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of such a happiness: provided we can also discern in ourselves any dispositions of true holiness, and some preparedness for a better life: let us give a tribute of praise and honour to the Lord Jesus for such advantages, and love him who has loved us, and given himself for us. And let us be careful not to do any thing unbecoming the character which we sustain, of being his disciples. That would be a very ungrateful and disagreeable return for his pure and disinterested love, who expects nothing more of us than that we should honour him by a right temper and conduct.
3. The particular of the text may induce us sometimes to survey with care and attention the circumstances of our Lord's last sufferings. We should then, very likely, observe divers things deserving admiration, and very proper for our establishment and comfort.
4. We cannot omit to observe at this time the composure of our Lord's mind, and the greatness of his behaviour in the most trying circumstances.
"Jesus knowing, that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith: I thirst." So writes St. John, who was at the foot of the cross, and was persuaded, that in what the Lord then said, he had a regard to the ancient prophecies concerning the Messiah. Which shews great composure of mind under the most painful sufferings.
We also perceive the greatness of his behaviour. When the sponge dipped in vinegar was put to his mouth, he does not make any complaints, nor exclaim against so disagreeable treatment, nor bemoan his sad condition. Nor does the Evangelist enlarge upon it, having for wise reasons prescribed to himself great conciseness. Nevertheless these things may be well observed by us. The doing so, will help us to form a more just idea of the great example of resignation and patience, which our Lord has given.
5. Finally, we should, in imitation of Jesus, be willing to endure all things for the truth's sake, and for the good of our fellow-creatures, and fellow-christians.
I am sensible, that the actions and sufferings of Jesus Christ are sometimes misunderstood and misapplied. Some in the church of Rome especially, have weakly imitated this part of our Lord's sufferings. And because he said, "I thirst," that they might resemble him therein, they have practised abstinence, until they have been incapable of admitting any liquid. To such it might be justly said: "Who has required this at your hands?" Is. i. 12. This is not a service acceptable to God, who does not delight in the pain and distress of any of his creatures. Nor did Jesus seek these sufferings: though he meekly acquiesced in them.
Christ indeed has required his followers to "love one another, as he has loved them." Which is a very comprehensive command. And implies, that they should be willing to hazard, or even lay down their lives for one another, and for the general good, if there should be occasion. But not otherwise. For he recommended to his disciples discretion, (which he often practised himself) as well as innocence. And directed them to decline dangers, as far as they honourably could, and when persecuted in one city, to flee into another.
But though some have practised a vain imitation of Christ, his conduct is really exemplary and encouraging. We should resemble him in zeal for God, a love of truth, and of one another. Resolution and steadiness in such interests are very honourable and commendable. And if at any time, in the course of Divine Providence, we are made like unto Jesus in afflictions and sufferings, and are meek and composed, and courageous under them as he was, we shall also be like him in glory and happiness hereafter.
THE GREATNESS OF JESUS IN HIS LAST SUFFERINGS.
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said: It is finished. And he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. John xix. 30.
Sr. PAUL., in his first epistle to the Corinthians, speaks of the offence which some took at the sufferings of Christ. The Jews required a sign, and the Greeks sought after wisdom: insomuch that the preaching of Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks
foolishness." Nevertheless to many, "both Jews and Greeks, Christ was the power of God, and the wisdom of God," 1 Cor. i. 18-24. For which reason, and because he had himself in particular experienced the benefit of that doctrine, he determined, when at Corinth, one of the politest cities of Greece, then esteemed the most polite and learned part of the world, "not to know, [or make manifest,] any thing save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
The disciples of Jesus, who had so much reason, from the excellence of his words, and the wonders and condescensions of his life, to love and respect him, were offended in him, forsook him, and fled, when he entered into the thick cloud of affliction. But their eyes were afterwards enlightened, their understandings opened, and their hearts enlarged. And they were able and willing to recommend to all, a faith in Christ crucified and risen as perfectly reasonable, and highly beneficial and advantageous.
But it is not now my intention to insist on all the ends and uses of the death of Christ, nor on all the reasons for permitting it. It is chiefly in one particular light, that I would at present consider the sufferings of the Lord Jesus: to shew, in some measure, his greatness under them: how he maintained his dignity throughout this hour of affliction, and strange scene of abasement: and the fitness and propriety of all his words and actions, from his yielding up himself into the hands of his enemies to his expiring on the cross: how he joined majesty with meekness, and under the most injurious and provoking treatment, manifested great presence of thought, and perfect composure of mind.
For this end, I shall take notice of the main parts of the whole history of the last sufferings of Jesus, as recorded by the Evangelists. The discourse shall be divided into two sections. The first containing the particulars of our Lord's apprehension and prosecution, to the time of his condemnation by Pilate: the second, containing the several things following, till he expired
on the cross.
Sect. I. 1. And in the first place, there is a circumstance fit to be observed by us, which greatly exalts the fortitude of Jesus: that he knew beforehand the death he was to endure, and all the painful concomitants of it, and yet he resigns himself to it, and prepares himself for it with cheerfulness.
This composure of mind at his entering into the amazing scene of his sorrows, and his foreknowledge of them, appear in those words spoken to the disciples, in his retirement, after the conclusion of the prayers, which he had there offered up. "Then cometh he to the disciples, and saith unto them: Sleep on now, and take your rest. Behold the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Arise, let us be going. Behold, he is at hand that does betray me," Matt. xxvi. 45, 46.
We may be persuaded, from the intimations which our Lord had given to many and upon divers occasions, in the course of his ministry, that he beforehand knew the painful and ignominious death which he was to undergo. Here, in these words, just read from St. Matthew, the like to which are in St. Mark's gospel, we perceive his distinct foresight of the beginning of his last sorrows, and at the same time how composed he was, Mark xiv. 41, 42.
The Evangelists usually content themselves with barely relating things as they happened, without any hint of special observation to engage the attention of readers: Nevertheless St. John has thought fit just to take notice of this foreknowledge of Christ. "Jesus therefore knowing all things that should come unto him, went forth, and said unto them: Whom seek ye?" John xviii. 4.
Our blessed Lord's distinct foresight of all the affecting sufferings which he was to endure, greatly illustrates the resolution and fortitude of his mind, and his affectionate concern for sinful men, in resigning himself to them with such readiness as he did; which appears in the words just read, and in other particulars to be farther taken notice of.
2. Our Lord's great mind appears in the manner in which he received Judas who came to betray him, and the officers who were sent to apprehend him.
"Judas, one of the twelve," as the Evangelist relates, "came, and with him a great multitude, with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders," Matt. xxvi. 47. "And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, Master: and kissed him," ver. 49. He comes, with the usual tokens of respect, after some time of absence. Thus he addresseth himself to Christ, when this very salutation had been agreed upon, as a mark, denoting him whom the officers were to seize and lay hold of. Whereupon Jesus said unto him: "Friend, wherefore art thou come ?"
ver. 50. So in Matthew.
But in another gospel: "Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss!" Luke xxii. 48. This was the beginning of these sorrows: and it was a very affecting case. To be betrayed by a disciple, in the eye of the world, would appear a prejudice to our Saviour's reputation, and an argument of some inisconduct, or of some bad designs; that one of his disciples and intimate friends delivered him to his enemies. This was an affecting thing. It must be so to any man, who is virtuous and innocent, and has a sense of honour. In ordinary minds, even where there is true goodness, it would have had one or other of these effects: to sink the spirits in a great degree; or else provoke to ungovernable resentment and indignation, breaking out into passionate expressions; but the greatness of Jesus is conspicuous. He saw the falsehood of Judas, under the fair appearance of respect and affection. Yet he returns him a familiar salutation, and calls him friend. But at the same time he intimates his discernment of his treacherous purpose, and gives a piercing reproof of his baseness: "Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss!"
Then turning himself to the officers who came with Judas, he says, "Whom seek ye? They answered him: Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he-As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward," or drew back," and fell to the ground. Then asked he them again: Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I have told you, that I am he," John xviii. 4-8.
Here, as every where, all along, we see proofs of great presence of mind and composure of thought. Jesus had retired into a private place; but it was not with a view of hiding himself from his enemies. He was innocent, and knew himself to be so, and shews his conscious integrity, by declaring himself to be the person whom they sought: which acknowledgment was delivered with such majesty, or accompanied with such power, that they fell to the ground as if struck with lightning. Then a second time he asks," whom they sought," and told them again, he was the person: by all this shewing that he could not be apprehended, but with his own consent, and that he did now willingly yield himself up into their hands.
This ought to fill us with respect for the Lord Jesus, at once admiring his dignity, and his condescension.
And this shews, that if afterwards he does not deliver himself, or escape from his enemies,. but submits to all the evils which they are disposed to inflict upon him, it is not because he is not able to save himself; but because he resigns himself to those sufferings, it being the will of God, for the good of me, that he should so acquiesce, and thereby afford an example of consummate patience, confirm his important doctrine, and draw men to him, and bring them to high degrees of virtue here, and of glory and happiness hereafter.
3. The next thing to be observed by us is the demand which he makes for the liberty of his disciples. As it follows in St. John's gospel: "Jesus answered: I have told you, that I am he. If therefore ye seck me, let these go their way. That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake: Of them which thou gavest me I have lost none," John xviii. 8, 9.
This is another proof that the mind of the blessed Jesus was not discomposed by the indignities already offered to him, or the sufferings which he expected to befall him. He yields up himself, but secures his disciples, who were not yet qualified for great trials, and whose life was necessary for spreading his doctrine in the world, after he should rise again.
We here also evidently discern, not only the tender compassion and faithful care of the Lord Jesus for those whom he had called to follow him, and be with him, but also the overruling conduct of Divine Providence in this event, the death of the Messiah. It is indeed a surprising thing. But it is not without a divine permission. It was the interest of the enemies of Jesus, and his doctrine, to take off his disciples, his constant followers, together with him. And if he was judged to be criminal, they must be reckoned so likewise. But the high priests and rulers had not power so much as to apprehend and imprison one of them.
Christ having authoritatively and effectually demanded safety and liberty for his disciples, they soon after this withdrew, most of them, whilst one or two of them followed afar off to see the end.
4. The next thing, which immediately follows in St. John's gospel, is the resistance made by Peter. Which is in part related also by the other Evangelists, except that they have not mentioned that disciple by name.
Says St. John: "Then Simon Peter having a sword, drew it, and smote the high priest's
servant, and cut off his right ear. Then said Jesus unto Peter: Put up thy sword into the sheath. The cup, which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?" John xviii. 10, 11. We must take a part of this history as related by others. In Matthew: "Then said Jesus unto him: Put up again thy sword into its place. For all they that take the sword, shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou, that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?" Matt. xxvi. 52-54. In St. Luke: "And one of them," that is, of the disciples, "smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. And Jesus answered, and said: Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him," Luke xxii. 51, 52. St. Mark: “ And they laid their hands on him and took him. And one of them that stood by, drew a sword, and smote a servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear," Mark xiv. 46, 47.
Certainly Jesus appears great in this place. He had already done what might be sufficient to satisfy every one, that he was willing to submit to the trial that was coming upon him, how great soever it might prove, and whatever should be the issue of this attempt of his enemies upon his liberty. Nevertheless his faithful and affectionate disciples are still uneasy and perplexed to a great degree. And one of them makes resistance, takes the sword, and wounds one of the officers, who came to seize his Lord and Master. This was a testimony of sincere affection and zeal and our Lord must have been sensibly touched with it. This was one of the bitter ingre. dients of his cup: the sorrow and anguish of mind which his disgraces and other sufferings caused in his disciples. But observe the alacrity with which he takes it, and the superior regard which he has for the will of God above all private interests of his disciples, whom he tenderly loved, as well as above his own. "The cup, which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it? Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he would give me more than twelve legions of angels?" These things more especially concerning the disciples. However, the officers likewise, and all present, were hereby instructed.
Let us then take notice of this, as another proof of the fortitude and the meekness of Jesus, and his complete resignation to the whole will, and all the appointments of the Father.
Christ did not suffer as he did, because he could not save himself: but for great and valuable ends, the glory of God, the interests of truth, and the welfare of men, he submitted and acquiesced.
5. What follows is the actual apprehending of Jesus.
In St. John: "Then the band, and the captain, and the officers of the Jews, took Jesus, and bound him," John xviii. 12. In St. Matthew: "In that same hour said Jesus unto the multitudes: Are ye come out as against a thief, with swords and staves, to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me. But all this was done, that the scriptures might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him and fled," Matt. xxvi. 55, 56. Compare Mark xiv. 48-50. In St. Luke thus: "Then Jesus said unto the chief priests and captains of the temple, and the elders, which were come to him: Be ye come out as against a thief, with swords and staves? When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness," Luke xxii. 52, 53.
In this occurrence, I apprehend, we discern the sensibility of our Lord's frame, and that he was affected with this great indignity: that he was sought for, and taken up in the night as a thief, or ordinary offender against the peace of society. But though he is affected, he does not faint, or sink under the vile abuse. He teaches the men present the iniquity of their proceeding, and of the designs of those from whom they came. He also satisfies and composes himself, and likewise obviates their triumph on account of their seeming success in getting him into their hands, saying: "But this is your hour, and the power of darkness." You could not seize me before: nor until I had fully taught the will of God, and finished the work, which the Father had given me to do. But now is come the time when Divine Providence, for wise reasons and great ends and purposes, permits your wicked counsels to take place. And though the circumstances in which I now am, are indeed, as to outward appearance, dishonourable and disgraceful, I acquiesce, and yield myself to you, and even submit to be bound: though you have no 'reason to think that I should attempt to make an escape. It is not your power to which I am subject, and by which I am overcome. But it is the will of God, to which I submit, and ' resign myself.".
It is not easy to proceed, without observing the sad instances which appear here of the hardness of men's hearts, and of an obstinate disposition of mind.
One instance is that of Judas, whom Jesus had kindly and solemnly warned more than once, intimating beforehand, that "one of the twelve would betray him," and saying: "Woe be to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed." Yet this wicked disciple proceeded to execute the base purpose which he had conceived in his mind.
Another is that of the Jewish servants and officers: who, notwithstanding the knowledge which they must before have had of the character of Jesus, and notwithstanding what they now heard from him, and saw in him, performed the orders which they had received, and laid hands on Jesus, and bound him, to carry him to the priests and elders. Some such officers, having formerly received a like order, returned without obeying it: and when asked: "Why they had not brought him," answered: "Never man spake like this man," John vii. 46. So might these have alleged this reason for not bringing him: "Never was there any man so great and excellent as he."
May we be always preserved from such hardness of heart. Let us not neglect the remonstrances of conscience. Let us submit to admonitior. If we enter into wrong designs, let us not persist in them. Let us quit and forsake them when we find that they are disapproved of God, and contrary to reason."
They who had apprehended our Lord, first had him to Annas, who sent him to Caiaphas, at that time high priest. Which is a particular related by St. John only: "Then the band and captain and officers took Jesus, and bound him, and led him away to Annas first. For he was father-in-law to Caiaphas, who was the high priest that year- -Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest," John xviii. 12, 13, 24.
6. What we are therefore next to take notice of in the sixth place, is, what first happened at the house of Caiaphas the high priest. "The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine. Jesus answered him: I spake openly to the world, I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort. And in secret have I said nothing,' " John xviii. 19, 20. That is, I have taken all proper opportunities of speaking in the most public places. And if at any time I have taught my disciples privately, there is 'no reason to think, that any thing was then said by me different from the tenour of the doctrine taught by me in places of the most general resort.' "Why askest thou me? Ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them. Behold, they know what I have said,"
Every one must be sensible of the propriety of this answer. It was not a time for our Lord to rehearse the doctrine which he had taught, or to apologize for it, and demonstrate the innocence of it, or that it had no bad tendency. The high priest's question was improper and unseasonable. And our Lord justly exposed it by his answer.
Nevertheless, as it follows in St. John: "When he had thus spoken, one of the officers, who stood by, struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying: Answerest thou the high priest so? Jesus answered him: If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?" ver. 22, 23. Which certainly shews full composure of mind, and great meekness. He does not exert his power for punishing so heinous an indignity; but calmly shews the iniquity of the treatment just given him: his answer to the high priest having been very just, implying the consciousness of his innocence, and the impropriety of the question put by the high priest to a person brought before him as upon trial.
7. In the next place, seventhly, we are to observe the farther proceedings before the high priest, which are rather more regular, though altogether unrighteous, they by whom they endeavoured to convict Jesus being false witnesses. "Now the chief priests and elders and all the council sought false witness against Jesus to put him to death; but found none. Yea, though many witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses, and said: This man said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days. And the high priest arose, and said unto him: Answerest thou nothing? What is it that these witness against thee? But Jesus held his peace," Matt. xxvi. 59-62. St. Mark also relating this transaction, says, "But he held his peace, and answered nothing," ch. xiv. 60.
• If any should find the first part of this sermon too long to be read at once, here may be a proper pause.