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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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DESPONDENCY.—Despondency fills so frequent and serious a place in human life that we could hardly have felt that our Lord was ‘tempted in all points like as we are’ (Hebrews 4:15), if He had not experienced it. But the profound depression in the garden of Gethsemane, even if it were alone, and the memorable word, ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death’ (Matthew 26:38 || Mark 14:34), testify that He had such experience. What was the cause of this depression in Gethsemane? Was it due to bodily exhaustion, the body affecting the mind and making it more sensitive to sad surroundings? Was it due to the mental strain of publicity and opposition, or to loneliness and the pain of failure? (‘He came unto his own, and his own received him not,’ John 1:11). All these were elements in the despondency of Elijah when he sat under the juniper tree, and requested for himself that he might die (1 Kings 19:4). And we may not say that such influences were wholly without effect on our Lord; but in His case, as we learn from His own words, the great cause of despondency was the pressure on His spirit of what He saw near before Him, His cross—that death in which He was (in St. Peter’s language) to bear our sins in His own body (1 Peter 2:24), or (in St. Paul’s) to be made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), and in which He was to endure that sense of separation from God which was so new to the experience of the well-beloved Son. But why was the depression so great now in Gethsemane when He had looked forward to this from the beginning of His ministry, saying in an early stage of it, ‘The Son of man must be lifted up’ (John 3:14)? Part of the answer to this question must be that our Lord’s mind, being truly human, was liable to those often mysterious alternations of feeling which, in common men, we call changes of mood. As He drew nearer the accomplishment of the great work of atonement, we lind Him sometimes hastening eagerly towards it, full of great purpose, even of joy, and at other times foreseeing the darkness of the experience and shrinking from it. At one of the stages of His approach to that event, and of His own inward acceptance of it, namely after the dismissal of Judas, this joyful anticipation was expressed by Him in language even of exultation—‘Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him’ (John 13:31). At another stage He speaks in quite a different manner, ‘Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour’ (John 12:27).

Dr. Maclaren has finely illustrated this alternation of feeling. ‘Like some great pillar elevated on a mountain, when the thunder-clouds fill the sky, it stands out grim and dark; and then, in a moment, the strong wind sweeps these away, and the sunlight smites it, and it shines out white and lustrous. With such swift alternations … to Jesus Christ the Cross was dark and the Cross was radiant’ (Last Sheaves, 27).

The Gethsemane experience was perhaps that in which our Lord felt most profoundly the dark and heavy pressure of the anticipation of the Cross. How dark and heavy that was appears in the ‘sweat as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground’ (Luke 22:44), in the ‘strong crying and tears’ (Hebrews 5:7), and perhaps as much in these words of His prayer, ‘if it be possible’—in His seeking a possibility of the cup passing from Him, although He had said long before, ‘The Son of man must be lifted up’ (John 3:14), and was to say soon after, ‘For this cause came I unto this hour’ (John 12:27). See, further, art. Agony.

J. Robertson.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Despondency'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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