Chapter 7 The Agonies of Christ

The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry came before Him, even into His ears (Psalm 18:4-6).

There is no doubt that this is a Messianic Psalm. There is a depth of suffering and a completeness of deliverance which have no parallel in David’s personal life—and it was he who wrote the Psalm—nor in the life of any other Old Testament saint. We must refer these verses to our Lord, and the Lord Himself may have made reference to this very Psalm when He said in Luke 24:44: “All things must be fulfilled, which were written … in the Psalms concerning Me.”

The Lord’s Agony in His Sufferings

The sufferings of our Lord were not caused by any personal physical infirmity or disease. They were not from within His own body but were inflicted from without. He was taken, and by wicked hands was crucified and slain (Acts 2:23). The scourging which He endured was so brutal as to often lift the whole skin from its victims and expose their inner organs. The pummeling He received from wicked men and the pulling out of His beard, which marred His visage more than any man’s, must have been excruciating. And who can tell what is meant by such expressions as “the sorrows of death”—“the floods of ungodly men”—“the cords of hell”—“the snares of death”? It was not only that He was compassed around by the basest of our humanity but also attacked by the whole hierarchy of hell—all wicked angels. “Floods” means torrents, and torrent after torrent of the most fierce and violent assault threw even our Lord Himself into some alarm. Then to be bound by the cords of Sheol from which there could be no escape but by the superior and almighty power of Deity, must have been truly alarming. All this constitutes the agony of the God-Man, our Saviour. He undergoes every pang which would have tortured His redeemed if they had tossed in the hottest flames of hell for ever. The cross of Christ is an awful scene. We can only survey it in the calm of holy reverence. The sufferings which He endured both in physical pain, mental anguish, and spiritual distress, are far beyond our understanding. Those sufferings are our ransom price. They are our escape. They are the means of rescue from eternal ruin. All those terrible sufferings died in our Lord and cannot revive to injure or hurt His people. We do well to “consider Him,” and never to forget what He suffered on our behalf, for He died: “The Just for the unjust”—was “wounded for our transgressions”—“bruised for our iniquities”—“the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.” He “bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).

The Lord’s Prayer in His Sufferings

“In My distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto My God” (Psalm 18:6). The Lord was no Stoic, nor did He adopt a stoical attitude to these appointed sufferings. In His distress He sought God. “I cried unto My God,” and, we read, He “was heard in that He feared” (Hebrews 5:7). Wherever the Lord is, a praying voice is heard. His first and last look is toward heaven. His life on earth as the Son of man and the divine Servant was one flow of prayer. And now, in this hour of supreme sacrifice, His hope—His trust—His strength—must come from God. The Psalms are full of His cries, for He “offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from [out of] death” (Hebrews 5:7). Listen to these heartrending cries: “Be not Thou far from Me, O Lord: O My strength, haste Thee to help Me. Deliver My soul from the sword; My darling from the power of the dog. Save Me from the lion’s mouth” (Psalm 22:19-21). “Withhold not Thou Thy tender mercies from Me, O Lord: let Thy loving-kindness and Thy truth continually preserve Me. For innumerable evils have compassed Me about … Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver Me: O Lord, make haste to help Me” (Psalm 40:11-13). “Deliver Me out of the mire, and let Me not sink: let Me be delivered from them that hate Me, and out of the deep waters. Let not the waterflood overflow Me, neither let the deep swallow Me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon Me” (Psalm 69:14, 15).

Such were some of the deep heart-rending prayers of our Lord given by the Spirit of God to the Psalmist in the spirit of prophecy. When we come to Gethsemane’s garden in the New Testament, we hear the same sorrowful utterances. “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”—“O My Father, if this cup may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done” (Matthew 26:39, 42). We can only tread that ground with reverent step. It is most holy. In His distress our Lord sought relief. He cries and asks with known and felt intent.

The Lord’s Comfort in His Sufferings

“He heard My voice out of His temple, and My cry came before Him, even into His ears” (Psalm 18:6). His cries found no response from earth, but they were heard in heaven from within the temple of God the Father. His prayers were heard and answered. The verses which follow—awesome indeed—frightful to the wicked—were the proof God had heard His cries and would both vindicate His Son and recompense His enemies for their cruelties. With the comfort of having been heard, the Lord was enabled to fling off all who assaulted Him upon the cross, triumphing over them (Colossians 2:15). It was no easy work to rescue souls from Satan’s grasp or to lay low the prison house of darkness. The enemy flung all he had into the fight—clad in his fiercest armor—wild in his keenest rage—wily in his deadliest crafts—but, oh, the Lord conquered all! Oh, what an excellent Saviour! Oh, excellent Cross! Oh, what a victory! Glorious is the Lord our God who wrought out such a perfect redemption.

Amazing, holy mystery,
Unfathomed Sacrifice,
Where Incarnate Love on Calv’ry’s tree,
Accursed for sinners, dies!
From His soul, poured out unto death, that cry
Utters sorrow and love unknown,
“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”
O Sufferer, so wounded, so lone!

How couldst Thou—bruised, like crushed worm
Trod down in the dust of death—
O’er that scene of wrathful gloom and storm
Pour love’s sweet undying breath?
’Twas that doom that wrung from Thy soul the plea,
Out of depths of the direful cross,
“My God, O why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
Forsaken, blest Saviour, for us!

For us Thy scars Thou wearest still—
Sweet mark of our advocate!
Soon Thy Form of love our souls shall thrill,
Low bowed at Thy nail-pierced feet!
How Thy wounds shall speak! how Thy soul’s deep cry
Shall in echo forever fall, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”
Lord Jesus! our Glory, our All!

—Frank Allaben