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The Crown Of Thorns by E. H. Chapin


|The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?| John xvii.11.

The circumstances in which these words were uttered have, doubtless, often arrested your attention, -- have often been delineated for you by others. Yet it is always profitable for us to recur to them. They transpired immediately after our Saviour's farewell with his disciples. The entire transaction in that |upper room| had been hallowed and softened by the fact of his coming death. He saw that fact distinctly before him, and to his eye everything was associated with it. As he took the bread and broke it, it seemed to him an emblem of himself, pierced and dying; and from the fulness of his spirit he spoke, |Take, eat, this is my body, broken for you.| As he took the cup and set it before them, it reminded him of his blood, that must flow ere his mission was fulfilled, and he could say, |It is finished.| And then, when the traitor rose from that table to go out and consummate the very purpose that should lead to that event, as one who had arrayed himself in robes of death, and was about to declare his legacy, he broke forth in that sublime strain commencing, |Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him;|-that strain of mingled precept, and promise, and warning, and prayer, from which the weary and the sick-hearted of all ages shall gather strength and consolation, and which shall be read in dying chambers and houses of mourning until death and sorrow shall reign no more.

Laden, then, with the thought of his death, he had gone with his disciples into the garden of Gethsemane. There, in the darkness and loneliness of night, the full anguish of his situation rushed upon his spirit. He shrank from the rude scenes that opened before him, -- from the mocker's sneer and the ruler's scourge; from the glare of impatient revenge, and the weeping eyes of helpless friendship; from the insignia of imposture and of shame; and from the protracted, thirsty, torturing death. He shrank from these, -- he shrank from the rupture of tender ties, -- he shrank from the parting with deeply-loved friends, -- his soul was overburdened, his spirit was swollen to agony, and he rushed to his knees, and prayed, |Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me.| Yet even then, in the intensity of his grief, the sentiment that lay deep and serene below suggested the conditions, and he added, |Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.| But still the painful thought oppressed him, and, though more subdued now, he knelt and prayed again, |O, my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me except I drink it, thy will be done.| And once more, as he returned from his weary, sleeping disciples, and found himself alone, the wish broke forth-yet tempered by the same obedient compliance.

And here I pause to ask, if, in all that scene of agony, anything is developed inconsistent with the character of Christ? If we would have it otherwise? If these tears and groans of anguish are tokens of a weakness that we would conceal from our convictions, -- that we would overlook, as marring the dignity and the divinity of the Saviour? For one, I would not have it otherwise. I would not have the consoling strength, the sympathizing tenderness, the holy victory that may be drawn from thence, -- I would not have these left out from the Life that was given us as a pattern. Jesus, we are told, |was made perfect through suffering.| This struggle took place that victory might be won; -- this discipline of sorrow fell upon him that perfection and beauty might be developed. By this we see that Christ's was a spirit liable to trial, -- impressible by suffering; and from this fact does the victory appear greater and more real. In this we see one striving with man's sorrow, -- seeking, like man, to be delivered from pain and grief, yet rising to a calm obedience, -- a lofty resignation. Had Jesus passed through life always serene, always unshrinking, we should not have seen a man, but something that man is not, something that man cannot be in this world; and that calm question, |The cup that my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?| would lose its force and significance. Otherwise, why should not Jesus be as resigned as before? He had betrayed no sense of suffering, no impressibility by pain; why should he not be willing, seeing he was always able to meet the end? But O! when that deep, holy calmness has fallen upon a soul that has been tossed by sorrow, and that has shrunk from death, -- when the brow has come up smooth and radiant from the shadow of mourning, -- when that soul is ready for the issue, not because it has always felt around it the girdle of Omnipotence, but because, through weakness and suffering, it has risen and worked out an unfaltering trust, and taken hold of the hand of God by the effort of faith, -- then it is, I say, that resignation if beautiful and holy, -- then do we wonder and admire.

So it was with Jesus. A little while ago we saw him bowed with sorrow, his eyes lifted with tears to heaven. We saw that he keenly felt the approaching pain, and shame, and death. A little while ago, the still night air was laden with his cry, |Father, if it be thy will, let this cup pass from me.| And now, as one who is strong and ready, he says calmly to Peter, |The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?| Truly, a battle has been fought, and a victory won, here; but we should not be the better for it, were it not for that very process of suffering in which that battle was waged, and from which that victory was wrung. Now, when we sorrow, we know who also sorrowed; we remember whose agony the still heavens looked upon with all their starry eyes, -- whose tears moistened the bosom of the bare earth, -- whose cry of anguish pierced the gloom of night. Now, too, when we sorrow, we know where to find relief; we learn the spirit of resignation, and under what conditions it may be born. Thank God, then, for the lesson of the lonely garden and the weeping Christ-we, too, may be |made perfect through suffering.|

Such, then, were the circumstances that illustrate the words of the text. Scarcely had Jesus risen from his knees, and wakened the drowsy disciples, when the light of lanterns flashed upon him, and Judas came with a multitude to bear him to that death from which, but now, he shrunk with agony. But he shrank no more. The trial was over, -- the darkness had vanished, -- an angel had strengthened him; and when the impetuous Peter drew his sword and smote off the servant's ear, his master turned to him, with the calm rebuke, |Put up thy sword into his sheath; the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?| Yes, cold and bitter as that cup was, pressed next to his very lips, he had learned to drink it. God had given him strength, and no more did he falter, no more did he groan-save once, for a moment, when, upon the cross, drooping, and racked with intense pain, he cried out, |My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?| But that passed away in the triumphant ejaculation, |It is finished!|

Such was the resignation of Jesus; a trait in his character which, like all the rest, is not only to be admired, but imitated; -- not an abstract virtue, manifested by a being so perfect and so enshrined in the sanctity of a divine nature that we cannot approach it, and in our mortal, work-day trials can never feel it; but a virtue which should be throned in every heart, the strength and consolation of which every suffering soul may experience. Nay, if there is one virtue which is more often needed than any other, which lies at the base of true happiness, and than which there is no surer seal of piety, it is this virtue of resignation. And let me proceed to say, that by resignation I mean not cold and sullen apathy, or reckless hardihood, but a sweet trust and humble acquiescence, which show that the soul has submitted itself to the Father who knows and does best, and that it meets his dispensations with obedience and his mysteries with faith. The apathy and hardihood to which I have alluded are very far from the trust and piety of a religious spirit. The fatalist acquiesces in the course of things because he cannot help it. He has reasoned to the conclusion that his murmuring and weeping will not alter matters and he has resolved to take things as they come. But here is no resignation to the will of God, but to the necessity of things. Here is no faith that all things are wisely ordered, and that sorrow is but the shadow of the Father's hand. No; here is the simple belief that things are as they are, and cannot be altered,-that an arbitrary law is the eternal rule, not a benevolent and holy purpose; and the philosopher would be just as resigned if he believed all things to be under the guidance of a blind fate, whose iron machinery drives on to level or exalt, unintelligent and remorseless, whether in its course it brings about good or evil,-whether it gladdens human hearts or crushes them. Such resignation as this may be quite common in the world, manifested in various phases, and by men of different religious opinions. Do we not often hear the expression, |Well, things are as they are,-we do best to take them as they come;| and here the matter ends? No higher reference is made. The things alluded to may issue from the bosom of material nature, may be sent into the world by chance, or may come from the good Father of all; but the minds of these reasoners reach not so far. Now I repeat, there is no religion and no true philosophy in this method; certainly it is not such resignation as Jesus manifested. In fact, it indicates total carelessness as to the discipline of life, and will generally be found with men in whose thoughts God is not, or to whose conceptions he is the distant, inactive Deity, not the near and ever-working Controller. I cannot admire the conduct of that man who when the bolt of sorrow falls, receives it upon the armor of a rigid fatalism, who wipes scarcely a tear from his hard, dry face, and says, |Well, it cannot be helped; things are so ordered.| Below all this there is often a sulky, half-angry sentiment, as though the victim felt the blow, but was determined not to wince,-as though there was an acknowledgment of weakness, but also a display of pride,-a feeling that we cannot resist sorrow, yet that sorrow has no business to come, and now that it has come the sufferer will not yield to it. This, evidently, is not resignation, religious resignation, but only sullen acquiescence, or reckless hardihood.

In a certain sense it is true that we do well to take things as they come,-that we cannot help the eternal laws that control events. But we must go behind this truth. Whence do events come, and for what purpose do they come? What is life, and for what end are all its varied dispensations? Religion points us up beyond the cloud of materialism, and behind the mechanism of nature, to an Infinite Spirit, to a God, to a Father. All things are moved by infinite Love. Life is not merely a phenomenon, it is a Lesson. Its events do not come and go, in a causeless, arbitrary manner; they are meant for our discipline and our good. In whatever aspect they come, then, let their appropriate lesson be heeded. This is the religious view of life, and is wide apart from the philosophy that lets events happen as they will, as though we were in the setting of a heady current, and were borne along among other matters that now help us, now jar and wound us,-that happen without order and without object; all, like ourselves, driven along and taking things as they come. In the religious view, all things stream from God's throne, and whatever sky hangs over them, the infinite One is present; prosperity is the sunshine that he has sent, and Faith, as she weeps, beholds a bow in the clouds.

The religious man takes things as they come, but how? In a reverent and filial spirit, a spirit that obeys and trusts because God has ordained. He refers, behind the event, to the will that declares it. And yet, this will be no formal lifeless resignation. He will not be stripped of his manhood, or become unnatural in his religion. His resignation will not be the cold assent of reason, or the mere rote and repetition of the lips. No, it will be born in struggling and in sorrow. Religion is not a process that makes our nature callous to all fierce heats or drenching storms. Neither is he the most religious man who is calmest in the keen crisis of trouble. I say in the crisis of trouble-for to human vision there always is a crisis. We cannot penetrate to the secret determinations of God, and in the season of care and affliction there is a time when the issue is uncertain,-when we cannot say it is sealed. What shall we do then? Is human agency nothing? Grant that we are driving down a stream,-can we use no effort? Is there not a time when deeds, struggles, prayers, are of some avail?-when the spirit, in its intense agony, with swollen strength and surging tears, heaves against the catastrophe, if yet, perchance, it may ward it off? Truly, there is such a time, and the humblest disciple of Christ may weep as he also wept. But let him also strive as Christ strove. Let him not dash his grief in rebellious billows to the throne; let not his groans arise in resentful murmurs; let the remembrance of what God is and why he does, be with him, and let the filial, reverent trust steal in, -- |Not my will, but thine be done.| That reference to God, that obedience to him, rising from the very depths of sorrow, and clung to without faltering, is RESIGNATION. It shall bestow peace and victory in the end. O! how different from that sullen fatalism that lets things come as they will. To such a soul things do come as they will, and it hardens under them,-they do come as they will, but it sees not, cares not, why they come. No thought goes up beyond the cloud to God,-no strength is born that shall make life's trials lighter,-no love and faith that will seek the Father's hand in the darkest hour, and shed an enduring light over the thorny path of affliction, and upon the bosom of the grave. Look at these two. Outwardly, their calmness may be the same. Nay, the one may evince emotion and tears, while the other shall stand rigid in the hour of calamity, with a bitter smile, or a frown of endurance. But in the one is strength, in the other rigidity; in the one is power to triumph over sorrow, in the other only nervous capacity to resist it. The one is man hardened to indifference, sullen because of irreligion, upon whom some sorrow will one day fall that will peel him to the quick, and he will not know where to flee for healing. The other is man contending against evil, yet not against God,-man with all the tenderness and strength of his nature, impressible yet unconquerable, walking with feet that bleed among the wounding thorns, and a heart that shrinks from the heavy woe, yet, all lacerated as he is, able to walk through, because he holds by the hand of Omnipotence. The one is the unbending tree, peeled by the lightning and stripped by the North wind, lifting its gnarled head in sullen defiance to the storm, which, when the storm does overcome it, shall be broken. The other also is rooted in strength, and meets the rushing blast with a lofty front. But as |it smiles in sunshine, so it bends in storm,| trustful and obedient, yet firm and brave, and nothing shall overwhelm it.

I trust I have succeeded in impressing upon you the difference between Christian resignation and mere hardihood, or indifference. Resignation is born of discipline, and lives only in a truly religious soul. We have seen that it is not incompatible with tenderness; nay, it is more valuable, because it springs up in natures that have thus suffered and wept. To see them become calm and pass with unfaltering step through the valley of affliction, when, but now, they shrunk from it, is a proof that God indeed has strengthened them, and that they have had communion with him. The unbeliever's stubbornness may endure to the end, but no human power could inspire this sudden and triumphant calmness.

And even when the crisis is past, when the sorrow is sealed, it is not rebellion to sigh and weep. Our Father has made us so. He has opened the springs of love that well up within us, and can we help mourning when they turn to tears and blood? He has made very tender the ties that bind us to happiness, and can we fail to shrink and suffer when they are cut asunder? When we have labored long in the light of hope, and lo! It goes out in darkness, and the blast of disappointment rushes upon us, can we help being sad? Can the mother prevent weeping when she kisses the lips of her infant that shall prattle to her no more; when she presses its tiny hand, so cold and still,-the little hand that has rested upon her bosom and twined in her hair; and even when it is so sweet and beautiful that she could strain it to her heart forever, it is laid away in the envious concealment of the grave? Can the wife, or the husband, help mourning, when the partner and counsellor is gone,-when home is made very desolate because the familiar voice sounds not there, and the cast-off garment of the departed is strangely vacant, and the familiar face has vanished, never more to return? Can the child fail to lament, when the father, the mother,-the being who nurtured him in infancy, who pillowed his head in sickness, who prayed for him with tears on his sinful wandering, who ever rejoiced in his joy and wept in his sorrows,-can he fail to weep when that venerable form lies all enshrouded, and the door closes upon it, and the homestead is vacant, and the link that bound him to childhood is in the grave? Say, can we check the gush of sorrow at any of life's sharp trials and losses? No; nor are we forbidden to weep, nor would we be human if we did not weep,-if, at least, the spirit did not quiver when the keen scathing goes over it. But how shall we weep? O! Thou, who didst suffer in Gethsemane, thou hast taught us how. By thy sacred sorrow and thy pious obedience thou has taught us; by thy great agony and thy sublime victory thou has taught us. We must refer all to God. We must earnestly, sincerely say, |Thy will be done.| Then our prayers will be the source of our strength. Then our sorrowing will bring us comfort. |They will be done;| repeat this, feel this, realize its meaning and its relations, and you shall be able to say, with a rooted calmness, |The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?|

|The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?| Who shall be able to say this as Jesus said it? They who struggle as he struggled,-who obey as he obeyed,-who trust as he trusted. There are those upon earth who have been able to say it. It has made them stronger and happier. There are those in heaven who have been able to say it. They have gone up from earthly communions to the communion on high. Do you not see them there, walking so serenely by the still waters, with palms about their brows? Serenely-for in their faces nothing is left of their conflict but its triumph; nothing of their swollen agony but the massy enduring strength it has imparted. They have ceased from their trials, but first they learned how to endure them. They submitted, but they were not overwhelmed. When sorrow came, each pious soul struggled, but trusted; and so was able to meet the last struggle,-was able to say as the shadow of death fell upon it, |The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?| They were resigned. Behold-theirs is the victory!

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