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upon us, again and again, without our once conceiv-
ing possibly what depth of meaning he would have us
find in his words — Deny thyself, take up thy cross and
follow me.



XI.

CHRIST'S AGONY, OR MORAL SUFFERING.



^^And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly^
and his sweat ivas, as it ivere, great drops of blood fall-
ing down to the ground.^'' — LuKE xxii, 44.

What Christian has not many times wished that he
could lay hold of the precise condition and feehng of
Jesus, in this very remarkable scene or chapter, com-
monly called his agony? And yet a suspicion may
well be indulged that we not seldom push it quite
away from us, and make it unrealizable, by dogmatic
solutions that rather confound than solve it. Mystery,
in some sense, it certainly is, and must be ; for the per-
son itself of Christ is, internally viewed, a mystery, and
the what and how, of his personal pains, in what part
they affect him, under what laws of intensity, and by
what internal force he is able to support them, we can
never know, till we understand his psychology itself —
as we certainly shall not here on earth.

Still the agony is given us, because it can somehow
be seen to be for us; yielding impressions of Christ
and of God, manifested in him, which it is important for
us to receive. And to receive these impressions from



226 Christ's agony,

it is, at least so far, to understand it. All the more to
be regretted is it, if we interpose tbeologic construc-
tions that make it impossible to all receptive sympathy.
Thus if we conceive, or dogmatically assume, that
Christ is in this hour of distress, because the sin of the
woiid is upon him, to be punitively treated in his per-
son; that God withdraws judicially from him, to make
him suffer, and that the " cup " over which he groans is
the cup of God's eternal indignations; may it not be
that we ourselves so far violate the subject matter, as to
make it an offense to our most inborn convictions of
right, and raise up mutinous questions that even forbid
the discovery of its meaning to our hearts ?

A much less artificial, tenderer, and, I think I shall
be able to show, truer and more affecting conception of
the agony is, that it rises naturally out of the perfect
feeling, and the personal relations and exigences of
the sufferer. Such a being, on such a mission, meeting
such objects of feeling, at such a crisis, will have just
this agony, without any infliction to produce it.

The facts of the scene briefly and freely related are
these. The Saviour, attended by his disciples, goes up
into a dell on the slope of Olivet, and enters a certain
garden or olive- yard, where he had often before com-
m uned with them apart. He requires them to sit down.
But there is something peculiar in his manner. A feel-
ing of depression makes him droop in his action, and
gives a drooping accent to his voice. He signifies to
three of their number that he wants their campauy



'»R MORAL SUFFER [NG. 227

while he goes forward a little way, to pray. Hereto-
fore he has commonly sought to be alone in prayer,
going apart at dead of night, and ascending this or that
high mountain top, there to be closeted with God in
solitude. The depression that before appeared now be-
comes a crushing weight upon him. In the language
of the narrative, he begins to be sorrowful and very
heavy. He speaks too, unable to suppress his feeling —
"My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death."
And then he adds what indicates even greater anguish,
such as almost takes away his self-possession — '' do not
leave me, do not sleep, stay here and watch with me !'
He goes forward a few steps, falling upon his face,
which is thv', eastern posture of extreme sorrow and
despair, and there he cries aloud — " my Father, if it
be possible, l<*.t this cup pass from me." He rises and
turns back to his friends, but the weight is still heavy
on his heart, and he throws himself again upon his face.
And he does it again, even a third time. There is also
given us, in the narrative made out by Luke, the patho-
logy of his feeling — ''And being in an agony, he prayed
more earnestly, and his sweat was, as it were, great
drops of blood falling down to the ground." "Which
is the same as to say, that the agony of feeling he was
in was so intense that, under the laws of bodily affec-
tion, there were forced out, through the pores of the
skin J large drops resembled to blood. An ancient wri-
ter reports the fact of a bloody sweat, or a sweat ex-
ceeding like to blood, produced by the bite in India of
a poisonous serpent, and the same thing is reported, I



228

believe, as a result of certain bodil}^ diseases that pro-
duce very intense suffering. But the symptom is none
the less peculiar here, since it is not the effect of any
poison, or physical pain, but of a purely mental
anguish.

Thus far, as relates to the agony, or crisis of pain
itself, reported in the narrative. Other points relating
to his conduct in the scene, will come into view as we
inquire into the causes of the agony, and need not be
recited. Whence and why, this very strange crisis of
mental anguish? According to a very common im-
pression, as already intimated, the suffering has a judi-
cial character, and is to be taken as a theologic factor,
in a scheme of retributive justice. The conception is
that Christ has somehow come into the place of trans-
gressors, to receive upon his person what is due to
them, and that God, accepting him in that ofl&ce,
launches upon him the abhorrence or displeasure, that
is due to them ; inflicting upon him, as it were, deserved
pains, by withdrawing from him and letting fall upon him
the horror of darkness under which he groans. The
facts of the narrative have been so frequently, or even
habitually, submitted to this construction, that our first
concern will be to make a revision of the facts, ascer
taining how far they give it their support.

Thus it is alleged, as a striking peculiarity of the
scene, that the suffering appears, on a merely human
footing, to be out of place. Before the arrest, in a
quiet place out of the city, at a still hour of the nighty



OR MORAL SUFFERING. 229

when he has all his friends about him, and judging by
outward tokens, has far less reason to apprehend vio-
lence from his enemies than he has had many times
before — such is the time and place, where Jesus falls
into his dreadful agony and great horror of distress.
In which he certainly appears to be exercised in a way
that is not human, invaded by a suffering that can not
on mere human principles be accounted for. And this
fact favors the conviction, it is imagined, that he suffers
because some mysterious judicial infliction is descending
upon him, from a source invisible. But such a conclu-
sion is rather made up theologically for the scene, than
drawn from the facts themselves. No single intimation
of any such thing is, either contained in the facts, or
given out by the narrative.

Again his language, in the figure of the *' cup " —
*if this cup may not pass away from me except I
drink it" — is taken as favoring the idea of some suffer-
ing, in the nature of infliction. But do we not use the
same kind of language ourselves, having still no such
thought as that the cup of anguish we speak of, or pray to
have taken away, is a judicial infliction ? This figure
too of the cup is used, in scripture, for all kinds of ex-
perience, whether joyful, or painful. Thus we have the
"cup of salvation," "the cup of consolation," " the cup
of tiembling," "of fury," "of astonishment," "of deso-
lation." Whatever God sends upon a man to be deeply
felt, and by whatever kind of Providence, whether
benignant, or disciplinary, or retributive, is called his
cup. How then does it follow, when Christ speaks of

20



230 Christ's agony,

bis cup, that it is a cup of judicial chastening? Be-
sides, does he not say to his followers — •' ye shall indeed
drink of my cup;" and is any thing more fixed in this
penal view of Christ's agony, than that no human being
can, at all, participate in such matter of atonement?
And, that being true, his cup, as he himself speaks,
can not, in this particular instance at least, have refer-
ence to any penal suffering, and probably has not in
any other.

Again the agony is accounted for as having been
caused by the judicial withdrawment of the Father;
leaving him to feel the weight, in his human person, of
that displeasure which is due to the sins of the world,
now upon him. There is no intimation whatever, to
this effect in the narrative, but his exclamation after-
ward, in the scene of the cross — "]^y God, my God,
why hast thou forsaken me," — is carried back to the
agony to fix this construction upon it. But there is not
tbe least reason to suppose that Christ means literally
to say, in the exclamation referred to, that God has for-
saken him. Did he not comfort himself but a short
time previous, in the assurance — " therefore doth my
Father love me, because I lay down my life for the
sheep?" how then can he imagine that God is for-
saking him, in just the sacrifice for which he loved him ?
Nay it was only an hour ago that he was saying, in the
dearest confidence, and in tender appeal even to the
Father — " I have glorified thee on the earth, and now I
come to thee." Besides it is represented by Luke, in
his account of the agony itself, that an angel is sent



OR MORAL SUFFERING. 281

anto "him to strengthen him; does God then send his
angels to support whom he himself forsakes? And
again, when he sajs in his prayer, three times repeated
— "Not as I will but as thou wilt," what does he indi-
cate, according to all human methods of judgment, but
the dearest present confidence in God and repose in his
favor? It must also be noted, again, that, between the
agony and the crucifixion, and even before he leaves
the garden, he formally declares just this confidence,
saying — "Tbinkest thou that I can not now pray to my
Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve
legions of angels?" The whole account, in short, is
crowded full of the most decisive proofs that he does
not himself imagine any such thing as that he is for-
saken of God and judicially given up to suffering.
Let it also be observed, that when he utters the cry,
" why hast thou forsaken me," he is just reeling out of
life; requiring his outcry therefore to be taken as a mere
mterjectional utterance of distress. Nothing could be
further from him than to be protesting God's severity
thus, in the article of death.

But he does it nevertheless, some one will say ; for if
we take his words interjectionally, why should he vent
his sufferings by the outcry of what is not true ? Be-
cause, I answer, the not true is often the most vehe-
mently, best uttered truth. Thus when Jonathan and
Lis armor bearer broke into the camp of the Philis-
tines, the wild commotion, or panic, they two raised
in the army, and the garrison, and all the people, is
described by saying, "and the earth quaked ; so there



232 CHRIST S AGONY,

was a very great trembling." Does any one suppose
that the earth really quaked on that occasion, or is it
said only to set off the trembling? So when Paul, in
the shipwreck, says, " not one hair of your head shall
perish," it is not impossible that a good many hairs of
the multitude were lost in their drifting ashore. He only
said there should not, as a way of promising the safe
landing more emphatically. Outcries too, of this kind are
always to be taken freely, as the utterance of tragic feel-
ing, or suffering, not as the language of historic alle-
gation. Exactly so Zion cries in her distress, " the Lord
hath forsaken me;" when immediately God answers,
"I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands."
It will be a great day, I must add, for the scrip-
tures, when the dull soul of dogmatism has done
with its undiscerning inflictions ; when poetry is taken
for poetry, passion for passion, and the hyperbolic in-
tensities of interjection, never again for propositional
statements.

I will farther add what ought, by a short method, to
finish the argument, apart from all criticism on the
terms of the narrative, that the absolute morality of
God makes any such withdrawment of the Father im-
possible. That eternal goodness should forsake good-
ness in suffering, and even to make it suffer, in a way
of gaining ulterior ends or advantages however mer-
ciful, is to pawn the eternal chastities cf character for
ends of beneficence ; which, as certainly as God is God,
will never be done.

Dismissing now this artificial, over-theological way



OR MORAL SUFFERING. 238

of conceiving the agony as a judicial infliction, let us
endeavor

Secondly, to find tli3 spring of it, in a way that looka
to the simple character and conditions of the sufferer
himself. I greatly mistake, if it does not so become, at
once, more intelligible, and as much more effective on
our feeling, as it is closer to the range of our human
sympathies.

That it is not resolvable into fear is, I think, sufii-
ciently evident. It is quite incredible that a character
of such transcendent worth and majesty should be thus
appalled, thus miserably shaken, or dissolved, by fear
of any kind. Besides, in fear the blood flies the
skin, rushing back upon the heart, and leaving a deadly
pallor over the whole exterior aspect ; while here we
have a kind of agony that racks the soul, in some way,
at the very center of life, forcing the blood outward and
driving it even through the skin. In which we may see
as conclusively as possible, that fear, the common hu-
man weakness, had nothing to do with his suffering.
It must also be noticed that the account given of his
agony does not call it fear. It simply declares that he
was sorrowful, "exceeding sorrowful." a state which
has nothing to do with fear.

And yet he is shaken, somehow, in a degree that
would not be considered honorable in a man of ordi-
nary spirit, when about to die. Not only does the very
great and wise man Socrates surpass him in the noble
composure of his last hours, but thousands of malefao-
20*



284 Christ's

tors even liave received the sentence of deatb for then
crimes, with a better show of serenity and self-possession.

We have a great matter then to account for, viz.,
that Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, a being
wlio has never had to acknowledge a sin, or had the
feeling of it, a perfect character who has confronted
e\^ery sort of peril in his w^orks of mercy, one who
shows the most perfect confidence in God and the final
success of his cause, is yet somehow shaken by the most
dreadful agony — rent as it were asunder, by his agi-
tated sensibility — when he meets the prospect of death.

The first thing that occurs to us is that this agony
can not be simply human. It visibly exceeds, in its
degree, all that we know of human sensibility. Calling
it then divine, if onlj^ we could think it possible for the
divine sensibility to be a suffering sensibility, the question
would begin to open. That this sufiering sensibility
should not fearfully wrench, and burden even to crushing,
the human vehicle it occupies, is scarcely credible. A suf-
fering that exceeds the proportions of the vehicle must
needs appear by violent symptoms — even as a powerful
engine in a frail, light-timbered vessel, must needs make
it groan heavily, or shake it even to wreck.

What then is the fact? Is there any sensibility in
God that can suffer? is He ever wrenched by suffer-
ing ? Nothing is more certain. He could not be good,
having evil in his dominions, without suffering even
according to his goodness. For what is goodness but a
perfect feeling ? and what is a perfect feeling but that
which feels toward every wrong an 1 misery according



OR MORAL SUFFERING. 235

tc> i^' nature? And thus it is that we freely impute to
hirr. jvhether we observe it or not, every sort of painful
sens bility that is related to bad and suffering subjects.
We <)onceive of him as feeling displeasure, which is the
opp')site of pleasure. We ascribe it as one of his per-
fections that he compassionates, which means that he
suffers with, the fallen. We conceive that he loathes
what is disgusting, hates what is cruel, suffers long
what is perverse, grieves, burns, bears, forbears, and is
even afflicted for his people, as the scripture expressly
declares. All which are varieties of suffering. We
also ascribed it to God, as one of his perfections, that he
is impassible; but here, if we understand ourselves,
we mean that he is physically impassible, not that he is
morally so. Moral impassibility is really to have no
sensibilities of character, which is far as possible from
being any perfection. Indeed there is a whole class of
what are called passive virtues that can not, in this view,
belong to God at all, and his perfection culminates
without including more than half the excellencies de-
manded even of us, in the range of our humble, finite
capacity.

There is then, we conclude, some true sense, in which
even God's perfection requires him to be a suffering
God — not a God unhappy, or less than perfectly, infi-
nitely blessed ; for, though there be many subtractions
from his blessedness, there is never a diminution ; be-
cause the consciousness of suffering well brings with it,
in every case and everlastingly, a compensation which,
by a great law of equilibrium in his and all spiritual



236

natures, fully repays the loss; just as Christ, assailed
by so many throes of suffering sensibility — in the
temptation, in his ministry, in the garden — still speaks
of his joy, and bequeaths it as a gift most real and
sublime to his followers.

Now it is this suffering sensibility of God that most
of all needed to be revealed, and brought nigh to hu-
man feeling, in the incarnate mission of Jesus; not
being revealed in any sufficient measure through nature
and the providential history of men. It was necessary
for us to feel God in his feeling , to know him in his
passive virtues — his patience, forbearance of enemies,
compassion, pity, sympathy, and above all, his deep
throes of love, agonizing for the salvation of trans-
gressors and wanderers from his fold. This, accord-
ingly, is just what we are to look for in the agony so
called, viz., a true discovery to our hearts of God's
intensity and depth, in those suffering virtues by which
his transcendently sovereign nature is exercised.

Christ then, we shall expect to find, suffers in his
agony, not because it is put upon him judicially from
without, but only as his better nature should and must
in the crisis that has overtaken him. Not to particu-
larize further, two great sources, or causes of anguish
open upon him at once ; firstly^ the chastity of his pure
feeling recoils, with horror, from the hell-gulf of wrong
and wild judicial madness into which he is now de-
scending ; and secondly, the love he has for his enemiea
brings a burden of concern upon his heart, that op-
presses and, for the time, well nigh crushes him. Oi



OR MORAL SUFFERING. 237

these twc» modes or kinds of anguish I will spsak ir,
their order.

Christ is a being of unsullied innocence, or even of
divia ; purity, though incarnated into the corporate evil
and retributive disorder of the world, to bear its liabili-
ties and be himself a part of it. This retributive dis-
order of the race is what is called in scripture "the
curse;" and, being himself a man, he is just so fiir in it
as he is human. In all his previous ministry — in his
temptation, in his healings, in the arts of hypocrisy and
the cruelties of wrong he has encountered, he has been
struggling often with the sense of recoil, or even with
pungent visitations of horror difficult to be suppressed.
But now, as he nears the great crisis of his life, he be-
holds the corporate evil, or curse, gathering itself up to
a deed upon his sacred person, that will display just all
that is most horrible in it. He is not afraid, but his
pure feeling shudders at the madness which is ready to
burst upon him — shudders even the worse that it is to
be judicial madness. For, though God is not going to
deal judicially with him, he does perceive that the
rage of sin, ordinarily restrained and graciously soft-
ened by God's Spirit, is now to be let forth in his be-
trayers and crucifiers, in just the madness that judi-
cially belongs to it — so to glass itself before conviction,
in a deed of murder upon the only perfect being that
ever trod the world, nay a deed of murder upon divine
h)vc itself! This it is that, in sad note of warning, he
testifies, when his enemies come shortly after, to arrest
him — " For this is your hour, and the power of dark-



238 chkist's agony



ness." He refers to no power of darkness, as many
contriv^e to understand, upon himself; it is darknesa
upon them, his enemies — judicial darkness, the full,
unmitigated, natural curse of wrong. This is ''the
cup" over which he groans, and which he is now to
drink; the wormwood and the vinegar of the world's
wild malice. The suffering and death are penal upon
him, only in the sense that all martyrs suffer penally,
when the corporate judgments of God upon their
wicked times and wicked fellow-men infuriate and even
dehumanize their natural feeling. But the martyrs are
sinners, suffering as such at the point of their faith ; he
is the sinless, suffering at the point of his innocence.
They suffer as men, still bronzed in their susceptibility,
by the old demoralization of sin ; he as the celestial one,
and as a pure superhuman feeling must. The recoil of
his horror is dreadful, quite unimaginable probably by us,
and his poor human vehicle breaks under the shock,
even as a stranded ship under the heavy blows of the
sea. He groans aloud, falls upon his face, calls to hia
friends to stay by him, utters anguished cries to God,
shows discolored drops resembled to blood exuding
from his face — suffers in a word more incontinently, a
great deal, than either soldier, philosopher, or man of
spiiit should, nay than many a malefactor would ! And
so, it truly seems to me, that he ought: for who of all
mankind had ever a tithe of his sensibility to evil. In-
deed one of the most difficult things for us mortals is
to be duly shocked by wrong and feel a just horror of
its baseness. Impassive to fear, even as God himself,



OR MCRAL SUFFEHING 239

he is yet wrenched all through, in every fiber of sensi-
bilitjj by the appalling and practically monstrous scene
before him — human creatures! — creatures in God's
image! — going to crucify their Divine Friend from
above ! — God's messenger and their Saviour ! By their
bloody hands he is himself to die! Yerily it is given
unto men to die, but ah ! it was not given unto him.
Death has no rights against him. Nothing but the cor-
poi'ate liability of his incarnation puts him under it.
He shudders in throes of recoil, even as God's pure
angels would, meeting such a death; nay more and
worse, as he has a vaster nature, and a deeper sen-
sibility, with only a human apparatus to support the
shock I

Now this suffering of the agony is the suffering, in
one sense, of justice, answering doubtless many of the
uses conceived by those who contrive to make it a suf-
fering divinely inflicted. It is a suffering that he un-
dergoes in God's retributive order. In one view it is
the curse that murders him, being that power of dark-
ness and corporate evil that has come upon the world,
as disordered and shaken out of God's harmony, by the
recoil of transgression. His very incarnation had put
him into or under it, and he would not even by tlie
power of miracle push the liability away ; for it was one
of his purposes to offer such a tribute of respect to
God's retributive order, as would sanctify it in the feel-
ing, and fix it in the convictions of mankind. Thus,
by his power of miracle, he could have made to him-
self a iestudoj so to speak, of inviolable protection



2-10 Christ's agony



against the i*age of liis enemies, but he preferred instead
to suffer just what men are suffering, in that penal dis-
order and social dislocation, which God, in judgment,
has appointed for the fact of sin. It was in his heart
to let Grod's justice have its due honors, breaking out,
at no one point, from the fiery liability into which he
had come, in becoming a man. He consented thus to
let the hell which scorches wrong scorch him too, claim-
ing no exception even for his innocence. Behold, he



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