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And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned.
ANNOTATIONS AND REFLECTIONS.
The Jews were in great haste to get JESUS dispatched; and supposing that he was extremely weak after the sufferings he had endured, they imagined that he would not be able to walk so fast as they wished him to do; they therefore compelled a poor African, whom they accidentally met, to assist in bearing a heavy piece of wood belonging to the cross, on which he was going to be executed. It is likely, that this incident proved instrumental to the conversion of Simon and his family; for his two sons, Alexander and Rufus, were Christians of some note in the church afterwards.
Whilst our blessed LORD proceeded on his melancholy journey, all but his enemies pathetically lamented his fate; especially those pious women who had long ministered unto him, and now had the zeal and fortitude to follow him. Nor was our LORD unmindful of their affection; for even at the time when he was going to be put to a cruel and ignominious death, sorrow for his own sufferings gave way to commiseration for them, and he kindly endeavoured to divert their grief into another channel. Our LORD then repeated his prediction concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, but with no signs of malice or resentment; yet in such striking terms, as were sufficient to excite his followers to pray that they might not be involved in them; and to warn his enemies to endeavour to deprecate the
wrath of God. On this occasion, our LORD made use of proverbial expressions, to intimate the extreme distress to which the inhabitants of Jerusalem would be exposed. Being childless was reckoned a great curse; therefore a Jewish woman must be in very wretched circumstances, who should esteem it a blessing to be so; and none but the most miserable people in the world would wish for the mountains to fall on them, and the hills to cover them. The expression, "If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" is thought to imply, that if the Jews inflicted such agonies on our LORD, who was free from sin, what might they not themselves expect, whose guilt made them proper objects of divine wrath, as dry wood is fit fuel to the consuming fire? Mount Calvary was the usual place for executing criminals; it was a little without the city, and seemed a proper spot of ground for the purpose, as, on account of its eminence, the malefactors executed there might be seen at a considerable distance, and by a great number of spectators.
It was customary to give to dying criminals a portion of strong wine mingled with spices, in order to stupify their senses, and abate the pain of their sufferings. The soldiers, who attended our LORD, offered him, instead of this, an odious mixture of wine mingled with gall: this he tasted, that he might submit to every circumstance which THE FATHER had allotted him; but he would not drink any large draught of it, knowing his doing so would answer no valuable end. It seems that some of his friends had prepared a cordial cup for him, "but he declined this office of humanity, that he might shew himself unappalled by the horrors of instant crucifixion; and that he might fully possess his reason,
* Bishop Newtoir's Observations on our LORD's Conduct.
and thus display the virtues suitable to his high character, in the season of so severe a trial." Every thing being now prepared, JESUS stripped of his garments, and the cross laid on the ground, he was extended on it, and his mangled naked body, already covered with wounds and bruises, was fastened to it by large nails which were driven through his hands and feet. When the executioners had performed their cruel office, the cross was raised from the ground, and fixed in a hole prepared to receive it. What excruciating torment must our LORD endure! Yet not a murmur or complaint escaped his lips; but, with unexampled charity and greatness of mind, he prayed for his murderers, at the very time they were executing the wicked design of his enemies against him.
That his death might be rendered as ignominious as possible, and the multitude prejudiced against him, crosses were erected on each side of that to which he was nailed, on which were crucified two infamous malefactors, condemned to death for theft. Thus was fulfilled a prediction of Isaiah," that he should be numbered with the transgressors."
As soon as JESUS was fixed on the cross, the soldiers, with that unfeeling attention to their own interest so common to valgar minds, scized on his garments as their perquisite; the manner of their parting them was predicted by the royal Psalmist +.
It was usual, in cases of crucifixion, to put upon the cross, over the head of the criminal, an inscription, containing the substance of the crime for which he was executed. It is very remarkable, that Pilate was so overruled by divine Providence, that instead of casting reproach upon JESUS, and exposing him to ridicule, he
* Isaiab liii,
+ Psalm xxii. 18.
declared his real character, and proclaimed his kingdom. The inscription was written in three languages, that it might be intelligible to Jews, Romans, and most other foreigners. Though the Chief Priests made great objections to the form of this inscription, Pilate could not be prevailed on to alter it. Happy would it have been for him, had he shewn the same firmness before! When the Chief Priests and rulers found that they could not procure an alteration, they mixed themselves with the throng, to feast their eyes with the miseries of the holy Sufferer, triumphing over his last agonies, blaspheming, mocking, and reviling him, and even upbraiding him, because he did not exert for his own deliverance that saving power, by which they could not deny numbers had been benefited. Our blessed LORD remained unmoved at their insults, and made no attempt to justify himself; and when one of the malefactors, who was executed with him, reproached him, he answered not: but when the other addressed him as a King, he received his homage, and promised to reward his peni
What agonizing sorrow must the mother of JESUS have felt, when she saw her beloved Son thus tortured, and heard the reproaches of his cruel enemies! Now was fulfilled the prediction of Simeon, "that a sword should pierce through her own soul." JESUS saw his mother standing; and knew what she suffered; he saw also his beloved disciple John, who, he was certain, would, for his sake, gladly perform any office of filial love towards her: our LORD, therefore, commended his mother to the care of his benevolent Apostle, with whom she is said to have lived many years. His attention to this circumstance, in the midst of such agonies, was a great instance of the composure of his mind.
The darkness which happened at noon-day, while our SAVIOUR hung on the cross, was out of the common course of nature; for a total eclipse of the sun could not take place, as it was the full of the moon: we may, then, consider it as caused by the immediate power of GOD, to add solemnity to the awful scene, and express his Divine displeasure against those who crucified his beloved Son; it is thought not to have been extended beyond the land of Judea. Our LORD seems to have endured his torments for a long time in silence; and when his agonies and dejection of mind were greater than human nature could sustain, he did not give way to such complainings as would naturally have proceeded from the mouth of any other man under his circumstances, but vented his sorrows in the words of Divine inspiration, "My God, my God, why hast thou FORSAKEN ME?" which proved, as I shall endeavour to explain, that he was the MESSIAH. Our LORD uttered this exclamation in the Syro-Chaldaic tongue, which the Jews well understood; and, it is probable, they wilfully misinterpreted his words, that they might have a pretence for insulting him to the last. He now felt extreme thirst in consequence of his pains, and, as this particular had been predicted*, he made it known; on which, agreeably also to the Psalmist's prediction, vinegar was offered to him to drink; and by receiving of this, he completed all that had been foretold concerning the sufferings that should be inflicted on him by others. Nothing now remained, but to offer his life as an atonement for the sins of the whole world; and to shew, that it was not forced from him, but still remained in full vigour, he cried with a loud voice; then bowing his venerable head in token of resignation to the Divine Will, he willingly dismissed +
*See Psalm lxix. 21.
+ See Doddridge's Family Expositor, Vol. II. p. 591.