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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(ἀγωνία ), a word generally denoting contest, and especially the contests by wrestling, etc., in the public games; whence it is applied metaphorically to a severe struggle or conflict with pain and suffering (Robinson's Lex. of the N.T. s.v.). Agony is the actual struggle with present evil, and is thus distinguished from anguish, which arises from the reflection on evil that is past (Crabb's Eng. Synonymes, s.v.). In the New Testament the word is only used by Luke (20:44) to describe the fearful struggle which our Lord sustained in the garden of Gethsemane (q.v.). The circumstances of this mysterious transaction are recorded in Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 20:39-47; Hebrew 5:7, 8. Luke alone notices the agony, the bloody sweat, and the appearance of an angel from heaven strengthening him. Matthew and Mark alone record the change which appeared in his countenance and manner, the complaint which he uttered of the overpowering sorrows of his soul, and his repetition of the same prayer. (See BLOODY SWEAT). All agree that he prayed for the removal of what he called "this cup," and are careful to note that he qualified this earnest petition by a preference of his Father's will to his own; the question is, what does he mean by "this cup?" Doddridge and others think that he means the instant agony, the trouble that he then actually endured. But Dr. Mayer (of York, Pa.) argues (in the Am. Bibl. Repos. April 1841, p. 294-317), from John 18:11, that the cup respecting which he prayed was one that was then before him, which he had not yet taken up to drink, and which he desired, if possible, that the Father should remove. It could, therefore, be no other than the death which the Father had appointed for him — the death of the cross — with all the attending circumstances which aggravated its horror; that scene of woe which began with his arrest in the garden, and was consummated by his death on Calvary. Jesus had long been familiar with this prospect, and had looked to it as the appointed termination of his ministry (Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:9-12; Matthew 20:17; Matthew 20:19; Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:32-34; John 10:18; John 12:32-33). But when he looked forward to this destination, as the hour approached, a chill of horror sometimes came over him, and found expression in external signs of distress (John 12:27; comp. Luke 12:49-50). But on no occasion did he exhibit any very striking evidence of perplexity or anguish. He was usually calm and collected; and if at any time he gave utterance to feelings of distress and horror, he still preserved his self-possession, and quickly checked the desire which nature put forth to be spared so dreadful a death. It is, therefore, hardly to be supposed that the near approach of his sufferings, awful as they were, apart from every thing else, could alone have wrought so great a change in the mind of Jesus and in his whole demeanor, as soon as he had entered the garden. It is manifest that something more than the cross was now before him, and that he was now placed in a new and hitherto untried situation. Dr. Mayer says: "I have no hesitation in believing that he was here put upon the trial of his obedience. It was the purpose of God to subject the obedience of Jesus to a severe ordeal, in order that, like gold tried in the furnace, it might be an act of more perfect and illustrious virtue; and for this end he permitted him to be assailed by the fiercest temptation to disobey his will and to refuse the appointed cup. In pursuance of this purpose, the mind of Jesus was left to pass under a dark cloud, his views lost their clearness, the Father's will was shrouded in obscurity, the cross appeared in tenfold horror, and nature was left to indulge her feelings, and to put forth her reluctance." (See JESUS (CHRIST).)
Dr. Mayer admits that the sacred writers have not explained what that was, connected in the mind of Jesus with the death of the cross, which at this time excited in him so distressing a fear. "Pious and holy men have looked calmly upon death in its most terrific forms. But the pious and holy man has not had a world's salvation laid upon him; he has not been required to be absolutely perfect before God; he has known that, if he sinned, there was an advocate and a ransom for him. But nothing of this consolation could be presented to the mind of Jesus. He knew that he must die, as he had lived, without sin; but if the extremity of suffering should so far prevail as to provoke him into impatience or murmuring, or into a desire for revenge, this would be sin; and if he sinned, all would be lost, for there was no other Savior, In such considerations may probably be found the remote source of the agonies and fears which deepened the gloom of that dreadful night."
This, however, is not entirely satisfactory. Doubtless there was much of this obscuration of our Savior's mind, (See CRUCIFIXION); but it would appear to have had reference to another point, and one connected with his condition and circumstances at the time, rather than with any future act or consequences. The apostle's inspired remark in Hebrew 5:7, has not been sufficiently attended to by interpreters, "Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that [i.e. as to what] he feared." We are here distinctly informed, respecting this agony of Christ, that he was delivered from the object of dread, whatever it was; but this was not true in any sense of his future passion, which he suffered, and could not consistently have expected to have avoided, in its full extent. The mission of the angels, also, shows that some relief was administered to him on the spot: "There appeared an angel unto him from heaven strengthening him" (Luke 22:43). The strength imparted appears to have been physical, thus, as the passage in Hebrew intimates, saving him from the death which would otherwise have instantly supervened from the force of his emotions. This death Jesus was anxious to avoid just at that time; his work was not yet done, and the "cup" of sacrificial atonement would have been premature. His heavenly Father, in answer to his prayer, removed it for the time from his lips, by miraculously sustaining his bodily powers, and his mind soon recovered its usual tone of equanimity. The emotions themselves under which he labored were evidently the same as those that oppressed him while hanging on the cross, and on other occasions in a less degree, namely, a peculiar sense of abandonment by God. This distress and perplexity cannot be attributed to a mere dread of death in however horrid a form, without degrading Christ's magnanimity below heathen fortitude, and contradicting his usually calm allusions to that event, as well as his collected endurance of the crucifixion tortures. Neither can they well be attributed (as above) to any uncertainty as to whether he had thus far fulfilled the will of God perfectly, and would be enabled in any future emergency to fulfill it as perfectly, without a gratuitous contradiction of all his former experience, and statements, and assigning him a degree of faith unworthy of his character. The position thus assigned him is incompatible with every thing hitherto in his history. Some other explanation must be sought. The state of mind indicated in his expiring cry upon the cross, "My God, my God, why hast THOU forsaken me ?" seems to betray the secret ingredient that gave the atoning cup its poignant bitterness. This appears to have been the consciousness of enduring the frown of God in the place of sinful man; without which sense of the divine displeasure, by a temporary withholding of his benign complacency, personally experienced by the Redeemer, although in others' behalf, the full penalty of transgression could not have been paid. (See ATONEMENT). Jesus must suffer (in character) what the sinner would have suffered, and this with the concentrated intensity of a world's infinite guilt. The sacrifice of his human body could only have redeemed man's body; his soul's beclouded anguish alone could represent the sentence passed,upon men's souls. This view essentially agrees with that taken by Olshausen (Comment. in loc.).
See Posner, De sudore Chr. sanguineo (Jen. 1665); Bethem, id. (ib. 1697); Clota. De doloribus animae J. C. (Hamb. 1670); Hasseus, De Jesu patiente in horto (Brem. 1703); Hekel, Iter Christi trans Cedron (Cygn. 1676); Hoffman, Jesu anxietas ante mortem (Lips. 1830); Koepken, De Servatore dolente (Rost. 1723); Krackewitz, De Sponsoris animi doloribus (Rost. 1716); Lange, De Christi angoribus (Lips. 1666); Nitzsche, De horto Gethsemane (Viteb. 1750); Voetius, De agonia Christi, in his Disputt. Theol. 2, 164 sq.; Wolfflin, Christus agonizans (Tubing. 1668); Ziebich, In hist. Servatoris ἀγωνιζομένου (Viteb. 1744); Zorn, Opusc. 2, 530 sq., 300 sq.; Buddensieg, Matth. (in loc.) enarratus et defensus (Lips. 1818); Gurlitt, Explicatio (in loc.) Matth. (Magdeb. 1800); Schuster, in Eichhorn's Bibl. 9, 1012 sq.; Baumgarten, De precatione Ch. pro avertendo calice (Hal. 1785); Kraft, De Ch. calicem deprecante (Erlang. 1770); Neunhofer, De precibus Chr. Gethsemaniticis (Altenb. 1760); Quenstedt, De deprecatione calicis Christi (Viteb. 1675, and in Ikenii Thes. dispp. 2, 204 sq.); Scepseophilus, Christus in Gethsemane precans (Essl. 1743); Schmid, De Chr. calicem passionis deprecante (Lips. 1713); Nehring, De precatione Chr. pro avertendo calice (Hal. 1735); Cyprian, De sudariis Christi (Helmst. 1698, 1726, also in his Pent. Diss. 2); Gabler, Ueber d. Engel der Jesum gestarkt haben soil (in his Theol. Journ. 12, 109 sq.); Hilscher, De angelo luctante cum Christo (Lips. 1731); Huhn, De apparitione angeli Chr. confortantis (Lips. 1747); Pries, Modus confortationis angelicam illustratus (Rost. 1754); Rosa, Chr. in horto Geths. afflictissimus (Rudolphop. 1744); Carpzov, Spicileg. ad verba (in loc.) Luc. (Helmst. 1784); Bossuet, Reflexions sur l'agonie de J. C. (in his Euvres, 14, 240); Moore, The Nature and Causes of the Agony in the Garden (Lond. 1757); Mayer, De confortatione angelica agonizantis Jesu (Viteb. 1674, 1735).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Agony'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/a/agony.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.