When we think of the cup that was placed before Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, we tend to think of it merely in terms of the wrath of God–since that is what the cup most clearly symbolizes in the writings of the OT prophets. While we would never dare reduce it to something less than this, there is certainly more intended by the sight of the cross. When Jesus looked into the cup He saw–from every dimension of His sufferings–all that He would suffer, both at the hands of men, Satan and God Himself. Isaac Ambrose captured so well the meaning of the cup when he set out what he believed to be the 6 ingredients that made it so burdensome a sight to the soul of the sinless Son of God:
“1. The great pain that he must endure, buffetings, whippings, bleedings, crucifying; all the torments from first to last throughout all his body; why, all these now came into his mind, and all these were put into a cup, of which he must drink.
2. The great shame that he must undergo; this was more than pain, as ‘a good name is better than precious ointment, and loving favor better than silver and gold,’ so is shame a greater punishment to the mind than any torture can be to the flesh. Now came into his thoughts, his apprehending, binding, judging, scorning, reviling, condemning! And oh, what a bloody blush comes into the face of Christ, while in the cup he sees these ingredients!
3. The neglect of men, notwithstanding both his pain and shame, I look upon this as a greater cut to the heart of Christ than both the former, when he considered that after all his sufferings and reproaches few would regard. O this was a bitter ingredient; naturally men desire, if they cannot be delivered, yet to be pitied: it is a kind of ease, even to find some regard among the sons of men; it shows that they wish us well, and that they would give us ease if they could; but, oh, when it comes to this, that a poor wretch is under many sufferings and great shame; and that he finds none so much as to regard all this: now, verily,’ it is a heavy case, and hence was Christ’s complaint, ” Have ye no regard, O all ye that pass by the way? Consider and behold, if ever there was sorrow like unto my sorrow, which was done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the days of his fierce anger,” Lam. 1:12, Christ complains not of the sharp pains he endured; but he complains of this, ‘Have ye no regard?’ He cries not out, ‘Oh deliver me and save me; but Oh, consider and regard me’ q.d. All that I suffer, I am contented with, I regard it not, only this troubles me, that you will not regard; why, it is for you that endure all this, and do you look so upon it, as-if nothing at all concerned you? Suppose a prince should pay some mighty price to redeem a slave from death, and the slave should grow so desperate, as after the price paid, to throw himself upon his death, yea, with all the strength and might he hath, to offer a death upon his very redeemer. Would not this trouble? Why, thus it was, Christ is willing to redeem us with his own precious blood, but he saw many to pass by without any regard, yea, ready to trample his precious blood under their feet; and to ‘account the blood of the covenant as an unholy thing,’ Heb. 10:29. Oh! this was another spear in the heart of Christ, or a bitter ingredient in this cup.
4. The guilt of sin which he was now to undergo; “upon him was laid the iniquity of us all,” Isa. 53:6. All the sins of all believers in the world, from the first creation to the last judgment, were laid on him: Oh! what a weight was this? Surely one sin is like a talent of lead; oh then, what were so many thousands of millions? The very earth itself groans under the weight of sin until this day; David cried out, That “his iniquities were a burden too heavy for him to bear,” Psalm 38:4. Nay, God himself complains, ‘Behold I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves,’ Amos 2:13, Now then no wonder, if Christ bearing all the sins of Jews and Gentiles, bond and free, cry out, ‘My soul is heavy,’ for sin was heavy on his soul, in that I say, all the sins of all believers were laid on Christ, understand me soberly; my meaning is not that believers’ sins were so laid on Christ, as that they ceased to be believers’ sins according to their physical, and real indwelling, but only that they were laid on Christ by law imputation, or by legal obligation to satisfactory punishment. I make a difference betwixt sin and the guilt of sin; for sin itself is macula, the blot, defilement, and blackness of sin, which I conceive is nothing but the absence and privation of that moral rectitude and righteousness which the law requires: but the guilt of sin is somewhat issuing from this blot and blackness, according to which the person is liable and obnoxious to eternal punishment. Some indeed give a distinction of the guilt of sin, there is reatus oulpae, tho guilt of sin as sin: and this is all one with sin, being the very essence, soul, and formal being of sin; they call it a fundamental or potential guilt; and there is reatus panae reatae, personae, reatus actualis, the guilt or obligation to punishment, the actual guilt, or actual obligation of the person who hath thus sinned to punishment; and this guilt is a thing far different from sin itself, and is separable from sin; yea, and is removed from sin in our justification. Now, this was the sin or guilt which was laid on Christ, in which sense the apostle speaks, ‘Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree,’ 1 Pet. 2:24. How bare our sins on the tree, hut by his sufferings?—’And he hath laid on him the iniquity of us all,’ Isa. 83:6.—How laid on him but by imputation?—’And he hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin,’ 2 Cor. 5:21. How made sin for us? Surely there was in Christ no fundamental guilt; no, no, but he was made sin by imputation and law account: he was our surety, and so our sins were laid upon him in order to punishment, as if now in the garden he had said to his Father, ‘Thou hast given me a body, as I have taken the debts and sins of all believers in the world upon me. Come now and arrest me, as the only pay-master; lo, here I am, to do and suffer for their sins whatsoever you please,’ Psalm 40:6,7,8. Heb. 10:4-9. Or as if he had said to his Father thus, ‘I am the sinner, O Father, I am the surety, all my friends’ wants, and all their debts, let them be laid on me; my life for their lives, my soul for their souls, my glory for their glory, my heaven for their heaven.’ Now, this was no small matter; little do we know or consider, what is the weight and guilt of sin. And this was another ingredient in Christ’s cup.
5. The power and malice of Satan; the devil had a full leave and license, not as it was with Job, ‘Do what thou wilt, Satan, but save his life;’ no, no, he had a commission without any such restriction or limitation: the whole power of darkness was let loose to use all his violence; and to afflict him as far as possibly he could; and this our Savior intimates, when he saith, ‘That the prince of this world cometh,’ John 14:30. Now was it that the word must be accomplished, ‘Thou shalt bruise his heel,’ Gen. 3:15. The devil could go no higher than the heel of Christ, but whatever he could do he was sure to do: he had been nibbling a great while at his heel; no sooner he was born, but he would have killed him, and after he fell fiercely on him in the wilderness: but now, all the power and all the malice of hell conjoins. If we look on the devil in respect of his evil nature, he is compared to a roaring lion; not only is he a lion, but a roaring lion, his disposition to do mischief is always wound up to the height; and if we look on the devil in respect of his power, there is no part of our souls or bodies that he cannot reach, the apostle describing his power, he gives him names above the highest comparisons, as ‘principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness above,’ Eph. 6:12. Devils are not only called princes, but principalities: not only mighty, but powers; not only rulers of a part, but of “all the darkness of all this world;” not only wicked spirits, but spiritual wickedness: not only about us but above us: they hang over our heads continually; you know what a disadvantage it is to have your enemy get the hill, the upper ground; and this they have naturally, and always. Oh then, what a combat must this be, when all the power and all the malice of all the devils in hell should (by the permission of God) arm themselves against the Son of God? Surely this was a bitter ingredient in Christ’s cup.
6. The wrath of God himself: this (above all) was the most bitter dreg; it lay in the bottom, and Christ must drink it also: ‘Oh! the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger;’ Lam. 1:12. God afflicts some in mercy, and some in anger; this was in his anger, and yet in his anger, God is not alike to all, some he afflicts in his more gentle and mild, others in his fierce anger: this was in the very fierceness of his anger. It is agreed upon by all divines, that now Christ saw himself bearing the sins of all believers, and standing before the judgment seat of God; to this end are those words, ‘Now is the judgment of this world, and the prince of this world shall be cast out,’ John 12:31. Now is the judgment of this world, q. d. Now I see God sitting in judgment upon the world; and as a right representative of all the world of believers, here I stand before his tribunal, ready to undergo all the punishments due to them for their sins; why, there is no other way to save their souls, and to satisfy justice, but that the fire of thy indignation should kindle against me; q. d. ‘O I know it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God;’ Oh I know God is a consuming fire: ‘who can stand before his indignation; and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him.’ Nah. 1:6. But for this end came I into the world; O my Father, I will drink this cup, lo here an open breast, come prepare the armory of thy wrath, and herein shoot all the arrows of revenge. And yet, O my Father, let me not be oppressed, subverted or swallowed up by thy wrath; let not thy displeasure continue longer than my patience or obedience can endure; there is in me flesh and blood in respect of my humanity; ‘and my flesh trembles for fear of thee, I am afraid of thy judgments: Oh! if it be possible, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.'”1
1. Isaac Ambrose Looking Unto Jesus (Pittsburgh: Luke Loomis & Co., 1832) pp. 339-342