After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.--St. John xix. 28.
WE have heard the lamentation of Jesus on the Cross, under the torment of agonising thirst attendant on the approach of death: "I am weary of crying; My throat is dry. . . . My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue cleaveth to My gums. . . . They gave Me gall to eat: and when I was thirsty they gave Me vinegar to drink." Now that the Passion is ended, and now that we are left with this Cross as the reminder of what has been done and suffered for us by our Lord, let us ask what this Cross has to tell us about thirst, the thirst of the body, the thirst of the mind, and the thirst of the soul; what thirst is salutary, and what must go unslaked to all eternity.
To thirst is natural to man--a condition of his mortal state. First, it assails him through the body, an animal want. And everything must thirst that lives, from the highest to the lowest, from the lowest up to the highest, in God's creation. Below, among the very poor, thirst is another word for the need of the wherewithal to live,--the poor hardly know a higher want,--clothing sufficient to defend from cold, and food enough from day to day. As men rise above that forlorn condition, the range of desire extends: they ask for more than bodily life; they begin to see that the life is more than meat, and the body than raiment. As fast as he is relieved from anxiety about the physical, man becomes aware of his capacity for the intellectual and the spiritual, and the thirst begins for something better than bread and meat. And thence men go still higher. The final end for which we were created comes, first dimly, then more and more clearly, into view. Man sees God in front somewhere, and would go up to God. The bodily want is forgotten in the mental and intellectual want, and that, in turn, yields to the spiritual, until man thirsts for union with One who alone can satisfy; for our heart is restless until it rest in Thee. So on this line of thirst we can make a ladder on which travels the desire which never has ceased and never shall cease to torment the heart till it find rest in God.
/////God, the supreme end.
Now, what of thirst in the lowest stage of all--the bodily, material, sensual life? Can that be satisfied? Hear our Lord. "Jesus, being wearied with His journey, sat by Jacob's well. . . . And a woman of Samaria came to draw water. . . . And Jesus said, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again." Physical thirst, ever urgent, never appeased; certain in every instance and inevitably to become distress, torment, agony, if not supplied. Man drinketh of this water from the wells of the lower life, and, though for the moment satisfied, he must in a few hours drink again, or, if not, he must die a horrible death. Now thirst like that is merely the symbol of thirst which tends towards objects lower than God. It may be fed for a time by them; it can never be sated, give it what you may. Thirst for any one object which we put in place of God is a hopeless thirst, feverish, intermittent. You think you have appeased it to some extent to-day, but to-morrow it consumes you again. You must rise above such limited desire. You must go on, far on, led by the Spirit. Do so, and at last you reach the point where thirst, though it cease not, becomes a joy, refreshing, not tormenting, when you are weary. Thirst for any lower object of desire, and you shall never be filled, nor shall your thirst be stayed. Let go that object; climb the height above you towards which the Spirit is drawing you. You shall attain a point at which to thirst is not to suffer, but to receive of the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.
Again let us hear the Master's voice: "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." And again: "Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." Such thirst as this is the life of loving souls: "Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God." They who so thirst have the promise, "and they shall be filled." "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more."
Hear the reproach of the Cross, how it rebukes the desire of man for that which can neither satisfy nor be satisfied, which leaves a continually recurring pain, a void which nothing can fill. Such is the thirst for the gratification of fleshly appetite and carnal desire, after which men turn from their very selves in shame and remorse, yet only soon to go back for a new draught of that which eats out life and health and spreads poison through the soul. Such is the desire for unblessed knowledge--the old snare spread by the Devil in Eden for incautious feet when he whispered that they might become as gods, knowing good and evil, and that the Lord their God was doing them a wrong in restraining them by His command and prohibition. How does that Cross of the Lord threaten and warn us of the end of setting the affections on things beneath, and not on the things above! And what a cry is that--what an exceeding bitter cry--which swells ever from this troubled world: "I thirst"! It was His loud cry in that darkness, made by our sins, around His sacred Head: "I thirst." It is still the cry of humanity, unhelped, unfed, unsatisfied, because they will not go for help, for food, for satisfaction of their want, to Him. If He said, "I thirst," it was to draw us about Him, in our thirst, as to the only source from which that thirst of ours can be supplied. For His wounded side was that Bock smitten in the wilderness, whereout flowed blood and water, that our sin might be forgiven and washed away, and that we might drink, and thirst no more for ever. And yet, how rolls forth, in heavy, hopeless waves of direful sound, that cry, "I thirst"! Yes; I thirst for pleasure; I thirst for fame and reputation; I thirst for human friendship and human love, for the praise of men, for the consciousness of superiority over others, for the means of applauding myself; perhaps I thirst for low delights, for dainty meats, for strong drink, for fine and showy apparel, for the scenes of revelry and dissipation; I thirst for power, place, a name to live, for flattery and compliments; I thirst for information, for mastery of the secrets of nature, for the knowledge of good and evil; alas! I may be a-hungered and cold and poor, and I thirst for what I see others have, and to be well-to-do, and comfortable, and at my ease, like them. O poor, dissatisfied, harassed, and troubled race! O scene of eager and hopeless longing and desire, on which this Cross looks down, telling that everlasting truth which men as everlastingly decline to believe! There is no relief from it, excepting in the Cross and that for which it stands. Sayest thou, "It cannot satisfy me"? So be it. Those things on which elsewhere thou art setting thy heart shall never do for thee what this Cross could do; thy thirst can never be satisfied; thou shalt go thus, wretched and tormented, from loss to loss, all the days of thy life. The Cross, and that for which it stands, and He for whom it stands--this only can refresh the soul. "And He showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal"; and on the bank thereof stands the figure of the Cross, and diamonds cover it, and their light is reflected in that living flood.