"Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder." -- Matt. xxvi.36.
Gethsemane can I forget? Or there Thy conflict see, Thine agony and bloody sweat, -- And not remember Thee?
"THEN cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane," says Matthew, who was one of them. "And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the Mount of Olives," says Mark. "And He came out," writes Luke, "and went, as He was wont, to the Mount of Olives; and His disciples also followed Him." And then, John, who also was one of them, has it thus: "When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which He entered, and His disciples. And Judas also, which betrayed Him, knew the place; for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with His disciples." Where our version says "a place called Gethsemane," the Vulgate version has "a villa": while the Rheims version has in Matthew "a country place," and in Mark "a farm" -- "a farm called Gethsemane." Now, there was in Gethsemane a garden, and the owner of that garden had given our Lord full permission to come and go in that garden when and where He pleased. Make yourself at home in my garden, said the owner of Gethsemane to our Lord; and He did so. "It was His wont to go out to that garden," says one of the evangelists. "He ofttimes resorted thither," says another.
When he is leading his readers up to all this, Luke, with his practised pen, has two verses that throw a flood of light on the whole of that Passover week, so full of preaching and of prayer. "And in the daytime He was teaching in the temple; and at night He went out, and abode in the mount that is called the Mount of Olives. And all the people came early in the morning to Him in the temple, for to hear Him." We have some of the sermons of that Passover week preserved to this day in the 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th of Matthew; and terrible sermons they must have been. They are sufficiently terrible to read to this day: and what must they have been to hear that week, and to hear from the lips of the Lamb! So terrible was His preaching that Passover week that it did more than anything else to bring matters to a head, and to a last issue, between the preacher and His enemies. If true preaching does not subdue us, it is sure to exasperate us. The better the preaching is, the more it is either a savour of life or a savour of death to him who hears it. "This was but a matter of seven days before He was crucified," says Dr. Thomas Goodwin, one of the savouriest of the Puritan preachers. "For, Christ when He saw that He must die, and that now His time was come, He wore His body out: He cared not, as it were, what became of Him: He wholly spent Himself in preaching all day, and in praying all night": preaching in the temple those terrible parables, and praying in the garden such prayers as the 17th of John, and "Thy will be done!" even to a bloody sweat.
"And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and He saith to His disciples, sit ye here, while I shall pray. And He taketh with Him Peter and James and John. . . . And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's-cast, and kneeled down, and prayed." Now, if you knew to a certainty that your last agony was to come upon you this Sabbath night; if all your past sins were this very night to find you out, and to be laid of God and man upon you -- before morning -- how many of us would you take with you? Christ took His eleven disciples -- but He soon saw that they were far too many. Till He selected three, and said to the rest, "Tarry ye here." Who of us, and how many of us would you send for to-night, if you know to a certainty that the wine-cup of the wrath of God was to be put into your hands to-night? Would you take your minister and your elder, and who else to make up the three? John Knox took his wife and said to her, "Read to me that Scripture on which I first cast my anchor." Have you a wife, or a mother, or a brother, or a friend who sticketh closer to you than your brother, whom you could let come within a stone's-cast of your soul, when your agony was upon you? No. Not one. We should all have to stand back when the heaviness and the exceeding sorrow, and the amazement and the great agony came, and the bloody sweat.
Down to Gehenna, and up to the throne, He travels the fastest, who travels alone.
"And He began to be sorrowful, and very heavy," says Matthew. But the second of the four Evangelists, with those wonderful eyes of his, says a still more startling thing. "He began to be sore amazed" is Mark's inexpressibly striking contribution to this awful, this absolutely unfathomable history. Our words, our very best words -- even the words in which the Holy Ghost teaches us -- all fail us here. The best and the most expressive of our words do not come near describing our Lord in anything He was, or in anything He did. When our Lord "began to be sore amazed and very heavy," it was not such a beginning as ours even is. He began: that is, He took a deliberate step: He performed a deliberate act: He, of His own accord, opened the doors of His soul: He poured in on His own soul, He let pour, in all the unutterable woe of that unutterably woeful night. We set ourselves, with all our might, to see and to feel just what it was that our Lord both did, and endured, that dreadful night: but we give up the effort utterly baffled. "It is too high, and we cannot attain to it." We cannot wade out into all the waves of woe that went over His soul that night and that morning. We need not try it -- for we cannot do it. He trod the wine-press alone; and of the people there was none with Him. We should need to be both God and man, as He was: we should need to be the Lamb of God, as he was: we should need to be "made sin," as He was -- before we could possibly understand in what way "He began to be sorrowful and very heavy." The second Evangelist far surpasses all the rest, and he far surpasses himself, in his extraordinarily bolt and soul-piercing word -- "He began to be sore amazed." Luther declared that, to him, these words of Mark about our Lord were the most astonishing words in the whole Bible. And that saying of Luther's is to me a sure measure of the greatness and the freshness of the Reformer's mind and heart. Speaking for myself, -- I have not come on any word in the Bible that has more both invited and then utterly baffled me to bottom than just this word "amazed." I cannot see my Lord's human soul as I here seem to be invited in to see it. I cannot picture to my mind His experience at that supreme moment. What was it that so "amazed" our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane? What was there that could begin to so sore amaze Him to whom all things were naked and open? There was nothing that could so sore amaze the Son of God, but only one thing. And that one thing was sin. It was sin "laid upon Himself" till He was "made sin." Sin is so unspeakably evil, and so unspeakably awful in its evil, that it "sore amazed," and struck down, as to death and hell, the very Son of God Himself. He had been "amazed" enough at sin before now. He had seen sin making angels of heaven into devils of hell. And He had seen sin making men, made in the image of God, to be the prey and the spoil, and the dwelling-places, and the companions, of devils. He had seen and He had studied all His days the whole malice and wickedness of the heart of man. It had been amazement and horror enough to stand and see deceit and envy and pride, and all of that kind, as He describes it in terrible words, "coming out of the heart" of man. But it was a new thing to our Lord to have all that poured in upon Himself. To be made sin "amazed" our Lord; it absolutely overwhelmed Him, -- cast Him into "an agony": it loaded Him and sickened Him, and slew Him, down to death and hell. A terror at sin and a horror: a terror and a horror at Himself -- to absolute stupefaction -- took possession of our Lord's soul when He was made sin. The only thing anywhere at all like His amazement and heaviness, and exceeding sorrow and anguish, is the amazement and the heaviness, and exceeding sorrow and utter anguish of God's saints; when, in their life of highest holiness and most heavenly service, they, at the same time, both see and feel that they are still "made of sin," as Andrewes has it. Their utter stupefaction of soul as they see all hell opening and pouring up its bottomless wickedness all over their soul, -- that is to taste something of what is behind of the amazement" of Christ. That is to drink of His cup: that is to be baptized with His baptism. It was SIN, and it was sin on and in that so amazed and agonised our Lord. Take away all its terrible wages: take away its sure and full discovery and exposure: take away its dreadful remorse: take away both the first and the second death: take away the day of judgment and the fire that is not quenched, -- all which is the mere froth of the cup, -- take away all that, and leave pure SIN: leave pure, essential, unadulterated SIN, -- what the apostle so masterfully calls "the sinfulness of sin." Conceive that, if you have the imagination. Look at that, if your eyes have been sufficiently anointed. Taste that, if your tongue is sufficiently tender and strong. Carry about that, continually, in a broken, prayerful, holy heart -- and you, of all men, are within a stone's-cast of Christ in the garden: you are too near, indeed, for mortal man to endure it long: if you remain long there you will need an angel from heaven to strengthen you.
It was not His approaching death. Death and all its terrors did not much move, did not much disconcert, did not much discompose our Lord. He went up to meet His death with a calmness and with a peacefulness of mind, with a stateliness and with a serenity of soul that confounded the Roman centurion, and almost converted the Governor himself. No. It was not death: it was SIN. It was that in which our mother conceived us: it was that which we drink up like water. It was that which we are full of, from the sole of the foot even to the head. It was that which never cost us an hour's sleep. It was that which never caused us -- it may be -- a single moment of pain, or shame, or amazement of soul. It was SIN. It was hell-fire in His soul. It was the coals, and the oil, and the rosin, and the juniper, and the turpentine of the fire that is not quenched. "The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me. I found trouble and sorrow."
"We know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. . . . I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. . . . Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? . . . For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other." That was not our Lord's amazement and agony: but that is as near our Lord's amazement and agony as any sinner can ever come. Are you able to drink of My cup, and to be baptized with My baptism? -- Christ says to every true disciple of His, as He leads him down into the Gethsemane of his sanctification. Till, as his true sanctification -- so very heavy, so exceeding sorrowful, so sore amazing -- goes on, that man of God enters into the "fellowship of the sufferings of Christ"; to a depth of pain and shame and tears and blood, that has to be hid away with Christ among the wine-presses and the crosses and the graves of the garden. For he -- this elect soul -- wrestles not any more with flesh and blood, but with principalities, and with powers, and with spiritual wickednesses, in the high places of his own soul.
"Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? . . . Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the wine-fat?" The hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint as he wrestled with the angel. But with all that, there is one here greater than our father Jacob. Jacob halted on his thigh indeed, as he passed over Peniel. But our Lord's sweat with His agony was, as it were, great drops of blood falling to the ground. When the light of their lanterns shone on the dyed garments of the betrayed Man, who came to meet them, the Roman soldiers fell back. They had never before bound such a prisoner as that. There is no swordstroke that they can see upon Him; and yet His hands and His head and His beard are all full of blood. What a coat was that for which the soldiers cast their lots! It was without seam, but, -- all the nitre and soap they could wash it with, -- the blood of the garden and of the pillar was so marked upon it, that it would not come out of it. What became, I wonder, of that "dyed" garment? and all that "red apparel"?
If you have tears, prepare to shed them now. You all do know this mantle: I remember The first time Caesar ever put it on; Twas on a summer evening, in his tent, That day he overcame the Nervii: -- Look, in this place ran Cassius' dagger through: See what a rent the envious Casca made: Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabbed; And, as he plucked his cursed steel away, Mark, how the blood of Caesar followed it, . . . Then burst his mighty heart: And, in his mantle muffling up his face, -- Even at the base of Pompey's statue, Which all the while ran blood -- great Caesar fell. O, what a fall was there, my countrymen! . . . Now let it work.
And as Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, he lifted up the seamless robe he knew so well: and, spreading it out in all its rents and all its bloodspots, he charged his hearers, and said: "Him ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain. . . . Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ."
"O piteous spectacle! O noble Caesar! O woeful day! O most bloody sight! Most noble Caesar, we'll revenge His death! O royal Caesar! Here was a Caesar! When comes such another? Now let it work!"
And, one way it will surely work is this, -- to teach us to pray, as He prayed. "And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place," -- most probably Gethsemane, -- "when He ceased, one of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, teach us to pray!"
1. Our blessed Lord had "a place" of prayer that He was wont to retire to, till even Judas knew the place. We should have said that the Son of God did not need retirement and seclusion and secrecy in order to seek and find His Father. We should have said that He did not need our aids, and instruments, and appliances, and means of grace. He was always "in the spirit." He was always collected, and disposed, and heavenly-minded. And yet, for reasons of His own, our Lord had a closed-in place of His own, -- an olive-tree, a wine-press, a stone's-cast out of sight, where He sought and found His Father.
2. The wrestlers in the ancient lists went and practised themselves on the spot where they were to-morrow to close with their enemy. They went down into the arena alone. They looked around. They looked up at the seats where the spectators would sit. They looked up at the throne in which Caesar would sit. They looked well at the iron door at which their enemy would come in. They felt their flesh. They exercised their joints. They threw, and were thrown, in imagination. And the victory was won before the day of their agony came. Pray much beside and upon your bed, my brethren. You will die, as you hope, in your bed. Well, make it, and yourself, ready. "Forefancy" the last enemy. Have your harness in repair. Feel the edge of your sword. Aye; cross the Kedron sometimes, and stand beside your fast-opening grave, and read your name on the cold stone. For,
The arrow seen beforehand slacks its flight.
3. And our last lesson in this: Non multa, sed multum, that is to say, "One thing is needful." The cup! the cup! the cup! Our Lord did not use many words: but He used His few words again and again, till, this cup! and Thy will! -- Thy will be done, and this cup -- was all His prayer. Cato the Censor, -- it did not matter what he was speaking about in the Senate house, or what bill was upon the table -- ended every speech of his with the same gesture, and with the same defiant exclamation, -- Delenda est Carthago! "The cup!" "The cup!" "The cup!" cried Christ: first on His feet: and then on His knees: and then on His face. "Avenge me of mine adversary!" cried the widow. "Avenge me of mine adversary! Avenge me of mine adversary!" And, O God! this day, from this day forward, avenge us of ours! Our one and only enemy is sin. Delenda, avenge!
Lord, teach us to pray.
Now let it work!