(Translated from the French)
The state of heart has more to do than exegesis with the understanding of this passage. Yet important doctrines, or rather facts and truths relative to Christ, are connected with these remarkable verses. I shall try to bring out the position in which the ever blessed Saviour is found here, although the appreciation of the bearing of these verses depends, after all, on the spirituality of the heart. It will be understood that doctrines about Christ are connected with them, when one knows that verses 43 and 44 have been omitted by more than one manuscript, evidently because according to the view taken by the copyists they made Christ too much a man. Now it is this which gives to these verses their true value: Christ, in the Gospel of Luke, is essentially man. We there find Him in prayer much oftener than in the other Gospels. Thus, after His baptism by John, it was whilst He prayed that heaven was opened upon Him; it was whilst He prayed that He was transfigured; chap. 9. So also He had passed all the night in prayer before choosing the twelve disciples; chap. 6:12. All this is exceedingly interesting, yea, of profound interest for the heart.
But other elements present themselves in the consideration of these verses which are before us. An immense change was taking place at this time in the position of the Saviour. Until then He had, by His divine power, provided for all the wants of His disciples, entirely disowned as He was, and in appearance dependent on the kindness of a few women (for it was their particular privilege thus to devote themselves to Him), or of other persons, for His daily bread—if needed, a fish. They brought Him exactly what was necessary to supply His wants. And when He sends His disciples to preach in the cities of the glorious land, He knows how to turn the hearts so that they lacked nothing. But He was to be rejected. The things concerning Him were to receive their divine and wonderful solution, and to be accomplished according to the depth of the counsels of God. He was going, not to shelter His disciples from every evil, but not to shelter Himself, and to be exposed to the outrages of those who said, “He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.” Christ was not yet drinking the cup of wrath. This was accomplished on the cross; it was there, that which He suffered from the hand of God, supreme and expiatory in its nature. But the moment was come which He Himself described by these words: “This is now your hour, and the power of darkness.” The hour of temptation, not of wrath but of temptation, when the Saviour must have thought at the same time of the terrible cup that was before Him. The enemy tried to overwhelm Him by the circumstances, before which human nature, as such, would shrink; and in view of the forsaking of God amidst these circumstances. The Saviour entered at this moment into the trial; but He entered into it perfect in every way, receiving the cup in obedience from the hand of His Father. As to the circumstances, and as to that which weighed upon His soul, Satan and the men under his power were everything: as to the state of His soul, they were nothing; His Father was everything. This is one of the most perfect and profound instructions for all our troubles.
It is to this supreme hour that the apostle John alludes when he says, more than once, when no one touched nor could touch the Lord: “His hour was not yet come.” But I would enter into some further consideration of the character of this hour of temptation. The Lord in His grace deigned, led by the Spirit, to allow Himself to be tempted, having associated Himself with us to take part in our miseries and troubles. Satan tempted Him at the beginning by all that which (sin apart) induces man to act from his own will, that which leads him into sin when he listens to his own will—the need of food, the world and its glory, the promises outside the path of obedience and in distrust of God and of His faithfulness.
But the Second man maintained His integrity, and Satan could not succeed in making Him depart from the path of the Man of God. The strong man was bound and Christ returns, with the power of the Spirit, being untouched in His soul, “to spoil him of his goods.” He delivered all those who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him; He was the Man who conquered, gaining the victory over Satan, as the first man had broken down. By the Spirit of God He cast out demons; the kingdom of God was there. All the effects of the dominion of Satan disappeared before Him, even death itself. Alas! this did not change man’s heart; who was, in the affections of his flesh, enmity against God. Death was needed for the redemption of man; quite a new state of being, his reconciliation with God; the righteousness of God was to be glorified; the claim that Satan had over man by sin in death and that by the judgment of God, was to be destroyed and annulled. The righteous vengeance of God against that which was hostile to Himself was to be manifested. So that all the enmity of man against God, all the anguish of death viewed as the power of Satan and the judgment of God, all the energy of Satan, and lastly the wrath of God (and it is bearing in the latter that expiation has been accomplished) were to meet on Jesus, and did meet on the head of the Lamb of God, who opened not His mouth before His oppressors. Terrible testimony shewing that the hour of man and of his will is the power of darkness! The hour of God in righteousness for man is but the righteous wrath which abandons Him, and finally excludes from His presence him who is in hostility against Him. What powerful and infinite proof of grace, that Christ tasted this in His grace; that God gave Him that we might escape it, that Christ tasted it, offering Himself without spot to God for that! Outwardly the power of Satan and the malice of men led Christ to death and the cup of God’s wrath. And it is thus that the perfection of Christ knows how to separate absolutely these two parts of suffering, and to turn the terrible suffering, from the power of Satan in death, into perfect obedience to God His Father, because He passed through that fearful hour of temptation with God, and without entering into it one moment as a temptation which might have for its effect in Him to awaken His own will. Such is Gethsemane; not the cup, but all the power of Satan in death and the enmity of man taking their revenge (so to speak) on God (“the reproaches of them that reproached thee fell upon me”): all perfectly and entirely felt, but brought to God in an entire submission to His will. It is the Christ—marvellous scene!— watching, praying, struggling in the highest degree; all the power and the weight of death pressed upon His soul by Satan, and augmented by the sense He had of what they were before God, from whose face nothing then hid Him. But He always kept His Father absolutely before His face, referring everything to the Father’s will, without flinching for a moment, or trying to escape that will by giving way to His own. Thus He takes nothing from Satan or men, but all from God. When He is well assured that it is the will of His Father that He should drink this cup, all is decided for Him. “The cup which my Father hath given, shall I not drink it?” All was between Him and His Father, the obedience is calm and perfect. What ineffable victory, what supreme calmness! suffering, yea, but between Himself and God! Satan now was as nothing, men were the instruments of the will of God, or the redeemed of His grace. See what happens when they come; Jesus went forth, and when He announced Himself, they fell to the ground. He voluntarily offers Himself to accomplish the work, and thus permits those to go in safety, who had no strength to shelter themselves, to subsist in that terrible moment when the triumph of good or of evil was to be decided, and where the righteousness of God against sin lent its force to the power of death and the malice of those who were the voluntary slaves of him who possessed the power of death.
The perfect bond of love has overcome through the subjection of Christ as Man to the judgment against sin, by which righteousness can triumph in blessing according to love; the expiation of sin has been made, and the power of Satan and of death annulled for him who comes to God by Jesus. But Luke 22:39-44 presents to us Christ conscious of that which was to happen, and, as man, occupied in communion with His Father, with this final and decisive trial. Was He to enter into the temptation, that is to say, to yield to a will of His own, even by desiring to escape death and the cup of judgment, or to find an occasion of obedience, instead of sparing Himself? For Him obedience, however terrible the sufferings, was the joy and breathing of His soul.
Not to dread the judgment of God would have been insensibility; to avoid it would have been to fail as to the will of His Father, since for this cause He came to this hour. It would have been to fail as regards the salvation of man, in which the whole character of God revealed itself even to the angels. But here Christ does not draw the character of this moment from elevating and encouraging motives, but He goes through it in entire subjection to the will of God with all the pain attached to it. He prays. Verse 43 puts the question in all its simplicity. An angel appeared to Him to strengthen Him. It is a man having need of help from on high. If He had not been that, it could not have been the deliverance of man.
The pressure of anguish only became stronger on realising the evil with which He had to do; but this struggling agony of soul is only expressed by more intense prayer. His soul attached itself more strongly to God, and He rises—having perfectly gone through the valley of the shadow of death, the power of Satan, the horror of evil as opposed to God—He rises victorious. The cup which His Father would give Him He will drink. Then it will not be a question of struggling, watching, or praying, but of subjection. A perfect calmness marks the cross, a calmness of darkness where man’s eye does not penetrate; but the subjection is perfect. Here goes out the cry, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” It was perfection, the perfection of suffering; of subjection, but not a struggle, where the soul cleaves to God in order not to enter into the temptation, a temptation—mark it well—not by means of something agreeable, but of all the power of evil, of death, of Satan, who tried to make the Saviour shrink before the awful cup which was found on the path of obedience, the cup which produced our salvation, and the glory of Jesus as man. On the cross, in the solemn hour of expiation, all takes place between the soul of Christ and God. In Gethsemane, the Christ, in presence of all the efforts of Satan, cleaves to God so as not to enter into temptation, but follow the path of obedience low as it brought Him. Now He descended into the lower parts of the earth, alone, forsaken, betrayed, denied, and, lastly, abandoned of God—perfect, victorious, obedient, the Saviour of those who obey Him. And notice here, therefore, that in Gethsemane, infinite as were His sufferings compared with all ours, Christ is an example to us. We have to watch and to pray, to struggle in prayer perhaps, so as not to enter into temptation. Sometimes even, when some affliction comes upon us by our own fault (in Christ no doubt it was the fault of others), it is difficult to submit to the ways of God. It is the same thing when, in one way or another, the path of obedience and of uprightness, the path of life, is painful. A more easy path, more verdant to the eyes of the flesh, is to be found by the side of it. Then in our little troubles our portion is that of the Saviour, to watch and to pray so as not to enter into temptation. The trying path (see Psalm 16) is the path of life. There God is found; there is the deliverance for His glory and for our own. May God keep us in it! We need His grace, we need sometimes to struggle in the presence of God, to hold good; but He who overcame is with us. And if we have gone through the trouble of circumstances with God, the circumstances themselves will be but the occasion of obedience when in fact they do happen. This is the secret of practical life.
In the expiation, it is evident that Christ was our substitute, and is not our example except in the fact of His perfect subjection. There were, doubtless, on the cross, profound sufferings of body and soul, where Christ was a perfect example of patience for us; but in speaking of the cross we are pretty well accustomed, and rightly, to have the moment of expiation before our minds. It is in this sense only that I make a difference, as to the example. It is important in these days to maintain as clearly as possible the idea of substitution where Christ was alone, of suffering in which we had no part but by our sins. One is willing to have Christ as a burnt offering, a Christ who offers Himself (we, by grace, can offer ourselves, we ought to do it); but a Christ who is a sacrifice for sin some often will not have. Are we to suffer for our sins and to bear them? Morally speaking, there is a glory in expiation, in the cross, which is not found even in glory. I shall share the glory of Christ with Him, by the infinite grace which vouchsafed it to me. Could I have shared the cross? The Christian knows what he has to reply. May God teach us in exercises of piety, but may He keep us firm in the simplicity of that faith which rests on a perfect expiation, accomplished by Him who has borne our sins in His own body on the tree!
Hence, to understand Gethsemane, we must understand Christ as Man, as He was at the time of His first temptation in the wilderness; then all the power of evil and of death in the hands of Satan, and in presence of the judgment of God in death against sin. If Christ had not gone through that—the horrible bottomless pit, this deep mire, where there was no footing, lay on our path—who could have gone through it? Satan tried to make Christ shrink, before the abyss which our sins had opened, to place it between His soul and God. The effect on Him was to make Him draw near with greater intensity of soul to God, to ascertain His will while realising all the horror of that moment in fellowship with Him, and then thus to find therein an occasion of perfect obedience without entering into temptation.
The cup of judgment itself He drank on the cross.
A word on our portion in following His example, if a trial is before us. If it be the will of God that we should pass through a trial, if even we dread it, our wisdom is to present ourselves before God, and to place all before His eyes. There may be anguish; that in which the will in us has not been broken will be laid bare. When we would avoid the temptation because it is painful, that is, spare ourselves instead of yielding the fruits of righteousness, instead of submitting ourselves to it for the good of our souls and for the glory of God, the evil path of selfishness, which the heart tries to take becomes evident; we choose “iniquity rather than affliction.” When these exercises are sent for the development of grace, grace is developed, God working with the trial in the soul. When it is discipline, positive chastisement, and the soul submits—receives the discipline from the hand of God, the discipline has lost its bitterness and borne its fruit. In it God is all in holiness for the soul. I do not desire that one should anticipate evil, but that, when the evil is in view, one may pass through it with God and not with man—that one may watch and pray so as not to enter into temptation.