anticipated realistically before. He Himself conceived and executed the portrait of His passion and death: This is the terrible outline of Christ and of Him crucified.

Yes, the gradual approach of danger and death, the sneaking up of hell and the devils would suffice to account for a gradual aggravation of Jesus’ anguish; but this does not adequately explain the sudden intensification of it. Judas and his mob, hell and its spawn, these explain a great deal, but not all.

Now it is our turn to leap for joy. There is only one other way which our trembling thoughts can follow to a solution.

We cannot explain the sudden change by reference to the nature of Jesus’ soul, for it can be disturbed by nothing within.

We cannot explain it entirely by reference to Judas and the mob and the devils.

Therefore we shall have to find the answer in the Lord our God. And hence, as we suggested, there is good reason and even a binding command to leap for joy when Jesus plunges into the abyss, suffering nameless grief. Paradoxical as it may seem, we can shout for joy, for we have seen God.

But a Gethsemane, explicable solely in God’s terms, one which is a perpetually baffling riddle, a repulsive offense and a shocking incongruity, except to the person who thinks theocentrically-— that is characteristic of the line which is drawn throughout the Scriptures; that is organically part and parcel of the miracle of God’s harmonious plan of redemption; that kind of Gethsemane enables us to escape from the confusion of “psychology,” philosophy, and spiritual anatomy; that keeps the law of faith unadulterated, unbroken—the law, namely, that God alone is, and that God alone gives, the explanation of His self-revelation in Jesus Christ.—I thank, Thee, Lord God of heaven and of earth, that Thou hast hid the things of Gethsemane from the wise in psychology, and from the understanding in philosophy, and from the learned in biology, and hast revealed them to the children of believing obedience. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight!

O man, return to your Bible. It is God who explains the significance of this event. He does it by way of His own counsel, and by His own deed, or even by His own refusal to act, by His withholding Himself from communion with Jesus.

The biblical account of Gethsemane tells us in so many words that we may seek the explanation of it only in God Himself. We read in it that God sends an angel to sustain Jesus. Certainly that means that heaven is regulating Jesus’ pulse beats.

We hope to consider that particular emphasis again in a later chapter.

But we are pointing to the angel of Gethsemane now solely to indicate that the explanation of the riddle of the garden cannot be given only in terms of Judas and the devils, but that in the final analysis it can be given only in terms of what heaven does or does not do. The energies passing from God to Jesus, from heaven to His tormented heart, from the trinity of God to the man Jesus Christ, those energies, being sent out now and recalled then— they alone can explain the sudden alteration in Jesus’ attitude.

That gives our roaming thoughts a point at which they can rest. For it is a terrible thing to see a worm squirming about blindly in God’s wide universe. But hope rises again the moment the worm can refer itself to the firm vault of heaven and to the eternal Counsel of God as its standard of direction. Then the firm plan of God’s eternal pleasure is still ours and the world has not thinned out into one miserable worm, a worm into which a Man has shriveled. Then the pattern remains with us, fixed and firm in definite outline; it is the pattern, the form of God’s faithfulness, of His justice, of His one will, of His wrath and love, of righteousness and judgment.

Thus the secret of Gethsemane is pointed out to us, although not at all discovered to us in all of its far-reaching implications.

Now we know that Jesus’ sudden fall from the heights to the depths was as sudden and acute as it was because God began forsaking Him then. My God, my God, why dost Thou begin forsaking Him?

The beginning of Christ’s sorrows coincides with the beginning of God’s departure from Him.

Again the reaction to what the triune God does and does not do is a perfect one.

This is God’s hour to forsake. Up to this time Jesus had to work. He had to administer the Passover, to give the Supper;

He had to deliver prophetic discourses, to perturb Judas, to impel Satan, to wash the feet—He had to give, always to give. As Mediator He had to perform His daily work calmly.

But the clock of God is striking now.

Now the Father thrusts Him into the abyss of perfect long-suffering, thrusts Him back from the luxury of the Mediator’s deed, which gives, into the pain of the Mediator’s forsakenness, which can only cry for help.

Now wrath flares up against Him, for He must know what it means to represent a host of condemned and yet be forsaken of all. God withholds the comfortings of the Spirit, the helpful whisperings of love, the assurances of faith. These He withholds in order that it may become manifest that the Lamb, in spite of His being forsaken, still peers into the darkness, looking for God. To have no voice other than the one voice of the eyes, and with that voice to ask, tremblingly: Where is my God? To be a prophet and to groan with the genuine groanings of all created beings— that is Christ in His awful solitude.

For the present we shall not penetrate farther into these mysteries. Later, when revelation cautiously draws the curtain aside, we shall consider them again.

However, if we are seeking a resting-place for our thoughts now in this consideration of Gethsemane, we must find it in this thought: Any attempt to understand the meaning of Gethsemane is sacrilege and folly unless it discovers the explanation in the almighty God.

Gethsemane is not a field of study for our intellect. It is a sanctuary of our faith.

Gethsemane, knowable to Jesus’ soul and to ours only in reference to God, has a voice for him who can listen. And, because God is its sole interpreter, a radiant light from heaven plays upon the dark obscurity of the garden.

Our feet, now, can stand firm upon the rocks of eternity. In the company of the Word we pass from Christ’s depths to our heights. We know that the change in Christ’s soul-sufferings put no hiatus there; that the one soul which for our lives’ sake must preserve its unity unimpaired responded perfectly to what God in the aw fullest hour sent over it.

Lightning struck this time. But God released the bolt. Gethsemane witnessed the first test of strength. And the record reads: The whirlwind which blew from heaven did not push the Man of sorrows a hairbreadth over the line God had drawn for Him.

At this point our thoughts return to the conclusion of the first chapter of this book. There, too, we observed that a whirlwind blew out of hell but could not prevail against Christ’s equilibrium.

In Gethsemane the whirlwind comes from heaven and beats against Him. But even when God sends the force from heaven the Son of man falls to the ground only in the place where Justice would find Him.

Before we probe farther into the sombrenesses of Gethsemane, we must reverently fold our hands, and say: I thank Thee, Lord, that Thou wast the first to open the way for me into these holy places. I thank Thee that Thou alone dost interpret God to us, through the Word, in Christ. Storms rage, the winds blow, clouds lower, sins scream aloud—but there is an ark. Yes, Lord; see, I go.

The Lord closed the door behind me.

To view things Christocentrically is in the final analysis to· see them theocentrically.

“We all believe in our hearts and confess with our mouth, that there is one God.”

This is for us an awesome but certain beginning. But when Noah discovered that the Lord had closed the door behind him, no one in the ark cared to comment on the necessary ventilation. They held their peace—there, behind the door.