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II. The treatment which he thereupon met with.
"Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar. And they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth."
This particular is also related by two other Evangelists. But we do not in them readily discern the occasion of it. This having been observed by St. John when he wrote his gospel, he was induced to supply their omission, and therefore inserted what we have just now considered, our Lord's saying: "I thirst."
Let us compare the other Evangelists with him. Says St. Matthew:"And about the ninth hour," or three in the afternoon," Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying: Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said: This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink," Matt. xxvii. 46-48. And to the like purpose in Mark xv. 34-36. But here, in St. John, it is thus," After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar. And they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth." St. Matthew and St. Mark, as it seems, mention together two things, which were partly independent on each other; I mean our Lord's prayer: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" and then the giving him the spunge with vinegar. But St. John thought proper to insert more particularly the occasion of their giving him that vinegar, which was his saying: "I thirst."
"Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar. And they filled a spunge with the vinegar, and put it upon hyssop," that is, a reed, or slender stalk of hyssop, which is said to grow much higher in those climates, than with us; " and put it to his mouth." It is likely, that this was a vessel of such liquor as the Roman soldiers, and meaner people, generally drank.
What was the design of the person or persons, who reached up the spunge filled with that liquor, may not be certain; whether it was in the way of insult, or only an indifferent action, performed without any bad or good view, or whether with a kind design of affording at least some small relief under a very uneasy thirst. But it must be reckoned a very great trial, on so pressing an occasion, to have no other refreshment offered, beside that of so ordinary
a liquor, out of such a vessel, which having stood all the while open, must now, at the end of a public execution, have been very filthy and offensive.
Though we had had only the accounts of the other Evangelists, where the reaching up the spunge with vinegar is mentioned, we could have been able to discern, that it was either a designed affront and indignity, or, at the least, an affecting proof of the deplorable and disconsolate condition of the Lord Jesus at this time, with regard to all outward circumstances. But St. John's addition of the occasion in those words," I thirst," does more distinctly represent to us a very great uneasiness endured by our Lord.
They who are well acquainted with the nature of the death of the cross, in use among the Romans, and attentively observe the history of our Lord's being brought to it, might possibly have inferred, that a very uneasy and violent thirst must have been one of the painful and afflictive circumstances of it. Nevertheless St. John's particular mention of it is worthy of consideration, and is suited to engage our
III. We should now consider the meaning of those expressions of the Evangelist," that the scripture might be fulfilled."
"After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst:" that is, Jesus knowing and considering in his own mind, that many things appointed by the Father to be done and suffered by him on this earth, for the good of men, and which had been beforehand prophesied of him, had now come to pass, said, "I thirst:" believing that would give occasion for the fulfilment of a particular prophecy concerning him.
By which we may perceive that the first words of the Evangelist, "knowing that all things were now accomplished," ought not to be strained. He does not intend to say that all things, without exception, were already accomplished; for many things remained to be accomplished concerning Jesus Christ, after his resurrection. The meaning therefore must be restrained to things relating to the Messiah, during his abode on this earth. Nor are they to be absolutely understood so far; for it still remained that he should die, according to the scriptures. And there was still one thing to be accomplished before his death, as the Evangelist himself says: "Jesus knowing that all things were accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst." The meaning therefore is, that Jesus knowing, and ob
serving in his own mind, that many prophecies had been accomplished in the course of his ministry, and that now he had endured a very great variety, and almost all kinds of insults and indignities, pains and sorrows, agreeably to what the scriptures had said concerning the suffering character of the Messiah; he was about to resign and give up his soul into the hand of God. But knowing also that there was one thing spoken of the Messiah in the scriptures, which was not yet fulfilled, he said, " I thirst."
There are two places in the Psalms which are thought to speak of this: "My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws, and thou hast brought me into the dust of death," Ps. xxii. 15. And, "They gave me also gall for my meat, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink," Ps. lxix. 21. These scriptures were now fulfilled.
IV. I would now mention some remarks and observations suitable to this subject.
1. When we meditate upon the sufferings of the Lord Jesus, we ought ever to admire the wise design and great love of the Father, in appointing that the Christ, his beloved Son, most dear to him, so holy, so excellent, so distinguished by miraculous powers and gifts, should for the general good of mankind live in this world in mean circumstances, and submit to the rage and enmity of wicked and prejudiced men, in testimony to the great truths and principles of religion, which contain instructions for our present conduct, and the best encouragements of our hopes and expectations of future glory and happiness.
2. Those meditations may also justly serve to endear to us the Lord Jesus, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us to himself for " a peculiar people, zealous of good works," Tit. ii. 14. Such was the ransom he laid down for us, even his own life, in a way most painful and dishonourable to himself in all its outward circumstances.
Without this, his preaching, and all the miracles of his ministry, would not have been sufficient to awaken, convince, and gain more than a small number of Jews and Gentiles, in that, and a few following ages, in some parts of the world only; whereas now, we also, once very far off from the kingdom of God, in a very late age of the world, are brought into the number of God's people, and made heirs of eternal life. We must therefore acknowledge that the cross of Christ is the "power of God, and the wisdom of God," 1 Cor. i. 24.
He might with less pains and expense to himself have
set up a very extensive empire of a worldly nature, and fixed it upon foundations that should be durable. But that was not the design of his coming; which was, that he might set up a kingdom in the minds of men, and subdue them to willing obedience to the laws of right reason, and the will of God, that they might be partakers of future endless happiness, and that they might be strengthened against all the temptations of their present condition.
When therefore we consider at any time, how just sentiments we have of God, and of the way of serving him, how high ideas we have of a life to come, and what expectations we have of such a happiness; provided we can also discern in ourselves any dispositions of true holiness, and some preparedness for a better life; let us give a tribute of praise and honour to the Lord Jesus for such advantages, and love him who has loved us, and given himself for us. And let us be careful not to do any thing unbecoming the character which we sustain, of being his disciples. That would be a very ungrateful and disagreeable return for his pure and disinterested love, who expects nothing more of us than that we should honour him by a right temper and conduct.
3. The particular of the text may induce us sometimes to survey with care and attention the circumstances of our Lord's last sufferings. We should then, very likely, observe divers things deserving admiration, and very proper for our establishment and comfort.
4. We cannot omit to observe at this time the composure of our Lord's mind, and the greatness of his behaviour in the most trying circumstances.
"Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith; I thirst." So writes St. John, who was at the foot of the cross, and was persuaded, that in what the Lord then said, he had a regard to the ancient prophecies concerning the Messiah. Which shows great composure of mind under the most painful sufferings.
We also perceive the greatness of his behaviour. When the spunge dipped in vinegar was put to his mouth, he does not make any complaints, nor exclaim against so disagreeable treatment, nor bemoan his sad condition. Nor does the Evangelist enlarge upon it, having for wise reasons prescribed to himself great conciseness. Nevertheless these things may be well observed by us. The doing so, will help us to form a more just idea of the great example of resignation and patience, which our Lord has given.
5. Finally, we should, in imitation of Jesus, be willing
to endure all things for the truth's sake, and for the good of our fellow-creatures, and fellow-christians.
I am sensible, that the actions and sufferings of Jesus Christ are sometimes misunderstood and misapplied. Some in the church of Rome especially, have weakly imitated this part of our Lord's sufferings. And because he said, "I thirst," that they might resemble him therein, they have practised abstinence, until they have been incapable of admitting any liquid. To such it might be justly said: "Who has required this at your hands?" Isa. i. 12. This is not a service acceptable to God, who does not delight in the pain and distress of any of his creatures. Nor did Jesus seek these sufferings; though he meekly acquiesced in them.
Christ indeed has required his followers to "love one another, as he has loved them." Which is a very comprehensive command. And implies, that they should be willing to hazard, or even lay down their lives for one another, and for the general good, if there should be occasion. But not otherwise. For he recommended to his disciples discretion, (which he often practised himself,) as well as innocence. And directed them to decline dangers, as far as they honourably could, and when persecuted in one city, to flee into another.
But though some have practised a vain imitation of Christ, his conduct is really exemplary and encouraging. We should resemble him in zeal for God, a love of truth, and of one another. Resolution and steadiness in such interests are very honourable and commendable. And if at any time, in the course of Divine Providence, we are made like unto Jesus in afflictions and sufferings, and are meek and composed, and courageous under them as he was, we shall also be like him in glory and happiness hereafter.