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LUKE xxii. 44.
And being in an agony he prayed more carnestly, and his sweat
was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Our Lord Jesus Christ, in his original nature, was infinitely above all suffering, for he was “ God over all blessed for evermore;" but, when he became man, he was not only capable of suffering, but partook of that nature that is remarkably feeble and exposed to suffering. The human nature, on account of its weakness, is in scripture compared to the grass of the field, which easily withers and decays. So it is compared to a leaf; and to the dry stubble; and to a blast of wind : and the nature of feeble man is said to be but dust and ashes, to have its foundation in the dust, and to be crushed before the moth. It was this nature, with all its weakness and exposedness to sufferings, which Christ, who is the Lord God omnipotent, took upon him. He did not take the human nature on him in its first, most perfect and vigorous state, but in that feeble forlorn state which it is in since the fall; and therefore Christ is called “ a tender plant,” and “a root out of a dry ground.” Isaiah liji. 2. “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness, and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him." Thus, as Christ's principal errand into the world was suffering, so agreeably to that errand, he came with such a nature and in such circumstances as most made way for his suffering ; so his whole life was filled up with suffering, he began to suffer in his infancy, but his suffering increased, the more he drew near to the close of his life. His suffering after his public ministry began, was probably much greater than before; and the latter part of the time of his public ministry seems to have been distinguished by suffering. The longer Christ lived in the world, the more men saw and heard of him, the more they hated him. His enemies were more and more enraged by the continuance of the opposition that he made to their lusts; and the devil having been often baffled by him, grew more and more enraged, and strengthened the battle more and more against him : so that the cloud over Christ's
head grew darker and darker, as long as he lived in the world, till it was in its greatest blackness when he hung upon the cross, and cried out, my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me! Before this, it was exceedingly dark, in the time of his agony in the garden; of which we have an account in the words now read; and wbich I propose to make the subject of my present discourse. The word agony properly signifies an earnest strife, such as is witnessed in wrestling, running, or fighting. And therefore in Luke xiii. 24. “ Strive to enter in at the strait gate : for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able ;' The word in the original, translated strive, is aywuitecos. “ Agonize, to enter in at the strait gate.” The word is especially used for that sort of strife, which in those days was exhibited in the Olympick games, in which mea strove for the mastery in running, wrestling, and other such kinds of exercises; and a prize was set up that was bestowed on the conqueror. Those, who thus contended, were, in the language then in use, said to agonize. Thus the apostle in his epistle to the Christians of Corinth, a city of Greece, where such games were annually exhibited, says in allusion to the strivings of the combatants, “ And every man that striveth for the mastery," in the original, “Every one that agonizeth, is temperate in all things.” The place where those games were held, was called Aywv, or the place of agony; and the word is particularly used in scripture for that striving in earnest prayer wherein persons wrestle with God: they are said to agonize, or to be in agony, in prayer.
So the word is used Rom. xv. 30. “ Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me:" in the original cuvayuvibcodul pol, that ye agonize together with me. So Colos. iv. 12. “Always labouring fervently for you in prayer, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God :" in the original aywviçwv, agonizing for you. So that when it is said in the text that Christ was in an agony, the meaning is that his soul was in a great and earnest strife and conflict. It was so in two respects :
1. As his soul was in a great and sore conflict with those terrible and amazing views and apprehensions which he then had.
2. As he was at the same time in great labour and earnest strife with God in
prayer. I propose therefore, in discoursing on the subject of Christ's agony, distinctly to unfold it, under these two propositions,
1. That the soul of Christ in his agony in the garden had a sore conflict with those terrible and amazing views, and apprehensions, of which he was then the subject.
II. That the soul of Christ in bis agony in the garden had a great and earnest labour and struggle with God in prayer.
I. The soul of Christ in his agony in the garden had a sore conflict with those terrible amazing views and apprehensions, of which he was then the subject.
In illustrating this proposition I shall endeavour to show, 1. What those views and apprehensions were.
2. That the conflict or agony of Christ's soul was occasioned by those views and apprehensions.
3. That this conflict was peculiarly great and distressing; and
4. What we may suppose to be the special design of God in giving Christ those terrible views and apprehensions, and causing him to suffer that dreadful conflict, before he was crucified.
I proposed to show
First. What were those terrible views and amazing apprehensions which Christ had in his agony. This may be explained by considering,
1. The cause of those views and apprehensions; and 2. The manner in which they were ihen experienced.
1. The cause of those views and apprehensions, which Christ had in his agony in the garden, was the bitter cup which he was soon after to drink on the cross. The sufferings which Christ underwent in bis agony in the garden, were not his greatest sufferings; though they were so very great. But his last sufferings upon the cross, were his principal sufferings; and therefore they are called “the cup that he had to drink.” The sufferings of the cross, under which he was slain, are always in the scriptures represented as the main sufferings of Christ; those in which especially “he bare our sins in his own body,” and made atonement for sin. His enduring the cross, his humbling himself, and becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, is spoken of as the main thing wherein his sufferings appeared. This is the cup that Christ had set before him in his agony. It is manifest, that Christ had this in view at this time, from the prayers which he then offered. According to Matthew, Christ made three prayers that evening, while in the garden of Gethsemane, and all on this one subject, the bitter cup that he was to drink. Of the first, we have an account in Matt. xxvi. 39. “And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will but as thou wilt:" of the second in the 42d verse, “ He went away again the second time and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass from me, except 1 drink it, thy will be done:” and of the third in the 44th verse, “ And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words." From this it plainly appears what it was of which Christ had such terrible views and apprehensions at that time. What he thus insists on in his prayers, shows on what his mind was so deeply intent. It was his sufferings on the cross, which were to be endured the next day, when there should be darkness over all the earth, and at the same time a deeper darkness over the soul of Christ, of which he had now such lively views and distressing apprehensions.
2. The manner in which this bitter cup was now set in Christ's view.
(1.) He had a lively apprehension of it impressed at that time on his mind. He had an apprehension of the cop that he was to drink before. His principal errand into the world was to drink that cup, and he therefore was never unthoughtsul of it, but always bore it in his mind, and often spoke of it to his disciples. Thus Matthew xvi. 21. “From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” Again ch. xx. 17, 18, 19. “And Jesus going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them, behold we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death. And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge, and to crucily him: and the third day he shall rise again.” The same thing was the subject of conversation on the Mount with Moses and Elias when he was transfigured. So he speaks of his bloody baptism, Luke xii. 50. “But I have a baptism to be baptized with ; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! He speaks of it again to Zebedee's children, Matthew xx. 22. “Are ye are able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able." He spake of his being lifted up. John viii. 28. “ Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things." John xii. 34. “The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man?" So he spake of destroying the temple of his body, John ii. 19. “Jesus answered, and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." And he was very much in speaking of it a little before his agony in his dying counsels to his disciples in the 12th and 13th ch. of John. Thus this was not the first time that Christ had this bitter cup in his view. On the contrary, he seems always to have had it in view. But it seems that at ihis time God gave him an extraordinary view of it. A sense of that wrath that was to be poured out upon him, and of those amazing sufferings that he was to undergo, was strongly impressed on his mind by the immediate power of God; so that he had far more full and lively apprehensions of the bitterness of the cup which he was to drink than he ever had before, and these apprehensions were so terrible, that his feeble human nature shrunk at the sight and was ready to sink.
2. The cup of bitterness was now represented as just at hand. He had not only a more clear and lively view of it than before; but it was now set directly before him, that he might without delay take it up and drink it; for then, within that same hour, Judas was to come with bis band of men, and he was then to deliver up himself into their hands to the end that he might drink this cup the next day; unless indeed he refused to take it, and so made his escape from that place where Judas would come; which he had opportunity enough to do if he had been so minded. Having thus shown what those terrible views and apprehensions were which Christ had in the time of his agony; I shall endeavour to show,
II. That the conflict which the soul of Christ then endured was occasioned by those views and apprehensions. The sorrow and distress which his soul then suffered arose from that lively and full and immediate view which he had then given him of that cup of wrath; by which God the Father did as it were set the cup down before him, for him to take it and drink it. Some have inquired, what was the occasion of that distress and agony, and many speculations there have been about it, but the account which the scripture itself gives us is sufficiently full in this matter, and does not leave room for speculation or doubt. The thing that Christ's mind was so full of at that time was without doubt the same with that which his mouth was so full of: it was the dread which his feeble human nature had of that dreadful cup, which was vastly more terrible than Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace. He had then a near view of that furnace of wrath, into which he was to be cast; he was brought to the mouth of the furnace that he might look into it, and stand, and view its raging flames, and see the glowings of its heat, that he might know where he was going and what he was about to suffer. This was the thing that filled his soul with sorrow and darkness, this terrible sight as it were overwhelmed him. For what was that human nature of Christ to such mighty wrath as this ? it was in itself without the supports of God, but a feeble worm of the dust, a thing that was crushed before the moth, none of God's children ever had such a cup set before them, as this first being of every creature had. But not to dwell any Jonger on this, I hasten to show
III. That the conflict in Christ's soul, in this view of his last sufferings, was dreadful, beyond all expression or conception. This will appear
1. From what is said of its dreadfulness in the history. By one evangelist we are told (Matthew xxvi. 37.) “He began to be sor