Such were the causes that led to the event which. Good Friday celebrates, so far as they can be gathered into a few words. Jesus died the victim of a great hope for his people and for the world. He belongs to the company of those who cannot be patient with things as they see them, and who, because they cannot, meet with suspicion and opposition and hatred, and perhaps violence and death. His hope was not free from illusion, nay, in one sense it was altogether illusion; for wrong and oppression will never cease in this world by the intervention of divine power to judge and punish them, nor do men return from the dead to do the work which they have left undone on earth. But we have to distinguish between one's aim and the means by which one may hope to see that aim accomplished; and there is more hope for the world from one Jesus than from a dozen or a thousand men trained to scientific habits of thought, yet without any transcendent aim and passion for a reign of right. The aim of Jesus was sound ; it was perfect, it was unsurpassable. There is no other supreme aim for man than that reign of justice and of love upon which Jesus set his heart. To-day, in the measure that we have that aim and try to realize it there is order and safety and joy in the community; and that there is so much lawlessness and defiant wickedness abroad is simply evidence to how great an extent men have it not. We must seek first, not wealth, not power, and not science nor art, but the "kingdom of God," there is perpetual inspiration for man in this lofty thought of Jesus. The significance to us of the death of Jesus is simply that he kept this aim, in the only form that was possible to him, to the bitter end. We now can distinguish the aim from the method by which it was to be realized ; we can separate the form from the substance of Jesus' thought. But Jesus was not a philosopher, his consciousness was one and indivisible; and for him to doubt that he was the Messiah would have been to doubt that there was any Messianic reign to be ; and to doubt that would have been to abandon his faith in Israel and in Israel's God; and that he could not abandon, it was a part of him, in his blood and in every fibre of his being.
For my own part, I can say that there are no events in Jesus' life so touching as those toward the close. At no time does he reveal so much character. To stand by our faith, when all things go well with us, there is no great virtue in that; to stand by it when it is assailed, when we may suffer loss from our adhesion to it,that tests whatever manliness there is in us. Jesus had no stoical feeling about death. It was not a matter of indifference to him whether he lived or died. He who loved the flowers of the field and the birds of the air, the lakes and the hillsides of his native Galilee, and the proud city of Jerusalem, to which he had made yearly pilgrimages from his boyhood up, could not turn from all these without some rendings of the heart and tears ; and sharper pang than all, he who had counted on divine assistance, he who had looked to being elevated to a divine throne, whence he could execute the justice that was burning in his heart, how could he die like other men and leave his great work undone ? In theory Jesus had assented to his death : on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem for the last time, he surmised what the end would be ; yes, on the night before his death, as we have seen, he made a mournful comparison of himself to the paschal lamb. But afterward, when in the darkness of the night the dread spectre of death actually stood before him, his human shrinkings were too strong; he fell on his face and prayed to God that the cup might be removed from him, prayed three times, and sweat fell like blood from his face. It was an almost mortal agony, so that to-day we hold our breath as we read of it, we feel the wrestling as if it were our own, we hear the cry of pain; and then the cry ceases, and a more than mortal calm passes through his breast, he has yielded his strong love of life, he goes forth to the sacrifice.
Never was man serener than Jesus before his judges. When idle charges were trumped up against him he was silent, he would not honor them even with a denial. But when asked as to the central core of all his faith, whether he was the Messiah, he promptly answered, "I am," and took the oath administered to him by the high-priest, though he had enjoined his followers not to swear; he pointed his persecutors away to the time when he should sit on the right hand of God, and come in majesty on the clouds of heaven; and when in return the priestly hirelings spat in his face and cuffed him and jeered at him, he held his peace. Before Pilate Jesus preserved the same dignified attitude, affirming his royal rank, but replying nothing to the charges urged by the priests and elders. He submitted to the insults of the brutal Roman soldiery : in cruel mockery they put a red gown upon him, and placed a crown woven of thorn-branches upon his head, and for a sceptre put into his right hand a reed, and then filed before him, kneeling in turn and saying, " Hail, King of the Jews!" and not a murmur escaped him. On his way to the place of execution he had to bear his own cross, until in his weakness he could carry it no longer, when a passer-by was impressed into the service. On arriving at the dreary hill-top he was offered, "according to Jewish usage, a highly spiced wine, an intoxicating drink, which from a sentiment of pity was given to the sufferer to stupefy him."1 He touched the cup to his lips and put it from him. As Renan says, "this sad solace of common criminals was unsuited to his lofty nature;" he would face death with mind unclouded. The physical horrors of that death no one could describe ; nor shall I attempt to. Crucifixion was reserved for slaves and the lowest criminals; it was a horrid torture, and ordinarily long drawn out. But if we may trust the Gospel traditions, no outcry escaped the lips of Jesus, unless it was once when consumed with burning thirst. So magnanimous was he, that he prayed God to forgive his executioners, since they knew not what they were doing; and though for a moment his heart failed him, and he felt as one forsaken, he reassured himself at the last, and trustfully commended to the hands of God his parting spirit.
1 Renan's Life of Jesus, eh. xxv.