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THE REASON OF THE CROSS.
To the cross of deepest woe.” WHILE striving and labouring, in our human inability, to measure and gauge the wonders of the first part of this vast subject, the thought would sometimes occur to the mind, “ Well, the rest of the enquiry will present less difficulty. When we pass from heaven to earth, and study events and circumstances which have taken place among men, there will not be the same hopelessness which seems to attach to enquiries which have to do with the glories of the Godhead, and the transactions which occurred “before the world was.”
But this hope was in a great measure erroneous. For the intrinsic nature of the whole proceeding which we are striving to comprehend, was, throughout, invisible, intangible, and Divine. Whether we try to enter into the meaning of such words as, “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made :” or those other words, “ The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool :" or that still more wonderful class of expressions, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me!”—we find at every step, that we are dealing with a kind of knowledge which is “ too wonderful ; it is high, and we cannot attain to it.”
We are not, however, embarked on so vast and boundless an ocean, as that of the whole character and attributes and works of God. The subject we have proposed to ourselves is merely,The real meaning of a single event, or transaction, which took place on the hills close by Jerusalem, about 1830 years ago. That it was a very important and wonderful transaction, is proved by the unquestionable fact, that it has changed the whole face and character of a large part of the civilized portion of the human race, from that day to this. We therefore again return to this history, as we find it narrated in the Gospels; and repeat the enquiry,“ What meaneth this?”.
Let us take, first, the mere outside view of the matter. Let us suppose ourselves to be dwelling, for a time, in some great eastern city, without being mixed up in its internal politics or affairs. We go out into the streets one morning, and are met by a furious mob, who are dragging along a young man, whom they have seized and bound, and on whom they are venting their ungovernable rage. His apparel is torn, his features are disfigured by blows; filth and blood almost conceal his countenance; and we eagerly ask, Who is this? We learn that it is a prince: one who has dwelt all his life in high and noble places, enjoying all that heart could wish. We ask, “Why this strange reverse ? why all this rage, and contumely, and suffering?" We are told, that he has come on an errand of peace; that he desired the good of those furious men who are now pursuing him : that he is wholly innocent of any offence or crime, and yet that they will certainly put him to a cruel death. How can we help crying out, “How dreadful ! how sad, how heartrending !”
And yet this is as nothing. It does not afford us one thousandth part of a just view of the real character of the transaction. In all its main features, there was that of which no earthly transaction could furnish the least parallel or resemblance.
“Christ Jesus, being in the form of God,” (or, to use St. John's words, “ The Word being God, the same being in the beginning with God,”) “yet made himself of no reputation, (or rather, emptied himself,) and took upon him the form of a servant, was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.” (Phil. ii. 6—8.)
We shall not attempt to expand or elucidate these wonderful expressions, but shall proceed to the main facts of the history; and these we must give in the very words of the Evangelists, using, as a help, Dr. Stroud's harmonized narrative.*
“When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples, and having sung a hymn, they repaired as usual to the Mount of Olives. He then said to them, — All of you will this night be offended by me, for it is written,- I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'” ...." Then came Jesus with them to a place beyond the brook Kidron, called Gethsemane, where was a garden, into which he and his disciples entered. And Judas also who betrayed him knew the spot, for Jesus and his disciples often assembled there. On arriving at this place he said to them, —' Sit here whilst I go and pray yonder, [and] pray that ye may not fall into temptation.'—Then taking apart with him Peter, and the two sons of Zebediah, James and John, he was seized with consternation and distress: and said to them,- My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death : remain here, and watch with me.' And he hastily withdrew from them about a stone's cast, and kneeling down, threw himself on his face, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him, saying— Abba! [that is] Father! if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not my will but thine be done.'-Returning to the disciples, he found them asleep, and said to Peter,—Simon! sleepest thou ? Are ye thus unable to watch with me a single hour? Watch and pray that ye may not fall into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.'— Again withdrawing, he prayed a second time, saying the same words :-My Father ! if this cup cannot pass from me unless I drink it, thy will be done.'--On returning he found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy, and they knew not what to answer him. Again withdrawing from them, he prayed a third time, saying the same words; and there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. Then, falling into an’agony he prayed most earnestly, and his sweat became as it were clots of blood dropping to the ground. Rising from prayer, he returned a third time to the disciples, and found them asleep through sorrow, and said to them,—“Do ye sleep and rest till the last moment ? Rise, and pray that ye may not fall into temptation, There is no longer time. The hour is come. Behold! the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go. Behold! he that betrayeth me is at hand.'”.
*** Treatise on the Death of Christ."
By W. Stroud, M.D. pp. 8–26.
“Then said Jesus to the chief priests, commanders of the temple [guard], and elders, who had come forth against him,—' Are ye come forth as against a robber, with swords and staves, to seize me? I sat daily amongst you, teaching in the temple, and ye did not seize me; but this is your hour, and the power of darkness, in fulfilment of the writings of the prophets.'—Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.
“So the guard, and [their] commander, and the officers of the Jews, seized Jesus, and bound him." .... "The men who guarded Jesus mocked him, and beat him : some began to spit on him, and to blindfold him, and to buffet him, and the officers struck him [with their staves,] saying,—Divine to us, Christ: Who is it that smote thee ?'—and many other blasphemies uttered they against him." ....
“They led Jesus from the palace] of Caiaphas to that of the Roman governor, and it was early. They did not themselves enter the governor's palace, lest they should be defiled, and prevented from keeping the passover. Pilate therefore went forth to them, and said, — What accusation do ye bring against this man?'— They answered him-If he were not a malefactor we should not have delivered him to thee.'-Pilate said to them,- Take him yourselves, and judge bim according to your law.'- The Jews said to him,* We have no authority to put any one to death ;'-—thereby fulfilling what Jesus had said, when intimating what kind of death he was to die. Then they began to accuse him, saying,— We found this man perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay tribute to Cæsar, declaring himself to be Christ [the] king.'"...."Then Pilate took Jesus, and caused him to be scourged: and the soldiers, after stripping him, threw around him a purple military robe, and having platted a crown of thorns, they put [it] on his head, and a cane in his right hand, and kneeling before him they mocked him, saying, • Hail, king of the Jews !'-and after spitting on him, they took the cane and struck him on the head." .... “And their clamours and those of the chief priests prevailed; for Pilate, desirous to satisfy
the maltitude, gave sentence that their demand should be executed. So he released to them Barabbas, imprisoned on account of sedition and murder, whom they had desired, and delivered Jesus to them to be crucified.
“ Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the palace, and gathered around him the whole guard; and when they had [again] mocked him, they stripped him of the purple robe, put on him his own clothes, and led him away to crucify (him].”....“So bearing his cross, Jesus went forth to the place named after a skull, and in Hebrew called Golgotha. On arriving at this place, they offered him a draught of wine and myrrh, (as it were] vinegar mingled with gall; but after tasting he refused to drink [it.] Then they crucified him there, as likewise the malefactors, one on the right hand, the other on the left, and Jesus in the midst; in fulfilment of the Scripture which saith,—he was ranked amongst transgressors ;but Jesus said, — Father! forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.'”...." It was the third hour when they crucified him, and they sat down and guarded him there, whilst the people stood looking on. And those who passed by reviled him, shaking their heads, and saying,– Aha! thou that destroyest the temple, and rebuildest sit] in three days, save thyself. If thou art the Son of God, come down from the cross.'-In like manner the chief priests also, jesting amongst themselves, with the scribes and elders said, 'He saved others, (but] cannot save himself. If he is the Christ, the chosen of God, the king of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, that we may see and believe. He trusted in God; let [God] now deliver him if he will have him, for he said, I am the Son of God.'—The soldiers likewise mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying,– If thou art the king of the Jews, save thyself.'"...."Now there stood near the cross of Jesus his mother, and Mary the (wife] of Cleopas, her sister, and Mary of Magdala. Then Jesus seeing his mother, and the disciple also whom he loved, standing near, said to his mother, — Woman ! behold thy son:' then he said to the disciple,– Behold thy mother :' -and from that hour the disciple received her to his home. When the sixth hour was come, a darkness overspread the whole land till the ninth hour, and the sun was obscured. At the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice,— Eloi! Eloi! lamma sabachthani ?'—which when translated is,- My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken me?'—On hearing [this,] some of the bystanders said, -'Behold! he calleth on Elijah.'—Then Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said —'I thirst.'-And there stood near a vessel fall of vinegar: so one of them immediately ran, and took a sponge, and having filled [it] with vinegar, and fastened [it] to a rod of hyssop, gave him drink; but the rest said,– Hold ! let us see whether Elijah will come and deliver him.'—When Jesus had received the vinegar he again cried with a loud voice, saying,—['All] is accomplished : Father! into thy hands I commit my spirit.'-Having thus spoken, he bowed his head and resigned his spirit. And behold! the veil of the temple split asunder in the midst from the top to the bottom, and the earth quaked, and the rocks were rent, and the tombs were opened, and many bodies of holy persons deceased arose, who coming out of the tombs after his resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many. When the centurion who stood opposite, and those who were with him guarding Jesus, observed the earthquake and the [other] events, [and] that he expired with such a cry, they feared greatly, [and] gave glory to God, saying,—*Certainly this man was a son of God.'” .....
“The Jews requested Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Jesus; but on coming to him, as they perceived that he was already dead, they did not break his legs : one of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately there came forth blood and water. He that bears [this] testimony saw [the fact, 7 and his testimony is true, and he is sure that he relates what is true, that yo also may believe: for these things happened in fulfilment of the scripture, Not one of his bones shall be broken ;—and again, another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced
We have felt it necessary to place the whole narrative, how. ever well known, before our readers, because what we desire to say arises from certain features in the history, which must be kept actually before the eyes, and dwelt upon.
Hundreds of narratives of martyrdoms-of the deaths of innocent and excellent persons—might be placed side by side with this; and if we look at bodily sufferings merely, we shall find little difference between them. The death to which Jesus had voluntarily exposed himself, was indeed a terrible one, the death of a slave: a cruel and a lingering one. But, as we have said, it is useless and of no avail to balance or compare the merely external and physical sufferings endured, with those of the "blessed army of martyrs” who followed in their Master's steps. Not many years after, in the days of Nero, it was customary to take a Christian, and smear him with pitch, and bind him to a stake, and then to set him on fire, to give light to the gay lords and ladies who wandered by night in the imperial gardens.
The peculiarities of the Passion were not mere bodily sufferings. We do but waste time when we dwell too long on these features of the narrative. The true character of the transaction, and the real nature of this awful mystery, are just touched, in the brief outline given in Isaiah liji. 10,-“ It pleased the Lord to bruise him: He hath put him to grief: Thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin."
The spotless Son of God was bruised, was crushed, by His Father. He was put to grief; to deep inward anguish. His soul was made an offering for sin; and like a burnt-offering, was consumed—was made like melting wax. (Ps. xxii. 14.)