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And with great affection and earnestness he says to the Philippians: “Wherefore my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my ab. sence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling," Philip. ii. 12.
St. Peter exhorts those to whom he writes, “ to pass the time of their sojourning here in fear.” Again, “ Be sober, be vigilant : because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour,” i Pet. i. 17; ch. v. 8.
And the apostle to the Hebrews : “ Take heed, my brethren, lest there be any of you in an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin,” Heb. iii. 12, 13.
2. We may observe in the Old and New Testament divers instances of this temper of fearing always, in the sense of a religious fear, as we have explained it: a fear of offending, through the power of external temptations, and the weakness and inconstancy of our minds.
Possibly somewhat of this temper is implied in that expression of Job,” « All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change be,” Job xiv. 14.
For this reason it is, that good men in the Old Testament sometimes speak of their guarding the senses, the inlets of external temptations, or occasions of sin. Job says, 66 he had made a covenant with his eyes,” xxxi. 1. And the Psalmist : “ I am purposed, that my mouth shall not transgress,” Ps. xvii. 3.
Joseph, as is well known, feared to trust too much to his own resolution; and therefore shunned the company of the seducer.
This fear is the ground and principle of divers prayers of pious men: as Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins. Let them not have dominion over me. So shall I be free from every great transgression,” Ps. xix. 13. Again, “Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not unto covetousness. Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity. And quicken me in thy way," Ps. cxix. 36, 37. And, “ Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth : keep the door of my lips. Incline not my heart unto any evil thing," Ps. cxli. 3, 4; that is, let not my heart incline to any evil thing: let me not be prevailed upon by any temptations, to do that which is evil.
To this purpose is that request of Agur: “ Two things have I desired of thee. Deny me them not, before I die. Remove far from me vanity and lies. Give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with food convenient for me. Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say : Who is the Lord ? and lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of the Lord my God in vain, Prov. xxx. 7-9.
This good man feared always. He was apprehensive, that he had not sufficient resolution and virtue to behave well either in great prosperity, or in extreme want and poverty.
And the condition he chooses, as most desirable, is that in which he thinks his virtue would be exposed to the smallest or the fewest hazards.
St. Paul, who recommended to others fear and caution, is an example of it himself. He even says: “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached the gospel to others, 1 myself should be a cast-away,” i Cor. ix. 27.
Nor can it be doubted, but St. Peter likewise observed the rules he gave. It evidently appears in the temper of his epistles.
Yea our Lord himself is, in some measure, an example here. For he was tried as we are. Indeed he resisted, and overcame always. But though he was completely innocent, he saw the force of worldly temptations, and provided for them.
Before he entered upon his important and difficult ministry, he was led of the spirit into the wilderness, and was tempted divers ways. And by meditations, in that solitude, upon the vanity and emptiness of this world, and all its glory, and by considering the greater glory set before him, he was prepared for the trials of a more public life. And as his last and great temptation drew near, we discern him to be mindful of it. Says he to the disciples : " The prince of this world cometh : but hath nothing in me,” John xiv. 30. And he retired into a private place. And likewise charged three of his disciples to watch, whilst he went and prayed at a small distance from them.
3. Upon the whole therefore we need not be shy of admitting, and cherishing this temper, of fearing always, or a perpetual distrust of ourselves, during this state of trial.
This fear or diffidence has in it some uneasiness : but it will lay a foundation for great advantages.
It is better to fear offending, than to sorrow for having offended.
Though he who fears always should at first be esteemed neither the greatest, nor the happiest of men, in the end he may be both. For “pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,” Prov. xvi. 18. Again, “ Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honour is humility," chap. xvii. 12.
It is good counsel, more especially fit to be given to some : “Let not him that putteth on the harness boast himself, as he that putteth it off,” i Kings xx. 11.
In this respect, as well as some others, the day of a man's death is better than the day of his birth, Ecc. vii. 1. It is a happy thing, to pass with safety through the temptations of this world. At setting out the trial is doubtful and hazardous. But if a man be faithful, and keep the way of the Lord to the end, the reward is sure, and no temptations shall any more annoy or terrify.
To a good man therefore it must be desirable, after difficult services, and a life of caution and circumspection, to be able to say, when the will of the Lord is: It is finished. There is now an end to the labours, the afflictions, the sorrows, the temptations of this life. But there remains a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to all those who have fought a good fight, and kept the faith : who in all difficult services, and hazardous seasons of this life, have been encouraged by the hope of his appearing to reward the well-doer.
And since God knows all our frame, it must be our wisdom to refer ourselves to him, as to all things concerning us. in this world : desirous, that all things may work together for our good : and that nothing may be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus : and hoping, that neither the good nor the evil things of this life, shall destroy the principle of virtue begun in us;, but rather refine, improve, and strengthen it, until it be perfected in glory:
OUR SAVIOUR'S THIRST UPON THE CROSS CONSIDERED AND IMPROVED:
After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith : I thirst
. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar. And they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. John.xix. 28, 29.
St. Paul in the epistle to the Ephesians, ch. iii. 18; speaks of the unmeasurable extent of the love of Christ. Which yet it is very desirable, and will be very profitable for us to understand. And though we are not able to comprehend it; it will be of advantage to think rightly and justly of it, and not to conceive of his sufferings, that great proof of his love, as designed to supply the want of righteousness in us, but to be a powerful argument and incentive to real, eminent, and persevering righteousness and holiness..
All the ends and uses of Christ's sufferings shew his love in submitting to the pain and shame of the cross. And the greatness and variety of those sufferings are an affecting thought and consideration.
The words of the text are near the conclusion of the history of our Lord's last sufferings. And in explaining and improving them, I am led to speak to these several particulars.
I. I would shew. the nature, and the causes of our Lord's thirst upon the cross, which he declared aloud.
II. The treatment which he thereupon met with : “ They filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it to his mouth.”
III. The meaning of that expression in this place: “ That the scripture might be fulfilled." IV. After which I shall mention some suitable remarks.
I. I shall endeavour to shew the nature, and the causes of our Lord's thirst upon the cross, which he declared aloud.
Doubtless it was real and vehement, and owing to what he had endured both in body and mind. The Lord Jesus had not, that we any where read, any sickness. And it is reasonable to suppose, that he never had any. For death, and consequently sickness, and diseases, the forerunners and ordinary occasions of death, are the fruit of sin : 'from which Jesus was quite free. St. Paul speaks of God's “ sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh,” Rom. viii. 3. He had true and real flesh. For he was born of a woman. But it was not " sinful flesh.” It was only “ the likeness of sinful flesh.” For he was not conceived in the ordinary way, but by the Holy Ghost, or the immediate interposition of God. And he in all things did the will of the Father, and ever pleased him that sent him.
But though Jesus was liable to no disease, or sickness, he had the innocent infirmities of the human nature. He was “wearied" with journeying, and had hunger and thirst, John iv. 6. He needed the refreshments of meat, and drink, and sleep : as we plainly perceive from his history in the gospels. He was also grieved, and offended, and angry, though without sin or excess, at the miseries, the faults, and the follies of men, especially such as were very great and aggravated. And undoubtedly he felt the pain of those stripes, which without resistance he suffered to be inflicted upon him.
In the fourth chapter of St. John's Gospel is the relation of our Lord's passing from Jerusalem to Galilee, where he chiefly was. “ And he left Judea, and departed again into Galilee. And he must needs go through Samaria. Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar- Now Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well. And it was the sixth hour.” If our Lord, in travelling on foot, was wearied with the length of the journey, and the heat of the day: how much more must he have been discom. posed by all that had passed to this time from the evening of the preceding day!
For, as we all know from the evangelical history, when he had eaten the paschal supper, and instituted a memorial of his own transactions among men on this earth, and especially of his then approaching death, he had a long, but most heavenly and affecting conversation with the disciples. After that, coming to the garden, whither he sometimes went for the sake of privacy, he separated himself from the rest of the disciples, and retired with three of them into a more private place, and withdrew a small distance from them also: where in a near view of his approaching sufferings, and a close meditation upon the affecting circumstances of them, and the greatness of the temptation, which he was entering into, and how severe a trial it would be to the constancy of his virtue, and considering also the difficulty and the importance of a steady and exemplary conduct, and the tremendous consequences of any the least failure on his part, and also discerning the heinous guilt of his accusers and enemies, whether Jews or others, and divers other amazing particulars of the expected scene of sufferings; he earnestly prayed, " that the cup might pass from him. And there appeared an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, his sweat was as it were great drops of blood, falling down to the ground,” Luke xxii. 42-44.
Soon after which, he was apprehended, and carried to the house of Annas, then of Caiaphas the high priest. And having been examined, and ill-treated, he was confined until early in the morning, and was then had before Pilate, where the accusations were renewed against him.
By Pilate's order he was once at least, if not twice, scourged. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it upon his head. Neoher of which could be without some effusion of blood. The same would be in a great degree the effect of fastening him to the cross, by the hands, and the feet. In the suffering of which, and during the whole time of his hanging on the cross, he must have had in his perfect body, of the finest contexture, the most exquisite sense of pain. In consequence of these fatigues, and these sufferings, and this loss of blood, he would be parched as it were with a violent drought.
Another thing, contributing to the vehemence of his thirst, must have been the exercise of his mind. Unquestionably, during the whole space of this concluding scene of our Lord's life, which we have just now briefly surveyed, there was in his mind all the care and attention and circumspection which can be conceived. And it required the full exertion of all the powers of his spotless and perfect mind, to persevere in meekness and patience under the insulting speeches and other abusive treatment, which he met with ; and in complete resignation to the will of God: and in benevolence toward those who so unrighteously persecuted him.
Such a conclusion of so holy, so useful, so glorious a life and ministry, as was that of the Lord Jesus, must have been the most affecting trial that ever befell any man. During the period of this trial, the whole frame, both of body and mind, was stretched to the utmost: and the thirst which our Lord now openly expressed, must have been a natural consequence of it. We may well suppose, it was indeed great and vehement: an uneasiness, which at this time almost swallowed up the pains of his pierced and wounded hands and feet.
When Pilate had pronounced sentence upon Jesus, and they were carrying him to the place of crucifixion, or when he was come thither, and before they nailed him to the cross, there was offered to him “ wine mingled with myrrh : but he received it not,” Mark xv. 23. He refused to drink of it. That was an intoxicating potion, wine mingled with some rich ingredients, tending to stupify. And probably, was a kind provision, made by some inhabitants of the city of Jerusalem, of a generous and compassionate temper for all, or most of such as were there sentenced to die by crucifixion. But it was wisely and greatly refused by the Lord Jesus : that he might be a complete example of suffering virtue. Somewhat else was now reached up to him upon the cross, after he had said, “ I thirst.” Which is next to be considered by us.
II. The treatment which he thereupon met with.
“ Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar. And they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. ”
This particular is also related by two other Evangelists. But we do not in them readily discern the occasion of it. This having been observed by St. John when he wrote his gospel, he was induced to supply their omission, and therefore inserted what we have just now considered, our Lord's saying: "I thirst.”
Let us compare the other Evangelists with him. Says St. Matthew: “And about the ninth hour," or three in the afternoon, “ Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying: Eli, Eli, Lama sabachthani, that is to say: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said: This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink,” Matt. xxvii. 46–48. And to the like purpose in Mark xv. 34–36. But here, in St. John, it is thus, “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith : I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar. And they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. St. Matthew and St. Mark, as it seems, mention together two things, which were partly independent on each other: I mean our Lord's prayer: “My God, my God, why bast thou forsaken me?" and then the giving him the spunge with vinegar. But St. John thought proper to insert more particularly the occasion of their giving him that vinegar, which was his saying: “1 thirst.”
“Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar. And they filled a spunge with the vinegar, and put it upon hyssop,” that is, a reed, or slender stalk of hyssop, which is said to grow much higher in those climates, than with us: “and put it to his mouth.” It is likely, that this was a vessel of such liquor as the Roman soldiers, and meaner people, generally drank.
What was the design of the person or persons, who reached up the spunge filled with that liquor, may not be certain : whether it was in the way of insult, or only an indifferent action, performed without any bad or good view, or whether with a kind design of affording at least some small relief under a very uneasy thirst. But it must be reckoned a very great trial, on so pressing an occasion, to have no other refreshment offered, beside that of so ordinary a liquor, out of such a vessel, which having stood all the while open, must now, at the end of a public execution, have been very filthy, and offensive.
Though we had had only the accounts of the other Evangelists, where the reaching up the spunge with vinegar is mentioned, we could have been able to discern, that it was either a designed affront and indignity, or at the least, an affecting proof of the deplorable and disconsolate condition of the Lord Jesus at this time, with regard to all outward circumstances. But St. John's addition of the occasion in those words, “I thirst,” does more distinctly represent to us a very great uneasiness endured by our Lord.
They who are well acquainted with the nature of the death of the cross, in use among the
Romans, and attentively observe the history of our Lord's being brought to it, might possibly have inferred, that a very uneasy and violent thirst must have been one of the painful and afflictive circumstances of it. Nevertheless St. John's particular mention of it is worthy of consideration, and is suited to engage our attention.
III. We should now consider the meaning of those expressions of the Evangelist, “ that the scripture might be fulfilled.”
“ After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst:" that is, Jesus knowing and considering in his own mind, that many things appointed by the Father to be done and suffered by him on this earth, for the good of men, and which had been beforehand prophesied of him, had now come to pass, said, “I thirst:” believing that would give occasion for the fulfilment of a particular prophecy concerning him.
By which we may perceive that the first words of the Evangelist, « knowing that all things were now accomplished,” ought not to be strained. He does not intend to say that all things, without exception, were already accomplished: for many things remained to be accomplished concerning Jesus Christ, after his resurrection. The meaning therefore must be restrained to things relating to the Messiah, during his abode on this earth. Nor are they to be absolutely understood so far: for it still remained that he should die, according to the scriptures. * And there was still one thing to be accomplished before his death, as the Evangelist himself
says: “ Jesus knowing that all things were accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst."
The meaning therefore is, that Jesus knowing, and observing in his own mind, that many prophecies had been accomplished in the course of his ministry, and that now he had endured a very great variety, and alinost all kinds of insults and indignities, pains and sorrows, agreeably to what the scriptures had said concerning the suffering character of the Messiah: he was about to resign and give up his soul into the hand of God. But knowing also that there was one thing spoken of the Messiah in the scriptures, which was not yet fulfilled, he said, “ I thirst.”
There are two places in the Psalms which are thought to speak of this : “My strength is dried up like a potsherd: and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws, and thou hast brought me into the dust of death,” Ps. xxii. 15. And, “ They gave me also gall for my meat, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink,” Ps. Ixix. 21. These scriptures were now fulfilled.
IV. I would now mention some remarks and observations suitable to this subjeci.
1. When we meditate upon the sufferings of the Lord Jesus, we ought ever to admire the wise design and great love of the Father, in appointing that the Christ, his beloved Son, most dear to him, so holy, so excellent, so distinguished by miraculous powers and gifts, should for the general good of mankind live in this world in mean circumstances, and submit to the rage and enmity of wicked and prejudiced men, in testimony to the great truths and principles of religion, which contain instructions for our present conduct, and the best encouragements of our hopes and expectations of future glory and happiness.
2. Those meditations may also justly serve to endear to us the Lord Jesus, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us to himself for “a peculiar people, zealous of good works," Tit. ii. 14. Such was the ransom he laid down for us, even his own life, in a way most painful and dishonourable to himself in all its outward circumstances.
Without this, his preaching, and all the miracles of his ministry, would not have been sufficient to awaken, convince, and gain more than a small number of Jews and Gentiles, in that, and a few following ages, in some parts of the world only: whereas now, we also, once very far off from the kingdom of God, in a very late age of the world, are brought into the number of God's people, and made heirs of eternal life. We must therefore acknowledge that the cross of Christ is the “ power of God, and the wisdom of God,” 1 Cor. i. 24.
He might with less pains and expense to himself have set up a very'extensive empire of a worldly nature, and fixed it upon foundations that should be durable. But that was not the design of his coming; which was, that he might set up a kingdom in the minds of men, and subdue them to willing obedience to the laws of right reason, and the will of God, that they might be partakers of future, endless happiness, and that they might be strengthened against all the temptations of their present condition.
When therefore we consider at any time, how just sentiments we have of God, and of the way of serving him, how high ideas we have of a life to come, and what expectations we have