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CONTEMPLATION XXXII.

THE CRUCIFIXION.

The sentence of death is passed, and now who can with dry eyes behold the sad pomp of my Saviour's bloody execution ? All the streets are full of gazing spectators, waiting for this rueful sight. At last, o Saviour, there thou comest out of Pilate's gate, bearing that which shall soon bear thee. To expect thy cross was not torment enough: thou must carry it. All this while thou shalt not only see, but feel thy death before it come, and must help to be an agent in thine own passion. It was not out of favour that, those scornful robes being stripped off, thou art led to death in thine own clothes. So was thy face besmeared with blood, so swoln and discoloured with buffetings, that thou couldst not have been known but by thy wonted habit. Now thine insulting enemies are so much more imperiously cruel, as they are more sure of their success. Their merciless tormentings have made thee half dead already; yet now as if they had done nothing, they begin afresh, and will force thy weakened and fainting nature to new tasks of pain. The transverse of thy cross, at least, is upon thy shoulder; when thou canst scarce go, thou must carry. One kicks thee with his foot, another strikes thee with his staff, another drags thee hastily by thy cord, and more than one spur on thine unpitied weariness with angry commands of haste. Oh true form and state of a servant! All thy former actions, O Saviour, were, though painful, yet free; this, as it is in itself servile, so it is tyrannously enforced ; enforced yet more upon thee by thy own love to mankind, than by their power and despite. It was thy Father thať "laid upon thee the iniquity of us all :" it was thine own mercy that caused thee to bear our sins upon the cross, and to bear the cross, with the curse annexed

VOL. III.

X

to it, for our sins. How much more voluntary must that needs be in thee, which thou requirest to be voluntarily undertaken by us! It was thy charge, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” Thou didst not say, Let him bear his cross as forcibly imposed by another: but, “Let him take up his cross,' as his free burden ; free in respect of his heart, not in respect of his hand ; so free, that he shall willingly undergo it, when it is laid upon him, not so free as that he shall lay it upon himself unrequired. 0 Saviour, thou didst not snatch the cross out of the soldiers' hands, and cast it upon thy shoulder, but, when they laid it upon thy neck, thou underwentest it. The constraint was theirs, the will was thine. It was not so heavy to them, or to Simon, as it was to thee; they felt nothing but the wood, thou feltest it clogged with the load of the sins of the whole world. No marvel if thou faintedst under that sad burden; thou that bearest up the whole earth by thy word, didst sweat and pant and groan under this insupportable carriage. O blessed Jesu, how could I be confounded in myself to see thee, after so much loss of blood, and over-toiledness of pain, languishing under that fatal tree! and yet, why should it more trouble me to see thee sinking under thy cross now, than to see thee anon hanging upon thy cross? In both thou wouldst render thyself weak and miserable, that thou mightest so much the more glorify thy infinite mercy in suffering.

It is not out of any compassion of thy misery, or care of thine ease, that Simon of Cyrene is forced to be the porter of thy cross; it was out of their own eagerness of thy dispatch: thy feeble paces were too slow for their purpose ; their thirst after thy blood made them impatient of delay. If thou have wearily struggled with the burden of thy shame all along the streets of Jerusalem, when thou comest once past the gates, a helper shall be deputed to thee : the expedition of thy death was more sweet to them than the pain of a lingering passage.

What thou saidst to Judas, they say to the executioner, “What thou doest, do quickly." While thou yet livest, they cannot be quiet, they cannot be safe : to hasten thine end they lighten thy carriage.

Hadst thou done this out of choice, which thou didst out of constraint, how I should have envied thee, O Simon of Cyrene, as too happy in the honour to be the first man that bore that cross of thy Saviour, wherein millions of blessed martyrs have, since that time, been ambitious to succeed thee. Thus to bear thy cross for thee, O Saviour, was more than to bear a crown from thee. Could I be worthy to be thus graced by thee, I should pity all other glories.

While thou thus passest, О dear Jesu, the streets and ways

resound not all with one note. If the malicious Jews and cruel soldiers insulted upon thee, and either hailed or railed on thee with a bitter violence, thy faithful followers were no less loud in their moans and ejaculations; neither would they endure, that the noise of their cries and lamentations should be drowned with the clamour of those reproaches : but especially thy blessed mother, and those other zealous associates of her own sex, were most passionate in their wailings. And why should I think that all that devout multitude, which so lately cried Hosanna in the streets, did not also bear their part in these public condolings? Though it had not concerned thyself, O Saviour, thine ears had been still more open to the voice of grief than of malice: and so thy lips also are open to the one, shut to the other: "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children." Who would not have thought, O Saviour, that thou shouldst have been wholly taken up

with thine own sorrows? The expectation of so bitter a death had been enough to have overwhelmed any soul but thine: yet even now can thy gracious eye find time to look beyond thine own miseries, at theirs ; and to pity them, who insensible of their own ensuing condition, mourned for thine now present. They see thine extremity, thou foreseest theirs; they pour out their sorrow upon thee, thou divertest it upon themselves. We, silly creatures, walk blindfolded in this vale of tears, and little know what evil is towards us: only what we feel we know; and while we feel nothing, can find leisure to bestow our commiseration on those who need it, perhaps, less than ourselves. Even now, O Saviour, when thou art within the view of thy Calvary, thou canst foresee and pity the devastation of thy Jerusalem, and givest a sad prophecy of the imminent destruction of that city which lately cost thee tears, and now shall cost thee blood. It is not all the indign cruelty of men that can rob thee of thy mercy.

Jerusalem could not want malefactors, though Barabbas was dismissed. That all this execution might seem to be done out of the zeal of justice, two capital offenders, adjudged to their gibbet, shall accompany thee, O Saviour, both to thy death and in it. They are led manacled after thee, as less criminous : no stripes had disabled them from bearing their own crosses. Long ago was this unmeet society foretold by thine evangelical seer, “He was taken from prison and from judgment; he was cut out of the land of the living; he made his grave with the wicked.” 0 blessed Jesu, it had been disparagement enough to thee to be sorted with the best of men, since there is much sin in the perfectest, and there could be no sin in thee; but to be matched with the scum of mankind, whom vengeance would not let live, is such an indignity as confounds my thoughts. Surely there is no angel in heaven, but would have been proud to attend thee; and what could the earth afford worthy of thy train ? yet malice hath suited thee with company next to hell

, that their viciousness might reflect upon thee, and their sin might stain thine innocence. Ye are deceived, 0 ye fond judges: this is the way to grace your dying malefactors ; this is not the way to disgrace him whose guiltlessness and perfection triumphed over your injustice: his presence was able to make your thieves happy; their presence could no more blemish him than your own. Thus guarded, thus attended, thus accompanied art thou, blessed Jesu, led to that loathsome and infamous hill, which now thy last blood shall make sacred: now thou settest thy foot upon that rising ground which shall prevent thine Olivet, whence thy soul shall first ascend into thy glory.

There, while thou art addressing thyself for thy last act, thou art presented with that bitter and farewell potion wherewith dying malefactors were wont to have their senses stupified, that they might not feel the torments of their execution. It was but the common mercy of men to alleviate the death of offenders ; since the intent of their last doom is not so much pain as dissolution.

That draught, O Saviour, was not more welcome to the guilty than hateful unto thee. In the vigour of all thine inward and outward senses, thou wouldst encounter the most violent assaults of death, and scornedst to abate the least touch of thy quickest apprehension. Thou well knewest that the work thou wentest about would require the use of all thy powers : it was not thine ease that thou soughtest, but our redemption ; neither meantest thou to yield to the last enemy, but to resist and to overcome him : which that thou mightest do the more gloriously, thou challengedst him to do his worst; and, in the mean time, wouldst not disfurnish thyself of any of thy powerful faculties. This greatest combat that ever was, shall be fought on even hand; neither wouldst thou steal that victory which thou now achievedst over death and hell. Thou didst but touch at this cup; it is a far bitterer than this, that thou art now drinking up to the dregs. Thou refusedst that which was offered thee by men, but that

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