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what he had now to say—for the vehemency and importunity of it; these were those strong cries that he poured out to God in the days of his flesh, Heb. 5:7– and for the humility expressed in it; he fell upon the ground, he laid himself as it were in the dust, at his Father's feet. Hence we note, Our Lord Jesus Christ was praying to his Father in an
extraordinary agony, when they came to apprehend him in the garden.
In explaining this last act of preparation on Christ's part, I shall speak of the place where he prayed, and of the time, the matter, and the manner of his prayer.
I. The place, where this last and remarkable prayer was poured out to God, was the garden: St. Matthew tells us it was called Gethsemane, which sigpifies the valley of fatness, or of olives. This garden lay very near to the city of Jerusalem, on the east, towards the Mount of Olives. Between it and the city was the brook Cedron, which rose from a hill upon the north, and over this brook Christ passed into the garden, John, 18:1; to which perhaps the psalmist alludes in Psalm 110 :7, " He shall drink of the brook in the way; therefore he shall lift up the head.”
Christ went not into this garden to hide or shelter himself from his enemies. No, had that been his design, it was the most improper place he could have chosen, being the place where he was wont to pray, and a place well known to Judas, who was now coming to seek him. John, 18 : 2. He repairs thither, not to shun, but to meet the enemy; to offer himself as a prey to the wolves, which there found him, and laid hold upon him. He also resorted thither for an hour or two of privacy before they came, that he might there freely pour out his soul to God.
II. The time when he entered into this garden to pray was the shutting in of the evening; for it was after the
passover and the supper were ended. Then (Matthew, 26 : 36) Jesus went over the brook into the garden, between the hours of nine and ten in the evening, as it is conjectured ; and so he had between two and three hours to pour out his soul to God; for it was about midnight that Judas and the soldiers came and apprehended him. This shows us in what frame and posture Christ desired to be found : and by it he left us an excellent pattern of what we ought to do, when imminent dangers are near us, even at the door. It becomes a soldier to die fighting, and a minister to die preaching, and a christian to die praying. If they come, they will find Christ upon his knees, wrestling mightily with God by prayer. He spent no moment of his life idly; but these were the last moments he had to live in the world, and here you see how they were filled up and employed.
III. Consider the matter of his prayer, or the things about which he poured ont his soul to God in the garden. He prayed, saying, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done."
By the cup, understand that portion of sorrows then to be given to him by his Father. Great afflictions and bitter trials are frequently expressed in Scripture under the metaphor of a cup: " Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire, and brimstone, and a horrible tempest ; this shall be the portion of their cup," Psalm 11:16, that is, the punishment allotted to them by God for their wickedness. So Ezekiel, 23:32, 33; "A cup deep and large;" Isaiah, 51:17; " Thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling and wrung them out.” Such a cup now was Christ's cup; a cup of wrath ; a large and deep cup, that contained more wrath than ever was drunk by any creature, even the wrath of an infinite God; a mixed cup, mixed with God's wrath and man's in the extremity; and all the bitter aggravating circum
stances that ever could be imagined ; great consternation and amazement: this was the portion of his cup.
By the passing of the cup from him, understand his exemption from suffering that dreadful wrath of God which he foresaw to be now at hand. Christ's meaning in this conditional request is, Father, if it be thy will, excuse me from this dreadful wrath. My soul is amazed at it. Is there no way to shun it? Cannot I be excused ? Oh, if it be possible, spare me. This is the meaning of it.
But how could Christ, who knew God had from everlasting determined he should drink it; who had agreed in the covenant of redemption so to do; who came (as himself acknowledges) for that end into the world, John, 18:37; who foresaw this hour all along, and professed when he spake of this bloody baptism with which he was to be baptized, that he was straitened till it was accomplished,” Luke, 12:50; how could he now when the cup was delivered to him, so earnestly pray that it might pass from him, or he be excused from suffering. What! did he now repent of his engagement ? Doth he now begin to wish to be disengaged, and that he had never undertaken such a work? No, no, Christ never repented of his engagement to the Father, never was willing to let the burden lie on us, rather than on himself; there was not such a thought in his holy and faithful heart; but the resolution of this doubt depends upon another distinction, which will show his meaning in it.
Mark then the distinction between absolute and submissive prayers. It was the latter that Christ offered, "If thou be willing;” if not, I will drink it. But you will say, Christ knew what was the mind of God; he knew what transactions had been of old between his Father and him ; and therefore though he did not pray absolutely, yet it is strange he would pray conditionally it might pass.
Mark, then, in the second place, the different natures
in which Christ acted. He acted sometimes as God, and sometimes as man. Here he acted according to his human nature ; simply expressing and manifesting in this request its reluctance to such sufferings : wherein he showed himself a true man, in shunning that which was destructive to his nature. As Christ had two distinct natures, so two distinct wills. And (as one well observes) in the life of Christ there was an intermixture of power and weakness, of the Divine glory and human frailty. At his birth a star shone, but he was laid in a manger. The devil tempted him in the wilderness, but there angels ministered to him. He was caught by the soldiers in the garden, but first made them fall back. So here, as man he feared and shunned death; God-man he willingly submitted to it. "It was (as Deo. datus well expresses it) a purely natural desire, by which, as man, for a short moment he apprehended and shunned death and torments; but quickly recalled himself to obedience, by a deliberate will to submit himself to God.”
In a word, as there was nothing of sin in it, it being a pure and sinless affection of nature; so there was much good in it, and that both as it was a part of his satisfaction for our sin, to suffer inwardly such fear, trembling, and consternation; and as it was a clear evidence that he was in all things made like unto his brethren, except sin ; and also, as it serves to express the grievousness and extremity of Christ's sufferings, the very prospect of which, at some distance, was so dreadful to him.
IV. Let us consider the manner in which he prayed:
1. Solitarily. He doth not here pray in the audience of his disciples, as he had done before, but went at a distance from them. He had now private business to transact with God. He left some of them at the en
trance of the garden; and Peter, James, and John, who went farther with him than the rest, he bids remain there, while he went and prayed. He did not desire them to pray with him, or for him; no, he must "tread the wine-press alone.” Nor will he have them with him, lest it should discourage them to see and hear how he groaned, trembled, and cried, as one in an agony, to his Father.
Reader, there are times when a christian would not be willing that the dearest and most intimate friend he hath in the world should be privy to what passes between him and his God.
2. It was an humble prayer: that is evident by the postures into which he cast himself; sometimes kneeling, and sometimes prostrate upon his face. He lies in the very dust, lower he cannot fall; and his heart was as low as his body. He is meek and lowly indeed.
3. It was a reiterated prayer; he prays, and then returns to the disciples, as a man in extremity turns every way for comfort : "Father, let this cup pass," but in that request the Father hears him not; though as to support he was heard. Being denied deliverance by his Father, he goes and bemoans himself to his pensive friends, and complains bitterly to them," My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” But alas! they rather increase than ease his burden. For he finds thern asleep, which occasioned that gentle reprehension,
What, could ye not watch with me one hour ?" Matt. 26:40. What, not watch with me? Who may expect it from you more than I ? Could you not watch ? I am going to die for you, and cannot you watch with me? What! cannot you watch with me one hour ? Alas! what if I had required great matters from you? What! not an hour, and that the parting hour too ? Christ finds no ease from them, and back again he goes to that sad place which he had stained with a bloody sweat,