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HIS AGONY IN THE GARDEN.
Thus we are not only explicitly told that he was in an agony, but in going away by himself and returning to his friends, as he did again and again, it seems to me a state of mind is disclosed almost bordering on distraction. He turned repeatedly from man to God — from heaven to earth, seeking some relief, some support amidst the horrors that environed him, and, for a while, seeking it in vain.
Here, surely, is a revelation of human weakness. This passage in the life of Jesus has given occasion not only to the captious and cavilling, but even to some serious and well-disposed minds to question his fortitude, and deny him that perfectness of character which his followers have ascribed to him. Comparisons unfavourable to him have been suggested between him and the Grecian sage, who drank the deadly hemlock without the least agitation. And Christians, it would appear, from their far-fetched explanations of this portion of the history, have been greatly embarrassed by it. It is common to say that the agony
of Jesus in the garden arose from his having then the sins of the whole world laid upon him. In this account of his suffering, there is a pretty distinct figure of speech, and that is all. But it has proved sufficient
* It really pains me to hear it asked, as it has been often, how the disciples could have seen what Jesus did, if, as they say, they were asleep; it is so easy and natural in common candour to suppose that when Jesus approached they awoke, and, when he went aside, they observed him for a few moments, and then their drowsiness returned. Instead of suggesting such captious queries, it becomes us to admire the unsuspecting confidence of the narrators, who were unable to conceive that any one could be so narrow-so devoid of candour, as not to supply the necessary explanations.
THE FACT MERELY STATED IN THE GOSPELS.
to satisfy those who go not beyond words, if they are only put together with grammatical propriety. truth, a greater absurdity could hardly be fabricated. It is scarcely necessary to say that there is not a whisper of any such theory of the facts, nor indeed of any explanation of them whatever. The circumstances are given with the utmost simplicity. They are not put together in a shape to indicate any particular solution. They show no design on the part of the narrators to make out a case one way or another. So possessed do they appear with one simple object, namely, a narration of facts, that, so far from being on their guard against unfavourable impressions, the thought of misconstruction seems never to have occurred to them. They place Jesus before us in the greatest agony, and leave us no way of accounting for it, but by resolving it into the dread and anguish produced by the prospect of death, and its attendant horrors. The reality of this scene of suffering alone accounts for its being narrated. Had the historians been any other than the truest and most singlehearted of men, had they been conscious of any feeling but that calm and perfect confidence which truth alone can produce, they would have omitted these passages, as they might have done very easily. Can we discern such manifest inspiration—the inspiration of the Spirit of Truth—and not have every doubt superseded by a living faith?
At first view, the agony of Jesus at the thought of the terrible death that awaited him, may seem to indicate a great want of fortitude. But candidly meditated, it discloses the unparalleled greatness of
THE MOST NATURAL ACCOUNT his character. 0 compare him not with Socrates ! The Grecian philosopher was an old man, meeting death in a form comparatively mild and easy. The peasant of Judea was in the bloom of life, and a fate peculiarly excruciating and ignominious was before him. The former was surrounded by adoring, idolizing friends, who felt with him and for him, and so helped to inspire him with the requisite strength. When a man feels that there are those about him who enter into his spirit, and understand and honour his purposes, and applaud him for what he is doing, be they few or many, they become all the world to him, and they communicate to him, unconsciously it may be, a world of spiritual force; such are the mysterious sympathies that connect man with man. And such was the support of the Athenian philosopher. But the Man of Nazareth had no human aids. With a nature of almost feminine tenderness-a heart all alive and glowing with the most generous affections, yearning towards humanity with a more than fraternal interest, he had not a single being on earth to whom he could unbosom himself. It is true there were those around him who were warmly attached to him. But they understood not the great object for which he had lived, and for which he was about to die. So far as that was concerned, the dear and sacred purpose of his being, they were to him no more than the dumb brute, who, with blind affection, follows his master. I might almost say they were less, for sympathy could not be looked for from the brute. To them it was all darkness and mystery. Jesus stood alone in the world in the profoundest sense. Peculiarly constituted to
OF THE AGONY IN THE GARDEN.
appreciate human sympathy and to be sustained by it, he saw that this prop was stricken away from beneath him. Every earthly source of strength and encouragement was closed against him. He was to suffer, suffer fearfully and alone, without having been able to make a single human being so far understand what he was to suffer for, as to derive comfort and support therefrom. To the very last, his nearest friends misconceived his purpose altogether; as the contention which arose among them at the Last Supper showed only too plainly. It was, I believe, this utter loneliness that constituted the peculiar severity of his trial. Here was the bitterness of death. This it was, that made the still and lonely hour of midnight, just before his crucifixion, the hour when the soul is left to itself, undistracted by external sights and sounds, so awful to him.* Human sympathy surrounds and sustains a man insensibly. It is like the unfelt pressure of the atmosphere, or the force of gravitation.
Had Jesus, therefore, been otherwise than most deeply affected by the circumstances in which he was placed, I confess I should have painfully felt that there was in his character a want of sensibility. It might then have been suspected that his mind was in a state of unnatural excitement—that it was deriving its
* “ Truly night was made for sleep ; since to its wakeful hours belongs an oppression unknown to the very dreariest hours of day. The stillness is so deep, the solitude so unbroken, the fever brought on by want of rest so weakens the nerves, that the imagination exercises despotic and unwholesome power, till, if the heart have a fear or sorrow, up it arises in all the force and terror of gigantic exaggeration.''-Anon.
HIS AGONY IN THE GARDEN.
strength from some stimulus provided by a diseased imagination—that he saw things around him not as they were, but in some false light. The agony he suffered satisfies me that the fortitude that followed it, was the pure, unadulterated quality, without any earthly admixture. The calmness which others have shown in dying, may have been produced by no higher cause
mere sentiment of honour, more disguised. But in Jesus, I am now convinced that the composure, which, it cannot be denied after all, he did habitually exhibit to an astonishing degree, was not a matter of temperament, or of an excited imagination, but the offspring of the purest and most elevated spirituality. He saw his condition in all its horrors, nay, he felt them acutely, and in agony of spirit, and yet—and yet he went calmly forward, and did and suffered all that was necessary. He presented himself on that memorable night, with a demeanour so collected and so dignified before the persons who came to seize him, that they were for a moment overawed, and, like the soldier sent to assassinate Marius, they shrunk back unable for awhile to lay hands on him. Utter insensibility to pain is scarcely anything more than a physical quality. True fortitude is that virtue which a man exhibits amidst the consciousness of great suffering. He who shudders at death, and is overcome by the thought of pain, and yet for some generous purpose exposes himself to both, awakens in the mind a far deeper sentiment of power, than he who shows himself wholly unaffected by these things.
Such, briefly, are some of the considerations which