CHRIST’S AGONY
Abstract from the first part of a much longer sermon (Works 2.866–877)
preached by Jonathan Edwards in 1739 and 1757

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was as it were
great drops of blood falling down to the ground
” (Luke 22:44).

Our Lord Jesus Christ, in His original nature, was infinitely above all suffering, for He was “God over all, blessed for evermore.” But when He became man, He was not only capable of suffering, but partook of that nature that is remarkably feeble and exposed to suffering. The human nature, on account of its weakness, is in Scripture compared to the grass of the field, which easily withers and decays.… It was this nature, with all its weakness and exposedness to sufferings, which Christ, who is the Lord God omnipotent, took upon Him. He did not take the human nature on Him in its first, most perfect and vigorous state, but in that feeble forlorn state which it is in since the fall. And therefore Christ is called “a tender plant,” and “a root out of a dry ground.” Isaiah 53:2, “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.”

Thus, as Christ’s principal errand into the world was suffering, so agreeably to that errand, He came with such a nature and in such circumstances, as most made way for His suffering, so His whole life was filled up with suffering, He began to suffer in His infancy, but His suffering increased the more He drew near to the close of His life. His suffering after His public ministry began, was probably much greater than before. And the latter part of the time of His public ministry seems to have been distinguished by suffering. The longer Christ lived in the world, the more men saw and heard of Him, the more they hated Him. His enemies were more and more enraged by the continuance of the opposition that He made to their lusts. And the devil having been often baffled by Him, grew more and more enraged, and strengthened the battle more and more against Him, so that the cloud over Christ’s head grew darker and darker, as long as He lived in the world, till it was in its greatest blackness when He hung upon the cross and cried out, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me! Before this, it was exceedingly dark, in the time of His agony in the garden, of which we have an account in the words now read, and which I propose to make the subject of my present discourse. The word agony properly signifies an earnest strife, such as is witnessed in wrestling, running, or fighting. And therefore in Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” The word in the original, translated strive, is agônizomai[Grk]. “Agonize, to enter in at the strait gate.” The word is especially used for that sort of strife which in those days was exhibited in the Olympic games, in which men strove for the mastery in running, wrestling, and other such kinds of exercises.… Those, who thus contended, were, in the language then in use, said to agonise.… So that when it is said in the text that Christ was in an agony, the meaning is, that His soul was in a great and earnest strife and conflict. It was so [in that] His soul was in a great and sore conflict with those terrible and amazing views and apprehensions which He then had.…

Those Terrible Apprehensions

First, what were those terrible… apprehensions which Christ had in His agony? This may be explained by considering:

1. The cause of those views and apprehensions which Christ had in His agony in the garden was the bitter cup which He was soon after to drink on the cross. The sufferings which Christ underwent in His agony in the garden were not His greatest sufferings, though they were so very great. But His last sufferings upon the cross were His principal sufferings. And therefore they are called “the cup that he had to drink.” The sufferings of the cross, under which He was slain, are always in the Scriptures represented as the main sufferings of Christ, those in which especially “he bare our sins in his own body,” and made atonement for sin. His enduring the cross, His humbling Himself, and becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, is spoken of as the main thing wherein His sufferings appeared. This is the cup that Christ had set before Him in His agony.

It is manifest that Christ had this in view at this time, from the prayers which He then offered. According to Matthew, Christ made three prayers that evening while in the garden of Gethsemane, and all on this one subject, the bitter cup that He was to drink… [see Matthew 26:39, 42, 44]. From this it plainly appears what it was of which Christ had such terrible views and apprehensions at that time. What He thus insists on in His prayers, shows on what His mind was so deeply intent. It was His sufferings on the cross, which were to be endured the next day, when there should be darkness over all the earth, and at the same time a deeper darkness over the soul of Christ, of which He had now such lively views and distressing apprehensions.

2. He had a lively apprehension of it impressed at that time on His mind. He had an apprehension of the cup that He was to drink before. His principal errand into the world was to drink that cup, and He therefore was never unthoughtful of it, but always bore it in His mind, and often spoke of it… [see Matthew 16:21; 20:17–19, 22; Luke 12:50; John 2:19; 8:28; 12:34]. And He was very much in speaking of it a little before His agony, in His dying counsels to His disciples… [see John 12 and 13]. Thus this was not the first time that Christ had this bitter cup in His view. On the contrary, He seems always to have had it in view. But it seems that at this time God gave Him an extraordinary view of it. A sense of that wrath that was to be poured out upon Him, and of those amazing sufferings that He was to undergo, was strongly impressed on His mind by the immediate power of God; so that He had far more full and lively apprehensions of the bitterness of the cup which He was to drink than He ever had before, and these apprehensions were so terrible, that His feeble human nature shrunk at the sight, and was ready to sink.…

Christ’s Agony Arose from these Apprehensions

Second,… the conflict which the soul of Christ then endured was occasioned by those views and apprehensions. The sorrow and distress which His soul then suffered arose from that lively, and full, and immediate view which He had then given Him of that cup of wrath, by which God the Father did as it were set the cup down before Him, for Him to take it and drink it. Some have inquired, what was the occasion of that distress and agony, and many speculations there have been about it, but the account which the Scripture itself gives us is sufficiently full in this matter, and does not leave room for speculation or doubt. The thing that Christ’s mind was so full of at that time was, without doubt, the same with that which His mouth was so full of. It was the dread which His feeble human nature had of that dreadful cup, which was vastly more terrible than Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. He had then a near view of that furnace of wrath, into which He was to be cast. He was brought to the mouth of the furnace that He might look into it, and stand and view its raging flames, and see the glowings of its heat, that He might know where He was going and what He was about to suffer. This was the thing that filled His soul with sorrow and darkness, this terrible sight as it were overwhelmed Him.…

The Conflict He Experienced was Dreadful

Third,… the conflict in Christ’s soul, in this view of His last sufferings, was dreadful, beyond all expression or conception. This will appear,

1. From what is said of its dreadfulness in the history. By one evangelist we are told, “He began to be sorrowful and very heavy” (Mt 26:37); and by another, He “… began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy” (Mk 14:33). These expressions hold forth the intense and overwhelming distress that His soul was in. Luke’s expression in the text of His being in an agony, according to the signification of that word in the original, implies no common degree of sorrow, but such extreme distress that His nature had a most violent conflict with it, as a man that wrestles with all his might with a strong man, who labours and exerts his utmost strength to gain a conquest over him.

2. From what Christ Himself says of it, who was not wont to magnify things beyond the truth. He says, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Mt 26:38). What language can more strongly express the most extreme degree of sorrow? His soul was not only “sorrowful,” but “exceeding sorrowful”; and not only so, but because that did not fully express the degree of His sorrow, He adds, “even unto death”; which seems to intimate that the very pains and sorrows of hell, of eternal death, had got hold upon Him.…

3. From the effect which it had on His body, in causing that bloody sweat that we read of in the text. In our translation it is said, that “his sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood, falling down to the ground.”… If the suffering of Christ had occasioned merely a violent sweat, it would have shown that He was in great agony. For it must be an extraordinary grief and exercise of mind that causes the body to be all of a sweat abroad in the open air, in a cold night as that was, as is evident from John 18:18.…

The Necessity of His Foreknowledge

Fourth,… why it was needful that He should have a more full and extraordinary view of the cup that He was to drink, a little before He drank it, than ever He had before. Or why He must have such a foretaste of the wrath of God to be endured on the cross, before the time came that He was actually to endure it.

Answer. It was needful, in order that He might take the cup and drink it, as knowing what He did.… If Christ had not fully known what the dreadfulness of these sufferings was, before He took them upon Him, His taking them upon Him could not have been fully His own act as man. There could have been no explicit act of His will about that which He was ignorant of. There could have been no proper trial, whether He would be willing to undergo such dreadful sufferings or not, unless He had known beforehand how dreadful they were. But when He had seen what they were, by having an extraordinary view given Him of them, and then undertaken to endure them afterwards, then He acted as knowing what He did, then His taking that cup and bearing such dreadful sufferings was properly His own act by an explicit choice. And so His love to sinners, in that choice of His, was the more wonderful, as also His obedience to God in it. And it was necessary that this extraordinary view that Christ had of the cup He was to drink should be given at that time, just before He was apprehended. This was the most proper season for it, just before He took the cup, and while He yet had opportunity to refuse the cup.…

Application

Consider of the Intensity of Christ’s Suffering

First, we may learn how dreadful Christ’s last sufferings were. We learn it from the dreadful effect which the bare foresight of them had upon Him in His agony. His last sufferings were so dreadful that the view which Christ had of them before overwhelmed Him and amazed Him, as it is said He began to be sore amazed. The very sight of these last sufferings was so very dreadful as to sink His soul down into the dark shadow of death.… And if only the foresight of the cup was so dreadful, how dreadful was the cup itself, how far beyond all that can be uttered or conceived! Many of the martyrs have endured extreme tortures, but from what has been said, there is all reason to think those all were a mere nothing to the last sufferings of Christ on the cross. And what has been said affords a convincing argument that the sufferings which Christ endured in His body on the cross, though they were very dreadful, were yet the least part of His last sufferings. And that beside those, He endured sufferings in His soul which were vastly greater. For if it had been only the sufferings which He endured in His body, though they were very dreadful, we cannot conceive that the mere anticipation of them would have such an effect on Christ. Many of the martyrs, for aught we know, have endured as severe tortures in their bodies as Christ did. Many of the martyrs have not been so overwhelmed. There has been no appearance of such amazing sorrow and distress of mind either at the anticipation of their sufferings, or in their actual enduring of them.


Consider the Wonderful Love of Christ

Secondly, from what has been said, we may see the wonderful strength of the love of Christ to sinners. What has been said shows the strength of Christ’s love two ways. (1) that it was so strong as to carry Him through that agony that He was then in. The suffering that He then was actually subject to was dreadful and amazing, as has been shown. And how wonderful was His love that lasted and was upheld still!… (2) the strength of Christ’s love more especially appears in this, that when He had such a full view of the dreadfulness of the cup that He was to drink, that so amazed Him, He would notwithstanding even then take it up, and drink it.…


But there are two circumstances of Christ’s agony that do still make the strength of constancy of His love to sinners the more conspicuous. (1) That at the same time that He had such a view of the dreadfulness of His sufferings, He had also an extraordinary view of the hatefulness of the wickedness of those for whom those sufferings were to make atonement.… (2) Another circumstance of Christ’s agony that shows the strength of His love is the ungrateful carriage of His disciples at that time. Christ’s disciples were among those for whom He endured this agony, and among those for whom He was going to endure those last sufferings, of which He now had such dreadful apprehensions.… And yet now, when He had that dreadful cup set before Him which He was going to drink for them, and was in such an agony at the sight of it, He saw no return on their part but indifference and ingratitude. When He only desired them to watch with Him, that He might be comforted in their company, now at this sorrowful moment they fell asleep, and showed that they had not concern enough about it to induce them to keep awake with Him even for one hour, though He desired it of them once and again. But yet this ungrateful treatment of theirs, for whom He was to drink the cup of wrath which God had set before Him, did not discourage Him from taking it, and drinking it for them. His love held out to them. Having loved His own, He loved them to the end.…


Consider the Wonderfulness of Christ’s Submission

Thirdly, from what has been said, we may learn the wonderfulness of Christ’s submission to the will of God. Christ, as He was a divine person, was the absolute sovereign of heaven and earth, but yet He was the most wonderful instance of submission to God’s sovereignty that ever was. When He had such a view of the terribleness of His last sufferings, and prayed if it were possible that that cup might pass from Him, i.e., if there was not an absolute necessity of it in order to the salvation of sinners, yet it was with a perfect submission to the will of God. He adds, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” He chose rather that the inclination of His human nature, which so much dreaded such exquisite torments, should be crossed, than that God’s will should not take place. He delighted in the thought of God’s will being done. And when He went and prayed the second time, He had nothing else to say but, “O my Father, if this cup may not pass from me except I drink it, thy will be done.” And so the third time. What are such trials of submission as any of us sometimes have in the afflictions that we suffer in comparison of this? If God does but in His providence signify it to be His will that we should part with a child, how hardly are we brought to yield to it, how ready to be unsubmissive and froward? Or if God lays His hand upon us in some acute pain of body, how ready are we to be discontented and impatient; when the innocent Son of God, who deserved no suffering, could quietly submit to sufferings inconceivably great, and say it over and over, God’s will be done!…


Consider the Glory of Christ’s Obedience

Fourthly, what has been said on this subject also shows us the glory of Christ’s obedience. Christ was subject to the moral law as Adam was, and He was also subject to the ceremonial and judicial laws of Moses. But the principal command that He had received of the Father was, that He should lay down His life, that He should voluntarily yield up Himself to those terrible sufferings on the cross.… And therefore this command was the principal trial of His obedience. It was the greatest trial of His obedience, because it was by far the most difficult command. All the rest were easy in comparison of this. And the main trial that Christ had, whether He would obey this command, was in the time of His agony. For that was within an hour before He was apprehended in order to His sufferings, when He must either yield Himself up to them, or fly from them. And then it was the first time that Christ had a full view of the difficulty of this command, which appeared so great as to cause that bloody sweat. Then was the conflict of weak human nature with the difficulty, then was the sore struggles and wrestling with the heavy trial He had, and then Christ got the victory over the temptation, from the dread of His human nature. His obedience held out through the conflict. Then we may suppose that Satan was especially let loose to set in with the natural dread that the human nature had of such torments, and to strive to his utmost to dissuade Christ from going on to drink the bitter cup. For about that time, towards the close of Christ’s life, was He especially delivered up into the hands of Satan to be tempted of him, more than He was immediately after His baptism; for Christ says, speaking of that time, Luke 22:53, “When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me; but this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”… But yet He failed not, but go the victory over all, and performed that great act of obedience at that time to that same God that hid Himself from Him, and was showing His wrath to Him for men’s sins, which He must presently suffer. Nothing could move Him away from His steadfast obedience to God, but He persisted in saying, “Thy will be done”: expressing not only His submission, but His obedience; not only His compliance with the disposing will of God, but also with His preceptive will. God had given Him this cup to drink, and had commanded Him to drink it, and that was reason enough with Him to drink it. Hence He says, at the conclusion of His agony, when Judas came with his band, “The cup which my Father giveth me to drink, shall I not drink it?” (Jn 18:11). Christ, at the time of His agony, had an inconceivably greater trial of obedience than any man or any angel ever had. How much was this trial of the obedience of the second Adam beyond the trial of the obedience of the first Adam! How light was our first father’s temptation in comparison of this! And yet our first surety failed, and our second failed not, but obtained a glorious victory, and went and became obedient until death, even the death of the cross. Thus wonderful and glorious was the obedience of Christ, by which He wrought our righteousness for believers, and which obedience is imputed to them. No wonder that it is a sweet penalty sown, and that God stands ready to bestow heaven as its reward on all the believe on Him.


Consider the Foolishness of Secure Sinners

Fifthly, what has been said shows us the sottishness of secure sinners in being so fearless of the wrath of God. If the wrath of God was so dreadful, that, when Christ only expected it, His human nature was nearly overwhelmed with the fear of it, and His soul was amazed, and His body all over in a bloody sweat. Then how sottish are sinners, who are under the threatening of the same wrath of God, and are condemned to it, and are every moment exposed to it. And yet, instead of manifesting intense apprehension, are quiet and easy, and unconcerned. Instead of being sorrowful and very heavy, go about with a light and careless heart. Instead of crying out in bitter agony, are often gay and cheerful, and eat and drink, and sleep quietly, and go on in sin, provoking the wrath of God more and more, without any great matter of concern! How stupid and sottish are such persons! Let such senseless sinners consider, that that misery, of which they are in danger from the wrath of God, is infinitely more terrible than that, the fear of which occasioned in Christ His agony and bloody fear of sweat.… It is more terrible in its nature and degree. Christ suffered that which, as it upheld the honour of the divine law, was fully equivalent to the misery of the damned. And in some respect it was the same suffering; for it was the wrath of the same God. But yet in other respects it vastly differed. The difference does not arise from the difference in the wrath poured out on one and the other, for it is the same wrath, but from the difference of the subject, which may be best illustrated from Christ’s own comparison. Luke 23:31, “For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” Here He calls Himself the green tree, and wicked men the dry, intimating that the misery that will come on wicked men will be far more dreadful than those sufferings which came on Him, and the difference arises from the different nature of the subject. The green tree and the dry are both cast into the fire. But the flames seize and kindle on the dry tree much more fiercely than on the green. The sufferings that Christ endured differ from the misery of the wicked in hell in nature and degree in the following respects.

a.

Christ felt not the gnawings of a guilty, condemning conscience.

b.

He felt no torment from the reigning of inward corruptions and lusts as the damned do. The wicked in hell are their own tormentors, their lusts are their tormentors, and being without restraint…. They shall be tormented with the unrestrained violence of a spirit of envy and malice against God, and against the angels and saints in heaven, and against one another. Now Christ suffered nothing of this.

c.

Christ had not to consider that God hated Him. The wicked in hell have this to make their misery perfect, they know that God perfectly hates them without the least pity or regard to them, which will fill their souls with inexpressible misery.

d.

Christ did not suffer despair, as the wicked do in hell. He knew that there would be an end to His sufferings in a few hours. And that after that He should enter into eternal glory. But it will be far otherwise with you that are impenitent. If you die in your present condition, you will be in perfect despair.


On these accounts, the misery of the wicked in hell will be immensely more dreadful in nature and degree, than those sufferings with the fear of which Christ’s soul was so much overwhelmed.…


Abridged by J.J. Lim