“Now my soul is deeply troubled.” (John 12:27)
In this lay our Lord’s greatest suffering — his soul-sorrow. Compared with this, the lingering, excruciating tortures of the cross — the extended limbs, the quivering nerves, the bleeding wounds, the burning thirst — were, as nothing. This was physical, the other spiritual; the one, the suffering of the body, the other, the anguish of the soul. Let a vessel traversing the ocean keep afloat, and she may still plough the deep and brave the tempest; but let the proud waves burst in upon her and she sinks. So long as our blessed Lord endured outwardly the gibes and insults and calumnies of men, not a complaint escaped his lips; but, when the wrath of God, endured as the Surety-head of his people, entered within his holy soul, then the wail of agony rose strong and piercing — “Save me, O God, for the floodwaters are up to my neck. Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire; I can’t find a foothold to stand on. I am in deep water, and the floods overwhelm me. I am exhausted from crying for help; my throat is parched and dry. My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me.” (Ps. 69:1–3)
How true is God’s word — “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit, who can bear?” Such was Christ’s. And why was his soul troubled? One rational answer alone can be given — he was now bearing sin and, consequently, the punishment of sin — the wrath of God overwhelming his soul. This was the “cup” which he prayed might, “if possible, pass from him.” divine justice, finding the sins of God’s elect meeting on his holy soul, exacted full satisfaction and inflicted the utmost penalty. And thus a glorious gospel truth shines out of this terrible cloud of Jesus’s soul-sorrow — that is, the substitutionary character and the atoning nature of his sufferings and death. Upon no reasonable ground other than this can we satisfactorily account for his language — “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” (Matt. 26:38) But turn we now from Jesus to his saints.
Believer in Jesus, yours is, perhaps, soul-sorrow. A sense of sin troubles you, the consciousness of guilt distresses you, and you begin to think you know nothing of God’s pardoning love. Oh, what would you not give to be quite sure that your sins were all forgiven for Jesus’s sake!
Or, your soul is in sorrow, perhaps, from the painful loss of the evidences of your saintship and adoption. Like Bunyan’s pilgrim, you have dropped the “white stone with the new name,” and, retracing your steps, mournful and sad, to recover it, you exclaim, “Oh that it were with me as in days that are past, when the candle of the Lord shone round about me.”
Or, you are, perhaps, in soul-distress in consequence of the corroding doubts and distressing fears which assail you; and instead of going on your heavenly way rejoicing, forgetting the things that are behind, and pressing on towards those things that are before, your time is spent, as just intimated, in searching for Christian evidences, and in battling with unbelieving doubts and fears.
Or, perhaps, your soul may be in sorrow because you discern so little love to God, so faint a resemblance to the Savior, and so little real, vital, operative religion in your life — in a word, the spiritual life beating with a pulse so sickly and faint, that your soul is cast down within you.
One word of encouragement. Be thankful to God for this soul-sorrow — it is a sure evidence of spiritual life. A soul dead in sin is insensible to any real distress because of sin; a heart destitute of love to God, feels no distress because it does not love him. A graceless sinner never longs for grace: an unrenewed person never thirsts for holiness, and a dead soul never breathes after life. Take heart, then, O believer, for your soul-sorrow is the prelude to your soul’s eternal joy.
But see to it that Christ has alone to do with your present sorrow. Take it only to him. It will prove the greatest, the holiest joy of your life, if it makes you better acquainted with Jesus. O sweet and welcome sorrow, which he who changed the water into wine changes into a joy unspeakable and full of glory. Any sorrow, Lord, if it but enthrone you more supremely upon my heart, to reign — “the Lord of every motion there.”