Mark 14, 41.—Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
The Bible is full of exhortations to awake; but a command to sleep is rare and paradoxical; so much so, that many interpreters have chosen to regard this sentence as a question: Do you still sleep, and take your rest? you have slept enough: the hour is come, behold, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. This construction of the passage, though it yields a good sense, is less consistent with the form of the original than the common version, which is supported by a great majority of the ablest critics. Viewing it therefore as an exhortation, or at least a permission, I repeat that it is something rare and paradoxical. And this first impression is increased by the reason whieh is given for the exhortation. Had the language been, sleep on, and take your rest, my hour is not yet come, it would have been at once intelligible: but it is, sleep on and take your rest, the hour is come; and as if to leave no doubt that "the hour " was that mysterious hour of darkness, towards which the voice of prophecy and the finger of providence had been so long pointing with incessant premonition, "behold, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners." Was there ever a command so strange, supported by a reason so much stranger? I call your attention to this singularity, because we are too apt to overlook these striking points in the familiar Scriptures, and because I see wrapped up in these remarkable expressions, a rich volume of instruction to myself and to my hearers. To unroll it, and decipher at least some of its most solemn lessons, is my present purpose.
From the very nature of the case, however, it is not by metaphysical or logical analysis that this leaf in the book of life is to be rendered legible. So far from it, that I design to call in the aid of your imaginations in pursuing my design. I know that the very name of this unruly power is cast out as evil by many sincere Christians. But I also know that almost every page of Scripture calls for its due exercise: that neither prophecies nor parables can do their office without its assistance; that even those who dread it as an instrument of evil, habitually use it as an instrument of good; and that much of our indifference to the word of God arises from the want of a chastened imagination giving colour and vitality to what we read. But while I thus call in imagination to my aid, it is with no romantic or theatrical design. It is not to invent unreal forms, but to call up before us those already in existence. The materials upon wbich she is to work are simple facts recorded in God's word, and rendered still more tangible and real, to our apprehension, by the minutias of time and place.
On the east side of Jerusalem, between the city and the Mount of Olives, flows a stream called Kedron. Beyond this, at the very foot of Olivet, there is a small enclosure, with a low stone wall, containing a very few ancient olive-trees, the offspring and successors of an elder race. This place is now called Jesmaniah, but according to a tradition of the country, which there seems to be no reason to discredit, it was called, in ancient times, Gethsemane. Into this enclosure, on a Thursday night, there entered four men from the Mount of Olives. I cannot describe their persons, but I know their countenances must have been dejected, for their hearts were full of sorrow. And on the heart of one among the number there rested, at that hour, a load of grief, compared with which the aggregated sorrows of the human family, before and since, are nothing. Yes, if we could collect the tears of widowed wives, and childless mothers, and forsaken orphans, the cries of every battle-field, the groans of every hospital, the shrieks of every torture-room, the unheard sobs which have been stifled in the prison house, and all those deeper agonies which never find expression—they would be as nothing to the single pang which wrung a single heart, upon that awful night.
Here, if we chose, we might indulge imagination, without any fear that our conceptions would transcend the truth, or that the longest line that we could heave would ever reach the bottom of that deep, deep sea of sorrow. But such indulgence would be no less vain than painful. Let us rather in imagination follow the four men, till their forms are almost lost among the olive-trees. Three of them sit upon the ground, while the fourth passes on into a deeper shade and a remoter solitude. Do you know him, Christian brethren? Oh, I believe that if that blessed face should now appear among us, as it then looked in Gethsemane, we all should know it. I am aware that many wild imaginations have been cherished, and that painters and poets have exhausted their invention in conjectural embellishments. But if that living countenance could now be set before us, I believe that in its aspect of benignant sadness, in the lines of sinless sorrow which had marred its surface, we could read the name of its possessor no less clearly than in Pilate's superscription on the cross. It was the Son of Man. His companions were the sons of men, but he the Son of Man. He sustained a relation to humanity itself, for in its coarse integuments his deity was shrouded. The Son of God, by a voluntary act, became the Son of Man, and from the bosom of the Father, where he dwelt before the world was, took up his abode in the bosom of our fallen and unhappy race. We cannot pierce the mystery of that transition, nor explain how the divinity was held in abeyance, that humanity might exercise its finite powers; but we know that from the moment of that union, there arose an identity of interest and feeling which shall never end; that no sooner had the Son of God become the Son of Man, than there began to gush, within his human heart, a well-spring of sympathy which angels cannot know; that the pains of his infancy were pains of human infirmity, that the tears of his maturity were drops of human sorrow,
that the sins for which he suffered were the sins of humankind, that he stood in our place not only as our sacrifice, but also as our sympathetic fellow-man, not only on the cross, but in the lingering crucifixion of a life of sorrow, from the stable in Bethlehem, where we find him first, to the olives of Gethsemane, where we see him now.
And in what position? Prostrate on the ground. See that blessed brow in contact with the cold damp earth. See the convulsive agitation of the frame; and though the grief, which it betokens, lies too deep for tears, see the sweat, like drops of blood, streaming out of every pore. Sons and daughters of men, it is the Son of Man; it is the burden of humanity that crushes his unspotted heart; it is the heart's blood of our race that oozes from him; it is the Son of Man in anguish for mankind. I need not ask you to recall the words he uttered; the vocal anguish of a broken heart; but I beseech you to imagine that you see' him rising, not refreshed, as we might be, by such a . burst of feeling, but, with that load upon his heart still undiminished, see him come back to his friends, whom he had left, as if for sympathy. And does he find them weeping? or engaged in sad discourse, or musing in sad silence? No, he finds them sleeping! How does he treat neglect so shameful? He arouses them, but gently, with this mild expostulation: "What, could ye not watch with me one hour?" He goes again: he falls again upon the ground: he repeats that prayer which we ought never to repeat without profound emotion: he returns to his companions, and again they are asleep. He utters no se
vere rebuke, nor even a complaint, except by asking as before, "Could ye not watch with me one hour?;' He goes again, and for the last time, to his place of prayer: he prays again: and with that prayer unanswered, his distress unmitigated, he comes back to his friends, and they are sleeping! Does he spurn them? Does he rouse them by contemptuous reproof? Or does he leave them in anger to their own ignoble slumbers? He does neither.
The deportment of the Son of Man, on that occasion, has a transcendent, a divine sublimity, which no imagination could invent or heighten. 'No exhibition of Almighty wrath, however grand, though executed by a legion of angels armed with lightning, tempest, and the winds of heaven, could have invested him with such a glory, as the air of serene sorrow with which he at once rebukes, forgives, and warns them of their danger. "Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners." And as he speaks, the glare of torch-light is perceived among the olive-trees, and the betrayer comes. You know what follows: you know what went before: I need neither ask nor tell you who the three men were. I need not tell you that among the number was the same bold spirit who, a little while before, had almost sworn, that though all men should forsake him, he would follow him to death, and who, a little after, actually swore that he had never known the man. I need not tell you, that another of the number was the man who leaned upon his Master's bosom, and was called his friend. You know the history, and I shall leave it to your private meditation. T)o not neglect it. This is surely no unworthy theme for your reflections. I am afraid that it is not a common one. I am afraid that even Christians may grow weary of their Saviour's passion. I am afraid that there are men, and Christian men, who can allow themselves the pitiable luxury of weeping over fiction, but who have no tears to shed with Jesus in Gethsemane. They regard it as a waste of time to dwell upon the circumstantial statements of the gospel, which cannot be reduced to abstract, systematic form. Or, at best, they are contented with a cold, dry knowledge of the facts related. They do not regard it as a matter of feeling: they would be ashamed to do so. I speak the experience of some who hear me. But ought this so to be? We must go back to the simple faith and feelings of our childhood. We must, at least in this respect, become little children. Those same imaginations, which have so often been the ministers of sin, must be used for better purposes. By their aid we must stand on Olivet and Gethsemane, mix with the rabble which surrounds the master, hear the deep imprecation of the Roman soldier, and the louder curses of the Jewish mob; follow to the house of the High Priest and the Pretorium; look at the false Procurator as he dooms the innocent, and vainly tries to wash the blood away with water. But I need not go further.
Fix your thoughts, I pray you, on these scenes as real scenes, and try to see and hear as if -the sights and sounds were present to your senses. Having so done, let us gather from this night scene in Gethsemane the lessons which it teaches for our own instruction. That it teaches such lessons is not the less true, because the external circumstances of the case recorded are entirely different from our own. That which renders the narratives of Holy Writ instructive, is not identity of outward situation, but analogy of motive and of moral relations. The same guilt may be incurred by us as by the twelve apostles, and in these ends of the earth as well as in Jerusalem. Neither sloth nor treachery derives its moral quality from time or place. In further illustration of this statement, and in application of the text, let me call your attention to a few thoughts which it has suggested.
I. The first is, that the Son of Man may even now be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Men are apt to imagine, that had they lived in the time of Christ, they would not thus and thus have treated him. This is, for the most part, mere illusion. They who hate Christ now, would have hated him then. They who despise him unseen, would have spurned him to his face. They who maltreat his members, would have persecuted him. This is a test proposed by Christ himself. That which is done to the humblest of his followers, as such, is done to him. The interests of Christ's church, are the interests of Christ. The enemies of Christ's church, are the enemies of Christ. Even in our own day Christ may be betrayed. He may be betrayed by his own disciples. He may be betrayed with a kiss. For such treason the ungodly world is waiting. There are always sinners to receive him at the traitor's hands and pay the traitor's wages. He can no longer be betrayed by the delivery of his person into hostile hands. But the disposition to sur render him to enemies may still exist: a disposition to procure the favour of the world at his expense. In short, the same state of feeling may now operate in various directions, and in various forms, which, if the Saviour were now present upon earth, would cause him to be first forsaken, then betrayed.
In this sense, for example, it may well be said that the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners, when the truth respecting him is given up to errorists, or cavillers, or infidels; when his divinity is called in question; when his eternal Sonship is degraded or denied; when the sinless perfection of his human nature is tainted by the breath of dubious speculation; when his atonement is disfigured and perverted; when the value of his cross and bloody passion is depreciated; when his place in the system of free grace is taken from him and bestowed on something else; when the purchase of his agonies is made to be the purchase of our own good works; when faith in him, as a means of salvation, is exchanged for mere submission to the government of God; when his present existence, as a man, is forgotten; when • his personal presence, as a God, is overlooked; when his exaltation and his future coming are lost sight of by his people. By conceding so much to the unbeliever, we betray the Saviour to him to be buffeted and spit upon.
To mention only one other example: Christ is betrayed into the hands of sinners, when his gospel is perverted, his example dishonoured, and himself represented as the minister of sin. The honour of the Saviour is in some sense committed to the care of his disciples; and this sacred trust is shamefully betrayed, when they give the world occasion, in despising them, to treat their master with contempt 0 Christian! have you ever thought, that every inconsistent and unworthy act of yours is one step towards betraying Him whom you profess to love? And if, while you thus habitually act, you hold fast your profession, it is only adding the betrayer's kiss to the betrayer's perfidy. My first remark, then, is that even now, the Son of Man may be betrayed into the hands of sinners. And let me add, that there are times when such a disposition shows itself in more than common strength; when, through the abounding of temptation and iniquity, the faith of multitudes is sorely tried; and after the experiment is finished, it appears, that many, whose profession was as fair as that of Judas, have like Judas gone to their own place, and that others whose pretensions were as high as those of Peter, have like him denied their Master, and then gone out and wept bitterly. For such times, when the Saviour or his cause are in danger from betrayers, it behoves us all, my friends, to stand prepared.
U. Another thought which I suggest, is, that when the cause of Christ is about to be betrayed into the hands of sinners, his disciples are to watch, to watch unto prayer, lest they enter into temptation. This is incumbent upon all disciples, but especially on some. And among those there is many a bold, self-trusting Peter, and many a Boanerges. Those who are office-bearers in the Church, are the honoured but responsible companions of their Master in the day of trial. He asks not for the exertion of their strength in his behalf. He asks not for their sympathy; he asks not for their prayers; but he does demand their vigilance. When he looks upon the purchase of his blood, spoiled and ravaged by the enemy; his little flock pursued and torn by wolves; his vineyard spoiled and trodden by wild beasts; the great Intercessor pours out his own cries and tears before the Father, and although he says no more, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death," he does say, and to you, my brethren, "Tarry ye here and watch with me." HI. Another thought, and that a melancholy one, is, that when Christ's disciples are thus left to watch, while he is interceding with the Father, they too often fall asleep. Some, in the touching language of the gospel, may be "sleeping for sorrow." But oh, how many others sleep for sloth and sheer indifference. And if any sleep for sorrow, they do wrong. For when our Saviour found his chosen friends asleep upon their post, he aroused them and reproached them with that mild expostulation, "Could ye not watch with me one hour?" He said, indeed, as if to extenuate their guilt, that the spirit was willing though the flesh was weak. But even admitting what is commonly supposed, that flesh and spirit here mean soul and body, it does not follow that their slumber was excusable. Christ would not repeatedly have roused them from an innocent and necessary slumber. Much less was it excusable, if, as some excellent interpreters have thought, spirit here means the better principle, the new heart, and flesh the remnant of indwelling sin. If this be so, it was hardness of heart and spiritual sloth that made them sleep for sorrow. Oh my brethren, if your hearts are full of sorrow, because men make void God's law, it is no time for you to sleep! The Church, Christ's weeping bride, and the dying souls of men, are at your pillow, shrieking in your ears, like the shipmaster in the ears of Jonah: "What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not."
IV. But alas! this warning voice is often heard in vain. Amidst a world lying in wickedness, amidst the untold miseries produced by sin, amidst the dying agonies of unsaved souls as they go down to their perdition, amidst the fierce attacks of open enemies upon the Son of Man, and the devices of false followers to betray him to those enemies; his friends, his chosen friends, sleep on. Yes, even those who were the loudest in profession, and the boldest in defiance, when the danger was far off, are found asleep when it approaches. And that sleep would prove to be the sleep of death, if we had not an High Priest who can be touched with the sense of our infirmities, and when he sees us thus asleep, comes near and rouses us. Dear friends, there may be some before me now, who, though sincere believers, have been overcome by sleep. Your senses and your intellects may be awake, your conscience has its fitful starts and intervals of wakefulness, when scared out of its slumbers by terrific dreams. But your affections are asleep. Your love to Christ, your dread of sin, your hope of heaven, your abstraction from this world, your taste for spiritual food, your zeal for God, your charity— all these are exercises which you have experienced; but alas, they are but "shadows, not substantial things;" the ghosts of past experience, the echo of hushed voices: you hear the gospel, but it is like the drowsy lull of distant waters, making sleep more sound; you see its light, but with your eyelids closed, and so subdued its splendour, that it only soothes the sense and deepens its repose. You feel the breathings of the Spirit, but so gently, that they only add illusion to your dreams. Is it not so? No wonder, then, that your religion is a visionary and ideal thing: I do not mean that it has no reality, but that its outward actings are suspended, and its power wasted in conceptions and imaginations never to be realized.
If this is your experience, I appeal to you, and ask you whether even in this dreamy state, you have not felt the gentle hand of Christ at times upon you? Has not the most slothful and obdurate of us all, the most absorbed in worldly cares and pleasures, sometimes, in his calmer and. more serious moments, felt that mild but potent pressure? Oh, is there one of us so given up of God, so forgotten of the Saviour, as to be left to slumber with the blaze of the betrayer's touch upon his very eyelids? God forbid! No, there is not a man or woman here to-night, believing, but asleep, who has not once and again been roused, in one form or another, by the Son of Man himself. Do you doubt it? Let me aid your recollection by a few suggestions. Have you not had your personal afflictions? Has not your house been visited by sick
ness? Are there no chasms at your table or your fireside? Are there no shadows on the last leaves of your history, no doubts, no darkness, no perplexity, no pain of mind or body, no disgrace, no losses? And do you 'wonder at these hard, these unkind strokes of the Redeemer's hand? O sleeping Christian, he is but touching you to save you from perdition. And if the noise of this world would but cease to fill your ears, you would hear the injured but forgiving Saviour, saying in that same sad gentle voice, with which he said to Peter, James, and John, "Could ye not watch with me one hour?"
But it is not only in personal afflictions'that the Saviour rouses you. Have you not felt his hand in public trials? Have you not felt it in the trials of the Church? Have you not felt it in the creeping growth of error, in the strife of tongues, and in the lacerating schism? Have you not felt it in the abounding of iniquity, and in the waxing cold of many a burning heart? Have you not felt it in the growth of a censorious, harsh, and bitter spirit, and the exchange of kindly charities for ostentatious righteousness? Have you not felt it in the decay of Christian knowledge, in the prevalence of shallow, superficial Christianity, and in the consequent triumph of fanaticism? Have you not felt it in the shock of revolution, threatening the foundations of society itself? Have you not felt it in the leanness of your own souls, and in the barrenness of your Master's vineyard'? And in each and all of these successive visitations, can you not hear the accents of the Son of Man, gently reproaching your long spiritual slumber, as the cause of all these evils? Can you not hear him saying, even to yourselves, as he said to his disciples, with a bursting heart, that night, " Could ye not watch with me one hour?"
But it is not merely in afflictions and in public trials that he thus accosts us. If you have not seen him in the fire of fanaticism, if you have not felt him in the earthquake of commotion, if you have not heard him in the whirlwind of intestine strife, you may have heard him in the still small voice of mercy. Have you had no signal mercies, since you fell asleep? No surprising deliverances or unexpected restorations? No relief from sorrow, and disgrace, and care? No increase of substance, no additions to your comfort, no enlarged opportunities of usefulness to others, no occasional glimpses of heaven for yourself? And can you hear all this enumerated, and yet fail to hear the Master, in and through these mercies, saying, "Could ye not watch with me one hour?"
Nor is this all. Besides the voice of personal afflictions, and of public trials, and of private mercies, there is a voice in public mercies too. I ask not whether you have felt Christ's hand, or heard his voice in national prosperity, in the continuance of national advantages, and in deliverance from national calamities, too well deserved. But have you not felt his hand in mercies to the church. I refer not to the vindication of her civil rights, however timely and remarkable, but to those spiritual mercies which are apt to be forgotten in the tumult of political and party exultation. Has he not visited some forsaken spots even in the midst of surrounding desolation? Has he not appeared there, to heal divisions, to reform abuses, to arouse attention, to decide the wavering, to reclaim backsliders, to increase the spirit of prayer, to give life and vigour to the preaching of the word, to make temporal affairs look small, and eternal things as large as life ?" To open the eyes of many blind, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God?" And what is the language of these signal mercies to us, who, all around, have stood still and seen the salvation of God? Stood still! nay rather, who have lain asleep. Is it not the voice of God, reproaching our unwatchfulness and spiritual slumber i Is it not the voice of the Son of Man, in sorrow not in anger, saying to us here, as he once said in Gethsemane: "What! could ye not watch with me one hour?"
These words were twice repeated, after the first and second agony and prayer. But when our Lord had for the third time fallen prostrate and arisen, when he came a third time to his friends and found them sleeping, he no longer expostulated; he no longer asked whether they could not watch with him one hour. He aroused them indeed, but with another form of speech: "Sleep on now," or " hereafter," as it might have been translated. There is something far more awful in this mild but significant permission to sleep on, than in all the invectives or reproofs he could have uttered. "Sleep on henceforth and take your rest." Oh! what a rest is that which must be taken while our Master is betrayed, and scourged, and buffeted, and spit upon! "It is enough," or rather, "it is finished; it is now too late to watch." "Behold," and here perhaps he pointed to Iscariot as he drew near with his gang—" behold the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners." Brethren, do yonr hearts swell with shame and indignation, as you hear the Son of Man thus addressing his disciples, who had slept, instead of watching to protect his sacred agony from premature intrusion, and to protect themselves from coming danger? What, then, will be your feelings when he thus addresses you? when after rousing you, reproaching you, and warning you in vain; after saying, by afflictions and by mercies, public and private, both to you and to the Church, " Could ye not watch with me one hoar?" and seeing you, in each case, relapse at once into a state of slumber, he shall cease to visit you with salutary warnings, give you up to the stagnation of your spiritual sloth, and, by his providential dealings, say to you, and those around you, " Sleep on now, and take your rest?" Can you bear it? Can any of us bear it? Tes we can bear it, without pain, and with indifference, because he will not say it till all other means have failed, and till our hearts are hard through the deceitfulness of sin. If we wait for this last, sad, terrible farewell to break our slumbers, before we begin to watch and pray, we wait forever. The only hope is to anticipate that moment; to hear our Lord, beforehand saying, " Sleep on now;" to imagine, while we have some feeling left, what we should feel, if we heard him tell us now to take our rest, because it is too late to watch, because the hour is already come, and the Son of Man is just about to be betrayed into the hands of sinners.
I fear it is a growing sin and error of the Church, to forget that the man Christ Jesus still exists; to act as if we thought that his humanity evaporated, or became assimilated to the eloud which bore him from the mountain to the sides. Or if we believe in his continued existence as a man, we are too apt to think of him as feeling no concern, no human sympathy in our affairs. I dare not lift the veil which God has hung around our Saviour's present residence, or, with profane conjecture, try to penetrate its mysteries; but as long as I believe the Bible, how can I forget that Christ is still a witness of terrestrial things, and that he has a heart to feel, not only for the sorrows, but for the sins of his disciples. Oh, if instead of our jejune conceptions of an abstract deity, an abstract Christ, and an ideal heaven, we could think and feel about him as the twelve did when he was absent from their sight; when, for example, he had just ascended, and their minds were stamped with fresh impressions of his person; if we could think of him, not as a nonentity, not as an ancient half-forgotten personage, but as we think of friends whom we have lost; then we should read his history with other eyes, and other hearts. Oh, then, it would be easy to believe that he, who was with the disciples in the garden, is now here; that he, whose heart was touched by their neglect, may still be touched by ours; that he, who said to them, "Sleep on now," may say the same to us. God grant that the time be not at hand, when he shall thus speak to all or any of those present! God grant that the spiritual dearth which we experience, and the multiplied evils which have vexed the Church, be not so many voices, in which Christ is saying to us, " Sleep on now, and take your rest; the hour is come."
That this may not prove to be indeed the case, we must arise and call upon our God; we must come up to the help of the Lord against the mighty. But oh remember, that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. When the presumptuous Simon was at last aroused, and saw his Master's danger, he thought to atone by violence for past neglect. And many a modern Simon does the same. When once aroused they draw the sword of fiery fanaticism, to wound themselves and others, and it is often not till they have shed much precious blood, that they are calm enough to hear the Saviour saying, "Put up again thy sword into his place, for all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword." And it is not too much to say, that most of those who, in our own day, have conspicuously grasped the sword of fierce vindictive zeal, have perished by it, not in their souls, but in their character and influence. God's retributions are infallible and just. The torrent of ferocious zeal which recently swept over us, and threatened all our ancient landmarks with subversion, has subsided, or been hardened, like the lava, into rock, while the landmarks, which it hid from sight, at one time by its surges, still retain their ancient places, unconsumed, unshaken. But is there no danger from an opposite direction? Is it any consolation that the sword is in its scabbard, if the bearers of the sword are fast asleep, instead of watching? Is there no cause to fear that, having vanquished error and disorder, as we think, we shall fall asleep upon our arms and laurels? Oh let ns remember, that the enemies of Christ are still to be contended with, not only in the Church and world, but in the hearts of men, and in our own hearts individually. Let us bear in mind that although every heresy were banished from our pulpits and our schools, we may not cease to watch and pray, lest we should enter into worse temptation; lest, in the midst of an unprofitable orthodoxy, souls should be lost through our untimely slumbers. If this is to be dreaded above all disaster, watch, brethren, watch and pray!