The fourth word from the cross we
looked upon both as the climax of the struggle which
had gone on in the mind of the divine Sufferer during
the three hours of silence and darkness which preceded
its utterance and as the liberation of His mind from
that struggle. This view seems to be confirmed
by the terms in which St. John introduces the Fifth
Word-“After this, Jesus, knowing that
all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture
might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.”
The phrase, “that the Scripture
might be fulfilled,” is usually connected with
the words, “I thirst,” as if the meaning
were that He had said this fifth word in fulfilment
of some prediction that He would do so; and the Old
Testament is ransacked, without much result, for the
prophetic words which may be supposed to be alluded
to. It is better, however, to connect the phrase
with what goes before-“Jesus, knowing
that all things were now accomplished.”
It was only when His work, appointed by God and prescribed
in Scripture, was completed, that He became sufficiently
conscious of His bodily condition to say, “I
thirst.” Intense mental preoccupation has
a tendency to cause the oblivion of bodily wants.
Even the excitement of reading a fascinating book
may keep at a distance for hours the sense of requiring
sleep or food; and it is only when the reader comes
out of the trance of absorption that he realises how
spent he is. During the temptation in the wilderness
Jesus was too absorbed to be aware of His bodily necessities;
but, when the spiritual strain was removed, He “was
afterward an hungered.”
In the present instance, when He came
out of His spiritual trance, it was thirst He became
conscious of. I remember once talking with a
German student who had served in the Franco-Prussian
War. He was wounded in an engagement near Paris,
and lay on the field unable to stir. He did
not know exactly what was the nature of his wound,
and he thought that he might be dying. The pain
was intense; the wounded and dying were groaning round
about him; the battle was still raging; and shots
were falling and tearing up the ground in all directions.
But after a time one agony, he told me, began to
swallow up all the rest, and soon made him forget
his wound, his danger and his neighbours. It
was the agony of thirst. He would have given
the world for a draught of water. This was the
supreme distress of crucifixion. The agonies
of the horrible punishment were of the most excruciating
and complicated order; but, after a time, they all
gathered into one central current, in which they were
lost and swallowed up-that of devouring
thirst; and it was this that drew from our Lord the
This was the only cry of physical
pain uttered by our Lord on the cross. As was
remarked in a previous chapter, it was not uncommon
for the victims of crucifixion, when the ghastly operation
of nailing them to the tree began, to writhe and resist,
and to indulge either in abject entreaties to be saved
from the inevitable or in wild defiance of their fate.
But at this stage Jesus uttered never a word of complaint.
Afterwards also, in spite of the ever-increasing pain,
He preserved absolute self-control. He was absorbed
either in caring for others or in prayer to God.
It is a sublime example of patience.
It rebukes our softness and intolerance of pain.
How easily we are made to cry out; how peevish and
ill-tempered we become under slight annoyances!
A headache, a toothache, a cold, or some other slight
affair, is supposed to be a sufficient justification
for losing all self-control and making a whole household
uncomfortable. Suffering does not always sanctify.
It sours some tempers and makes them selfish and
exacting. This is the besetting sin of invalids-to
become absorbed in their own miseries and to make
all about them the slaves of their caprices.
But many triumph nobly over their temptation; and
in this they are following the example of the suffering
Saviour. There are sick-rooms which it is a privilege
to visit. You may know that the place is a scene
of excruciating pain; but on the pillow there lies
a sweet, patient face; the voice is cheerful and thankful;
and, instead of being self-absorbed, the mind is full
of unselfish thoughts for others. I recall the
description given by a friend of one such invalid’s
chamber, which used to be filled with the most beautiful
cheerfulness and activity. At a certain time
of year you might see in it quite an exhibition of
stockings, pinafores, dresses and other pretty things,
prepared for the children of a mission-school in India.
By thinking of the needs of those children far away
the invalid not only kept her own sufferings at bay,
but created for herself delightful connections with
God’s work and God’s people. Yet
she was one who might easily have asserted the right
to do nothing, and have taxed the patience and the
services of those by whom she was surrounded.
But there is another lesson besides
patience in this word of Christ. He only uttered
one word of physical pain; but He did utter one.
His self-control was not proud or sullen. There
is a silence in suffering that is mere doggedness,
when we screw our courage to the sticking-place and
resolve that nobody shall hear any complaint from
us. We succeed in being silent, but it is with
a bad grace: there is no love or patience in
our hearts, but only selfish determination. This
is especially a temptation when anyone has injured
us and we do not wish to let him see how much we have
suffered, lest he should be gratified. Jesus
was surrounded by those who had wantonly wronged Him;
not only had they inflicted pain, but they had laughed
and mocked at His sufferings. He might have
resolved not on any account to show His feelings or
at least to ask any kindness. It is sometimes
more difficult to ask a favour than to grant one;
it requires more of the spirit of forgiveness.
But not only did Jesus ask a favour: He expected
to receive it. Shamefully as He had been treated
by those to whom He had to appeal, He believed that
there might still be some remains of goodness at the
bottom of their hearts. All His life He had
been wont to discover more good in the worst than others
believed to exist, and to the last He remained true
to His own faith. The maxim of the world is
to take all men for rogues till the reverse has been
proved. Especially when people have enemies,
they believe the own very worst of them and paint
their characters without a single streak of any colour
but black. To those from whom we differ in opinion
we attribute the basest motives and refuse to hear
any good of them. But this is not the way of
Christ: He believed there were some drops of the
milk of human kindness even in the hard-hearted Roman
soldiers; and He was not disappointed.
It is impossible to hear this pathetic
cry, so expressive of helplessness and dependence,
without recalling other words of our Lord to which
it stands in marked contrast. Can this be He
who, standing in Jerusalem not long before, surrounded
with a great multitude, lifted up His voice and cried,
“If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and
drink”? Can it be He who, standing at the
well of Jacob with the Samaritan woman and pointing
to the springing fountain at their feet, said, “Whosoever
drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever
drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never
thirst; but the water that I shall give shall be in
him a well of water springing up into everlasting
life”? Can He who in words like these
offered to quench the thirst of the world be the same
who now whispers in mortal exhaustion, “I thirst”?
It is the same; and this is a contrast
which runs through His whole life, the contrast between
inward wealth and outward poverty. He was able
to enrich the whole world, yet He had to be supported
by the contributions of the women who followed Him;
He could say, “I am the bread of life,”
yet He sometimes hungered for a meal; He could promise
thrones and many mansions to those who believed on
Him, yet He said Himself, “Foxes have holes,
and the birds of the air have nests, yet the Son of
man hath not where to lay His head.”
In a materialistic age, when in so
many circles money is the measure of the man, and
when people are so excessively concerned about what
they shall eat and what they shall drink and wherewithal
they shall be clothed, it is worth while to bear this
contrast in mind. Seldom have the noblest specimens
of humanity been those who have been able to wallow
in luxury; and the men who have enriched the world
with the treasures of the mind have not infrequently
been hardly able to procure daily bread. Our
older boys may have seen on some of their school-books
the name of Heyne. His is an immortal name in
classical scholarship; but when he was a student,
and even when he was enriching the literature of his
country with splendid editions of the ancient writers,
he was literally starving, and had sometimes to subsist
on skins of apples and other offal picked up from
the streets. Our own Samuel Johnson, to whose
wisdom the whole globe is now a debtor, when engaged
on some of his greatest works, had not shoes in which
to go out, and did not know where his dinner was to
come from. It would be easy from history to
multiply instances of those who, though poor, yet
have made many rich.
The inference is not, that one must
be poor externally if one desires to be inwardly rich.
The materially poor are not all spiritually rich
by any means; multitudes of them, alas, are as poverty-stricken
in mind and character as in physical condition.
Perhaps one might even go so far as to say that as
a rule the inwardly rich enjoy at least a competent
portion of the good things of this life; for intelligence
and character have even a market value, Money, too,
can be made subservient to the highest aims of the
soul. But what it is essential to remember is,
that the inward is the true wealth, and that we must
seek and obtain it, even, if necessary, at the sacrifice
of the outward. If life is not to be impoverished
and materialised, some in every age must make the
choice between the inward and the outward wealth; and
no one is worthy to be the servant of scholarship,
art or religion who is not prepared for the choice
should it fall to him. It is by the possession
of intelligence, generosity and spiritual power that
we enter into the higher ranks of manhood; and the
most Christlike trait of all is to have the will and
the ability to overflow in influences and activities
which sweeten and elevate the lives of others.
It would appear that some of those
round the cross were opposed to granting the request
of Jesus. Misunderstanding the fourth word,
they supposed He was calling for Elijah; and they proposed
not to help Him even with a drink of water, in order
to see whether or not Elijah would come to the rescue.
But in one man the impulse of humanity was too strong,
and he gave Jesus what He desired. We almost
love the man for it, and we envy his office.
But the Saviour is still saying, “I
thirst.” How and where? Listen!
“I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink.”
“Lord, when saw we Thee athirst and gave Thee
drink?” “Inasmuch as ye did it unto one
of the least of these My brethren, ye did it unto
Me.” Wherever the brothers and sisters
of Jesus are suffering, sitting in lonely rooms and
wishing that somebody would come and visit them, or
lying on beds of pain and needing somebody to come
and ease the pillow or to reach the cup to the dry
lips, there Christ is saying, “I thirst.”
Perhaps He is saying it in vain.
There are multitudes of professing Christians who
never from end to end of the year visit any poor person.
They never thread the obscure streets or ascend the
grimy stairs in search of God’s hidden ones.
They have never acquired the art of cheering a dark
home with a flower, or a hymn, or a diet, or the touch
of a sympathetic hand and the smile of a healthy face.
It would completely alter the Christianity of many
if they could begin to do these lowly services; it
would put reality into it, and it would bring into
the heart a joy and exhilaration hitherto unknown.
For Christ sees to it that none who thus serve Him
lose their reward. An American friend told me
that once, when travelling on the continent of Europe,
he fell in with a fellow-countryman on board a Rhine
steamer. They talked about America and soon
confided to each other from which parts of the country
they came, with other fragments of personal detail.
They continued to travel for some days together, and
my informant was so overwhelmed with kindness by his
companion that at last he ventured to ask the reason.
“Well,” rejoined the other, “when
the War was going on, I was serving in your native
state; and one day our march lay through the town
in which you have told me you were born. The
march had been very prolonged; it was a day of intense
heat; I was utterly fatigued and felt on the point
of dying for thirst, when a kind woman came out of
one of the houses and gave me a glass of cold water.
And I have been trying to repay through you, her
fellow-townsman, the kindness she showed to me.”
Does it not remind us of the great word of the Son
of God, “Whosoever shall give to drink unto one
of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the
name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall
in no wise lose his reward”?
But is this not enough? Does
anyone wish to get still nearer to Christ and hold
the cup not only to Him in the person of His members
but to His own very lips? Well, this is possible
too. Jesus still says, “I thirst.”
He thirsts for love. He thirsts for prayer.
He thirsts for service. He thirsts for holiness.
Whenever the heart of a human being turns to Him
with a genuine impulse of penitence, affection or
consecration, the Saviour sees of the travail of His
soul and is satisfied.