Hitherto, we have seen the preparatives for Christ’s sufferings; now, we enter upon the bloody scene. In these verses we have the story of his agony in the garden. This was the beginning of sorrows to our Lord Jesus. Now the sword of the Lord began to awake against the man that was his Fellow; and how should it be quiet when the Lord had given it a charge? The clouds had been gathering a good while, and looked black. He had said, some days before, Now is my soul troubled, John 12:27. But now the storm began in good earnest. He put himself into this agony, before his enemies gave him any trouble, to show that he was a Freewill offering; that his life was not forced from him, but he laid it down of himself. John 10:18. Observe,
I. The place where he underwent this mighty agony; it was in a place called Gethsemane. The name signifies, torculus olei—an olive-mill, a press for olives, like a wine-press, where they trod the olives, Mic. 6:15. And this was the proper place for such a thing, at the foot of the mount of Olives. There our Lord Jesus began his passion; there it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and crush him, that fresh oil might flow to all believers from him, that we might partake of the root and fatness of that good Olive. There he trod the wine-press of his Father’s wrath, and trod it alone.
II. The company he had with him, when he was in this agony.
1. He took all the twelve disciples with him to the garden, except Judas, who was at this time otherwise employed. Though it was late in the night, near bed-time, yet they kept with him, and took this walk by moonlight with him, as Elisha, who, when he was told that his master should shortly be taken from his head, declared that he would not leave him, though he led him about; so these follow the Lamb, wheresoever he goes.
2. He took only Peter, and James, and John, with him into that corner of the garden where he suffered his agony. He left the rest at some distance, perhaps at the garden door, with this charge, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder; like that of Abraham to his young men (Gen. 22:5), Abide ye here, and I will go yonder and worship. (1.) Christ went to pray alone, though he had lately prayed with his disciples, John 17:1. Note, Our prayers with our families must not excuse us from our secret devotions. (2.) He ordered them to sit here. Note, We must take heed of giving any disturbance or interruption to those who retire for secret communion with God. He took these three with him, because they had been the witnesses of his glory in his transfiguration (Matt. 17:1, 2), and that would prepare them to be the witnesses of his agony. Note, Those are best prepared to suffer with Christ, that have by faith beheld his glory, and have conversed with the glorified saints upon the holy mount. If we suffer with Christ, we shall reign with him; and if we hope to reign with him, why should we not expect to suffer with him?
III. The agony itself that he was in; He began to be sorrowful, and very heavy. It is called an agony (Luke 22:44), a conflict. It was not any bodily pain or torment that he was in, nothing occurred to hurt him; but, whatever it was, it was from within; he troubled himself, John 11:33. The words here used are very emphatical; he began lupeisthai kai ademunein—to be sorrowful, and in a consternation. The latter word signifies such a sorrow as makes a man neither fit for company nor desirous of it. He had like a weight of lead upon his spirits. Physicians use a word near akin to it, to signify the disorder a man is in in a fit of an ague, or beginning of a fever. Now was fulfilled, Ps. 22:14; I am poured out like water, my heart is like wax, it is melted; and all those passages in the Psalms where David complains of the sorrows of his soul, Ps. 18:4, 5; 42:7; 55:4, 5, 69:1-3; 88:3; 116:3; and Jonah’s complaint, Jonah 2:4, 5.
But what was the cause of all this? What was it that put him into his agony? Why art thou cast down, blessed Jesus, and why disquieted? Certainly, it was nothing of despair or distrust of his Father, much less any conflict or struggle with him. As the Father loved him because he laid down his life for the sheep, so he was entirely subject to his Father’s will in it. But,
1. He engaged in an encounter with the powers of darkness; so he intimates (Luke 22:53); This is your hour, and the power of darkness: and he spoke of it just before (John 14:30, 31); “The prince of this world cometh. I see him rallying his forces, and preparing for a general assault; but he has nothing in me, no garrisons in his interest, none that secretly hold correspondence with him; and therefore his attempts, though fierce, will be fruitless: but as the Father gave me commandment, so I do; however it be, I must have a struggle with him, the field must be fairly fought; and therefore arise, let us go hence, let us hasten to the field of battle, and meet the enemy.” Now is the close engagement in single combat between Michael and the dragon, hand to hand; now is the judgment of this world; the great cause is now to be determined, and the decisive battle fought, in which the prince of this world, will certainly be beaten and cast out, John 12:31. Christ, when he works salvation, is described like a champion taking the field, Isa. 59:16-18. Now the serpent makes his fiercest onset on the seed of the woman, and directs his sting, the sting of death, to his very heart; animamque in vulnere ponit—and the wound is mortal.
2. He was now bearing the iniquities which the Father laid upon him, and, by his sorrow and amazement, he accommodated himself to his undertaking. The sufferings he was entering upon were for our sins; they were all made to meet upon him, and he knew it. As we are obliged to be sorry for our particular sins, so was he grieved for the sins of us all. So Bishop Pearson, p. 191. Now, in the valley of Jehoshaphat, where Christ now was, God gathered all nations, and pleaded with them in his Son, Joel 3:2, 12. He knew the malignity of the sins that were laid upon him, how provoking to God, how ruining to man; and these being all set in order before him, and charged upon him, he was sorrowful and very heavy. Now it was that iniquities took hold on him; so that he was not able to look up, as was foretold concerning him, Ps. 40:7, 12.
3. He had a full and clear prospect of all the sufferings that were before him. He foresaw the treachery of Judas, the unkindness of Peter, the malice of the Jews, and their base ingratitude. He knew that he should now in a few hours be scourged, spit upon, crowned with thorns, nailed to the cross; death in its most dreadful appearances, death in pomp, attended with all its terrors, looked him in the face; and this made him sorrowful, especially because it was the wages of our sin, which he had undertaken to satisfy for. It is true, the martyrs that have suffered for Christ, have entertained the greatest torments, and the most terrible deaths, without any such sorrow and consternation; have called their prisons their delectable orchards, and a bed of flames a bed of roses: but then, (1.) Christ was now denied the supports and comforts which they had; that is, he denied them to himself, and his soul refused to be comforted, not in passion, but in justice to his undertaking. Their cheerfulness under the cross was owing to the divine favour, which, for the present, was suspended from the Lord Jesus. (2.) His sufferings were of another nature from theirs. St. Paul, when he is to be offered upon the sacrifice and service of the saints’ faith, can joy and rejoice with them all; but to be offered a sacrifice, to make atonement for sin, is quite a different case. On the saints’ cross there is a blessing pronounced, which enables them to rejoice under it (Matt. 5:10, 12); but to Christ’s cross there was a curse annexed, which made him sorrowful and very heavy under it. And his sorrow under the cross was the foundation of their joy under it.
IV. His complaint of this agony. Finding himself under the arrest of his passion, he goes to his disciples (Matt. 26:38), and,
1. He acquaints them with his condition; My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death. It gives some little ease to a troubled spirit, to have a friend ready to unbosom itself to, and give vent to its sorrows. Christ here tells them, (1.) What was the seat of his sorrow; it was his soul that was now in an agony. This proves that Christ had a true human soul; for he suffered, not only in his body, but in his soul. We had sinned both against our own bodies, and against our souls; both had been used in sin, and both had been wronged by it; and therefore Christ suffered in soul as well as in body. (2.) What was the degree of his sorrow. He was exceedingly sorrowful, perilypos—compassed about with sorrow on all hands. It was sorrow in the highest degree, even unto death; it was a killing sorrow, such sorrow as no mortal man could bear and live. He was ready to die for grief; they were sorrows of death. (3.) The duration of it; it will continue even unto death. “My soul will be sorrowful as long as it is in this body; I see no outlet but death.” He now began to be sorrowful, and never ceased to be so till he said, It is finished; that grief is now finished, which began in the garden. It was prophesied of Christ, that he should be a Man of sorrows (Isa. 53:3); he was so all along, we never read that he laughed; but all his sorrows hitherto were nothing to this.
2. He bespeaks their company and attendance; Tarry ye here, and watch with me. Surely he was destitute indeed of help, when he entreated theirs, who, he knew, would be but miserable comforters; but he would hereby teach us the benefit of the communion of saints. It is good to have, and therefore good to seek, the assistance of our brethren, when at any time we are in an agony; for two are better than one. What he said to them, he saith to all, Watch, Mark 13:37. Not only watch for him, in expectation of his future coming, but watch with him, in application to our present work.
V. What passed between him and his Father when he was in this agony; Being in an agony, he prayed. Prayer is never out of season, but it is especially seasonable in an agony.
Observe, 1. The place where he prayed; He went a little further, withdrew from them, that the scripture might be fulfilled, I have trod the wine-press alone; he retired for prayer; a troubled soul finds most ease when it is alone with God, who understands the broken language of sighs and groans. Calvin’s devout remark upon this is worth transcribing, Utile est seorsim orare, tunc enim magis familiariter sese denudat fidelis animus, et simplicius sua vota, gemitus, curas, pavores, spes, et gaudia in Dei sinum exonerat—It is useful to pray apart; for then the faithful soul develops itself more familiarly, and with greater simplicity pours forth its petitions, groans, cares, fears, hopes and joys, into the bosom of God. Christ has hereby taught us that secret prayer must be made secretly. Yet some think that even the disciples whom he left at the garden door, overheard him; for it is said (Heb. 5:7), they were strong cries.
2. His posture in prayer; He fell on his face; his lying prostrate denotes, (1.) The agony he was in, and the extremity of his sorrow. Job, in great grief, fell on the ground; and great anguish is expressed by rolling in the dust, Mic. 1:10. (2.) His humility in prayer. This posture was an expression of his, eulabeia—his reverential fear (spoken of Heb. 5:7), with which he offered up these prayers: and it was in the days of his flesh, in his estate of humiliation, to which hereby he accommodated himself.
3. The prayer itself; wherein we may observe three things.
(1.) The title he gives to God; O my Father. Thick as the cloud was, he could see God as a Father through it. Note, In all our addresses to God we should eye him as a Father, as our Father; and it is in a special manner comfortable to do so, when we are in an agony. It is a pleasing string to harp upon at such a time, My Father; whither should the child go, when any thing grieves him, but to his father?
(2.) The favour he begs; If it be possible, let this cup pass from me. He calls his sufferings a cup; not a river, not a sea, but a cup, which we shall soon see the bottom of. When we are under troubles, we should make the best, the least, of them, and not aggravate them. His sufferings might be called a cup, because allotted him, as at feasts a cup was set to every mess. He begs that this cup might pass from him, that is, that he might avoid the sufferings now at hand; or, at least, that they might be shortened. This intimates no more than that he was really and truly Man, and as a Man he could not but be averse to pain and suffering. This is the first and simple act of man’s will—to start back from that which is sensibly grievous to us, and to desire the prevention and removal of it. The law of self-preservation is impressed upon the innocent nature of man, and rules there till overruled by some other law; therefore Christ admitted and expressed a reluctance to suffer, to show that he was taken from among men (Heb. 5:1), was touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15), and tempted as we are; yet without sin. Note, A prayer of faith against an affliction, may very well consist with the patience of hope under affliction. When David had said, I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it; his very next words were, Remove thy stroke away from me, Ps. 39:9, 10. But observe the proviso; If it be possible. If God may be glorified, man saved, and the ends of his undertaking answered, without his drinking of this bitter cup, he desires to be excused; otherwise not. What we cannot do with the securing of our great end, we must reckon to be in effect impossible; Christ did so. Id possumus quod jure possumus—We can do that which we can do lawfully. We can do nothing, not only we may do nothing, against the truth.
(3.) His entire submission to, and acquiescence in, the will of God; Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. Not that the human will of Christ was adverse or averse to the divine will; it was only, in its first act, diverse from it; to which, in the second act of the will, which compares and chooses, he freely submits himself. Note, [1.] Our Lord Jesus, though he had a quick sense of the extreme bitterness of the sufferings he was to undergo, yet was freely willing to submit to them for our redemption and salvation, and offered himself, and gave himself, for us. [2.] The reason of Christ’s submission to his sufferings, was, his Father’s will; as thou wilt, Matt. 26:39. He grounds his own willingness upon the Father’s will, and resolves the matter wholly into that; therefore he did what he did, and did it with delight, because it was the will of God, Ps. 40:8. This he had often referred to, as that which put him upon, and carried him through, his whole undertaking; This is the Father’s will, John 6:39, 40. This he sought (John 5:30); it was his meat and drink to do it, John 4:34. [3.] In conformity to this example of Christ, we must drink of the bitter cup which God puts into our hands, be it ever so bitter; though nature struggle, grace must submit. We then are disposed as Christ was, when our wills are in every thing melted into the will of God, though ever so displeasing to flesh and blood; The will of the Lord be done, Acts 21:14.
4. The repetition of the prayer; He went away again the second time, and prayed (Matt. 26:42), and again the third time (Matt. 26:44), and all to the same purport; only, as it is related here, he did not, in the second and third prayer, expressly ask that the cup might pass from him, as he had done in the first. Note, Though we may pray to God to prevent and remove an affliction, yet our chief errand, and that which we should most insist upon, must be, that he will give us grace to bear it well. It should be more our care to get our troubles sanctified, and our hearts satisfied under them, than to get them taken away. He prayed, saying, Thy will be done. Note, Prayer is the offering up, not only of our desires, but of our resignations, to God. It amounts to an acceptable prayer, when at any time we are in distress, to refer ourselves to God, and to commit our way and work to him; Thy will be done. The third time he said the same words, ton auton logon—the same word, that is the same matter or argument; he spoke to the same purport. We have reason to think that this was not all he said, for it should seem by Matt. 26:40 that he continued an hour in his agony and prayer; but, whatever more he said, it was to this effect, deprecating his approaching sufferings, and yet resigning himself to God’s will in them, in the expressions of which we may be sure he was not straitened.
But what answer had he to this prayer? Certainly it was not made in vain; he that heard him always, did not deny him now. It is true, the cup did not pass from him, for he withdrew that petition, and did not insist upon it (if he had, for aught I know, the cup had passed away); but he had an answer to his prayer; for, (1.) He was strengthened with strength in his soul, in the day when he cried (Ps. 138:3); and that was a real answer, Luke 22:43. (2.) He was delivered from that which he feared, which was, lest by impatience and distrust he should offend his Father, and so disable himself to go on with his undertaking, Heb. 5:7. In answer to his prayer, God provided that he should not fail or be discouraged.
VI. What passed between him and his three disciples at this time; and here we may observe,
1. The fault they were guilty of; that when he was in his agony, sorrowful and heavy, sweating and wrestling and praying, they were so little concerned, that they could not keep awake; he comes, and finds them asleep, Matt. 26:40. The strangeness of the thing should have roused their spirits to turn aside now, and see this great sight—the bush burning, and yet not consumed; much more should their love to their Master, and their care concerning him, have obliged them to a more close and vigilant attendance on him; yet they were so dull, that they could not keep their eyes open. What had become of us, if Christ had been now as sleepy as his disciples were? It is well for us that our salvation is in the hand of one who neither slumbers nor sleeps. Christ engaged them to watch with him, as if he expected some succour from them, and yet they slept; surely it was the unkindest thing that could be. When David wept at this mount of Olives, all his followers wept with him (2 Sam. 15:30); but when the Son of David was here in tears, his followers were asleep. His enemies, who watched for him, were wakeful enough (Mark 14:43); but his disciples, who should have watched with him, were asleep. Lord, what is man! What are the best of men, when God leaves them to themselves! Note, Carelessness and carnal security, especially when Christ is in his agony, are great faults in any, but especially in those who profess to be nearest in relation to him. The church of Christ, which is his body, is often in an agony, fightings without and fears within; and shall we be asleep then, like Gallio, that cared for none of these things; or those (Amos 6:6) that lay at ease, and were not grieved for the affliction of Joseph?
2. Christ’s favour to them, notwithstanding. Persons in sorrow are too apt to be cross and peevish with those about them, and to lay it grievously to heart, if they but seem to neglect them; but Christ in his agony is as meek as ever, and carries it as patiently toward his followers as toward his Father, and is not apt to take things ill.
When Christ’s disciples put this slight upon him,
(1.) He came to them, as if he expected to receive some comfort from them; and if they had put him in mind of what they had heard from him concerning his resurrection and glory perhaps it might have been some help to him; but, instead of that, they added grief to his sorrow; and yet he came to them, more careful for them than they were for themselves; when he was most engaged, yet he came to look after them; for those that were given him, were upon his heart, living and dying.
(2.) He gave them a gentle reproof, for as many as he loves he rebukes; he directed it to Peter, who used to speak for them; let him now hear for them. The reproof was very melting; What! could ye not watch with me one hour? He speaks as one amazed to see them so stupid; every word, when closely considered, shows the aggravated nature of the case. Consider, [1.] Who they were; “Could not ye watch—ye, my disciples and followers? No wonder if others neglect me, if the earth sit still, and be at rest (Zech. 1:11); but from you I expected better things.” [2.] Who he was; “Watch with me. If one of yourselves were ill and in an agony, it would be very unkind not to watch with him; but it is undutiful not to watch with your Master, who has long watched over you for good, has led you, and fed you, and taught you, borne you, and borne with you; do ye thus requite him?” He awoke out of his sleep, to help them when they were in distress (Matt. 8:26); and could not they keep awake, at least to show their good-will to him, especially considering that he was now suffering for them, in an agony for them? Jas. tua res agiture—I am suffering in your cause. [3.] How small a thing it was that he expected from them—only to watch with him. If he had bid them do some great thing, had bid them be in an agony with him, or die with him, they thought they could have done it; and yet they could not do it, when he only desired them to watch with him, 2 Kgs. 5:13. [4.] How short a time it was that he expected it—but one hour; they were not set upon the guard whole nights, as the prophet was (Isa. 21:8), only one hour. Sometimes he continued all night in prayer to God, but did not then expect that his disciples should watch with him; only now, when he had but one hour to spend in prayer.
(3.) He gave them good counsel; Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation, Matt. 26:41. [1.] There was an hour of temptation drawing on, and very near; the troubles of Christ were temptations to his followers to disbelieve and distrust him, to deny and desert him, and renounce all relation to him. [2.] There was danger of their entering into the temptation, as into a snare or trap; of their entering into a parley with it, or a good opinion of it, of their being influenced by it, and inclining to comply with it; which is the first step toward being overcome by it. [3.] He therefore exhorts them to watch and pray; Watch with me, and pray with me. While they were sleeping, they lost the benefit of joining in Christ’s prayer. “Watch yourselves, and pray yourselves. Watch and pray against this present temptation to drowsiness and security; pray that you may watch; beg of God by his grace to keep you awake, now that there is occasion.” When we are drowsy in the worship of God, we should pray, as a good Christian once did, “The Lord deliver me from this sleepy devil!” Lord, quicken thou me in thy way, Or, “Watch and pray against the further temptation you may be assaulted with; watch and pray lest this sin prove the inlet of many more.” Note, When we find ourselves entering into temptation, we have need to watch and pray.
(4.) He kindly excused for them; The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. We do not read of one word they had to say for themselves (the sense of their own weakness stopped their mouth); but then he had a tender word to say on their behalf, for it is his office to be an Advocate; in this he sets us an example of the love which covers a multitude of sins. He considered their frame, and did not chide them, for he remembered that they were but flesh; and the flesh is weak, though the spirit be willing, Ps. 78:38, 39. Note, [1.] Christ’s disciples, as long as they are here in this world, have bodies as well as souls, and a principle of remaining corruption as well as of reigning grace, like Jacob and Esau in the same womb, Canaanites and Israelites in the same land, Gal. 5:17, 24. [2.] It is the unhappiness and burthen of Christ’s disciples, that their bodies cannot keep pace with their souls in works of piety and devotion, but are many a time a cloud and clog to them; that, when the spirit is free and disposed to that which is good, the flesh is averse and indisposed. This St. Paul laments (Rom. 7:25); With my mind I serve the law of God, but with my flesh the law of sin. Our impotency in the service of God is the great iniquity and infidelity of our nature, and it arises from these sad remainders of corruption, which are the constant grief and burthen of God’s people. [3.] Yet it is our comfort, that our Master graciously considers this, and accepts the willingness of the spirit, and pities and pardons the weakness and infirmity of the flesh; for we are under grace, and not under the law.
(5.) Though they continued dull and sleepy, he did not any further rebuke them for it; for, though we daily offend, yet he will not always chide. [1.] When he came to them the second time, we do not find that he said any thing to them (Matt. 26:43); he findeth them asleep again. One would have thought that he had said enough to them to keep them awake; but it is hard to recover from a spirit of slumber. Carnal security, when once it prevails, is not easily shaken off. Their eyes were heavy, which intimates that they strove against it as much as they could, but were overcome by it, like the spouse; I sleep, but my heart waketh (Song 5:2); and therefore their Master looked upon them with compassion. [2.] When he came the third time, he left them to be alarmed with the approaching danger (Matt. 26:45, 46); Sleep on now, and take your rest. This is spoken ironically; “Now sleep if you can, sleep if you dare; I would not disturb you if Judas and his band of men would not.” See here how Christ deals with those that suffer themselves to be overcome by security, and will not be awakened out of it. First, Sometimes he gives them up to the power of it; Sleep on now. He that will sleep, let him sleep still. The curse of spiritual slumber is the just punishment of the sin of it, Rom. 11:8; Hos. 4:17. Secondly, Many times he sends some startling judgment, to awaken those that would not be wrought upon by the word; and those who will not be alarmed by reasons and arguments, had better be alarmed by swords and spears than left to perish in their security. Let those that would not believe, be made to feel.
As to the disciples here, 1. Their Master gave them notice of the near approach of his enemies, who, it is likely, were now within sight or hearing, for they came with candles and torches, and, it is likely, made a great noise; The Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. And again, He is at hand that doth betray me. Note, Christ’s sufferings were no surprise to him; he knew what, and when, he was to suffer. By this time the extremity of his agony was pretty well over, or, at least, diverted; while with an undaunted courage he addresses himself to the next encounter, as a champion to the combat. 2. He called them to rise, and be going: not, “Rise, and let us flee from the danger;” but, “Rise, and let us go meet it;” before he had prayed, he feared his sufferings, but now he had got over his fears. But, 3. He intimates to them their folly, in sleeping away the time which they should have spent in preparation; now the event found them unready, and was a terror to them.