The Fourth Word
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?--St. Matt, xxvii. 46.
THERE must be pause in every work of man--a time to stop, a time to leave off whatever may have occupied our thoughts or our hands, a time for retreat, retirement, and rest. Such a point have we reached in reflecting on the double messages from the naked, lonely Cross. For blessing and for ban! So was it then; so has it been; so shall it be even to the end. But now for a few minutes even the Cross shall be silent; and we, companions of the Cross, thus gathered together where it stands, or once appeared to stand, may enter into silence in our own hearts, and maintain that silence while something passes over the scene--something now coming upon our Blessed Lord, which is in itself so terrible, and withal so inexplicable, that nothing is left for mortal man but to hold his breath, and bow the head, and bend the knee, and wait till this last storm passes by.
Darkness seems now to be coming upon us from every side. Successive waves thereof are filling the air. Under that darkness even the Cross begins to disappear. Its outlines grow confused and dim. At last we see it no more. Behind the veil of that unearthly and supernatural darkness is going on the deepest tragedy since the world began. "Save Me, O God: for the waters are come in, even unto My soul." "All Thy waves and storms are gone over Me." "Thou hast laid Me in the lowest pit, in a place of darkness, and in the deep." What meaneth this? Let the prophet answer: "He hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Jesus has reached a point to which none other of woman born ever went or ever could go. For if it were possible that human nature, as borne by any one of us, could be cut off from that God in whom we live and move and have our being, the result must be an instant resolution into its elements, and a vanishing for ever from the limits of a creation which exists only as it is in Him. It is impossible to imagine such a thing as a creature cut off from the Creator and yet surviving by itself and living in its own force and strength. So, then, Jesus has reached a point to which no man could follow Him, to which no finite mind can follow Him; not even in our thought can we so follow Him as to measure what it was. Conjecture is useless as to the meaning of that cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
There is no lesson to be drawn from a thing absolutely inapplicable to men. There is no warning to be drawn from such an instance of solitary and unfathomable distress.
There is nothing for us to do but to look towards that shadowy curtain, and be still.
Yet in doing so we may think--if thought must still be active--of the love of Jesus Christ for man; that He spared not Himself, that He learned what none but God can know; that He did this in order that He might help us. Let us try to form some picture to ourselves of what that supreme agony must have been. The earth on which we dwell is surrounded on every side by depths of space. The earth is wrapped about by clouds, the emanation from the incessant and innumerable sins of restless men. Our transgressions maintain an undrawn veil between us and the Face of God. Upon the surface of the earth, around it, and above it, layer on layer, lies this moral and spiritual darkness; and it means universal, all-shadowing, all-oppressing Sin. Through this wrapping of expiatory darkness walked the Atoning Redeemer, the High Priest of our salvation, of whom it is related that He was "a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief," of whom we read but once or twice in His life that He rejoiced; and, so walking, He was within the bounds which confine us, and in our place, and bearing what we bear. But all things of ours have their limits; and the darkness which can come over the spirit of a man has limits on our side, but perhaps none beyond, or none which we can comprehend. An outer darkness lies beyond, of which we, in our limited experience, know nothing. So Jesus walked up and down through the gloom where Satan's seat is, which our sins make about us, and in which the sinner also walks, till He came to a point at which He had reached our limit and beyond which lies the unspeakable and the unknown. On still He went, until to Him, standing thus at the edge of the fallen world, a door was opened into the outer darkness, the darkness beyond--into the abyss which holds the secret of the origin of evil and the mystery thereof; and into that abyss did He then look, with the icy wind of eternal darkness and eternal death blowing upon His wasted frame, and the horrible secret disclosed to Him and borne into His inmost being. "Save Me, O God: for the waters are come in, even unto My soul." And to that length and to such a position went the Saviour for love of the children whom He was redeeming by His Agony and Blood.
And the only other thing to think of--since curiosity must be restrained in a matter between the Eternal Father and the Eternal Son, into which no creature can enter--is the rashness, the madness, of the sinner, who, forgetful of God, trifling with God, rebelling against God, pushes on, reckless, defiant, while shadows grow ever deeper and deeper, where the light dies more and more away, nearing day by day that point where God also may forsake Mm, as He forsook His only begotten Son that day, and when nothing shall be left in the soul but a long and exceeding bitter cry, the wail from a darkness where the light has been extinguished and can be rekindled no more.
While we have been thus waiting the cloud is passing by; we begin to see the Cross once more--a faint appearance of misty lines, one upright, the other transverse, till the object is once more in view; and now, the Great Agony of Dereliction being over, we shall hear some added lessons, some added warnings, till the ninth hour be come.
Meanwhile let us kneel and pray.