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his spotless and perfect mind, to persevere in meekness and patience under the insulting speeches and other abusive treatment, which he met with; and in complete resignation to the will of God: and in benevolence toward those who so unrighteously persecuted him.
Such a conclusion of so holy, so useful, so glorious a life and ministry, as was that of the Lord Jesus, must have been the most affecting trial that ever befell any man. During the period of this trial, the whole frame, both of body and mind, was stretched to the utmost: and the thirst which our Lord now openly expressed, must have been a natural consequence of it. We may well suppose, it was indeed great and vehement: an uneasiness, which at this time almost swallowed up the pains of his pierced and wounded hands and feet.
When Pilate had pronounced sentence upon Jesus, and they were carrying him to the place of crucifixion, or when he was come thither, and before they nailed him to the cross, there was offered to him "wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not," Mark xv. 23. He refused to drink of it. That was an intoxicating potion, wine mingled with some rich ingredients, tending to stupify. And probably, was a kind provision, made by some inhabitants of the city of Jerusalem, of a generous and compassionate temper for all, or most of such as were there sentenced to die by crucifixion. But it was wisely and greatly refused by the Lord Jesus: that he might be a complete example of suffering virtue. Somewhat else was now reached up to him upon the cross, after he had said, "I thirst." Which is next to be considered by us.
II. The treatment which he thereupon met with.
"Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar. And they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth."
This particular is also related by two other Evangelists. But we do not in them readily discern the occasion of it. This having been observed by St. John when he wrote his gospel, he was induced to supply their omission, and therefore inserted what we have just now considered, our Lord's saying: "I thirst."
Let us compare the other Evangelists with him. Says St. Matthew: "And about the ninth hour," or three in the afternoon, "Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying: Eli, Eli, Lama sabachthani, that is to say: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said: This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink,” Matt. xxvii. 46-48. And to the like purpose in Mark xv. 34—36. But here, in St. John, it is thus, "After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith: I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar. And they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth." St. Matthew and St. Mark, as it seems, mention together two things, which were partly independent on each other: I mean our Lord's prayer: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" and then the giving him the spunge with vinegar. But St. John thought proper to insert more particularly the occasion of their giving him that vinegar, which was his saying: "I thirst."
"Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar. And they filled a spunge with the vinegar, and put it upon hyssop," that is, a reed, or slender stalk of hyssop, which is said to grow much higher in those climates, than with us: "and put it to his mouth." It is likely, that this was a vessel of such liquor as the Roman soldiers, and meaner people, generally drank.
What was the design of the person or persons, who reached up the spunge filled with that liquor, may not be certain: whether it was in the way of insult, or only an indifferent action, performed without any bad or good view, or whether with a kind design of affording at least some small relief under a very uneasy thirst. But it must be reckoned a very great trial, on so pressing an occasion, to have no other refreshment offered, beside that of so ordinary a liquor, out of such a vessel, which having stood all the while open, must now, at the end of a public execution, have been very filthy, and offensive.
Though we had had only the accounts of the other Evangelists, where the reaching up the spunge with vinegar is mentioned, we could have been able to discern, that it was either a designed affront and indignity, or at the least, an affecting proof of the deplorable and disconsolate condition of the Lord Jesus at this time, with regard to all outward circumstances. St. John's addition of the occasion in those words, "I thirst," does more distinctly represent to us a very great uneasiness endured by our Lord.
They who are well acquainted with the nature of the death of the cross, in use among the
Romans, and attentively observe the history of our Lord's being brought to it, might possibly have inferred, that a very uneasy and violent thirst must have been one of the painful and afflictive circumstances of it. Nevertheless St. John's particular mention of it is worthy of consideration, and is suited to engage our attention.
III. We should now consider the meaning of those expressions of the Evangelist, "that the scripture might be fulfilled."
"After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripturé might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst:" that is, Jesus knowing and considering in his own mind, that many things appointed by the Father to be done and suffered by him on this earth, for the good of men, and which had been beforehand prophesied of him, had now come to pass, said, “I thirst:” believing that would give occasion for the fulfilment of a particular prophecy concerning him.
By which we may perceive that the first words of the Evangelist, "knowing that all things were now accomplished," ought not to be strained. He does not intend to say that all things, without exception, were already accomplished: for many things remained to be accomplished concerning Jesus Christ, after his resurrection. The meaning therefore must be restrained to things relating to the Messiah, during his abode on this earth. Nor are they to be absolutely understood so far: for it still remained that he should die, according to the scriptures. And there was still one thing to be accomplished before his death, as the Evangelist himself says: "Jesus knowing that all things were accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst."
The meaning therefore is, that Jesus knowing, and observing in his own mind, that many prophecies had been accomplished in the course of his ministry, and that now he had endured a very great variety, and almost all kinds of insults and indignities, pains and sorrows, agreeably to what the scriptures had said concerning the suffering character of the Messiah: he was about to resign and give up his soul into the hand of God. But knowing also that there was one thing spoken of the Messiah in the scriptures, which was not yet fulfilled, he said, "I thirst."
There are two places in the Psalms which are thought to speak of this: “ My strength is dried up like a potsherd: and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws, and thou hast brought the dust of death," Ps. xxii. 15. And, "They gave me also gall for my meat, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink," Ps. lxix. 21. These scriptures were now fulfilled.
IV. I would now mention some remarks and observations suitable to this subject.
1. When we meditate upon the sufferings of the Lord Jesus, we ought ever to admire the wise design and great love of the Father, in appointing that the Christ, his beloved Son, most dear to him, so holy, so excellent, so distinguished by miraculous powers and gifts, should for the general good of mankind live in this world in mean circumstances, and submit to the rage and enmity of wicked and prejudiced men, in testimony to the great truths and principles of religion, which contain instructions for our present conduct, and the best encouragements of our hopes and expectations of future glory and happiness.
2. Those meditations may also justly serve to endear to us the Lord Jesus, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us to himself for "a peculiar people, zealous of good works," Tit. ii. 14. Such was the ransom he laid down for us, even his own life, in a way most painful and dishonourable to himself in all its outward circumstances.
Without this, his preaching, and all the miracles of his ministry, would not have been sufficient to awaken, convince, and gain more than a small number of Jews and Gentiles, in that, and a few following ages, in some parts of the world only: whereas now, we also, once very far off from the kingdom of God, in a very late age of the world, are brought into the number of God's people, and made heirs of eternal life. We must therefore acknowledge that the cross of Christ is the "power of God, and the wisdom of God," 1 Cor. i. 24.
He might with less pains and expense to himself have set up a very extensive empire of a worldly nature, and fixed it upon foundations that should be durable. But that was not the design of his coming; which was, that he might set up a kingdom in the minds of men, and subdue them to willing obedience to the laws of right reason, and the will of God, that they might be partakers of future, endless happiness, and that they might be strengthened against all the temptations of their present condition.
When therefore we consider at any time, how just sentiments we have of God, and of the way of serving him, how high ideas we have of a life to come, and what expectations we have
of such a happiness: provided we can also discern in ourselves any dispositions of true holiness, and some preparedness for a better life: let us give a tribute of praise and honour to the Lord Jesus for such advantages, and love him who has loved us, and given himself for us. And let us be careful not to do any thing unbecoming the character which we sustain, of being his disciples. That would be a very ungrateful and disagreeable return for his pure and disinterested love, who expects nothing more of us than that we should honour him by a right temper and conduct.
3. The particular of the text may induce us sometimes to survey with care and attention the circumstances of our Lord's last sufferings. We should then, very likely, observe divers things deserving admiration, and very proper for our establishment and comfort.
4. We cannot omit to observe at this time the composure of our Lord's mind, and the greatness of his behaviour in the most trying circumstances.
"Jesus knowing, that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith: I thirst." So writes St. John, who was at the foot of the cross, and was persuaded, that in what the Lord then said, he had a regard to the ancient prophecies concerning the Messiah. Which shews great composure of mind under the most painful sufferings.
We also perceive the greatness of his behaviour. When the sponge dipped in vinegar was put to his mouth, he does not make any complaints, nor exclaim against so disagreeable treatment, nor bemoan his sad condition. Nor does the Evangelist enlarge upon it, having for wise reasons prescribed to himself great conciseness. Nevertheless these things may be well observed by us. The doing so, will help us to form a more just idea of the great example of resignation and patience, which our Lord has given.
5. Finally, we should, in imitation of Jesus, be willing to endure all things for the truth's sake, and for the good of our fellow-creatures, and fellow-christians.
I am sensible, that the actions and sufferings of Jesus Christ are sometimes misunderstood and misapplied. Some in the church of Rome especially, have weakly imitated this part of our Lord's sufferings. And because he said, "I thirst," that they might resemble him therein, they have practised abstinence, until they have been incapable of admitting any liquid. To such it might be justly said: "Who has required this at your hands?” Is. i. 12. This is not a service acceptable to God, who does not delight in the pain and distress of any of his creatures. Nor did Jesus seek these sufferings: though he meekly acquiesced in them.
Christ indeed has required his followers to "love one another, as he has loved them." Which is a very comprehensive command. And implies, that they should be willing to hazard, or even lay down their lives for one another, and for the general good, if there should be occasion. But not otherwise. For he recommended to his disciples discretion, (which he often practised himself) as well as innocence. And directed them to decline dangers, as far as they honourably could, and when persecuted in one city, to flee into another.
But though some have practised a vain imitation of Christ, his conduct is really exemplary and encouraging. We should resemble him in zeal for God, a love of truth, and of one another. Resolution and steadiness in such interests are very honourable and commendable. And if at any time, in the course of Divine Providence, we are made like unto Jesus in afflictions and sufferings, and are meek and composed, and courageous under them as he was, we shall also be like him in glory and happiness hereafter.
THE GREATNESS OF JESUS IN HIS LAST SUFFERINGS.
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said: It is finished. And he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. John xix. 30.
Sr. PAUL., in his first epistle to the Corinthians, speaks of the offence which some took at the sufferings of Christ. The Jews required a sign, and the Greeks sought after wisdom: insomuch that the preaching of Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks
foolishness." Nevertheless to many, "both Jews and Greeks, Christ was the power of God, and the wisdom of God," 1 Cor. i. 18-24. For which reason, and because he had himself in particular experienced the benefit of that doctrine, he determined, when at Corinth, one of the politest cities of Greece, then esteemed the most polite and learned part of the world, "not to know, [or make manifest,] any thing save Jesus Christ, and him crucified."
The disciples of Jesus, who had so much reason, from the excellence of his words, and the wonders and condescensions of his life, to love and respect him, were offended in him, forsook him, and fled, when he entered into the thick cloud of affliction. But their eyes were afterwards enlightened, their understandings opened, and their hearts enlarged. And they were able and willing to recommend to all, a faith in Christ crucified and risen as perfectly reasonable, and highly beneficial and advantageous.
But it is not now my intention to insist on all the ends and uses of the death of Christ, nor on all the reasons for permitting it. It is chiefly in one particular light, that I would at present consider the sufferings of the Lord Jesus: to shew, in some measure, his greatness under them: how he maintained his dignity throughout this hour of affliction, and strange scene of abasement: and the fitness and propriety of all his words and actions, from his yielding up himself into the hands of his enemies to his expiring on the cross: how he joined majesty with meekness, and under the most injurious and provoking treatment, manifested great presence of thought, and perfect composure of mind.
For this end, I shall take notice of the main parts of the whole history of the last sufferings of Jesus, as recorded by the Evangelists. The discourse shall be divided into two sections. The first containing the particulars of our Lord's apprehension and prosecution, to the time of his condemnation by Pilate: the second, containing the several things following, till he expired
on the cross.
Sect. I. 1. And in the first place, there is a circumstance fit to be observed by us, which greatly exalts the fortitude of Jesus: that he knew beforehand the death he was to endure, and all the painful concomitants of it, and yet he resigns himself to it, and prepares himself for it with cheerfulness.
This composure of mind at his entering into the amazing scene of his sorrows, and his foreknowledge of them, appear in those words spoken to the disciples, in his retirement, after the conclusion of the prayers, which he had there offered up. "Then cometh he to the disciples, and saith unto them: Sleep on now, and take your rest. Behold the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Arise, let us be going. Behold, he is at hand that does betray me," Matt. xxvi. 45, 46.
We may be persuaded, from the intimations which our Lord had given to many and upon divers occasions, in the course of his ministry, that he beforehand knew the painful and ignominious death which he was to undergo. Here, in these words, just read from St. Matthew, the like to which are in St. Mark's gospel, we perceive his distinct foresight of the beginning of his last sorrows, and at the same time how composed he was, Mark xiv. 41, 42.
The Evangelists usually content themselves with barely relating things as they happened, without any hint of special observation to engage the attention of readers: Nevertheless St. John has thought fit just to take notice of this foreknowledge of Christ. "Jesus therefore knowing all things that should come unto him, went forth, and said unto them: Whom seek ye?” John xviii. 4.
Our blessed Lord's distinct foresight of all the affecting sufferings which he was to endure, greatly illustrates the resolution and fortitude of his mind, and his affectionate concern for sinful men, in resigning himself to them with such readiness as he did; which appears in the words just read, and in other particulars to be farther taken notice of.
2. Our Lord's great mind appears in the manner in which he received Judas who came to betray him, and the officers who were sent to apprehend him.
"Judas, one of the twelve," as the Evangelist relates, "came, and with him a great multitude, with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders," Matt. xxvi. 47. "And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, Master and kissed him," ver. 49. He comes, with the usual tokens of respect, after some time of absence. Thus he addresseth himself to Christ, when this very salutation had been agreed upon, as a mark, denoting him whom the officers were to seize and lay hold of. Whereupon Jesus said unto him: "Friend, wherefore art thou come?”
But in another gospel: "Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with This was the beginning of these sorrows: and it was a very affecting case. To be betrayed by a disciple, in the eye of the world, would appear a prejudice to our Saviour's reputation, and an argument of some inisconduct, or of some bad designs; that one of his disciples and intimate friends delivered him to his enemies. This was an affecting thing. It must be so to any man, who is virtuous and innocent, and has a sense of honour. In ordinary minds, even where there is true goodness, it would have had one or other of these effects: to sink the spirits in a great degree; or else provoke to ungovernable resentment and indignation, breaking out into passionate expressions; but the greatness of Jesus is conspicuous. He saw the falsehood of Judas, under the fair appearance of respect and affection. Yet he returns him a familiar salutation, and calls him friend. But at the same time he intimates his discernment of his treacherous purpose, and gives a piercing reproof of his baseness: "Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss!"
Then turning himself to the officers who came with Judas, he says, "Whom seek ye? They answered him: Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he-As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward," or drew back," and fell to the ground. Then asked he them again: Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I have told you, that I am he," John xviii. 4-8.
ver. 50. So in Matthew. a kiss!" Luke xxii. 48.
Here, as every where, all along, we see proofs of great presence of mind and composure of thought. Jesus had retired into a private place; but it was not with a view of hiding himself from his enemies. He was innocent, and knew himself to be so, and shews his conscious integrity, by declaring himself to be the person whom they sought: which acknowledgment was delivered with such majesty, or accompanied with such power, that they fell to the ground as if struck with lightning. Then a second time he asks," whom they sought," and told them again, he was the person: by all this shewing that he could not be apprehended, but with his own consent, and that he did now willingly yield himself up into their hands.
This ought to fill us with respect for the Lord Jesus, at once admiring his dignity, and his condescension.
And this shews, that if afterwards he does not deliver himself, or escape from his enemies, but submits to all the evils which they are disposed to inflict upon him, it is not because he is not able to save himself; but because he resigns himself to those sufferings, it being the will of God, for the good of me, that he should so acquiesce, and thereby afford an example of consummate patience, confirm his important doctrine, and draw men to him, and bring them to high degrees of virtue here, and of glory and happiness hereafter.
3. The next thing to be observed by us is the demand which he makes for the liberty of his disciples. As it follows in St. John's gospel: "Jesus answered: I have told you, that I am he. If therefore ye seek me, let these go their way. That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake: Of them which thou gavest me I have lost none," John xviii. 8, 9.
This is another proof that the mind of the blessed Jesus was not discomposed by the indignities already offered to him, or the sufferings which he expected to befall him. He yields up himself, but secures his disciples, who were not yet qualified for great trials, and whose life was necessary for spreading his doctrine in the world, after he should rise again.
We here also evidently discern, not only the tender compassion and faithful care of the Lord Jesus for those whom he had called to follow him, and be with him, but also the overruling conduct of Divine Providence in this event, the death of the Messiah. It is indeed a surprising thing. But it is not without a divine permission. It was the interest of the enemies of Jesus, and his doctrine, to take off his disciples, his constant followers, together with him. And if he was judged to be criminal, they must be reckoned so likewise. But the high priests and rulers had not power so much as to apprehend and imprison one of them.
Christ having authoritatively and effectually demanded safety and liberty for his disciples, they soon after this withdrew, most of them, whilst one or two of them followed afar off to see the end.
4. The next thing, which immediately follows in St. John's gospel, is the resistance made by Peter. Which is in part related also by the other Evangelists, except that they have not mentioned that disciple by name.
Says St. John: "Then Simon Peter having a sword, drew it, and smote the high priest's