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Suddenness of its occurrence.
With a panting breath and faltering tongue, a few broken words are hardly spoken, and more hardly heard ; but Christ, just before He expired, spoke like one in bis full strength, to shew that his life was not forced from Him, but was freely delivered by Him into his Father's hands, as his own act and deed."'*
One of two explanations must therefore be adopted to account for the suddenness of his dissolution; either that the Saviour, seeing that all things were now fulfilled, spontaneously, and by an act of His own divine will, yielded up His life ; or that (not, we need scarcely say, independently of, but only in accordance with, His permission) some mortal lesion of a vital organ of his human frame suddenly supervened, and was the immediate and, so to speak, the physical cause of his death. Unquestionably the first of these opinions has been that which has generally been received by biblical commentators, and also, we should think, by most simple readers of the sacred narrative. It has this advantage, that it seems, at least upon first thought, to be most consonant with various expressions used by Christ himself in reference to his death : such as in that remarkable passage in the Gospel of St. John, where He says, “I lay down my life that I may take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.” Moreover, it has been argued that the words αφηκε (and παραδωκε) το fueva, used by St.Mathew and St.John, rendered in our version “yielded, and gave up, the ghost," clearly imply a voluntary dismission of His spirit; but then, be it remembered, that the other two evangelists merely say that He expired, εξεπνευσεν.
Dr. Stroud—while he recognises, as every sincere Christian must doin all its plenitude and force, the sovereign power of the Divine sufferer to yield or to retain his life, and only after the most studious and devotional investigation of all the scriptural statements, whether in the way of narrative, of prophecy, or of doctrine, in reference to the death of Christ-adopts the second of the opinions alluded to above. The positive declarations that He was slain by his enemies, that He died the death of the cross, that He “became obedient unto death,” that the Jewish rulers were “ his betrayers and murderers,” that they “slew the Prince of Life whom God raised from the dead,” &c., intimate, he thinks, that the death was the result and consequence of the crucifixion, and not of any supernatural agency. Some learned divines have come to the same conclusion. Thus Bishop Pearson, in his Exposition of the Creed, observes :—"Should we imagine Christ to anticipate the time of death, and to subtract his soul from future torments necessary to cause an expiration, we might rationally say the Jews and Gentiles were guilty of his death, but we could not properly say they slew Him. Guilty they must be, because they inflicted those torments which in time death must necessarily follow; but slay Him actually they did not, if his death proceeded from any other cause, and not from the wounds which they inflicted."
And our author has the following very appropriate observations on the same subject.
“ That it was in the power of Christ to avoid such a death, had He chosen to
* M. Henry's Exposition on the New Testament.
renounce the object of his mission, is evident amongst other reasons from his miraculous overthrow of the hostile band in the garden of Gethsemane; from his question to Peter,— Thinkest thou that I cannot even now request my Father, and he would send to my aid more than twelve legions of angels ? [but] how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled, (which declare) that thus it must be?'and from his remark to Pilate,– Thou wouldst not have had any authority at all against me, had it not been given thee from above.'- In all the scriptural allusions to this subject, the death intimated, although voluntary, is moreover represented not as self-inflicted, but as penal and vicarious. In the very passage which has been thus misinterpreted, the death encountered by the good shepherd for the safety of his flock is ascribed to the wolf from whom the hireling flees.” P. 59.
As a matter of course, it would be wholly out of place here to enter more at length upon the very interesting, but mysterious, question alluded to. It is not susceptible of perfect solution, and must therefore be left to each individual enquirer for calm reflection in his own mind.
We are now prepared to follow' our author in his application of the facts and reasonings adduced, in the early part of the article, to the illustration (if so it may be called) of the sufferings of our blessed Lord. And first of his bloody sweat. It will be remembered that, on the night before his Crucifixion, after celebrating the Passover with his disciples, and instituting that rite which was thenceforth to be commemorative in all ages of his death, and having commended himself, his followers, and his cause, in solemn prayer, to the Father, He went forth with his disciples to the Mount of Olives, and thence, across the brook Cedron, to the garden of Gethsemane. We then read that, when He arrived at this place, He began to be seized with consternation and anguish (ηρξατο εκθαμβεισθαι και αδημονειν), so that his soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death ;"—that He then withdrew about a stone's-cast from the three favoured disciples whom He had taken with Him, and fell upon his face, and prayed most fervently that, if it were possible, that hour might pass from Him—that, returning to them, He found them asleep, and, after exhorting them to watchfulness, withdrew, and prayed a second time that, if it might be, the cup of his bitter affliction might be removed from Him--that, again returning to them, and again finding them asleep, He went away and prayed a third time, using the same words, “ Father, if this cup may not pass from me, except I drink it, Thy will be done ;—and that then, an angel having appeared from heaven to strengthen him, He fell into an agony,* and prayed
The import of the word agony' will be better understood from the following remark of Castello, in his Lexicon Medicum, 1746, on its Greek etymon. “ Agonia, dywia, angorem, significat, et verbum dywvây, juxta Galen, lib. 2, de symptom. caus. cap. 5, ad finem, affectum animi compositum ex ira et timore; illa quidem sanguinem et spiritum foras agente et fundente, hoc vero utrumque ad vitæ principium et interiora, cum refrigeratione eorum quæ in summo corpore sunt, reducente et contrahente. Derivatur ab dgwv, certamen, lucta. Unde et dywvia certamen quandoque significat ........ Ad summam, Agonia significat in genere colluctationem diversorum affectuum animi inter se contrariorum."
In the case of our Lord, it most probably implies a violent struggle of conflicting emotions--of overwhelming grief at the sense of divine abandonment on the one hand, and of intense desire of working out,' even at the cost of his own life, the salvation of the human race, on the other. It is emphatically called by the prophet, the “ travail of his soul.”
471 with greater intensity, and “ his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground,” or, as Dr. Stroud renders the words, “his sweat became as it were clots of blood dropping to the ground, (εγενετο δε ο ιδρως αυτού ωσει θρομβοι αιματος καταβαινοντες επι την γήν)*-Truly, never was sorrow like unto His sorrow!
Such is the simple and impressive account of that awful hour, given in the writings of the Evangelists. The following passage will now enable the reader to judge of the manner in which our author comments upon it.
“ The intense grief and consternation which the Saviour experienced at the commencement of his sufferings in the garden, and under the shock of which he fell prostrate to the earth, might possibly have destroyed him by simple exhaustion, but would never have produced the bloody sweat reported by St. Luke; who, independently of his guidance by the Holy Spirit, was, as a physician, peculiarly well qualified to notice and record such an occurrence. He therefore ascribes this sweat to a cause by which it is fully and solely explained, namely, the communication of supernatural strength ; There appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.'- It was then that,-falling into an agony, (Christ) prayed most earnestly, and his sweat became as it were clots of blood dropping to the ground;'—implying that he was no longer prostrate as at first, but on his knees. Attempts have been made to explain away the strong terms used by the evangelist, but they certainly denote a sweat mixed with blood in a half-coagulated state, so profuse as to fall from the head and neck, (the parts chiefly liable to be uncovered, and from which sweat of any kind is most readily furnished,) in thick and heavy drops to the ground. Unless St. Luke meant to convey this meaning, his employment of such expressions is unaccountable. The fact is well stated by M‘Lean.-[Christ] is said to be in an agony. An agony is a conflict of nature in the extremity of distress. The Lord was now bruising him, and putting him to grief. So great was the agony and conflict of his soul, that it produced the most wonderful effect upon his body; for we are told that—' his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.'—A common sweat in the open air, and exposed to the cold damp of night, when those within doors required a fire of coals to warm them, must have been the effect of very great fear and agony. What then must his agony have been, which induced a bloody sweat, and so copious as to fall down in great drops to the ground ??—It was then that, as intimated by the Apostle Paul, 'he offered prayers and supplications, [accompanied) with tears and loud cries, to him who was able to save him from death, and was heard on account of his pious fear;—in other words, these peculiar and overwhelming sufferings were by divine interposition suddenly terminated, leaving him with restored strength, ready to undergo the trials which next awaited him." P. 116.
It is unnecessary to do more than merely allude to the perfect calmness and meek composure with which He endured the indignities and sufferings of the mock trial, the buffetings and scourgings of the Roman soldiers, the blasphemous reproaches and revilings of his own countrymen, the labour of carrying the cross, the preparations for execution, and, lastly,
The Greek word Spoubos is usually interpreted by the Latin one, grumus. Schleusner, in reference to it, says :-“ In scriptis medicorum Græcorum admodum frequenter vox Spóubos de gutta spissi et coagulati sanguinis, et de sanguine coagulato in universum usurpatur. v. c. Dioscorid. I, c. 102; Hesych. θρόμβος : αιμα παχύ, πεπηγός, ως βουνοι. Confer. Faesii Econ. Hippocr. p. 167.”
Dr. Stroud remarks, that “the force of the term woel, frequently used by St. Luke in a similar sense, evidently is that Christ's sweat on this occasion consisted of clotted blood, not pure, but mixed with the usual watery liquid.”
the pains and torture of crucifixion itself. Not a word of complaint or impatience escaped his lips ; “He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not his mouth.” For the first three hours that He hung upon the cross all was silent and still on his part, save when He prayed for forgiveness to his murderers, when He gave the penitent thief a divine assurance of pardon and acceptance, and when He committed his widowed mother to the care of the beloved disciple. It was not until the sixth hour (noon) when the sun became obscured, and blackness overspread the earth, in attestation, as it were, of the hiding of his Father's countenance, and of the consequent renewal of that dark and overwhelming agony of mind which He had experienced on the preceding night, and which would then apparently bave proved fatal, had not supernatural aid been granted, and the duration of the fearful conflict been limited to one hour.
“ On both occasions,” says our author, “ these sufferings were distinguished from all others, by beginning and ending abruptly, as well as by their peculiar circumstances and effects. On both occasions, the gloom which oppressed the Redeemer's soul was by divine appointment accompanied with external darkness, as its appropriate sign and illustration. When He was in the garden the preceding evening, it appears from astronomical calculation that the paschal full moon underwent a natural eclipse; on which account, perhaps, the numerous party which went forth to seize him were provided with lanterns and torches. Twelve hours later on the same day, according to the Jewish mode of reckoning, a preternatural darkness overspread the whole land, from the sixth to the ninth hour.” P. 120.
During this fearful interval, no intercourse took place between the suffering victim on the cross and the byestanders around; and a solemn pause in the evangelical narrative concurs with other circumstances to in. timate that He was again enduring the peculiar sufferings of Gethsemane. It was then that, to use the language of inspiration, He“ trod the wine press” of his Father's wrath, “ alone,” unstrengthened by heavenly aid, rejected and despised by the very world that He came to save, and exposed, at the same time, to the sharpest assaults of all the powers of darkness. At length, his human nature gave way under the anguish of the conflict, and the cord of life was snapped at the moment of his intensest suffering. Every thing thus seems to indicate that there was a sudden rent of the agonised tabernacle of life; and what more likely, we would reverentially ask, than that “ the pitcher was broken at the fountain, and that the wheel was broken at the cistern"? But, without indulging this thought any further, let us again follow the sacred narrative. It was about three o'clock in the afternoon, the hour of sacrifice and just three hours before the commencement of the Jewish Sabbath, that the Saviour expired. Now, as we have already observed, the Mosaic law required that, before the Sabbath began, the crucified
persons should be dispatched and removed. The Jews therefore applied to Pilate for permission to do this, and it was accordingly granted. It was then probably between four and five o'clock when the Roman soldiers came, and brake the legs of the two malefactors who had suffered along with Jesus.
“ On finding Him already dead, they abstained from offering this needless violence to his corpse ; but, as if to make sure, one of them with a spear pierced 1847)
Its Physical Cause explained.
pierced his side, whence, says the beloved disciple, an eye-witness of the transaction,– immediately there came forth blood and water,'—and with peculiar solemnity remarks that the whole took place under the superintendence of divine providence, in fulfilment of two ancient prophecies concerning Christ, one of which declared that none of his bones should be broken, and the other, that the guilty people of Israel should look on him whom they had pierced.” P. 123.
To account for the flow of “ the blood and water” from the spear. wound, many conjectures have at different times been proposed. The ancient commentators generally “ had recourse to their favourite expedient of miraculous interposition, designed, as they imagined, to convey important symbolical instruction.” By several of the modern ones, it has been " ascribed to serous effusion either into the pericardial or pleural sacs, naturally produced by that extreme debility which they suppose to have attended the Saviour's death." With respect to the first of these explanations, it would be altogether inexpedient here to examine or discuss it. As to the second, we shall now briefly state the reasons which Dr. Stroud considers to be conclusive against its adoption.
It will be remembered that the wound was on the left side, just in the region of the heart; and indeed it was with the view of insuring the death of the sufferer that the Roman soldier thrust the spear into his side. He knew nothing of the ancient prophecy that the Jews should " look upon Him whom they had pierced ;” it was merely in the fulfilment of his stern duty to see that the criminals were put to death ; else his own life might be made a forfeit for his negligence.
“ The Roman practice of despatching in some instances crucified persons by breaking their legs, stabbing them with swords or spears, &c., is well known, and, as above noticed, has been fully described by Salmasius, Lipsius, Bosius, and others. When the soldier, therefore, pierced the side of Christ, he did nothing more than what was usual, and, having such an object in view, would naturally inflict a decisive wound, that is, a stab to the heart. This opinion has accordingly been adopted by a great number of theological writers, many of whom are cited by Thomas Bartholinus, a Danish physician, who, however, in an express treatise on the subject follows the guidance of his father Caspar, and objects to this opinion for no better reason than that, when speaking of the wound, and of the scar which remained after Christ's resurrection, the evangelist John mentions the side only, and not the heart. As a faithful witness of the transaction, John of course relates only what he saw, but leaves his readers to draw a rational inference from the facts described, which can be none other than that here stated."* P. 131.
But as it has very generally been admitted that the wound penetrated to the heart, and was designed to prove fatal had life still continued, we shall pass on at once to consider what is the most probable cause of the flow of “ blood and water,” which followed the thrust of the spear. The opinion of Bartholinus that, the latter issued from the bag of the pleura, has been partially at least adopted by several writers. Thus the Rev. Mr. Hewlett, in his notes upon the Gospels, expresses himself to this effect :
* “ Thomas Bartholinus, De latere Christi aperto, &c., pp. 17—22, 45, &c.; -Idem. Epistola ad Hieron. Bardium, pp. 565–570.-Acts, chap. 12, v. 18, 19."