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desperation, which burst forth in the words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!" For an instant his agony was intolerable. Still even his momentary despair is expressed in the devout language of scripture. These words are the commencement of one of the Psalms.
The sharp paroxysm of pain appears to have been soon succeeded by a feeling of relief, and life began rapidly to ebb away. At this moment he exclaimed, “It is finished," or ‘it is over. This exclamation is sometimes interpreted in too formal a manner, as if Jesus referred to the completion of his great mission, whereas it is more natural and simple to suppose that he alluded to the excruciating pain he had just suffered. His last words were, “ Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” With this expression of filial trust, his head fell and he expired.
Thus died the Man of Nazareth, not with stoical insensibility, but with natural indications of the extremest suffering. Who does not prize his expressions of forgiveness, filial affection, and piety, more deeply, as bursting from a heart palpitating and almost broken with mortal agonies, than if he had maintained a stony indifference, or exhibited the demeanor of one steeled by a peculiar temperament or a stern purpose against the betrayal of the least sign of suffering ? In the latter case we could not have had a manifestation of character at once so elevated, and yet so perfectly natural. We could hardly have avoided the impression of something forced and artificial. It would have seemed as if he were actuated by some sentiment of human honour,
HE DID NOT SUFFER LONG ON THE CROSS.
or some desire to triumph over his tormenters, and baffle their malice. He did triumph over them gloriously. But then his victory was the more complete, his glory the more signal, on this very account, even because he never struggled for victory over men, never sought the faintest shadow of human glory. He was influenced by no narrow reference to human standards of thought and judgment. He felt and spoke and acted under no constraint. To every deep feeling of his heart he gave free expression. When he suffered, he showed that he suffered. And though his whole soul is laid bare, and we see that his agony was extreme, we discover no trace of fear. His emotions were natural, but never unworthy of him, and his predominant feelings were of the most generous and exalted character. For my own part, I could more easily doubt the plainest evidence of my senses, than the reality of the scene which I have now briefly reviewed, and from which I gather so vivid and consistent an impression of the most perfect beauty and the most perfect nature, without any design apparent on the part of the historian to produce this impression.
Jesus breathed his last very soon, in a few hours after he was fastened to the cross. It was not unusual for persons in that horrible situation to survive for days. It was natural, therefore, that Pilate should be surprised at the speedy termination of the sufferings of Jesus. But when we consider all the probable circumstances of the case, it can hardly surprise us that the vital principle was so soon extinguished. I cannot but believe that there was the greatest physical
WOMAN! BEHOLD! THY SON !" 251 difference between Jesus and those who usually suffered death by crucifixion. The latter were generally men of the lowest description, of a coarse, rugged temperament; while with the thought of Jesus is naturally associated in the mind the idea of an almost feminine susceptibility. As I have more than once had occasion to observe, the whole tenour of Christianity intimates as much. But the acuteness of his sensibility to pain is explicitly shown in the accounts of his death. How fearful and overpowering were his agonies, that cry of his, “ My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!" proves very clearly. The generous affection, the filial love particularly, to which he gave expression on the cross, reveals the depth of his sensibilities. I beg to observe by the way, that the full beauty of the incident to which I now allude, the manifestation of his concern for his mother, does not appear to have been perceived. In our version the
passage runs thus: “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother!" But the slightest glance at the original shows that the words of Jesus were,
66 Woman! behold! thy son!” and when he spoke to John, “Behold! thy mother!” The difference between the two readings is more important than it may at first seem. The reading of the common version presents us with a complete sentence, while in the original the utterance of Jesus appears to be broken and ejaculatory. In this case, there is a fine and touching accordance between the brief imperfect mode of expression, and 252 THAT HE DID NOT EXPIRE SOONER, REMARKABLE. the physical condition of the speaker—a condition of mortal agony. Parched with thirst, and almost in the very pains of death, he was able to utter himself only briefly, and at intervals, and to signify his affectionate wishes with regard to his mother, by a word or two, which he accompanied, possibly by a look, or an inclination of the head, or some slight movement, such as his confined and agonizing posture allowed, relying upon the quick-conceiving affections of his mother and John to make out his meaning. The noise and the crowd may have required a considerable effort of voice from Jesus, to make himself heard by his mother and John, who probably were not able to approach very near the cross. There is an impression of deliberation and formality produced by the common and erroneous reading of this
which does not correspond so naturally with the circumstances. How profound must have been the sensibility of that heart, whose filial affection the distracting pangs of a most terrible death could not quench ! It is impossible that one so constituted could have long endured such fearful sufferings.
When I consider the character of Jesus, his astonishing elevation of mind, his lofty aims, his laborious life ; when I think how successfully he sustained himself, at a point where the tremendously exciting circumstances, to which he was almost every hour exposed, could not reach him, I cannot but feel that all the energies of his physical temperament, were it of the most finely organized character, must have been tasked to the uttermost. The real ground of surprise, I am persuaded, is, not that he died so soon after
THE REALITY OF HIS DEATH.
253 being suspended upon the Cross, but that he did not expire sooner. Nay, we may almost wonder that he lived to be crucified. With a nature singularly fitted to find strength and satisfaction and happiness in this world, in human aids and supports, he lived deprived of all these. Once and again, the thought of his peculiar destiny, elevating as it usually was, seems almost to have overpowered him. The dreadful baptism, as he termed it, which he was about to go through—how did he long to have it over! Consider, too, how much he had suffered, just before his crucifixion. The night before, in the garden, the agony
of his mind was so exhausting, that as he himself said, it seemed to him as if he should die—as if he could not live. Recollect the brutal treatment to which he was exposed, at the house of the High Priest,—and then again at the rough and savage hands of the Roman soldiers ! He had bled, too, beneath the tortures of the Roman scourge, an instrument of pain so severe, that ancient authors pronounce it horrible.* How greatly he was exhausted, the circumstance that another was seized and compelled to carry his cross for him, intimates very probably. This would hardly have been allowed, if the appearance of Jesus, weak and fainting, had not awakened in the minds of the Roman soldiers the fear that he might die, and that so they might be disappointed of their barbarous sport.
Bearing all these things in mind, I cannot wonder that he lived upon the cross only a few hours. And
* See Wakefield on Matthew, who quotes Horace, and refers to Juvenal.