The wine carries its own special teaching, which clearly appears in Matthew's version of the words of institution. It is 'My blood,' and by its being presented in a form separate from the bread which is His body suggests a violent death. It is 'covenant blood,' the seal of that 'better covenant' than the old, which God makes now with all mankind, wherein are given renewed hearts which carry the divine law within themselves; the reciprocal and mutually blessed possession of God by men and of men by God, the universally diffused knowledge of God, which is more than head knowledge, being the consciousness of possessing Him; and, finally, the oblivion of all sins. These promises are fulfilled, and the covenant made sure, by the shed blood of Christ. So, finally, it is 'shed for many, for the remission of sins.' The end of Christ's death is pardon which can only be extended on the ground of His death. We are told that Christ did not teach the doctrine of atonement. Did He establish the Lord's Supper? If He did (and nobody denies that), what did He mean by it, if He did not mean the setting forth by symbol of the very same truth which, stated in words, is the doctrine of His atoning death? This rite does not, indeed, explain the rationale of the doctrine; but it is a piece of unmeaning mummery, unless it preaches plainly the fact that Christ's death is the ground of our forgiveness.
Bread is the 'staff of life,' but blood is the life. So 'this cup' teaches that 'the life' of Jesus Christ must pass into His people's veins, and that the secret of the Christian life is 'I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.' Wine is joy, and the Christian life is not only to be a feeding of the soul on Christ as its nourishment, but a glad partaking, as at a feast, of His life and therein of His joy. Gladness of heart is a Christian duty, 'the joy of the Lord is your strength' and should be our joy; and though here we eat with loins girt, and go out, some of us to deny, some of us to flee, all of us to toil and suffer, yet we may have His joy fulfilled in ourselves, even whilst we sorrow.
The Lord's Supper is predominantly a memorial, but it is also a prophecy, and is marked as such by the mysterious last words of Jesus, about drinking the new wine in the Father's kingdom. They point the thoughts of the saddened eleven, on whom the dark shadow of parting lay heavily, to an eternal reunion, in a land where 'all things are become new,' and where the festal cup shall be filled with a draught that has power to gladden and to inspire beyond any experience here. The joys of heaven will be so far analogous to the Christian joys of earth that the same name may be applied to both; but they will be so unlike that the old name will need a new meaning, and communion with Christ at His table in His kingdom, and our exuberance of joy in the full drinking in of His immortal life, will transcend the selectest hours of communion here. Compared with that fulness of joy they will be 'as water unto wine,'—the new wine of the kingdom.
'IS IT I?'
'And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto Him, Lord, is it I? 25. Then Judas, which betrayed Him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said.'-MATT. xxvi. 22, 25.
'He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto Him, Lord, who is it?'—JOHN xiii. 25.
The genius of many great painters has portrayed the Lord's Supper, but the reality of it was very different from their imaginings. We have to picture to ourselves some low table, probably a mere tray spread upon the ground, round which our Lord and the twelve reclined, in such a fashion as that the head of each guest came against the bosom of him that reclined above him; the place of honour being at the Lord's left hand, or higher up the table than Himself, and the second place being at His right, or below Himself.
So there would be no eager gesticulations of disciples starting to their feet when our Lord uttered the sad announcement, 'One of you shall betray Me!' but only horror-struck amazement settled down upon the group. These verses, which we have put together, show us three stages in the conversation which followed the sad announcement. The three evangelists give us two of these; John alone omits these two, and only gives us the third.
First, we have their question, born of a glimpse into the possibilities of evil in their hearts, 'Lord, is it I?'
The form of that question in the original suggests that they expected a negative answer, and might be reproduced in English: 'Surely it is not I?' None of them could think that he was the traitor, yet none of them could be sure that he was not. Their Master knew better than they did; and so, from a humble knowledge of what lay in them, coiled and slumbering, but there, they would not meet His words with a contradiction, but with a question. His answer spares the betrayer, and lets the dread work in their consciences for a little longer, for their good. For many hands dipped in the dish together, to moisten their morsels; and to say, 'He that dippeth with Me in the dish, the same shall betray Me,' was to say nothing more than 'One of you at the table.'
Then comes the second stage. Judas, reassured that he has escaped detection for the moment, and perhaps doubting whether the Master had anything more than a vague suspicion of treachery, or knew who was the traitor, shapes his lying lips with loathsome audacity into the same question, but yet not quite the same, The others had said, 'Is it I, Lord?' he falters when he comes to that name, and dare not say 'Lord!' That sticks in his throat. 'Rabbi!' is as far as he can get. 'Is it I, Rabbi?' Christ's answer to him, 'Thou hast said,' is another instance of patient longsuffering. It was evidently a whisper that did not reach the ears of any of the others, for he leaves the room without suspicion. Our Lord still tries to save him from himself by showing Judas that his purpose is known, and by still concealing his name.
Then comes the third stage, which we owe to John's Gospel. Here again he is true to his task of supplementing the narrative of the three synoptic Gospels. Remembering what I have said about the attitude of the disciples at the table, we can understand that Peter, if he occupied the principal place at the Lord's left, was less favourably situated for speaking to Christ than John, who reclined in the second seat at His right, and so he beckoned over the Master's head to John. The Revised Version gives the force of the original more vividly than the Authorised does: 'He, leaning back, as he was, on Jesus' breast, saith unto Him, Lord! who is it?' John, with a natural movement, bends back his head on his Master's breast, so as to ask and be answered, in a whisper. His question is not, 'Is it I?' He that leaned on Christ's bosom, and was compassed about by Christ's love, did not need to ask that. The question now is, 'Who is it?' Not a question of presumption, nor of curiosity, but of affection; and therefore answered: 'He it is to whom I shall give the sop, when I have dipped it.'
The morsel dipped in the dish and passed by the host's hand to a guest, was a token of favour, of unity and confidence. It was one more attempt to save Judas, one more token of all-forgiving patience. No wonder that that last sign of friendship embittered his hatred and sharpened his purpose to an unalterable decision, or, as John says: 'After the sop, Satan entered into him.' For then, as ever, the heart which is not melted by Christ's offered love is hardened by it.
Now, if we take these three stages of this conversation we may learn some valuable lessons from them. I take the first form of the question as an example of that wholesome self-distrust which a glimpse into the slumbering possibilities of evil in our hearts ought to give us all. I take the second on the lips of Judas, as an example of the very opposite of that self-distrust, the fixed determination to do a wrong thing, however clearly we know it to be wrong. And I take the last form of the question, as asked by John, as an illustration of the peaceful confidence which comes from the consciousness of Christ's love, and of communion with Him. Now a word or two about each of these.
I. First, we have an example of that wholesome self-distrust, which a glimpse into the possibilities of evil that lie slumbering in all our hearts ought to teach every one of us.
Every man is a mystery to himself. In every soul there lie, coiled and dormant, like hibernating snakes, evils that a very slight rise in the temperature will wake up into poisonous activity. And let no man say, in foolish self-confidence, that any form of sin which his brother has ever committed is impossible for him. Temperament shields us from much, no doubt. There are sins that 'we are inclined to,' and there are sins that 'we have no mind to.' But the identity of human nature is deeper than the diversity of temperament, and there are two or three considerations that should abate a man's confidence that anything which one man has done it is impossible that he should do. Let me enumerate them very briefly. Remember, to begin with, that all sins are at bottom but varying forms of one root. The essence of every evil is selfishness, and when you have that, it is exactly as with cooks who have the 'stock' by the fireside. They can make any kind of soup out of it, with the right flavouring. We have got the mother tincture of all wickedness in each of our hearts; and therefore do not let us be so sure that it cannot be manipulated and flavoured into any form of sin. All sin is one at bottom, and this is the definition of it—living to myself instead of living to God. So it may easily pass from one form of evil into another, just as light and heat, motion and electricity, are all—they tell us—various forms and phases of one force. Just as doctors will tell you that there are types of disease which slip from one form of sickness into another, so if we have got the infection about us it is a matter very much of accidental circumstances what shape it takes. And no man with a human heart is safe in pointing to any sin, and saying, 'That form of transgression I reckon alien to myself.'
And then let me remind you, too, that the same consideration is reinforced by this other fact, that all sin is, if I may so say, gregarious; is apt not only to slip from one form into another, but that any evil is apt to draw another after it. The tangled mass of sin is like one of those great fields of seaweed that you some times come across upon the ocean, all hanging together by a thousand slimy growths; which, if lifted from the wave at any point, drags up yards of it inextricably grown together. No man commits only one kind of transgression. All sins hunt in couples. According to the grim picture of the Old Testament, about another matter, 'None of them shall want his mate. The wild beasts of the desert shall meet with the wild beasts of the islands.' One sin opens the door for another, 'and seven other spirits worse than himself' come and make holiday in the man's heart.
Again, any evil is possible to us, seeing that all sin is but yielding to tendencies common to us all. The greatest transgressions have resulted from yielding to such tendencies. Cain killed his brother from jealousy; David besmirched his name and his reign by animal passion; Judas betrayed Christ because he was fond of money. Many a man has murdered another one simply because he had a hot temper. And you have got a temper, and you have got the love of money, and you have got animal passions, and you have got that which may stir you up into jealousy. Your neighbour's house has caught fire and been blown up. Your house, too, is built of wood, and thatched with straw, and you have as much dynamite in your cellars as he had in his. Do not be too sure that you are safe from the danger of explosion.
And, again, remember that this same wholesome self-distrust is needful for us all, because all transgression is yielding to temptations that assail all men. Here are one hundred men in a plague-stricken city; they have all got to draw their water from the same well. If five or six of them died of cholera it would be very foolish of the other ninety-five to say, 'There is no chance of our being touched.' We all live in the same atmosphere; and the temptations that have overcome the men that have headed the count of crimes appeal to you. So the lesson is, 'Be not high-minded, but fear.'
And remember, still further, that the same solemn consideration is enforced upon us by the thought that men will gradually drop down to the level which, before they began the descent, seemed to be impossible to them. 'Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?' said Hazael when the crime of murdering his master first floated before him. Yes, but he did it. By degrees he came down to the level to which he thought that he would never sink. First the imagination is inflamed, then the wish begins to draw the soul to the sin, then conscience pulls it back, then the fatal decision is made, and the deed is done. Sometimes all the stages are hurried quickly through, and a man spins downhill as cheerily and fast as a diligence down the Alps. Sometimes, as the coast of a country may sink an inch in a century until long miles of the flat seabeach are under water, and towers and cities are buried beneath the barren waves, so our lives may be gradually lowered, with a motion imperceptible but most real, bringing us down within high-water mark, and at last the tide may wash over what was solid land.
So, dear friends, there is nothing more foolish than for any man to stand, self-confident that any form of evil that has conquered his brother has no temptation for him. It may not have for you, under present circumstances; it may not have for you to-day; but, oh! we have all of us one human heart, and 'he that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.' 'Blessed is the man that feareth always.' Humble self-distrust, consciousness of sleeping sin in my heart that may very quickly be stirred into stinging and striking; rigid self-control over all these possibilities of evil, are duties dictated by the plainest common-sense.
Do not say, 'I know when to stop.' Do not say, 'I can go so far; it will not do me any harm.' Many a man has said that, and many a man has been ruined by it. Do not say, 'It is natural to me to have these inclinations and tastes, and there can be no harm in yielding to them.' It is perfectly natural for a man to stoop down over the edge of a precipice to gather the flowers that are growing in some cranny in the cliff; and it is as natural for him to topple over, and be smashed to a mummy at the bottom. God gave you your dispositions and your whole nature 'under lock and key,'—keep them so. And when you hear of, or see, great criminals and great crimes, say to yourself, as the good old Puritan divine said, looking at a man going to the scaffold, 'But for the grace of God there go I!' And in the contemplation of sins and apostasies, let us each look humbly at our own weakness, and pray Him to keep us from our brother's evils which may easily become ours.
II. Secondly, we have here an example of precisely the opposite sort, namely, of that fixed determination to do evil which is unshaken by the clearest knowledge that it is evil.
Judas heard his crime described in its own ugly reality. He heard his fate proclaimed by lips of absolute love and truth; and notwithstanding both, he comes unmoved and unshaken with his question. The dogged determination in his heart, that dares to see his evil stripped naked and is 'not ashamed,' is even more dreadful than the hypocrisy and sleek simulation of friendship in his face.
Now most men turn away with horror from even the sins that they are willing to do, when they are put plainly and bluntly before them. As an old mediaeval preacher once said, 'There is nothing that is weaker than the devil stripped naked.' By which he meant exactly this—that we have to dress wrong in some fantastic costume or other, so as to hide its native ugliness, in order to tempt men to do it. So we have two sets of names for wrong things, one of which we apply to our brethren's sins, and the other to the same sins in ourselves. What I do is 'prudence,' what you do of the same sort is 'covetousness'; what I do is 'sowing my wild oats,' what you do is 'immorality' and 'dissipation'; what I do is 'generous living,' what you do is 'drunkenness' and 'gluttony'; what I do is 'righteous indignation,' what you do is 'passionate anger.' And so you may go the whole round of evil. Very bad are the men who can look at their deed, described in Its own inherent deformity, and yet say, 'Yes; that is it, and I am going to do it.' 'One of you shall betray Me.' 'Yes; I will betray you!' It must have taken something to look into the Master's face, and keep the fixed purpose steady.
Now I ask you to think, dear friends, of this, that that obstinate condition of dogged determination to do a wrong thing, knowing it to be a wrong thing, is a condition to which all evil steadily tends. We may not come to it in this world—I do not know that men ever do so wholly; but we are all getting towards it in regard to the special wrong deeds and desires which we cherish and commit. And when a man has once reached the point of saying to evil, 'Be thou my good,' then he is a 'devil' in the true meaning of the word; and wherever he is, he is in hell! And the one unpardonable sin is the sin of clear recognition that a given thing is contrary to God's will, and unfaltering determination, notwithstanding, to do it. That is the only sin that cannot be pardoned, 'either in this world or in the world to come.'
And so, my brother, seeing that such a condition is possible, and that all the paths of evil, however tentative and timorous they may be at first, and however much the sin may be wrapped up with excuses and forms and masks, tend to that condition, let us take that old prayer upon our lips, which befits both those who distrust themselves because of slumbering sins, and those who dread being conquered by manifest iniquity:—'Who can understand his errors? Cleanse Thou me from secret faults. Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins. Let them not have dominion over me.'
III. Now, lastly, we have in the last question an example of the peaceful confidence that comes from communion with Jesus Christ.
John leaned on the Master's bosom. 'He was the disciple whom Jesus loved.' And so compassed with that great love, and feeling absolute security within the enclosure of that strong hand, his question is not, 'Is it I?' but 'Who is it?' From which I think we may fairly draw the conclusion that to feel that Christ loves me, and that I am compassed about by Him, is the true security against my falling into any sin.
It was not John's love to Christ, but Christ's to John that made his safety. He did not say: 'I love Thee so much that I cannot betray Thee.' For all our feelings and emotions are but variable, and to build confidence upon them is to build a heavy building upon quicksand; the very weight of it drives out the foundations. But he thought to himself—or he felt rather than he thought—that all about him lay the sweet, warm, rich atmosphere of his Master's love; and to a man who was encompassed by that, treachery was impossible.
Sin has no temptation so long as we actually enjoy the greater sweetness of Christ's felt love. Would thirty pieces of silver have been a bribe to John? Would anything that could have terrified others have frightened him from his Master's side whilst he felt His love? Will a handful of imitation jewellery, made out of coloured glass and paste, be any temptation to a man who bears a rich diamond on his finger? And will any of earth's sweetness be a temptation to a man who lives in the continual consciousness of the great rich love of Christ wrapping him round about? Brethren, not ourselves, not our faith, not our emotion, not our religious experience; nothing that is in us, is any security that we may not be tempted, and yield to the temptation, and deny or betray our Lord. There is only one thing that is a security, and that is that we be folded to the heart, and held by the hand, of that loving Lord. Then—then we may be confident that we shall not fall; for 'the Lord is able to make us stand.'
Such confidence is but the other side of our self-distrust; is the constant accompaniment of it, must have that self-distrust for its condition and prerequisite, and leads to a yet deeper and more blessed form of that self-distrust. Faith in Him and 'no confidence in the flesh' are but the two sides of the same coin, the obverse and the reverse. The seed, planted in the ground, sends a little rootlet down, and a little spikelet up, by the same vital act. And so in our hearts, as it were, the downward rootlet is self-despair, and the upward shoot is faith in Christ. The two emotions go together—the more we distrust ourselves the more we shall rest upon Him, and the more we rest upon Him, and feel that all our strength comes, not from our foot, but from the Rock on which it stands, the more we shall distrust our own ability and our own faithfulness.
Therefore, dear brethren, looking upon all the evil that is around us, and conscious in some measure of the weakness of our own hearts, let us do as a man would do who stands upon the narrow ledge of a cliff, and look sheer down into the depth below, and feels his head begin to reel and turn giddy; let us lay hold of the Guide's hand, and if we cleave by Him, He will hold up our goings that our footsteps slip not. Nothing else will. No length of obedient service is any guarantee against treachery and rebellion. As John Bunyan saw, there was a backdoor to hell from the gate of the Celestial City. Men have lived for years consistent professing Christians, and have fallen at last. Many a ship has come across half the world, and gone to pieces on the harbour bar. Many an army, victorious in a hundred fights, has been annihilated at last. No depths of religious experience, no heights of religious blessedness, no attainments of past virtue and self-sacrifice, are any guarantees for to-morrow. Trust in nothing and in nobody, least of all in yourselves and your own past. Trust only in Jesus Christ.
'Now unto Him that is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy; to the only wise God our Saviour be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and for ever.' Amen.
'And Jesus took the cup, and grave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; 28. For this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins'—MATT. xxvi. 27, 28.
The comparative silence of our Lord as to the sacrificial character of His death has very often been urged as a reason for doubting that doctrine, and for regarding it as no part of the original Christian teaching. That silence may be accounted for by sufficient reasons. It has been very much exaggerated, and those who argue from it against the doctrine of the Atonement have forgotten that Jesus Christ founded the Lord's Supper.
That rite shows us what He thought, and what He would have us think, of His death; and in the presence of its testimony it seems to me impossible to deny that His conception of it was distinctly sacrificial. By it He points out the moment of His whole career which He desires that men should remember. Not His words of tenderness and wisdom; not His miracles, amazing and gracious as these were; not the flawless beauty of His character, though it touches all hearts and wins the most rugged to love, and the most degraded to hope; but the moment in which He gave His life is what He would imprint for ever on the memory of the world.
And not only so, but in the rite he distinctly tells us in what aspect He would have that death remembered. Not as the tragic end of a noble career which might be hallowed by tears such as are shed over a martyr's ashes; not as the crowning proof of love; not as the supreme act of patient forgiveness; but as a death for us, in which, as by the blood of the sacrifice, is secured the remission of sins.
And not only so, but the double symbol in the Lord's Supper—whilst in some respects the bread and wine speak the same truths, and certainly point to the same Cross—has in each of its parts special lessons intrusted to it, and special truths to proclaim. The bread and the wine both say:—'Remember Me and My death.' Taken in conjunction they point to that death as violent; taken separately they each suggest various aspects of it, and of the blessings that will flow to us therefrom. And it is my present purpose to bring out, as briefly and as clearly as I can, the special lessons which our Lord would have us draw from that cup which is the emblem of His shed blood.
I. First, then, observe that it speaks to us of a divine treaty or covenant.
Ancient Israel had lived for nearly 2000 years under the charter of their national existence which, as we read in the Old Testament, was given on Sinai amidst thunderings and lightnings—'Now, therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine, and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and an holy nation.'
And that covenant, or agreement, or treaty, on the part of God, was ratified by a solemn act, in which the blood of the sacrifice, divided into two portions, was sprinkled, one half upon the altar, and the other half, after their acceptance of the conditions and obligations of the covenant, on the people, who had pledged themselves to obedience.
And now, here is a Galilean peasant, in a borrowed upper room, within four-and-twenty hours of His ignominious death which might seem to blast all His work, who steps forward and says, 'I put away that ancient covenant which knits this nation to God. It is antiquated. I am the true offering and sacrifice, by the blood of which, sprinkled on altar and on people, a new covenant, built upon better promises, shall henceforth be.'
What a tremendous piece of audacity, except on the one hypothesis that He that spake was indeed the Word of God; and that He was making that which Himself had established of old, to give way to that which He establishes now! The new covenant which Christ seals in His blood, is the charter, the better charter, under the conditions of which, not a nation but the world may find an external salvation which dwarfs all the deliverances of the past. That idea of a covenant confirmed by Christ's blood may sound to many hearers dry and hard. But if you will try to think what great truths are wrapped up in the theological phraseology, you will find them very real and very strong. Is it not a grand thought that between us and the infinite divine Nature there is established a firm and unmovable agreement? Then He has revealed His purposes; we are not left to grope in darkness, at the mercy of 'peradventures' and 'probablies'; nor reduced to consult the ambiguous oracles of nature or of Providence, or the varying voices of our own hearts, or painfully and dubiously to construct more or less strong bases for confidence in a loving God out of such hints and fragments of revelation as these supply. He has come out of His darkness, and spoken articulate words, plain words, faithful words, which bind Him to a distinctly defined course of action. Across the great ocean of possible modes of action for a divine nature He has, if I may so say, buoyed out for Himself a channel, so as that we know His path, which is in the deep waters. He has limited Himself by the utterance of a faithful word, and we can now come to Him with His own promise, and cast it down before Him, and say: 'Thou hast spoken, and Thou art bound to fulfil it.' We have a covenant wherein God has shown us His hand, has told us what He is going to do and has thereby pledged Himself to its performance.
And, still further, in order to get the full sweetness of this thought, to break the husk and reach to the kernel, you must remember what, according to the New Testament, are the conditions of this covenant. The old agreement was, 'If ye will obey My voice and do My commandments, then,'—so and so will happen. The old condition was, 'Do and live; be righteous and blessed!' The new condition is: 'Take and have; believe and live!' The one was law, the other is gift; the one was retribution, the other is forgiveness. One was outward, hard, rigid law, fitly 'graven with a pen of iron on the rocks for ever'; the other is impulse, love, a power bestowed that will make us obedient; and the sole condition that we have to render is the condition of humble and believing acceptance of the divine gift. The new covenant, in the exuberant fulness of its mercy, and in the tenderness of its gracious purposes, is at once the completion and the antithesis of the ancient covenant with its precepts and its retribution.
And, still further, this 'new covenant,' of which the essence is God's bestowment of Himself on every heart that wills to possess Him; this new covenant, according to the teaching of these words of my text and of the symbol to which they refer, is ratified and sealed by that great sacrifice. The blood was sprinkled on the altar; the blood was sprinkled on the people, which being translated into plain, unmetaphorical language is simply this, that Christ's death remains for ever present to the divine mind as the great reason and motive which modifies His government, and which ensures that His love shall ever find its way to every seeking soul. His death is the token; His death is the reason; His death is the pledge of the unending and the inexhaustible mercy of God bestowed upon each of us. 'He that spared not His own Son, shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?' The outward rite with its symbol is the exhibition in visible form of that truth, that the blood of Jesus Christ seals to the world the infinite mercy of God.
And, on the other hand, that same blood of the covenant, sprinkled upon the other parties to the treaty, even our poor sinful hearts, binds them to the fulfilment of the condition which belongs to them. That is to say, by the power of that sacrifice there are evoked in our poor souls, faith, love, surrender. It, and it alone, knits us to God; it, and it alone, binds us to the fulfilment of the covenant. My brother, have you entered into that sweet, solemn, sacred alliance and union with God? Have you accepted and fulfilled the conditions? Is your heart 'sprinkled with the blood so freely shed for you'; and have you thereby been brought into living alliance with the God who has pledged His being and His name to be the all-sufficient God to you?
II. Still further, this cup speaks to us of the forgiveness of sins.
One theory, and one theory only, as it seems to me, of the meaning of Christ's death, is possible if these words of my text ever dropped from Christ's lips, or if He ever instituted the rite to which they refer; He must have believed that His death was a sacrifice, without which the sins of the world were not forgiven; and by which forgiveness came to us all.
And I do not think that we rightly conceive the relation between the sacrifices of barbarous heathen tribes, or the sacrifices appointed in Israel, and the great sacrifice on the Cross, if we say that our Lord's death is only figuratively accommodated to these in order to meet lower or grosser conceptions, but rather, I take it, that the accommodation is the other way. In all nations beyond the limits of Israel the sacrifices of living victims spoke not only of surrender and dependence, but likewise of the consciousness of demerit and evil on the part of the offerers, and were at once a confession of sin, a prayer for pardon, and a propitiation of an offended God. And I believe that the sacrifices in Israel were intended and adapted not only to meet the deep-felt want of human nature, common to them as to all other tribes, but also were intended and adapted to point onwards to Him in whose death a real want of mankind was met, in whose death a real sacrifice was offered, in whose death an angry God was not indeed propitiated, but in whose death the loving Father of our souls Himself provided the Lamb for the offering, without which, for reasons deeper than we can wholly fathom, it was impossible that sin should be remitted.
I insist upon no theory of an Atonement. I believe there is no Gospel, worth calling so, worth the preaching, worth your believing, or that will ever move the world or purify society, except the Gospel which begins with the fact of an Atonement, and points to the Cross as the altar on which the Sacrifice for the sins of the world, without whose death pardon is impossible, has died for us all.
Oh! dear friends, do not let yourselves be confused by the difficulties that beset all human and incomplete statements of the philosophy of the death of Christ; but getting away from these, cleave you to the fact that your sins were laid upon Christ, and that He has died for us all; that His death is a sacrifice; His body broken for us; and for the remission of our sins, His blood freely shed. Thus, and only thus, will you come to the understanding either of the sweetness of His love or of the power of His example; then, and only then, shall we know why it was that He elected to be remembered, out of all the moments of His life, by that one when He hung in weakness upon the Cross, and out of the darkness came the cry, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?'
III. And now, again, let me remind you that this cup speaks likewise of a life infused.
'The blood is the life,' says the physiology of the Hebrews. The blood is the life, and when men drink of that cup they symbolise the fact that Christ's own life and spirit are imparted to them that love Him. 'Except ye eat the flesh, and drink the blood of the Son of Man, ye have no life in you.' The very heart of Christ's gift to us is the gift of His own very life to be the life of our lives. In deep, mystical reality He Himself passes into our being, and the 'law of the spirit of life makes us free from the law of sin and death,' so that we may say: 'He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit,' and the humble believing soul may rejoice in this: 'I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in Me.' This is, in one aspect, the very deepest meaning of this Communion rite. As physicians sometimes tried to restore life to an almost dead man by the transfusion into his shrunken veins of the fresh warm blood from a young and healthy subject, so into our fevered life, into our corrupted blood, there is poured the full tide of the pure and perfect life of Jesus Christ Himself, and we live, not by our own power, nor for our own will, nor in obedience to our own caprices, but by Him and in Him, and with Him and for Him. This is the heart of Christianity, the possession within us of the life, the immortal life of Him that died for us.
My brother have you that great gift in your heart? Be sure of this, that unless the life of Christ is in you by faith, ye are dead, 'dead in trespasses and in sins'; dead, and sure to rot away and disintegrate into corruption. The cup of blessing which we drink speaks to us of the transfusion into our spirits of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
IV. And lastly, it speaks of a festal gladness.
The bread says nothing to us of the remission of sins. The broken bread proclaims, indeed, our nourishment from Jesus, but falls short of the deep and solemn truth that it is the very life-blood of Christ Himself which nourishes us and vitalises us. And the bread, in like manner, proclaims indeed the fact that we are fed on Him, but says nothing of the joy of that feeding. The wine is the symbol of that, and it proclaims to us that the Christian life here on earth, just because it is the feeding on and the drinking in of Jesus Christ, ought ever to be a life of blessedness, of abounding joy, by whatsoever darkness, burdens, cares, toils, sorrows, and solitude it may be shaded and saddened. They who live on Christ, they who drink in of His spirit, they should be glad in all circumstances, they, and they alone. We sit at a table, though it be in the wilderness, though it be in the presence of our enemies, where there ought to be joy and the voice of rejoicing.
But beyond that, as our Master Himself taught these apostles in that upper room, this cup points onwards to a future feast. At that solemn hour Jesus stayed His own heart with the vision of the perfected kingdom and the glad festival then. So this Communion has a prophetic element in it, and links on with predictions and parables which speak of the 'marriage supper' of the great King, and of the time when we shall sit at His table in His kingdom.
For the past the Lord's Supper speaks of the one sufficient oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. For the present it speaks of life produced and sustained by communion with Jesus Christ. And for the future it speaks of the unending, joyful satisfaction of all desires in the 'upper room' of the heavens.
How unlike, and yet how like to that scene in the upper room at Jerusalem! From it the sad disciples went out, some of them to deny their Master; all of them to struggle, to sin, to lose Him from their sight, to toil, to sorrow, and at last to die. From that other table we shall go no more out, but sit there with Him in full fruition of unfailing blessedness and participation of His immortal life for evermore.
Dear brethren, these are the lessons, these the hopes, which this 'blood of the new covenant' teaches and inspires. Have you entered into that covenant with God? Have you made sure work of the forgiveness of your sins through His blood? Have you received into your spirits His immortal life? Then you may humbly be confident that, after life's weariness and lonesomeness are past, you will be welcomed to the banqueting hall by the Lord of the feast, and sit with Him and His servants who loved Him at that table and be glad.
'UNTIL THAT DAY'
'I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.'—MATT. xxvi. 29.
This remarkable saying of our Lord's is recorded in all of the accounts of the institution of the Lord's Supper. The thought embodied in it ought to be present in the minds of all who partake of that rite. It converts what is primarily a memorial into a prophecy. It bids us hope as well as, and because we, remember. The light behind us is cast forward on to the dimness before. So the Apostle Paul, in his solitary reference to the Communion—which, indeed, is an entirely incidental one, and evoked simply by the corruptions in the Corinthian Church, emphasises this prophetic and onward-looking aspect of the backward-looking rite when he says, 'Ye do show the Lord's death till He come.'
Now, it seems to me that those of us who so strongly hold that the Communion is primarily a simple memorial service, with no mysterious or magical efficacy of any sort about it, do rather ignore in our ordinary thoughts the other aspect which is brought out in my text; and that comparative ignoring seems to me to be but a part of a very lamentable and general tendency of this day, whereby the prospect of a future life has become somewhat dimmed and does not fill the place either in ordinary Christian thinking, or as a motive for Christian service which the proportion of faith, and the relative importance of the present and the future suggest that it ought to fill. The Christianity of this day has so much to do with the present life, and the thought of the Gospel as a power in the present has been so emphasised, in legitimate reaction from the opposite exaggeration, that there is great need, as I believe, to preach to Christian people the wisdom of making more prominent in their faith their immortal hope. I wish, then, to turn now to this aspect of the rite which we regard as a memorial, and try to emphasise its forward-looking attitude, and the large blessed truths that emerge if we consider that.
I. First, let me say just a word about the twin aspect of the Communion as a memorial prophecy, or prophetic remembrance.
Now, I need not remind you, I suppose, that according to the view which, as I believe, the New Testament takes, and which certainly we Nonconformists take, of all the rites of external worship, every one of them is a prophecy, because every act in which our sense is brought in to reinforce the spirit—and by outward forms, be they vocal, or be they manual, or be they of any other sort, we try to express and to quicken spiritual emotions and intellectual convictions—declares its own imperfection, digs its own grave, and prophecies its own resurrection in a nobler and better fashion. Just because these outward symbols of bread and wine do, through the senses, quicken the faith and the love of the spirit, they declare themselves to be transitory, and they point onwards to the time when that which is perfect shall absorb, and so destroy, that which is in part, and when sense shall be no longer necessary as the ally and humble servant of spirit. 'I saw no temple therein.' Temples, and rites, and services, and holy days, and all the external apparatus of worship, are but scaffolding, and just as the scaffolding round a building is a prophecy of its own being pulled down when the building is reared and completed, so we cannot partake of these external symbols rightly, unless we recognise their transiency, and feel that they say to us, 'A mightier than I cometh after me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose.' The light that shines in the dark heralds the day and its own extinction.
So, looking back we must look forward, and partaking of the symbol, we must reach out to the time when the symbol shall be antiquated, the reality having come. The Passover of Israel did not more truly point onwards to the true Lamb of Sacrifice, and to the true Passover that was slain for us, and to its own elevation into the Lord's Supper of the Christian Church, than the Lord's Supper of the Christian Church points onwards to the 'marriage supper of the Lamb,' and its own cessation.
But then, again, let me remind you that this prophetic aspect is inherent in the memorial aspect of the Communion, because what we remember necessarily demands the coming of what we hope. That is to say, if Jesus Christ be what the Lord's Supper says that He is, and if He has done what that broken bread and poured out wine proclaim, according to His own utterance, that He has done, then clearly that death which was for the life of the world, that death which was the seal of a covenant, that body broken for the remission of sins, that wine partaken of as a reception into ourselves of the very life-blood of Jesus Christ, do all demand something far nobler and more perfect than the broken, incomplete obedience and loyalties and communions which Christian men here exercise and possess.
If He died, as the rite says that He did, and if dying He left such a commentary upon His act as that ordinance affords, then He cannot have done with the world; then the powers that were set in motion by His death cannot pause nor cease their action until they have reached their appropriate culmination in effecting all that it was in them to effect. If, leaving His people, He said to them, 'Never forget My death for you, My broken body, and My shed blood,' He therein said that the time will come, must come, when all the powers of the Cross shall be incorporated in humanity, and when the parted shall be reunited. The Communion would stand as the expression of Christ's mistaken estimate of His own importance, if there were not beyond the grave the perfecting of it, and the full appropriation and joyful possession of all which the death that it signifies brought to mankind.
Therefore, dear brethren, it seems to me that the best way by which Christians can deepen their confidence and brighten their hope in the perfect reunion and blessedness of the heavens, is to increase the firmness of their faith in, and the depth of their apprehension of, the sacrifice of the Cross. If the Cross demands the Crown, then our surest way to realise as certain our own possession of that Crown is to cling very close to that Cross. The more we look backwards to it the more will it fling its light into all the dark places that are in front of us, and flush the heavens up to the seventh and beyond, with the glories that stream from it. Hold fast by the Cross, and the more fully, believingly, joyously, unfalteringly, we recognise in it the foundation of our salvation, the more gladly, clearly, operatively, shall we cherish the hope that 'the headstone shall be brought forth with shoutings,' and that the imperfect symbolical communion of earth will grow and greaten into complete and real union in eternal bliss.
Let me urge, then, this, that, as a matter of fact, a faith in eternal glory goes with and fluctuates in the same degree and manner as does the faith in the past sacrifice that Christ has made. He, and He alone, as I believe, turns nebulae into solidity, and makes of the more or less tremulous anticipation of a more or less dim and distant future, a calm, still certainty. We know that He will come because, and in proportion as, we believe that He has come. Keep these two things, then, always together, the memory and the hope. They stand like two great piers, one on either side of a narrow, dark glen, and suspended from them is stretched the bridge, along which the happy pilgrims may travel and enter into rest.
II. And now, let us turn for a moment to the lovely vision of that future which is suggested by our text.
The truest way, I was going to say the only way, by which we can have any conceptions of a condition of being of which we have no experience, is to fall back upon the experiences which we have, and use them as symbols and metaphors. The curtain is the picture. So our Lord here, in accordance with the necessary limitations of our human knowledge, contents Himself with using what lay at His hand, and taking it as giving faint shadows and metaphorical suggestions as to spiritual blessedness yonder.
There is one other way, as it seems to me, by which we can in any measure body forth to ourselves that unknown condition of things, and that is to fall back upon our present experiences in another fashion, and negative all of them which involve pain and limitation and incompleteness. There shall be no night—no sorrow—no tears—no sighing, and the like. These negatives of the strong and stinging griefs and limitations of the present are perhaps our second-best way of coming to some prophetic vision of that great future.
Remembering, then, that we are dealing with pure metaphor, and that the exact translation of the metaphor into reality is not yet possible for us, let us take one or two very plain thoughts out of this great saying—'Until I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom.'
Then, we have to think of the completion of the Christian life beyond, which is also the completion of the results of Christ's death on the Cross, as being, according to the very frequent metaphor both of the Old and the New Testament, a prolonged festival. I do not need to speak of the details of the thoughts that thence emerge. Let me sum them up as briefly as may be. They include the satisfaction of every desire and the nourishment of all strength, and food for every faculty. When we think of the hungry hearts that all men carry, and how true it is that even the wisest and the holiest of us are 'spending our money for that which is not bread, and our labour for that which satisfieth not'; when we think of how the choicest foods that life can provide, even for the noblest hunger of noble hearts, are too often to us but as a feeding on ashes that will leave grit between the teeth and a foul taste upon the palate, surely it is blessed to think that we may, after all life's disappointments, cherish the hope of a perfect fruition, and that yonder, if not here, it will be fully true that 'God never sends mouths but He sends meat to feed them.' That is not so in this world, for we all carry hungers which impel us forward to nobler living, and which it would not be good for us to have satisfied here. But, unless the whole universe is a godless chaos, there must be somewhere a state in which a man shall have all that he wants, and shall want only what he ought.
The emblem of a feast suggests also society. The solitary travellers who have been toiling and moiling through the desert all the day long, snatching up a hasty mouthful as they march, and lonely many a time, come together at last, and sit together there joyous and united. Deep down in our hearts some of us have gashes that always bleed. We know losses and loneliness, and we can feel, I hope, how blessed is the thought that all the wanderers shall sit there together, and rejoice in each other's communion, 'and so shall we ever be with the Lord.'
But besides satisfaction and society the figure suggests repose. That rest is not indolence, for we have to carry other metaphors with us in order to come to the full significance of this one, and the festal imagery is not all that we have to take into account; for we read, 'I grant unto you a kingdom, and ye shall sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel,' as well as 'ye shall eat and drink with Me at My table in My kingdom.' So repose, which is consistent and coexistent with the intensest activity, is the great hope that comes out of these metaphors. But for many of us—I suppose for all of us elderly people—who are about weary of work and worry, there is no deeper hope than the hope of rest. 'I have had labour enough for one,' says one of our poets. And I think there is something in most of our hearts that echoes that and rejoices to hear that, after the long march, 'ye shall sit with Me at My table.'
But besides satisfaction, society, and rest, the figure suggests gladness. Wine is the emblem of the joyous side of a feast, just as bread is the emblem of the necessary nourishment. And it is new wine; joy raised to a higher power, transformed and glorified; and yet the old emotion in a new form. As for that gladness, 'eye hath not seen, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him.' Only all we weary, heavy-laden, saddened, anxious, disappointed, tormented people may hope for these festal joys, if we are Christ's. The feast will last when all the troubles and the cares which helped us to it are dead and buried and forgotten.
These four things, brethren—satisfaction, society, rest, new gladness—are proclaimed and prophesied to each of us, if we will, by this memorial rite.
Again, there comes from this aspect of the Communion the thought that the blessed condition of the Christian soul hereafter is a feast on a sacrifice. We must distinguish between the sense in which our Lord drinks with us, and the sense in which we alone partake of that feast of which He provides the viands. But just as in the symbolic ordinance of the Communion the very essence of it is that what was offered as sacrifice is now incorporated into the participant's spiritual being, and becomes part of himself, and the life of his life, so, in the future, all the blessedness of the clustered and constellated joys of that life, which is one eternal festival, shall arise from the reception into perfected spirits with ever-growing greatness and blessedness of the Christ that died and ever lives for them. That heavenly glory, to its highest pinnacle of aspiration, to its most rapt completeness of gladness, is all the consequence of Christ's death on the Cross. That death, which we commemorate, is the procuring cause of man's entrance into bliss, and that death is the subject of the continual, grateful remembrance of the saints in the seventh heaven of their glory. Life yonder, as all true life here, consists in taking into ourselves the life of Jesus Christ, and the law for heaven is the same as the law for earth, 'He that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me.'
Lastly, the conception of the future for Christian souls arising from this aspect of the Lord's Supper is that it is not only a feast, and a feast on a sacrifice, but that it is a feast with the King.
'With you I will drink it.' Brethren, we pass beyond metaphor when we gather up and condense all the vague brightness and glories of that perfect future into this one rapturous, overwhelming, all-embracing thought: 'So shall we ever be with the Lord.' I could almost wish that Christian people had no other thought of that future than this, for surely in its grand simplicity, in its ineffable depth, there lie the germs of every blessedness. How poor all the material emblems are of which sensuous imaginations make so much, when compared with that hope! As the good old hymn has it, which to me says more, in its bold simplicity, than all the sentimental enlargements of Scriptural metaphors which some people admire so much—
'It is enough that Christ knows all, And I shall be with Him.'
Strange that He says, 'I will drink it with you.' Does He need sustenance? Does He need any external things in order to make His feast? No! and Yes! 'I will sup with Him' as well as 'He with me.' And, surely, His meat and drink are the love, the loyalty, the obedience, the receptiveness, the society of His redeemed children. 'The joy of the Lord' comes from 'seeing of the travail of His soul,' and His servants do enter into that joy in deep and wondrous fashion. We not only shall live on Christ, but He Himself puts to His own lips the chalice that He commends to ours, and in marvellous condescension to, and identity with, our glorified humanity drinks with us the 'new wine' in the Father's kingdom.
GETHSEMANE, THE OIL-PRESS
'Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. 37. And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. 38. Then saith He unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with Me. 39. And He went a little farther, and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt. 40. And He cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with Me one hour! 41. Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. 42. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O My Father, if this cup may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done. 43. And He came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. 44. And He left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. 45. Then cometh He to His 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. 46. Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray Me.'—MATT. xxvi. 36-46.
One shrinks from touching this incomparable picture of unexampled sorrow, for fear lest one's finger-marks should stain it. There is no place here for picturesque description, which tries to mend the gospel stories by dressing them in to-day's fashions, nor for theological systematisers and analysers of the sort that would 'botanise upon their mother's grave.' We must put off our shoes, and feel that we stand on holy ground. Though loving eyes saw something of Christ's agony, He did not let them come beside Him, but withdrew into the shadow of the gnarled olives, as if even the moonbeams must not look too closely on the mystery of such grief. We may go as near as love was allowed to go, but stop where it was stayed, while we reverently and adoringly listen to what the Evangelist tells us of that unspeakable hour.
I. Mark the 'exceeding sorrow' of the Man of Sorrows. Somewhere on the western foot of Olivet lay the garden, named from an oil-press formerly or then in it, which was to be the scene of the holiest and sorest sorrow on which the moon, that has seen so much misery, has ever looked. Truly it was 'an oil-press,' in which 'the good olive' was crushed by the grip of unparalleled agony, and yielded precious oil, which has been poured into many a wound since then. Eight of the eleven are left at or near the entrance, while He passes deeper into the shadows with the three. They had been witnesses of His prayers once before, on the slopes of Hermon, when He was transfigured before them. They are now to see a no less wonderful revelation of His glory in His filial submission. There is something remarkable in Matthew's expression, 'He began to be sorrowful,'—as if a sudden wave of emotion, breaking over His soul, had swept His human sensibilities before it. The strange word translated by the Revisers 'sore troubled' is of uncertain derivation, and may possibly be simply intended to intensify the idea of sorrow; but more probably it adds another element, which Bishop Lightfoot describes as 'the confused, restless, half-distracted state which is produced by physical derangement or mental distress.' A storm of agitation and bewilderment broke His calm, and forced from His patient lips, little wont to speak of His own emotions, or to seek for sympathy, the unutterably pathetic cry, 'My soul is exceeding sorrowful'—compassed about with sorrow, as the word means—'even unto death.' No feeble explanation of these words does justice to the abyss of woe into which they let us dimly look. They tell the fact, that, a little more and the body would have sunk under the burden. He knew the limits of human endurance, for 'all things were made by Him,' and, knowing it, He saw that He had grazed the very edge. Out of the darkness He reaches a hand to feel for the grasp of a friend, and piteously asks these humble lovers to stay beside Him, not that they could help Him to bear the weight, but that their presence had some solace in it. His agony must be endured alone, therefore He bade them tarry there; but He desired to have them at hand, therefore He went but 'a little forward.' They could not bear it with Him, but they could 'watch with' Him, and that poor comfort is all He asks. No word came from them. They were, no doubt, awed into silence, as the truest sympathy is used to be, in the presence of a great grief. Is it permitted us to ask what were the fountains of these bitter floods that swept over Christ's sinless soul? Was the mere physical shrinking from death all? If so, we may reverently say that many a maiden and old man, who drew all their fortitude from Jesus, have gone to stake or gibbet for His sake, with a calm which contrasts strangely with His agitation. Gethsemane is robbed of its pathos and nobleness if that be all. But it was not all. Rather it was the least bitter of the components of the cup. What lay before Him was not merely death, but the death which was to atone for a world's sin, and in which, therefore, the whole weight of sin's consequences was concentrated. 'The Lord hath made to meet on Him the iniquities of us all'; that is the one sufficient explanation of this infinitely solemn and tender scene. Unless we believe that, we shall find it hard to reconcile His agitation in Gethsemane with the perfection of His character as the captain of 'the noble army of martyrs.'
II. Note the prayer of filial submission. Matthew does not tell us of the sweat falling audibly and heavily, and sounding to the three like slow blood-drops from a wound, nor of the strengthening angel, but he gives us the prostrate form, and the threefold prayer, renewed as each moment of calm, won by it, was again broken in upon by a fresh wave of emotion. Thrice He had to leave the disciples, and came back, a calm conqueror; and twice the enemy rallied and returned to the assault, and was at last driven finally from the field by the power of prayer and submission. The three Synoptics differ in their report of our Lord's words, but all mean the same thing in substance; and it is obvious that much more must have been spoken than they report. Possibly what we have is only the fragments that reached the three before they fell asleep. In any case, Jesus was absent from them on each occasion long enough to allow of their doing so.
Three elements are distinguishable in our Lord's prayer. There is, first, the sense of Sonship, which underlies all, and was never more clear than at that awful moment. Then there is the recoil from 'the cup,' which natural instinct could not but feel, though sinlessly. The flesh shrank from the Cross, which else had been no suffering; and if no suffering, then had been no atonement. His manhood would not have been like ours, nor His sorrows our pattern, if He had not thus drawn back, in His sensitive humanity, from the awful prospect now so near. But natural instinct is one thing, and the controlling will another. However currents may have tossed the vessel, the firm hand at the helm never suffered them to change her course. The will, which in this prayer He seems so strangely to separate from the Father's, even in the act of submission, was the will which wishes, not that which resolves. His fixed purpose to die for the world's sin never wavered. The shrinking does not reach the point of absolutely and unconditionally asking that the cup might pass. Even in the act of uttering the wish, it is limited by that 'if it be possible,' which can only mean—possible, in view of the great purpose for which He came. That is to be accomplished, at any cost; and unless it can be accomplished though the cup be withdrawn, He does not even wish, much less will, that it should be withdrawn. So, the third element in the prayer is the utter resignation to the Father's will, in which submission He found peace, as we do.
He prayed His way to perfect calm, which is ever the companion of perfect self-surrender to God. They who cease from their own works do 'enter into rest.' All the agitations which had come storming in massed battalions against Him are defeated by it. They have failed to shake His purpose, they now fail even to disturb His peace. So, victorious from the dreadful conflict, and at leisure of heart to care for others, He can go back to the disciples. But even whilst seeking to help them, a fresh wave of suffering breaks in on His calm, and once again He leaves them to renew the struggle. The instinctive shrinking reasserts itself, and, though overcome, is not eradicated. But the second prayer is yet more rooted in acquiescence than the first. It shows that He had not lost what He had won by the former; for it, as it were, builds on that first supplication, and accepts as answer to its contingent petition the consciousness, accompanying the calm, that it was not possible for the cup to pass from Him. The sense of Sonship underlies the complete resignation of the second prayer as of the first. It has no wish but God's will, and is the voluntary offering of Himself. Here He is both Priest and Sacrifice, and offers the victim with this prayer of consecration. So once more He triumphs, because once more, and yet more completely, He submits, and accepts the Cross. For Him, as for us, the Cross accepted ceases to be a pain, and the cup is no more bitter when we are content to drink it. Once more in fainter fashion the enemy came on, casting again his spent arrows, and beaten back by the same weapon. The words were the same, because no others could have expressed more perfectly the submission which was the heart of His prayers and the condition of His victory.
Christ's prayer, then, was not for the passing of the cup, but that the will of God might be done in and by Him, and 'He was heard in that He feared,' not by being exempted from the Cross, but by being strengthened through submission for submission. So His agony is the pattern of all true prayer, which must ever deal with our wishes, as He did with His instinctive shrinking,—present them wrapped in an 'if it be possible,' and followed by a 'nevertheless.' The meaning of prayer is not to force our wills on God's, but to bend our wills to His; and that prayer is really answered of which the issue is our calm readiness for all that He lays upon us.
III. Note the sad and gentle remonstrance with the drowsy three. 'The sleep of the disciples, and of these disciples, and of all three, and such an overpowering sleep, remains even after Luke's explanation, "for sorrow," a psychological riddle' (Meyer). It is singularly parallel with the sleep of the same three at the Transfiguration—an event which presents the opposite pole of our Lord's experiences, and yields so many antithetical parallels to Gethsemane. No doubt the tension of emotion, which had lasted for many hours, had worn them out; but, if weariness had weighed down their eyelids, love should have kept them open. Such sleep of such disciples may have been a riddle, but it was also a crime, and augured imperfect sympathy. Gentle surprise and the pain of disappointed love are audible in the question, addressed to Peter especially, as he had promised so much, but meant for all. This was all that Jesus got in answer to His yearning for sympathy. 'I looked for some to take pity, but there was none.' Those who loved Him most lay curled in dead slumber within earshot of His prayers. If ever a soul tasted the desolation of utter loneliness, that suppliant beneath the olives tasted it. But how little of the pain escapes His lips! The words but hint at the slightness of their task compared with His, at the brevity of the strain on their love, and at the companionship which ought to have made sleep impossible. May we not see in Christ's remonstrance a word for all? For us, too, the task of keeping awake in the enchanted ground is light, measured against His, and the time is short, and we have Him to keep us company in the watch, and every motive of grateful love should make it easy; but, alas, how many of us sleep a drugged and heavy slumber!
The gentle remonstrance soon passes over into counsel as gentle. Watchfulness and prayer are inseparable. The one discerns dangers, the other arms against them. Watchfulness keeps us prayerful, and prayerfulness keeps us watchful. To watch without praying is presumption, to pray without watching is hypocrisy. The eye that sees clearly the facts of life will turn upwards from its scanning of the snares and traps, and will not look in vain. These two are the indispensable conditions of victorious encountering of temptation. Fortified by them, we shall not 'enter into' it, though we encounter it. The outward trial will remain, but its power to lead us astray will vanish. It will still be danger or sorrow, but it will not be temptation; and we shall pass through it, as a sunbeam through foul air, untainted, and keeping heaven's radiance. That is a lesson for a wider circle than the sleepy three.
It is followed by words which would need a volume to expound in all their depth and width of application, but which are primarily a reason for the preceding counsel, as well as a loving apology for the disciples' sleep. Christ is always glad to give us credit for even imperfect good; His eye, which sees deeper than ours, sees more lovingly, and is not hindered from marking the willing spirit by recognising weak flesh. But these words are not to be made a pillow for indolent acquiescence in the limitations which the flesh imposes on the spirit. He may take merciful count of these, and so may we, in judging others, but it is fatal to plead them at the bar of our own consciences. Rather they should be a spur to our watchfulness and to our prayer. We need these because the flesh is weak, still more because, in its weakness toward good, it is strong to evil. Such exercise will give governing power to the spirit, and enable it to impose its will on the reluctant flesh. If we watch and pray, the conflict between these two elements in the renewed nature will tend to unity and peace by the supremacy of the spirit; if we do not, it will tend to cease by the unquestioned tyranny of the flesh. In one or other direction our lives are tending.
Strange that such words had no effect. But so it was, and so deep was the apostles' sleep that Christ left them undisturbed the second time. The relapse is worse than the original disease. Sleep broken and resumed is more torpid and fatal than if it had not been interrupted. We do not know how long it lasted, though the whole period in the garden must have been measured by hours; but at last it was broken by the enigmatical last words of our Lord. The explanation of the direct opposition between the consecutive sentences, by taking the 'Sleep on now' as ironical, jars on one's reverence. Surely irony is out of keeping with the spirit of Christ then. Rather He bids them sleep on, since the hour is come, in sad recognition that the need for their watchful sympathy is past, and with it the opportunity for their proved affection. It is said with a tone of contemplative melancholy, and is almost equivalent to 'too late, too late.' The memorable sermon of F. W. Robertson, on this text, rightly grasps the spirit of the first clause, when it dwells with such power on the thought of 'the irrevocable past' of wasted opportunities and neglected duty. But the sudden transition to the sharp, short command and broken sentences of the last verse is to be accounted for by the sudden appearance of the flashing lights of the band led by Judas, somewhere near at hand, in the valley. The mood of pensive reflection gives place to rapid decision. He summons them to arise, not for flight, but that He may go out to meet the traitor. Escape would have been easy. There was time to reach some sheltering fold of the hill in the darkness; but the prayer beneath the silver-grey olives had not been in vain, and these last words in Gethsemane throb with the Son's willingness to yield Himself up, and to empty to its dregs the cup which the Father had given Him.
THE LAST PLEADING OF LOVE
'And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come?'—MATT. xxvi. 50.
We are accustomed to think of the betrayer of our Lord as a kind of monster, whose crime is so mysterious in its atrocity as to put him beyond the pale of human sympathy. The awful picture which the great Italian poet draws of him as alone in hell, shunned even there, as guilty beyond all others, expresses the general feeling about him. And even the attempts which have been made to diminish the greatness of his guilt, by supposing that his motive was only to precipitate Christ's assumption of His conquering Messianic power, are prompted by the same thought that such treason as his is all but inconceivable. I cannot but think that these attempts fail, and that the narratives of the Gospels oblige us to think of his crime as deliberate treachery. But even when so regarded, other emotions than wondering loathing should be excited by the awful story.
There had been nothing in his previous history to suggest such sin, as is proved by the disciples' question, when our Lord announced that one of them should betray Him. No suspicion lighted on him—no finger pointed to where he sat. But self-distrust asked, 'Lord, is it I?' and only love, pillowed on the Master's breast, and strong in the happy sense of His love, was sufficiently assured of its own constancy, to change the question into 'Lord! who is it?' The process of corruption was unseen by all eyes but Christ's. He came to his terrible pre-eminence in crime by slow degrees, and by paths which we may all tread. As for his guilt, that is in other hands than ours. As for his fate, let us copy the solemn and pitying reticence of Peter, and say, 'that he might go to his own place'—the place that belongs to him, and that he is fit for, wherever that may be. As for the growth and development of his sin, let us remember that 'we have all of us one human heart,' and that the possibilities of crime as dark are in us all. And instead of shuddering abhorrence at a sin that can scarcely be understood, and can never be repeated, let us be sure that whatever man has done, man may do, and ask with humble consciousness of our own deceitful hearts, 'Lord, is it I?'
These remarkable and solemn words of Christ, with which He meets the treacherous kiss, appear to be a last appeal to Judas. They may possibly not be a question, as in our version—but an incomplete sentence, 'What thou hast come to do'—leaving the implied command, 'That do,' unexpressed. They would then be very like other words which the betrayer had heard but an hour or two before, 'That thou doest, do quickly.' But such a rendering does not seem so appropriate to the circumstances as that which makes them a question, smiting on his heart and conscience, and seeking to tear away the veil of sophistications with which he had draped from his own eyes the hideous shape of his crime. And, if so, what a wonderful instance we have here of that long-suffering love. They are the last effort of the divine patience to win back even the traitor. They show us the wrestle between infinite mercy and a treacherous, sinful heart, and they bring into awful prominence the power which that heart has of rejecting the counsel of God against itself. I venture to use them now as suggesting these three things: the patience of Christ's love; the pleading of Christ's love; and the refusal of Christ's love.
I. The patience of Christ's love.
If we take no higher view of this most pathetic incident than that the words come from a man's lips, even then all its beauty will not be lost. There are some sins against friendship in which the manner is harder to bear than the substance of the evil. It must have been a strangely mean and dastardly nature, as well as a coarse and cold one, that could think of fixing on the kiss of affection as the concerted sign to point out their victim to the legionaries. Many a man who could have planned and executed the treason would have shrunk from that. And many a man who could have borne to be betrayed by his own familiar friend would have found that heartless insult worse to endure than the treason itself. But what a picture of perfect patience and unruffled calm we have here, in that the answer to the poisonous, hypocritical embrace was these moving words! The touch of the traitor's lips has barely left His cheek, but not one faint passing flush of anger tinges it. He is perfectly self-oblivious—absorbed in other thoughts, and among them in pity for the guilty wretch before Him. His words have no agitation in them, no instinctive recoil from the pollution of such a salutation. They have grave rebuke, but it is rebuke which derives its very force from the appeal to former companionship. Christ still recognises the ancient bond, and is true to it. He will still plead with this man who has been beside Him long; and though His heart be wounded yet He is not wroth, and He will not cast him off. If this were nothing more than a picture of human friendship it would stand alone, above all other records that the world cherishes in its inmost heart, of the love that never fails, and is not soon angry.
But we, I hope, dear brethren, think more loftily and more truly of our dear Lord than as simply a perfect manhood, the exemplar of all goodness. How He comes to be that, if He be not more than that, I do not understand, and I, for one, feel that my confidence in the flawless completeness of His human character lives or dies with my belief that He is the Eternal Word, God manifest in the flesh. Certainly we shall never truly grasp the blessed meaning of His life on earth until we look upon it all as the revelation of God. The tears of Christ are the pity of God. The gentleness of Jesus is the long-suffering of God. The tenderness of Jesus is the love of God. 'He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father'; and all that life so beautiful but so anomalous as to be all but incredible, when we think of it as only the life of a man, glows with a yet fairer beauty, and corresponds with the nature which it expresses, when we think of it as being the declaration to us by the divine Son of the divine Father—our loftiest, clearest, and authentic revelation of God.
How that thought lifts these words before us into a still higher region! We are now in the presence of the solemn greatness of a divine love. If the meaning of this saying is what we have suggested, it is pathetic even in the lower aspect, but how infinitely that pathos is deepened when we view it in the higher!
Surely if ever there was a man who might have been supposed to be excluded from the love of God, it was Judas. Surely if ever there was a moment in a human life, when one might have supposed that even Christ's ever open heart would shut itself together against any one, it was this moment. But no, the betrayer in the very instant of his treason has that changeless tenderness lingering around him, and that merciful hand beckoning to him still.
And have we not a right to generalise this wonderful fact, and to declare its teaching to be—that the love of God is extended to us all, and cannot be made to turn away from us by any sins of ours? Sin is mighty; it can work endless evils on us; it can disturb and embitter all our relations with God; it can, as we shall presently have to point out, make it necessary for the tenderest 'grace of God to come disciplining'—to 'come with a rod,' just because it comes in 'the spirit of meekness.' But one thing it cannot do, and that is—make God cease to love us. I suppose all human affection can be worn out by constant failure to evoke a response from cold hearts. I suppose that it can be so nipped by frosts, so constantly checked in blossoming, that it shrivels and dies. I suppose that constant ingratitude, constant indifference can turn the warmest springs of our love to a river of ice. 'Can a mother forget her child?—Yea, she may forget.' But we have to do with a God, whose love is His very being; who loves us not for reasons in us but in Himself; whose love is eternal and boundless as all His nature; whose love, therefore, cannot be turned away by our sin—but abides with us for ever, and is granted to every soul of man. Dear brethren, we cannot believe too firmly, we cannot trust too absolutely, we cannot proclaim too broadly that blessed thought, without which we have no hope to feed on for ourselves, or to share with our fellows—the universal love of God in Christ.
Is there a worst man on earth at this moment? If there be, he, too, has a share in that love. Harlots and thieves, publicans and sinners, leprous outcasts, and souls tormented by unclean spirits, the wrecks of humanity whom decent society and respectable Christianity passes by with averted head and uplifted hands, criminals on the gibbet with the rope round their necks—and those who are as hopeless as any of these, self-complacent formalists and 'Gospel-hardened professors'—all have a place in that heart. And that, not as undistinguished members of a class, but as separate souls, singly the objects of God's knowledge and love. He loves all, because He loves each. We are not massed together in His view, nor in His regard. He does not lose the details in the whole; as we, looking on some great crowd of upturned faces, are conscious of all but recognise no single one. He does not love a class—a world—but He loves the single souls that make it up—you and me, and every one of the millions that we throw together in the vague phrase, 'the race.' Let us individualise that love in our thoughts as it individualises us in its outflow—and make our own the 'exceeding broad' promises, which include us, too. 'God loves me; Christ gave Himself for me. I have a place in that royal, tender heart.'
Nor should any sin make us doubt this. He loved us with exceeding love, even when we were 'dead in trespasses.' He did not begin to love because of anything in us; He will not cease because of anything in us. We change; 'He abideth faithful, He cannot deny Himself.' As the sunshine pours down as willingly and abundantly on filth and dunghills, as on gold that glitters in its beam, and jewels that flash back its lustre, so the light and warmth of that unsetting and unexhausted source of life pours down 'on the unthankful and on the good.' The great ocean clasps some black and barren crag that frowns against it, as closely as with its waves it kisses some fair strand enamelled with flowers and fragrant with perfumes. So that sea of love in which we 'live, and move, and have our being,' encircles the worst with abundant flow. He Himself sets us the pattern, which to imitate is to be the children of 'our Father which is in heaven,' in that He loves His enemies, blessing them that curse, and doing good to them that hate. He Himself is what He has enjoined us to be, in that He feeds His enemies when they hunger, and when they thirst gives them drink, heaping coals of fire on their heads, and seeking to kindle in them thereby the glow of answering love, not being overcome of their evil, so that He repays hate with hate and scorn with scorn, but in patient continuance of loving kindness seeking to overcome evil with good. He is Himself that 'charity' which 'is not easily provoked, is not soon angry, beareth all things, hopeth all things, and never faileth.' His love is mightier than all our sins, and waits not on our merits, nor is turned away by our iniquities. 'God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'
II. Then, secondly, we have here—the pleading of Christ's patient love.
I have been trying to say as broadly and strongly as I can, that our sins do not turn away the love of God in Christ from us. The more earnestly we believe and proclaim that, the more needful is it to set forth distinctly—and that not as limiting, but as explaining the truth—the other thought, that the sin which does not avert, does modify the expression of, the love of God. Man's sin compels Him to do what the prophet calls his 'strange work'—the work which is not dear to His heart, nor natural, if one may so say, to His hands—His work of judgment.
The love of Christ has to come to sinful men with patient pleading and remonstrance, that it may enter their hearts and give its blessings. We are familiar with a modern work of art in which that long-suffering appeal is wonderfully portrayed. He who is the Light of the world stands, girded with the royal mantle clasped with the priestly breastplate, bearing in His hand the lamp of truth, and there, amidst the dew of night and the rank hemlock, He pleads for entrance at the closed door which has no handle on its outer side, and is hinged to open only from within. 'I stand at the door and knock. If any man open the door, I will come in.'
And in this incident before us, we see represented not only the endless patience of God's pitying love, but the method which it needs to take in order to reach the heart.
There is an appeal to the traitor's heart, and an appeal to his conscience. Christ would have him think of the relations that have so long subsisted between them; and He would have him think, too, of the real nature of the deed he is doing, or, perhaps, of the motives that impel him. The grave, sad word, by which He addresses him, is meant to smite upon his heart. The sharp question which He puts to him is meant to wake up his conscience; and both taken together represent the two chief classes of remonstrance which He brings to bear upon us all—the two great batteries from which He assails the fortress of our sins.
There is first, then—Christ's appeal to the heart. He tries to make Judas feel the considerations that should restrain him. The appellation by which our Lord addresses him does not in the original convey quite so strongly the idea of amity, as our word 'Friend' does. It is not the same as that which He had used a few hours before in the upper chamber, when He said, 'Henceforth I call you not servants, but I have called you friends.—Ye are My friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.' It is the same as is put into the lips of the Lord of the vineyard, remonstrating with his jealous labourer, 'Friend, I do thee no wrong.' There is a tone, then, of less intimate association and graver rebuke in it than in that name with which He honours those who make His will theirs, and His word the law of their lives. It does not speak of close confidence, but it does suggest companionship and kindness on the part of the speaker. There is rebuke in it, but it is rebuke which derives its whole force from the remembrance of ancient concord and connection. Our Lord would recall to the memory of the betrayer the days in which they had taken sweet counsel together. It is as if He had said—'Hast thou forgotten all our former intercourse? Thou hast eaten My bread, thou hast been Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted—canst thou lift up thy heel against Me?' What happy hours of quiet fellowship on many a journey, of rest together after many a day of toil, what forgotten thoughts of the loving devotion and the glow of glad consecration that he had once felt, what a long series of proofs of Christ's gentle goodness and meek wisdom should have sprung again to remembrance at such an appeal! And how black and dastardly would his guilt have seemed if once he had ventured to remember what unexampled friendship he was sinning against!
Is it not so with us all, dear brethren? All our evils are betrayals of Christ, and all our betrayals of Christ are sins against a perfect friendship and an unvaried goodness. We, too, have sat at His table, heard His wisdom, seen His miracles, listened to His pleadings, have had a place in His heart; and if we turn away from Him to do our own pleasure, and sell His love for a handful of silver, we need not cherish shuddering abhorrence against that poor wretch who gave Him up to the cross. Oh! if we could see aright, we should see our Saviour's meek, sad face standing between us and each of our sins, with warning in the pitying eyes, and His pleading voice would sound in our ears, appealing to us by loving remembrances of His ancient friendship, to turn from the evil which is treason against Him, and wounds His heart as much as it harms ours. Take heed lest in condemning the traitor we doom ourselves. If we flush into anger at the meanness of his crime, and declare, 'He shall surely die,' do we not hear a prophet's voice saying to each, 'Thou art the man'?
The loving hand laid on the heart-strings is followed by a strong stroke on conscience. The heart vibrates most readily in answer to gentle touches: the conscience, in answer to heavier, as the breath that wakes the chords of an Aeolian harp would pass silent through the brass of a trumpet. 'Wherefore art thou come?'—if to be taken as a question at all, which, as I have said, seems most natural, is either, 'What hast thou come to do?'—or, 'Why hast thou come to do it?' Perhaps it maybe fairly taken as including both. But, at all events, it is clearly an appeal to Judas to make him see what his conduct really is in itself, and possibly in its motive too. And this is the constant effort of the love of Christ—to get us to say to ourselves the real name of what we are about.
We cloak our sins from ourselves with many wrappings, as they swathe a mummy in voluminous folds. And of these veils, one of the thickest is woven by our misuse of words to describe the very same thing by different names, according as we do it, or another man does it. Almost all moral actions—the thing to which we can apply the words right or wrong—have two or more names, of which the one suggests the better and the other the worse side of the action. For instance what in ourselves we call prudent regard for our own interest, we call, in our neighbour, narrow selfishness; what in ourselves is laudable economy, in him is miserable avarice. We are impetuous, he is passionate; we generous, he lavish; we are clever men of business, he is a rogue; we sow our wild oats and are gay, he is dissipated. So we cheat ourselves by more than half-transparent veils of our own manufacture, which we fling round the ugly features and misshapen limbs of these sins of ours, and we are made more than ever their bond-slaves thereby.
Therefore, it is the office of the truest love to force us to look at the thing as it is. It would go some way to keep a man from some of his sins if he would give the thing its real name. A distinct conscious statement to oneself, 'Now I am going to tell a lie'—'This that I am doing is fraud'—'This emotion that I feel creeping with devilish warmth about the roots of my heart is revenge'—and so on, would surely startle us sometimes, and make us fling the gliding poison from our breast, as a man would a snake that he found just lifting its head from the bosom of his robe. Suppose Judas had answered the question, and, gathering himself up, had looked his Master in the face, and said—'What have I come for?' 'I have come to betray Thee for thirty pieces of silver!' Do you not think that putting his guilt into words might have moved even him to more salutary feelings than the remorse which afterwards accompanied his tardy discernment of what he had done? So the patient love of Christ comes rebuking, and smiting hard on conscience. 'The grace of God that bringeth salvation to all men hath appeared disciplining'—and His hand is never more gentle than when it plucks away the films with which we hide our sins from ourselves, and shows us the 'rottenness and dead men's bones' beneath the whited walls of the sepulchres and the velvet of the coffins.
He must begin with rebukes that He may advance to blessing. He must teach us what is separating us from Him that, learning it, we may flee to His grace to help us. There is no entrance for the truest gifts of His patient love into any heart that has not yielded to His pleading remonstrance, and in lowly penitence has answered His question as He would have us answer it, 'Friend and Lover of my soul, I have sinned against Thy tender heart, against the unexampled patience of Thy love. I have departed from Thee and betrayed Thee. Blessed be Thy merciful voice which hath taught me what I have done! Blessed be Thine unwearied goodness which still bends over me! Raise me fallen! forgive me treacherous! Keep me safe and happy, ever true and near to Thee!'
III. Notice the possible rejection of the pleading of Christ's patient love.
Even that appeal was vain. Here we are confronted with a plain instance of man's mysterious and awful power of 'frustrating the counsel of God'—of which one knows not whether is greater, the difficulty of understanding how a finite will can rear itself against the Infinite Will, or the mournful mystery that a creature should desire to set itself against its loving Maker and Benefactor. But strange as it is, yet so it is; and we can turn round upon Sovereign Fatherhood bidding us to its service, and say, 'I will not.' He pleads with us, and we can resist His pleadings. He holds out the mercies of His hands and the gifts of His grace, and we can reject them. We cannot cease to be the objects of His love, but we can refuse to be the recipients of its most precious gifts. We can bar our hearts against it. Then, of what avail is it to us? To go back to an earlier illustration, the sunshine pours down and floods a world, what does that matter to us if we have fastened up shutters on all our windows, and barred every crevice through which the streaming gladness can find its way? We shall grope at noontide as in the dark within our gloomy house, while our neighbours have light in theirs. What matters it though we float in the great ocean of the divine love, if with pitch and canvas we have carefully closed every aperture at which the flood can enter? A hermetically closed jar, plunged in the Atlantic, will be as dry inside as if it were lying on the sand of the desert. It is possible to perish of thirst within sight of the fountain. It is possible to separate ourselves from the love of God, not to separate the love of God from ourselves.
The incident before us carries another solemn lesson—how simple and easy a thing it is to repel that pleading love. What did Judas do? Nothing; it was enough. He merely held his peace—no more. There was no need for him to break out with oaths and curses, to reject his Lord with wild words. Silence was sufficient. And for us—no more is required. We have but to be passive; we have but to stand still. Not to accept is to refuse; non-submission is rebellion. We do not need to emphasise our refusal by any action—no need to lift our clenched hands in defiance. We have simply to put them behind our backs or to keep them folded. The closed hand must remain an empty hand. 'He that believeth not is condemned.' My friend, remember that, when Christ pleads and draws, to do nothing is to oppose, and to delay is to refuse. It is a very easy matter to ruin your soul. You have simply to keep still when He says 'Come unto Me'—to keep your eyes fixed where they were, when He says, 'Look unto Me, and be ye saved,' and all the rest will follow of itself.
Notice, too, how the appeal of Christ's love hardens where it does not soften. That gentle voice drove the traitor nearer the verge over which he fell into a gulf of despair. It should have drawn him closer to the Lord, but he recoiled from it, and was thereby brought nearer destruction. Every pleading of Christ's grace, whether by providences, or by books, or by His own word, does something with us. It is never vain. Either it melts or it hardens. The sun either scatters the summer morning mists, or it rolls them into heavier folds, from whose livid depths the lightning will be flashing by mid-day. You cannot come near the most inadequate exhibition of the pardoning love of Christ without being either drawn closer to Him or driven further from Him. Each act of rejection prepares the way for another, which will be easier, and adds another film to the darkness which covers your eyes, another layer to the hardness which incrusts your hearts.
Again, that silence, so eloquent and potent in its influence, was probably the silence of a man whose conscience was convicted while his will was unchanged. Such a condition is possible. It points to solemn thoughts, and to deep mysteries in man's awful nature. He knew that he was wrong, he had no excuse, his deed was before him in some measure in its true character, and yet he would not give it up. Such a state, if constant and complete, presents the most frightful picture we can frame of a soul. That a man shall not be able to say, 'I did it ignorantly'; that Christ shall not be able to ground His intercession on, 'They know not what they do'; that with full knowledge of the true nature of the deed, there shall be no wavering of the determination to do it—we may well turn with terror from such an awful abyss. But let us remember that, whether such a condition in its completeness is conceivable or not, at all events we may approach it indefinitely; and we do approach it by every sin, and by every refusal to yield to the love that would touch our consciences and fill our hearts.
Have you ever noticed what a remarkable verbal correspondence there is between these words of our text, and some other very solemn ones of Christ's? The question that He puts into the lips of the king who came in to see his guests is, 'Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having on a wedding garment?' The question asked on earth shall be repeated again at last. The silence which once indicated a convinced conscience and an unchanged will may at that day indicate both of these and hopelessness beside. The clear vision of the divine love, if it do not flood the heart with joy and evoke the bliss of answering love, may fill it with bitterness. It is possible that the same revelation of the same grace may be the heaven of heaven to those who welcome it, and the pain of hell to those who turn from it. It is possible that love believed and received may be life, and love recognised and rejected may be death. It is possible that the vision of the same face may make some break forth with the rapturous hymn, 'Lo, this is our God, we have waited for Him!' and make others call on the hills to fall on them and cover them from its brightness.