RECTOR OF ST. CLEMENT'S CHURCH,
14 AND 16 ASTOR PLACE.
THE line of thought in these meditations is the same as in those given at the Three Hours service in St. Clement's Church, Philadelphia, on Good Friday, 1882, but I had kept so few notes that the meditations are for the most part new.
WE come together to contemplate that event which has changed the history of the world. Up to the base of the Cross the old world comes reeling and staggering degraded and intoxicated with sin, unable to control itself, with its highest instincts gradually becoming deadened and numbed, conscious of its degradation, but utterly powerless to reclaim itself. Lust, cruelty, selfishness, and the morbid craving for excitement have settled down as a heavy cloud upon man's brow, and nothing can dispel it; he is sadly alive to his condition, to do good is present with him, but how to perform he finds not, and in dark despair he tries to make the best of it; and, decking his brows in his drunken revel, he says, "let us eat and drink for to-morrow we die." Up to the foot of the Cross the old world comes staggering and surfeited; up to [7/8] the foot of the Cross the tide of sin comes swelling, and dashes against its base. The tempest of passion and pride and selfishness, the maxims and laws that held society in a tight grasp, come in all their majesty and strength to the foot of the Cross, and there their power is spent, and broken. The storm breaks against it, and the waters flow on the other side calm and smooth. Life is the same, but the storm is over. One Man went forth and breasted the storm, and by His own strength broke it. He had to meet the close network of the social, political and religious organizations of Heathendom that held the world in its ever-tightening grip. He had to speak to ears that were not attuned to His voice. He had to appeal to hearts that seemed to be beyond the power of being touched. The world stood one compact mass on one side, and He alone on the other, and He conquered it, and won it over to His side, so that His thoughts and plans passed into its life and became the basis of the organization of the new world. How could He do it? How could he reach it, how could He get [8/9] it to listen? O Jesu, the passion of Thy heart was to help men out of the false principles of life, the zeal for man's welfare even consumed Thee; yet what canst Thou do, how canst Thou reach them? Thou knowest indeed man's mistake and Thou hast the remedy. But who will listen? Effort after effort has been made and failed, and men have become sceptical of the power of reformation.
We see to-day how He did it. He made Himself heard. What was the secret of His success? Every other scheme had failed, for however beautiful in theory it failed in practice. The philosophers worked out in their own minds the theories which formed their schools. They had much that was true in them, much that was noble. But facts would not bend themselves to their theories; there was the stubborn fact of man's innate love of evil, which their theories could not meet. But Jesus--He was a man not merely of theories but of practice. "Jesus began both to do and to teach." First He did, then He taught. First He tested by His own [9/10] personal experience, then He taught as one that had authority and not as the Scribes.
To-day we see Him in all the majesty of the practical teacher. From the pulpit of the Cross He preaches. Beneath the crown of thorns, and with throbbing temples, He controls His thoughts. With burning fevered lips and tongue, He perseveres in prayer. With the iron in His flesh, He remains steadfast to His Father's will. With the world against Him, He remains still its Saviour and its truest friend.
He came to experience and to solve in His own Person the mysteries that enveloped and hampered human life. In the seven words from the cross, and the circumstances that called them forth, we see Him as it were passing beneath the shadow of these great mysteries, and in the darkness and agony we hear Him teach us how to meet them.
O Jesu, beneath Thy cross we kneel and listen to Thee, Thy words are simple indeed, yet as they fall from Thy lips into my heart they sink down and awaken within me new thoughts and aspirations. Thou speakest, [10/11] Lord, as one that hath authority, for Thy words have been tried to the uttermost, spoken by lips steeped in agony, wrung from a heart sore and wounded.
FIRST WORD. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Where shall we go to learn from this great Teacher? Where will He teach so that the world may hear Him? Where does the founder of this new kingdom gather around Him His followers? and lay down the principles that are to guide them? There never was such a teacher, and surely never such a school. Come to the scene of the foundation of Christendom. A dense throng of people, one sea of upturned faces, the great city close at hand seems to have disgorged itself of all its inhabitants; the lowest refuse have been drawn from the foulest slums of the city. The crowd had swelled and multiplied--some drawn from curiosity, some expecting amusement or a new excitement; from the earliest hour in the morning, the whole city streamed forth in one direction; many had been in the [11/12] streets all night. Let us push our way through the crowds, look at their faces as you pass, listen to the words; you almost fear; it is hardly safe to be in such a crowd. They surge and sway from side to side, now a coarse jest and roar of laughter, now a lull, and you can hear the movement of the mighty concourse of people, and ever and anon there bursts forth from every throat one long loud roar, "Away with Him--crucify Him!" The worst passions seem to be aroused; it would go hard with any one who had to depend for his life upon the pity of those men. There is that fearful combination of levity and cruelty which is so common in crowds of people. Men laugh and jest with their neighbors, and then cry out for the blood of their victim. And in the midst, the centre of all this concourse, there lies upon the ground One who seems half dead from exhaustion and ill treatment. His clothes have been torn off Him, and His body is one mass of open sores. The blood streams from His wounds and trickles down upon the ground. They have just hammered three nails through His hands [12/13] and feet. Will you turn your back and push your way out again? Can you bear to look?--it is a hideous sight. Verily," He has no form nor comeliness," we may well "esteem Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted." Two others lie beside Him on the ground; that Central One looks the most forlorn and abject, Who are they? What does it mean? Ask that man by your side. Why is He being put to death? He answers, "Some say He was trying to rouse up the people to rebellion against Caesar, others that He was an impostor, who pretended to be the Messias, and said He was the Son of God." Look at Him. They lift up the Cross. Can you look? The wounds tear and gape. You can almost hear the wrenching of the muscles; one look of excruciating pain passes over his face; immediately around the Cross there is a moment's silence, the multitude hold their breath, and every eye is riveted on the sufferers; the other two scream and struggle. He is quite still. Is He conscious? Yes--He looks down on that sea of faces, a wild sea of stormy passions, His head swims, and the faces become [13/14] distorted--it is one blurred and blotted picture of human life. They dance before Him as He gazes down. Now one face stands out in startling distinctness, hard, fierce, cruel--now it is lost in the throng. Then another catches His eye, disfigured with a hideous laugh. Come away. Can you bear to look? Is there anything to see, anything to learn from such a spectacle? I see nothing but human life at its worst; love, pity and mercy are gone, cruelty and wickedness have burst loose, the worst passions of man have come to the surface, and are marked on every face. Come away; nay, nay, go not yet. See, that sufferer is trying to speak, only those close by can hear; the noise and shouting make it impossible to hear, and His voice is so weak that you cannot hear unless you come close. What does He say? "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Where are we? What does it mean? That sufferer is God Incarnate, the multitude are the creatures of His hand. He had come to help them. He taught, He cured the sick, He ever helped them. And what is He doing now? He had come [14/15] in contact with the mystery of sin, it had come close upon Himself, the tide has come in and engulfed Him. Sin, that touches upon every one's life more or less, has emptied out all its hatefulness upon Him. Can men come in contact with the worst passions of their fellow creatures without becoming hardened, embittered, or defiled? Who can go through the world without losing the fresh glow of trustfulness and charity? If I could trust men, I would help them. I have lost all faith in people, I have been so often deceived, I don't even trust those who profess to be religious, I have become sceptical of human goodness. My experience has been an unfortunate one--so men say, and they think they have a right to say it. O Jesu, what sayest Thou? Can men live in this evil world and be brought in contact with sin without being hardened or corrupted? Look and listen. He had passed under the shadow of this awful mystery, and He teaches us out of its depths. Sin has poured its venom upon Him, it has been assaulting Him unceasingly for years, now it has gathered all its force for one final effort; it strikes hard [15/16] upon Him, it comes on every side, there has been nothing wanting to make it the hardest and cruelest attack. The head of His Church, one of His own disciples, is against Him; the judge who condemned Him to death, had openly stated that he found no fault in Him; injustice and ingratitude glare forth with special fierceness in that crowd, yet what is the result? What sayest Thou, O Jesu, to all this aggravated evil? "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." All that He has met with has not embittered or hardened Him; He is gentle, loving, forgiving as ever. O Jesu, Thou hast kept that heart as tender and pitiful as ever, notwithstanding all Thou hast passed through. Thou Wert tried to the uttermost, and no bitterness was found in Thee, not a frown upon Thy brow as of anger rising but quelled, nor the lips held tight to restrain the angry word; but from Thy Cross Thou lookest down upon angry, hard, loveless faces, and Thy heart has but two strong feelings, love and pity. He has taught us, then, that though we may be disappointed in people, and our efforts to help may only meet with rebuffs, and [16/17] our kindness may be misrepresented, yet we can be still unhardened, as loving and tender as ever. He has taught us it by showing it in His own life. "Learn," He says, "of Me, and ye shall find rest to your souls."
Dost thou feel, it is not my fault that I have become cynical and bitter? Every one I ever tried to help deceived me; it is not my fault that I am hard and reserved; once I was very different, but people were so unkind and unjust, everything I did was misrepresented or misunderstood, so I have shut myself up within myself, and if people will let me alone I will leave them to themselves. O soul, look upon the Cross. Hast thou been as ill treated as He was; hast thou ever striven to do so much for men, and met with such a reward? Even yet He has not lost faith in men, He has found an excuse for them, He is praying for their forgiveness, and His faith in men meets at last with a response. The world turned against Him, blinded by its sins, but it has learnt its mistake. Fifty days and a great reaction has set in, and multitudes turn to Him, the love and tenderness of that pure life begins to tell [17/18] upon the world, and men vie with one another in their devotion to Him. It is the victory of goodness and love in the midst of a world of sin. He goes down to death in ignominy and disgrace, with hardly a follower, still saying I love mankind, they are deceived, but they are not utterly bad; they have been unjust, they have been cruel, but they are under a delusion; I love them still, and they will change; "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," and verily He has seen of the travail of His soul and is satisfied. He holds the hearts of the world, no name wields so mighty a power over men, no one has ever awakened so passionate, so enthusiastic a devotion as He who once was "the scorn of men and the outcast of the people," yet still kept His love for the world uninjured, his faith in the world untouched.
I. Learn of Him; He saw sin in the world, He did not stand apart and criticise, He went forth to help; it was His instinct to lift up and help those who were suffering from sin. He gave out of His own goodness, it came pouring out in streams of health from Him; sin [18/19] could not penetrate the atmosphere of love and goodness that breathed around Him--this was humanly speaking His protection; every one He came in contact with was suffering from the fever of sin, the very atmosphere was laden with infection. Jesus walks about in it, taking these suffering forms in His arms, clasping them to His breast, and breathing forth His own goodness. He went about doing good, and so sin passed Him by untouched. Do not shrink into thyself, and hold aloof, and look on the world in cold criticism; go down to help it, give forth out of yourself all you have, and you will be protected; do not expect gratitude and thanks; the world you are going to help is blinded by sin, the poor sufferer needs aid, but in his delirium he may turn upon and strike his physician.
2. He did not look upon the results of sin as it affected Himself but God. "Father, forgive them." It is Thou who art offended by this sin. Many forms of sin we look upon as matters of personal offence, and so they influence our conduct towards the sinner. Can we not separate between the poor fevered [19/20] patient and the ravings of his delirium? Can we not love the sinner while we hate the sin? Can we not stand aside and see the sin that seems directed against us, as only affecting us in a secondary way, as really aimed against the Majesty of God?
O Jesu, when I feel myself becoming hardened and embittered by the sins of others, I will look into Thy sweet face marred and disfigured with blows and wounds witnessing to Thy cruel treatment, yet bearing no trace of anger, resentment, or impatience; sweet, calm, peaceful in the midst of all the passionate assaults of the multitude; and I will strive to love as Thou didst, and to endure as Thou didst. Lord, help me to be unselfish as Thou wert, and then I shall love.
SECOND MEDITATION. SECOND WORD. To-day shalt thou be with inc in Paradise.
We have seen the mystery of sin gathered around the Cross of Jesus. Himself the sufferer from it, yet His life glowing all the brighter from contact with it. We have asked, is it possible to be the victim of injustice, ingratitude, hypocrisy and deceit, and not to be hardened? We have heard the answer. The answer is on the lips of Jesus. "I have done it." While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
Now we see another sight. Christ triumphed over sin. We have now to see the victim of sin. Jesus hung between two thieves. They were all three, outwardly, in the same condition, suffering the same punishment, enduring the same pains. But how different. There is the calm majesty of the [21/22] Central Figure triumphing in death. Full of dignity in all His humiliation; and the restless strugglings and the gasping curses of the other two. Sin dashes up against Him, and strikes upon Him, but He stands out in contrast, all the more beautiful. But there are two by His side who are the victims of long indulged habits of sin, on the brink of the grave. Men whose lives have been wasted, and who seem beyond the power of being touched or softened. Beside the Cross of Christ there are held up before us two, who are chosen, from the lowest dregs of society. We see here our nature at its very worst. It is the mystery of human life in ruins. Men who have not merely wasted life but used it for evil. Sin has hardened and corrupted them. Look at these three. One of them has met sin and conquered it; the other two have yielded to it. They look down upon the crowd, cursing and blaspheming, hounded on to hate and fury by the hatred of those around them. The hatred of the world, which they have offended, is thrown in their teeth, and they throw it back again. The [22/23] world has cast them off, and they pay it back by steeling themselves against all feeling. Human life is here in its utmost degradation; hardened, embittered, hateful and hating, degraded and disgusting. Let them die! Nothing can be done with such men. They are irreclaimable.
Jesus came in contact with this mystery, the mystery of human life in ruins; wasted and abused up to the very brink of the grave. It was at the brink of the grave He first met these men. Can nothing be done for such, O Lord, in Thy new kingdom? Must such men be passed by? The priest and the Levite pass by, and leave them to die of their wounds. Is there any hope for them in the kingdom of grace?
What is His answer? He has said nothing but that one prayer, Father, forgive them. Some time has probably elapsed since He last spoke. One of them has become silent, and has been watching Christ intently. Look at him. His eyes have gradually turned more and more toward that Mysterious Stranger. Perhaps he is first [23/24] won by His courage. He becomes more silent. At last his look is riveted upon Christ. Jesus has not spoken to him; He has not said a word; He does not even look at him, but the man seems touched. That Silent Sufferer has appealed to the hardened man in a way he does not understand. He finds himself checking his blasphemies. At first he joined his companion in heaping ridicule and curses upon Christ; but now he is silent. He is suffering intense pain in every limb, but something even stronger than pain is moving him now. Thoughts of better days and better desires come stealing back into his mind. As he looks into the Face of Christ it seems to appeal to every remnant or memory of good in him.
What a contrast he sees between himself and Jesus. No hard words, no bitterness, not one word but that prayer for His murderers had passed His lips. The beauty of Christ's patience made him feel his sins more than ever he had felt them before, yet, at the same time, there was an unacccountable longing to be better which he had never [24/25] felt so much before. He seemed further off from being good than ever, yet goodness had in a strange way seemed to come more close to him than ever. How beautiful real goodness is, he would think; if only I could undo the past. How different this man is from any I have ever seen before. He seems to make goodness beautiful and possible. There never was such patience, and never did it seem to me possible before to endure. Strange, that while He is better than any I have ever seen, He seems to make it possible to me to do as He does.
Hope began to dawn as the first ray of returning light upon the poor, dark, despairing soul; and out of hope, Faith. He began to hope for himself: and then came that unparalleled act of faith which enabled him to see in Jesus suffering, scorned and rejected, the Saviour of the world. If only one ray of light might enter his soul, enabling him to feel the possibility of repentance, God can work wonders in him. If the ice-bound soil can be softened, the long dormant germ of life will burst forth. The first movement [25/26] within that soul that wakened all its action was the thought, It is not hopeless for me to try. Then began the great act of faith. His eyes were opened, his heart was melted; his whole being turned to Jesus by his side. "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom." With quick, eager acceptance came the answer, "To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise."
i. We learn from this word, as we come in contact with that sad and common sight, the mystery of a life in ruins, never to give up hope, never to pass by and say, nothing can be done. We see men whose lives from the very first have been misused, who have given themselves up to the indulgence of evil habits, till it seems as if nothing could be done for them but to let them die in their sins. Jesus rescues one such upon the brink of the grave. "One," as it has been said, "that none should despair--only one that none should presume." Let us have hope ourselves, and we may inspire hope. Never leave the dying. As long as life remains there is the chance that the soul may be won. Three hours before the thief died he [26/27] seemed utterly hardened. Upon his deathbed he blasphemed Christ. For some time he showed no signs of being moved as he witnessed the Passion of Jesus; the dizziness, the numbness, the insensibility of approaching death were laying their hands upon him be before he turned to Christ. Yet that day he was with Christ in Paradise. Stay with the dying, then, till the very end. You do not know what change may be taking place beneath an exterior that seems insensible. That look into the face of Christ has softened him. That look of Jesus has dispelled the clouds; the hard lines become softened; the soul, shut up for years within itself, begins to expand; the pride is broken down; tears of contrition burst forth, and the heart becomes conscious of new emotions. "Thou hast conquered, O Galilean." Surely, Jesus by the death-bed of the thief tells us to stay by the dying to the end.
ii. It was not what was said to him that won him; we are not told that anything was said; often we defeat our purpose by our anxiety; we say too much. We press upon the [27/28] dying sinner with prayers or entreaties. Jesus says nothing, but He comes very near him. He is close by his side, He can hear every groan, He can see every expression that passes over his face. But He is not merely locally near him. There flows out from the Cross a flood of sympathy and tenderness, which at last utters itself in that full, glad response to the prayer. It was always so throughout the life of Christ. One source of His power with the people was that He came to them. He would touch the leper when every one else shrank from the touch. Did not that, in itself, break clown a barrier between the two? There was always the coming in close personal contact with the sufferers, and the letting them see how He felt for them. Our presence by the bedside of the dying, showing them our love and sympathy, mostly by silent watching and kindly acts, and at the same time continued prayer for them, if it may not be with them, may be the means of winning them in the end. Do not be content with giving to the sick, or showing kindly acts through others or to the family. Come in personal contact with them, [28/29] perhaps you are the one person in the world who could really help that dying sinner. Show the sufferer that you care for him, not merely for his soul, but for himself.
iii. It was the Holiness of Jesus that won the thief. Alas, how many suffer because we are not better! Were we what we ought to be, we might win many a soul that we cannot touch. We should have the instinct how to deal with them. How often,through our want of tact, we have hurt where we meant to help; but had we been nearer to God we should have had that quiet, calm and peace which would have protected us.
O Jesu, Thou hast given us hope for all. Thy love and goodness have won a sinner on the very brink of the grave. Thou hast shown us that there is a power stronger even than long-indulged habits of sin,--the power of Thy love and grace. Lord, when I despair for others, or for myself, may the remembrance of Thy promise to the thief give me new hope
THIRD MEDITATION. THIRD WORD. Woman, behold thy son--behold thy mother!
Upon the Cross Jesus showed the power of standing out against sin, however strongly it may press upon us. He showed that those who have been dragged down and degraded by sin can be reclaimed. He witnessed to the power of resisting sin and of restoring the sinner. But we live in the presence of another mystery, and we need to be taught how to meet it, the mystery of sorrow. Beneath the Cross there stands His mother; she is looking upon the death of her only son. Everything that can possibly aggravate the bitterness of her sorrow and the difficulty of bearing it aright is there.
I. She knew His absolute sinlessness, she had been with Him from His infancy, watched Him as His life unfolded, and she knew He [30/31] was faultless. She saw Him hanging there in His death agony, and He will not say one word in self defence.
2. She knew that His death was compassed by the rulers of her church. Could she join in the worship of the Temple when the hands of the High Priest were red with the blood of her son? How is she to reconcile reverence for his office with contempt for his person?
3. That dying Man was indeed her very life. She had most truly lived for Him from the moment of the Annunciation, when the angel told her her great vocation, and she offered herself in those words, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord." From that moment He had been her one thought, the one object of her life. Never had a mother so lived in and for the life of her son. She could love Him with the love of a mother; she could worship Him with the love due to her Creator. And now He is dying, dying with every aggravated form of pain and humiliation gathering around Him, and her. She cannot soothe Him or minister to [31/32] His wants; He is torn from her care; she can only be the witness of His agony.
Beneath the Cross of Jesus the veil is lifted, and we are admitted into the sanctuary of the domestic life of Jesus. We are brought face to face with sorrow in its saddest form, a home broken up and desolate. The cottage at Nazareth, the scene of such love and peace and sweetness, is deserted. He who had been its light and joy, and whose unselfishness and love had filled it with brightness, is hanging on the Cross, dying by the hand of public justice; the widowed mother is left alone. O Jesu on the Cross! Thou who art the world's Redeemer! The whole world waits upon Thee; the sins of all mankind are laid upon Thee; yet here Thou permittest us one glimpse into the sorrow of Thy home life. Thou wilt have us see one detail of that load of sorrow that steeps Thy whole soul. It was not a dead weight of indefinite dread and trouble, but in this He shows us how at least some of that mass of sorrow came in upon His soul with all the aggravations of detail. He is dying [32/33] for the world, He is making reparation for the offended majesty of God, He is weighted down with His own personal sorrows and pains, and in addition to all this He does not forget the care of His mother. The form of Mary, bowed with grief, the stifled sobs, the deep-marked lines of sorrow upon her face, concentrated His sorrow and intensified it. And what does He teach us as He thus meets and faces the mystery of sorrow?
I. Sorrow is in the world; it may sometimes be avoided; there are many forms of sorrow that we may escape if we try. He will not turn from it if by it He can help others. He might have lived His own life and left men to themselves, and never have had a grief. Jesus will not avoid any sorrow, however great, if by it He can help others, nor will He escape sorrow at the expense of duty. How often we neglect some duty because of the pain it would cause ourselves or others. The Son of God could not do the work He came to do without enduring sorrow. His vocation, His duty, often caused Him bitter sorrow, but He never shrunk; the world's redemption was [33/34] dependent upon the willingness of the Redeemer to endure sorrow. Can we wonder that we have to endure? The shadow of that mysterious presence hangs over many an act to be done, many a vocation to be fulfilled, dark and forbidding. The natural instinct says, Fly from it. Jesus walks boldly forward, guided only by duty--His Father's will, and never swerves a hair's breadth, however dark the shadow may be; "until the day break and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh." He taught us that joy was to be gained not by flying from sorrow at the expense of duty, but by enduring it. O Man of Sorrows, thou hast become the consoler of the world, Thou art the true Isaac, Thou hast turned our sorrows into joy!
2. It may be necessary to cause pain and sorrow to those to whom we owe, and towards whom we feel, the greatest love and most perfect dutifulness. The mystery of sorrow crosses our path in many spheres of life, and is ministered by many hands. Often the sorest grief is ministered by the hand of the one we love best in the world. Jesus loved His [34/35] blessed mother, yet He left the home at Nazareth, and now it is He who is the cause of this greatest sorrow, this piercing of her soul with grief. For He might have escaped death, He might have lived out His life in the quiet home at Nazareth; if He had only had her to think of He might have saved her from this crushing sorrow; but in a very true sense He caused it to her because with the power of escaping from it He accepted it. Nay, He chose it. Her grief adds bitterness to His; it is another drop in His cup of agony, but He could only avoid this grief by a neglect of duty, by disobeying His Father's will. Yes, Jesus had a duty to perform, a vocation to fulfill, which necessitated the breaking up of a home, the deepest sorrow to His mother, yet He fulfilled it. The question may sometimes come up in our lives, shall I do such a thing when it will give so much pain to those I love? It may be that the two loves may come in conflict--the love of those most near to us in kindred or friendship, and the love of God, some duty of which there can be no doubt, some call which we know to be from God; then we must choose, as [35/36] Jesus did, the cross that breaks a mother's heart.
Learn, too, from Mary, on the other hand, not to hold back what is dearest to us from God, if He asks it. No one can altogether understand another's vocation. What may seem to one to be unreasonable, may be to another the very command of God. Mary will give up her son to death for the world, because it is God's will, though she may not know the reason for it; let parents learn from her not to stand in the way of their children's fulfilling their vocation, though it may cause them deep sorrow.
3. In the midst of all His sorrow He thinks of others, "Woman, behold thy son, Behold thy mother." If He must cause them suffering He will do all in His power to alleviate it. Sorrow has one of two results, it either makes people selfish and exacting, or sends them forth from out of themselves to comfort others; it is a wonderful instrument of power with souls. One who has suffered deeply has learnt the secrets of human life and has gained a breadth of sympathy that can be gained in no other way. [36/37] Sorrow breaks down the strongest barriers of reserve, and places those who are otherwise farthest separated upon a level. But, on the other hand, if it does not do this, it only intensifies selfishness and robs the soul of everything beautiful in it. People become exacting in their demand for sympathy, and expect more of others than they can get. Jesus, in all His own burden of sorrow and pain, tries to alleviate the sorrow of His mother, adds to His own pain by sending her from the Cross, that He may die alone. She, whose presence seemed in one sense to lighten His suffering by her companionship, is sent away that she may escape the awful sight of His death; but He will suffer the added pain of utter solitude. Oh, what a contrast to the selfish exactions of our grief! We think that we have a right to consider ourselves, and to do all in our power to lessen our grief. Learn of Jesus so to taste of sorrow that it may send thee forth into the world with quickened sympathies, that it may gird thee with the power of ministering to others.
O Jesu, Thy sorrow has brought joy into [37/38] the world; in Thy sorrow Thou hast come so near to us that though Thou art very God, yet we do not fear to pour out our complaints before Thee, and we never fail to find in Thee sympathy and strength.
FOURTH MEDITATION. FOURTH WORD. My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!
The moments were dragging heavily on laden with sorrow and pain. The Lord had felt the pain of sin, the sorrow of ruined souls, the anguish of His mother's grief. As John took her to his own home and the darkness spreads as a thick veil over the whole land, Jesus watches those two retreating figures till they are lost in the shadows. "I looked for some to have pity upon Me, but there was no man, neither found I any to comfort Me." He is left alone amongst His enemies, He will save her the pain of seeing Him die; though it gives Him the added pain of dying alone. It is the hour for slaying the paschal lambs, the priests are busy in the temple, when the [39/40] sudden darkness stops them in their unfinished work; the depression and awe consequent upon the darkness have hushed the crowd into silence; now and then a voice is heard with some rude joke trying to laugh off the feeling of fear that is laying hold upon all around; and then suddenly, out of the darkness, burst from the lips of the dying Saviour a loud cry of anguish, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!" The depths of agony that wrung from Him that cry we never shall know perhaps, but this at least we may believe--He was experiencing in His own Person the nearest approach that He could have to the loss of the sight of God's presence. He shut out from His human soul all the light of His divine Personality in which it was ever bathed, He would experience the chill and blank of the human soul bereft of the light and strength of God's presence, and left, as it were, to itself. He would, so far as it was possible, learn what man feels when he is separated from God, and feels and sees no token of His presence. He, the eternal Son of God, who by His touch would sanctify all the [40/41] mysteries of human life, has drawn near to, is standing by, that dread mystery which is the result of sin, the mystery of man apart from God and unable to find Him, that which results with so many in doubt and unbelief. O Jesu, doubt Thou couldst never feel, the icy touch of unbelief Thou couldst not know, who art very God, yet Thou wilt in this mystery come as near to it as is possible for Thee. Thou wilt, at least, in Thy human soul experience that condition of mind which has led sinners often to unbelief; Thou wilt learn what man feels when he looks upward and all is darkness and no glimmer of light gives him faith and hope.
Consider, 1. This word follows close upon the last, close upon a great act of self-sacrifice, when in great sorrow of mind and bereavement He was left by His mother and St. John. Sometimes the soul, after a great strain or sacrifice, suffers from a terrible reaction, Often when one has given up something which is a real sacrifice, in the very moment of the offering there comes the reaction of doubt, and dread, and fear: was it worth while? is it accepted? [41/42] is there any certainty after all in the future for which we are trying to live? It is the cry of nature revenging itself for the smart of the mortification. Jesus had, for the sake of those He loved, sent them away, to die alone, and then came the chilling sense of a loneliness indeed, the loneliness that came from the loss of the comfort of the Divine Presence. Outward things too, have a strong influence upon our spiritual life; the horrible surroundings, the deep darkness, the bodily weakness must have their depressing influence. The warmth and light of spiritual power are easily lost in extreme sorrow and pain. Learn in such moments, when all sense of God's love seems to be withdrawn under the strain of mental or physical exhaustion, to unite thyself with Jesus, as He uttered that fearful cry, fearful inasmuch as it tells us that the highest and holiest who ever bore our nature had to endure it.
2. Consider again: It was not a sign that He was really out of God's favor. May we not rather say, He was never more wholly pleasing to God, never more gloriously [42/43] witnessing for God? Everything was withdrawn from Him--the consolations of this world, and of the next; the whisper of the tempter was given utterance to in the taunt of the multitude, "come down from the cross and we will believe." Yet He simply endures, He abides where He is, drinking the cup to the dregs, and suffering for the vindication of His Father's honor. It was indeed literally true, "Thy word is tried to the uttermost, and Thy servant loveth it." It is comparatively easy to endure bodily pain when the soul is flooded with spiritual sweetness; but it needs courage indeed to hold fast in the midst of sorrows from without and from within. Yet the very nature of this trial is that it should not see the noble witness it is bearing. It can only feel the desolation, the sense of separation. Was that bitter cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!" a cry of despair or of triumph? It was the triumphant utterance of the soul passing through the most poignant grief, bereft of all helps human and divine, yet saying, I will have no help save from God.
 3. It may be possible for us to undergo that complete loss of God's presence which may, in us, take the form of temptation to doubt and unbelief; when questions arise in our minds that fill us with dismay, it may be that we undergo all this, yet without any sin on our part. The soul looks for God, but can find no trace of His presence; but a short time before He was close to it, now He is quite gone, and the very memory seems as if it must have been the result of mere excitement or the work of the imagination. Jesus could not doubt, but He could experience that darkness which leads us to doubt. Satan takes the opportunity of the darkness to whisper doubts into our hearts. The darkness may come from God; the voices we hear in the darkness come from the tempter. The first temptation in the wilderness was somewhat of the same character. After the long fast of forty days, "if Thou be the Son of God "--canst Thou be the Son of God in whom He is well pleased, why should He leave Thee thus?
 In such times of darkness let us follow the example of Jesus on the Cross.
i. Turn to God and cry after Him. It is in such moments that the temptation becomes strong to turn away from religion which gives so little satisfaction, and seems so capricious in its favors, and find comfort in other things. God puts those souls whom He would lead onward in holiness to this severe test. Can you bear to serve God for Himself, not for His gifts? Can you endure to forego the gifts of the world, while you are deprived of the consolations of religion? In that fearful hour when the world was making its offer, "come down and we will believe," and Heaven shut out its light from Him, He turns away from the offer of the world, and His soul goes forth seeking after God. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God," whether that word be peace or hardness, mercy or justice.
ii. Do not complain to men, do not give utterance to your doubts except to God. Often the very words in which we express our doubts increase them; as we formulate them, [45/46] we seem to strengthen their position, the language of doubt is often very plausible; but we may complain to God. "When my heart is in heaviness I will complain." In the twenty-second Psalm we will find that wonderful combination of complaint and trust which may strengthen our faith.
iii. Stay where you are, do not move hand or foot to come down from the cross. Do not think the offering of one who hardly knows whether he believes or not cannot be accepted. Yes, the offering is all the more accepted because of the courage and faith which perseveres amidst the darkness.
O Jesu, Thou hast stooped low indeed. Thou hast well proved Thy love, since Thou who art very God wert ready to experience so far as Thou couldst the pain of our nature apart from God. Being God Thou didst bar and close out every ray of divine light from Thy human soul, Thou didst feel the chill and blank and dreary solitude, that Thy creatures might have no suffering in which Thou couldst not be their sympathizing High Priest.
FIFTH MEDITATION. FIFTH WORD. I thirst.
This word probably followed close upon the last. The fever of death was upon Him; from head to foot He was covered with burning and throbbing wounds. His head ached, His throat was parched and dry, His whole body was in a burning fever. That whisper that came gasping with the quick, short breath from His dry cracking lips was the acute expression of all His physical sufferings. The Lord had come in contact with the mystery of physical pain. Pain had, in one form or another, been touching upon Him from the moment of His birth. It had, as it were, seen the wonderful balance and harmony of our Lord's bodily nature unblemished and free from the disorganization of sin, and it had crept up to His cradle and touched the [47/48] infant form and made it quiver. Sin helped it, for the world that was in revolt against God drew off from God when He took a human form, and would not give to Him one thing, not the very necessaries of life. "Poxes have holes," said Christ, "and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His Head." Thus from the very first His nature, peculiarly sensitive to pain, found itself exposed to suffering. Many things, that we are hardly conscious of in our coarse and blunted natures, grated and jarred upon Him and wounded Him intensely; but now with one last eff ort sin has leagued with pain to endeavor to shake Him from His purpose and make Him untrue to God. Here upon the Cross pain no longer touches Him with its cold sharp edge, but it leaps upon Him, seizes Him in its hundred-bladed grasp and sends its thrills through every nerve and fibre of His being. Look at Him, see how this enemy of our peace and comfort tortures Him--not a limb, not a member of His Body but quivers under the touch. It has torn His back with the scourge, it has [48/49] pierced His hands and feet, it has punctured and teazed His head with the irritations of the crown of thorns; He cannot move, He can hardly breathe; His chest heaves, and His whole frame trembles in the effort to draw breath. Pains shoot from the burning wounds in His hand sand feet, His temples throb with the dull, dead beat of the failing pulses; verily, He is the victim of pain. O, Jesu, pain was in the world; Thou didst see men suffering, Thou didst hear their complaints, their murmurs, their curses beneath its touch, and Thou didst come up to it and offer Thyself to it that Thou mightest know what we have to endure, and mightest teach us how to endure.
And what does He teach us?
There are three ways in which we may treat pain.
I. We may fly from it, avoid every token of its approach in whatever form we see it, shut it out whenever and as long as it is possible; there are many forms in which it approaches us, when it is quite possible to avoid it. "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow [49/50] we die." Life is short, it has its sorrows, let us fly from them; it has its joys, let us seize them. So said many in the time of Christ, so say many now, so said not, so did not Jesus. He never stepped out of the pathway that He might make room for any pain to pass Him by without touching Him. Pain is an enemy to be avoided, said mankind with one voice. No, said Jesus, pain is not an enemy; it may be the best of friends.
2. Then there were those who said pain cannot be wholly avoided, steel thyself against it, go out and look this enemy in the face, show thou art not afraid of it; if it touches thee do not shrink, laugh in its face. Pain, said they, is in the world, our enemy; brace thyself up, nerve thyself against it, do not acknowledge that thou fearest it, let it make thee firm, hard, stern; to show emotion at the presence of pain is weakness; to feel pity is a cause of shame. Many have so said and so acted, now, as then; suffering has hardened them, but Christ did not so teach, nor so act; He was no stoic.
3. For there is another way of meeting pain. [50/51] Not fleeing from it; not hardening one's self against it, but confessing its bitterness, fearing its touch, trembling at its approach, yet bowing one's self to endure it and be purified by it. It had been in the world for four thousand years; the world had not understood it, and had either fled from it or met it in the wrong way. Men had always looked upon it as their enemy. Christ comes face to face with this mystery. He says, "It is not an enemy; do not treat it so; don't fly from it; don't meet it with that look of defiance. See," He says, "I will go up to it. I will lay myself bare beneath its lash. I will endure all it can inflict. I will show you how to treat it."
It is the great instrument for testing men. Satan does not believe that God can hold men's hearts without His gifts. He challenges God. "Does he serve Thee for nought? Put forth Thy hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse Thee to Thy face." And God answers, "I believe that he loves Me and will remain true to Me. Behold, he is in thy hand." As we endure pain and remain faithful to God we bear [51/52] witness to God's character against the attack made upon it by Satan that God cannot be loved for Himself. When Jesus came into the world Satan will put Him to the same test. Can God hold Thy heart when He withdraws from Thee every gift, and racks Thy body with pain? "Try Me," says Christ. "Put Me to the test." He whose love is the greatest is put to the severest test. Suffering is a martyrdom, a witnessing for God; it is man's witness that God is love. With every blow Satan says, "Can you love a God who permits you to suffer such things?" And the soul answers, "Though He slay me yet will I trust Him." On the Cross suffering exhausts all its resources against Christ, for, as was truly said, "For this cause He ought to die, because He said, 'I am the Son of God.'" He who made such a claim must be tested as none other could be tested. [See Godet's Bible Studies.]
Let us learn of Jesus how to suffer.
i. He did not pretend that He did not feel the pain. He was not ashamed to show that suffering was very bitter. He shrank from it [52/53] as it drew near. He quailed before it. He shuddered at its approach. He became sore amazed, and very heavy. As it intensified in these last moments upon the Cross He asked for something to alleviate it. "I thirst. Give Me a drink;" but He endured to the end. Some persons are more sensitive to pain than others. What may cause very little pain to one may be very keen suffering to another. The more sensitive we are to pain naturally, the more we shrink from it. But this is not cowardice if, notwithstanding the dread with which we contemplate it, we accept and bear it when it comes. The more we feel it the greater will be our witness for God. Do not expect too much of yourself. You must feel the pain. You would be glad to escape it, perhaps, if you could without sin. But when it comes you bow beneath it and accept God's will. You are glorifying God.
ii. He was offered two draughts. One He drank, the other He refused. He was offered the drugged potion which would deaden the pain; but of this He would not drink. He would take and endure all the pain God [53/54] sent Him. We must not be too eager to find every means of alleviating pain. Remember when you do take it, that Jesus refused it. It may often be lawful for us to take it, sometimes necessary; but the Captain of our salvation, who was "made perfect through suffering," would not take it. How often men have been deprived of the few hours that remained to them to prepare themselves for death by the use of anodynes for the sake of saving them a little more pain. It is better at all costs to die with our thoughts collected and our minds prepared, than to deprive ourselves of the power of thought, that we may not feel pain. Yet He did take the other draught. He did ask for a drink. We must not overtax our strength. We must not refuse the ordinary remedies which are prescribed.
O Jesu, in Thy suffering I learn Thy true manhood, strong, yet tender. Thou, the greatest of sufferers and the greatest of saints, seemest to be easier to follow than many less holy men. Thy patience is not unnatural. Thou dost not frighten me away by Thy stern sanctity. Thou winnest me by that [54/55] patience which, while it endures, yet confesses that it is an agony which Thou art enduring. Were there no tears in Thine eyes, Lord; were there no groans upon Thy lips; hadst Thou never spoken, I should have turned away in despair. But by that word, "I thirst," Thou linkest Thyself to us all. Thou givest us courage and hope. Lord, I will suffer with Thee, for Thou art true Man.
SIXTH MEDITATION. SIXTH WORD. It is finished.
Christ has come in contact with sin, sorrow, spiritual desolation, physical suffering. One by one the great mysteries of life come before Him on the Cross, look upon Him and then cast themselves upon Him with all their power as though they would crush Him, and beneath the shadow of each He speaks and tells us how to meet it. He has become one of us, in our nature He can experience all that we feel, and in his divine nature He can see the way through all the difficulties that beset our path. "Thy word is a lantern to my feet and a light unto my path."
In the five words He had already spoken we see Him in contact with those things which we have ever looked upon as the great obstacles and hindrances to our spiritual growth; [56/57] we see them assault Him as they have assaulted us; He did not dispense himself from anything; and we have seen that they did not hinder Him, but rather made the glow of His sanctity burn all the brighter.
But there is one great mystery of which He has not yet spoken, one question which He has not yet answered. The mystery of life itself, the question, why was I made? There are many theories of life; many have endeavored to answer the question, "Why was I created?" Whatever the answer is, it will give the clue to the whole life of the person who answers it, all the actions gain their colouring from that answer. The answer of Jesus we find again and again throughout the gospels, and here upon the Cross it is prominent in His mind in the very moment of death. "I have glorified Thee in the earth, I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do--It is finished." The first word which the Holy Scriptures record Him to have spoken implies the same thought. "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?"
 Life to Jesus meant the fulfillment of a vocation, the carrying out of another's will, the fitting one's self on to a design already planned. Again and again we read, "that the Scripture might be fulfilled" He spoke and acted; it was the carrying out in detail of a work which He had come into the world to do. He came into the world to do something; at the moment of His death He looks back over all His life, and says, "It is finished, I have finished the work which Thou gayest me to do." His idea of life was not merely to do all the good He was able, to help people as far as it lay in His power, or to save His own soul; it looked away from this world, it found its cause, its reason, its purpose in the Mind of God. On His way through life He found many things to do, many to leave undone. Neither His personal choice, nor His immediate pleasure were to be His guide; He must fulfill the purpose for which He had come. "My meat and drink is to do the will of Him that sent me."
Life, then, as seen from the Cross is the fulfillment of a vocation. Our great example, [58/59] and each one of us, have been placed here to do a work for God. The secret of success is not to be found in any earthly triumph, but in this simple fact, "I have finished the work which thou gayest Me to do." There seldom was a life so richly endowed with all the necessaries for a great worldly success, which was apparently so complete a failure. Everything He attempted seemed to fail. In a short time He had turned the whole country against Him, even His own immediate followers began to fall away. "This is an hard saying, who can hear it?" At last unbelief and treachery crept in among the twelve whom He had chosen to be specially near to Himself. One of them betrayed Pan, another denied that he ever knew Him, finally they all forsook Him and fled. He died at length, the scorn of men, the outcast of the people, without one to lift a hand in His cause, or say one word in His defence. A ghastly contrast to His lofty claims; yet in that very hour of complete failure He utters the triumphant cry, "It is finished." I have done the work for which I was sent here; I [59/60] have fulfilled my Father's will. Nothing can really hinder Me; while all seems a failure I have really succeeded, for I have done the one thing for which I came on earth, I have accomplished my Father's will. This is real success. Wouldst thou know whether thy life is successful, ask thyself; have I done the one thing for which I was created? Have I fulfilled my vocation?
He looked back from the Cross over His whole life, from Bethlehem to Calvary; there was not one act He would have undone, not one word would He have left unsaid, not one hour He would have unlived. Of each act, each hour, each day, He could say, "It is finished." As He swept up the shavings in the carpenter's shop the last night of His work, before His public ministry began, and closed the door, the long thirty years of waiting were over, but He had not hastened by one moment. "It is finished." I now go to the next. He has nothing to regret, nothing to repent of in those thirty years. He lived each moment of them with all His might, He did each act in them as if upon it [60/61] hung the salvation of the world. Now by the brink of the grave He looks back with the triumphant shout, "It is finished." Every pain has been endured, every sorrow has been borne; the whole Will of God has been fulfilled in Me. My life has been, notwithstanding all appearances, a perfect success.
Learn of Jesus how to live. Live in each moment as if it were your last--do each act with your whole heart--see in all you do the Will of God, something worth doing. Can you say of any one day, of any work, "It is finished?" Can you say of the conquest of any sin, "It is finished?" Alas, life is made up of many things which we have never finished; we do not realize that each day has its own work; that He who sent us here has always a will for us, a something to be done. He who can say day by day, "It is finished," will be able at last to say, "I have finished the work which Thou gayest me to do." Learn, too, that success is not to be judged by external results, but simply by the conformity of thy life to another's will, the will of Him [61/62] who created thee. Let us seek so to live, that at last we may be able to say--It is finished.
O Jesu, Thy life outwardly was full of sorrow and humiliation and apparent failure, but inwardly it was one glad triumph. Thou didst succeed, O Lord, in spite of every effort to deter Thee, and when all seemed most completely to have failed, Thy triumph was most complete. Lord, may my one desire and aim be to fulfill Thy will.
SEVENTH MEDITATION. SEVENTH WORD. Father, into Thy hands, I commend My Spirit.
The last moment in the life of Jesus has come. In the last word He took a review of life. He told us of the mystery of life. It is finished; not My life is finished, but My work here on earth--though indeed it seemed far from completion, though it seemed the most critical moment for the cause for which He lived, yet He had done all; He was to leave it thus, He had faced the difficulties of life, now He is facing the last great mystery, the mystery of death. Everything that we have to endure, He has endured in the most aggravated form, and at a time that increased the difficulty and heightened the value of the example. He met with sin, sorrow and suffering, not in the full vigor of [63/64] human health and strength, but when His human life was at its lowest ebb, when it had reached the very brink of the grave, when His bodily strength was utterly exhausted. It was within the last three hours of His life that one by one these giant forms came up to Him,--then that He met them and conquered.
In the full bloom of health, when life is at its strongest we throw off many things almost without an effort, that in times of physical exhaustion are real trials and sore temptations. Our spiritual life is largely influenced by our physical. It was then, with throbbing head and burning cheeks and quivering limbs, and strength so exhausted that it seemed as if the weight of the body must rend His hands, and He must fall to the ground; it was then that Jesus met the assaults of sin, that the grating voices of His murderers jarred upon His ears like a physical pain, that He heard the false accusation, the curse and the threat. It was then that He won by His love and gentleness the thief in the moment of death. It was then that He showed His care for others in their sufferings. It was then that [64/65] He had to endure the utter desolation of soul that forced that fearful cry from His lips. It was then, in absolute solitude, in utter exhaustion, that Jesus taught us how to live. And now He has come face to face with death. It is coming forward to meet Him, its shadows have cast their ashy hues over His face. How will Jesus meet death? He is in the grasp of that last mysterious power that gathers all the mysteries of life into the dark folds of its mantle.
I. In the presence of death He is perfectly calm and composed. He sees it as it draws nearer in all its terrors, undismayed. Everything has been done that was to be done; there has been no putting off to the last moment, no accumulation of unfinished duties. He who day by day did all that was His duty to do can watch the approach of death with calmness. In the last word He made a review of life, His last self-examination; in this word He looks forth upon death. They who put off duties from day to day, will find as death approaches, so much has to be done, that they will lose all self-possession and [65/66] calmness. If you wouldst meet death with composure, learn to say of each duty, day by day, it is finished. Oh, what dismay to see the shadows stretching forward and covering you, and to look back upon an accumulation of unfinished duties, and to feel there is no time now. O Lord, grant me so to live that in the hour of death I may be able to look forward not backward, and with peace to contemplate the approach of death.
2. He met death with an act of trust. "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit," as though He would say, I know not what is beyond. All is uncertain save one presence, but with that presence awaiting Me I will fear nothing. He saw death drawing near. He saw it surrounded by every form of terror and pain. What will the soul experience when death lays hold of it and wrenches it from the body? Will it be able to preserve its consciousness? What will be its sensations as one by one the links that bound it to the body are snapped, and it is set free? Is it freedom, or is it unconsciousness? How will it feel in that fearful moment when it finds all power of [66/67] communion with the world has failed it, and one by one the senses refuse to act, and the ghastly form of death stands before it in giant proportions wrenching it from its moorings? How will it feel? What will it do? I know not, says Jesus; but through all I see the form of Him whose I am and whom I serve; through the darkness I see His bright presence awaiting Me. "Father, into thy hands I commend My spirit."
And as we stand by the death-bed of those most dear to us, perhaps under circumstances of peculiar pain and distress, snatched, it may be, from us without a moment's warning or a word of prayer, let us meet death with an act of trust, however gloomy and sad it may be on this side. Since Jesus died a ray of light penetrates the darkness, we can see on the other side that One waits to receive and welcome the soul, in Whom we can perfectly trust. Where thou art going I know not; what the life of the disembodied spirit can be I know not; but one thing I do know, thou art in the care of One who loves thee and can do more for thee than I can. Why need I [67/68] desire to know any more, than that I can say with perfect trust, "Father, into Thy hands I commend this soul."
3. His death was an act of oblation. The last great offering in a life of penitence. The great Penitent, who was ever offering Himself up for the sins of the world, whose long life has been one whole act of preparation, now offers Himself up upon the cross in death. He meets death as a penitent, the last act of penance to be endured. Oh that in the last moment of our life we may be enabled to gather up all our faculties, and offer up the last struggle, the great separation, as an act of penitence for all our sins!
Lord Jesus, at the foot of Thy cross I learn how to live and how to die. The power of Thy Cross has changed the world! Oh that it might change me! When the world seemed sunken in hopeless degradation, and every effort to stay the evil failed. Thy Cross and Passion, O Jesu, saved it. Lord, let the sight of Thy sufferings upon the Cross sink into my heart and change me, drawing me out of evil habits and worldly thoughts. In Thy light shall we see light.