(n. b. an 'oratory' is a private place of prayer)
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." Luke 11:1
"Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives." Luke 21:37
"And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain (in Galilee) to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God." Luke 6:12; Matt. 14:23
Then, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives. There he told them, "Pray that you will not be overcome by temptation." He walked away, about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine." Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. Luke 22:39-44
This would seem the appropriate place for viewing Olivet under one of its most interesting aspects--pondering one of the most fragrant of its memories--as the ORATORY of the Savior, the consecrated scene of His daily devotions. The "certain place" where He was "praying," spoken of in the first of these verses, immediately follows the account of His earliest recorded visit to Bethany, (Luke 10:38-42,)--as if, after leaving the hallowed home of Lazarus and his sisters, and before crossing the Kedron-gorge to Jerusalem, He retired to some well-known and frequented spot on the Mount of Olives, to get His holy human soul braced and strengthened for the duties and the trials of the day.
We are not, however, left to mere conjecture on the subject of the Savior's habitual devotions, and how, above all, He loved the solitude of the mountain, in order to hold prayerful communion with His Father in Heaven. It was so in northern Palestine, amid the scenes of His most frequent resort and unremitting labor. Those green, lonely hills, which belt the now desert and deserted Sea of Galilee, are still, to every devout mind, the remains of a nobler altar of Incense than ever was upreared in Tabernacle or Temple. For there Jesus, once and again, "went up into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God," (Luke 6:12.) When His disciples were tossed below on the stormy lake, He was watching, on His knees, their tempest-driven bark--"And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain by himself to pray and when the evening was come, He was there alone," (Matt. 14:23.) And when "in the fourth watch of the night He came to them walking on the sea," it was like the High Priest of their waning dispensation, coming forth from the Holy of Holies--from holding converse with the Infinite--to still their fears with His Heavenly benediction! (Num. 6:26.)
The eye wanders now in vain around the solitary mountains fringing the shores of Gennesaret, in quest of any one cherished height, which, more probably than others, formed the scene of these hallowed vigils. Their number and variety precludes any identification of the favored and favorite Oratory. But if it be so in Galilee around Tiberias and Capernaum--not so at Jerusalem. Even had the Evangelists given no indication of the "certain place," there is but one mountain near 'the city of the great King' where such retirement and seclusion was possible--that mount is the Mount of Olives.
There He "ofttimes resorted," (John 17:2.) "Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives." (Luke 22:39.) If few of these Olivet prayers have been recorded, we know at least two of them, one with strong probability, the other with certainty. The one is the model prayer of universal Christendom, the formula for His Church in all ages, the twice-taught Lord's Prayer--(Matt. 6:9; Luke 11:2,)--the other, of which we shall in a subsequent 'Memory' come to speak, is the prayer of the Agony--the prayer which left Gethsemane's green sod bedewed with drops of blood, as the exponent of the fierceness and intensity of that soul-struggle.
We have good reason to believe, that Olivet was to the devout Jews--citizens of Jerusalem--a frequent resort for devotion--that those sequestered hollows, now so bleak and bare, were once, not only studded with olive groves and orchards, but in many of them were to be found "oratories," buildings specially erected and employed for stated prayer. Is the surmise unlikely, that one of these, in the Garden of Gethsemane, was "the certain place"--the spot of "often resort"--which, when the mighty city, close by, was hushed in midnight silence, listened to the divine pleadings of the adorable Redeemer? If so, we can understand why it was, that, when "every man went unto his own house, Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives," (John 7:53, 8:1;) and that more than once, of that sacred retirement amid its overshadowing trees, He would say to His disciples, "Sit here, while I go and pray yonder." There is an Eastern tradition that the leaves of the palm-tree, as they quiver in the breeze, whisper the name of Jesus. It may be more truly said of the Gethsemane olive-leaves, that they have listened to His prayers.
And surely there is something touching and astonishing in the very statement of the fact, that Jesus prayed! He, as Immanuel, God in our nature; in Himself all-sufficient; a Treasure-house of every blessing; in whose arm omnipotence slumbered; whose voice could still the tempest and summon back from Hades the dead; above the requirements of necessity, as He was beyond the reach of sin; a stranger, moreover, to all those fierce corruptions which war against the souls of His people--yet, wondrous and affecting truth, the Savior prays! and that too, at times, "with strong crying and tears."
For observe, we are not at present regarding Him as He stands before us in His sublime high-priestly prayer in the 17th chapter of John; or as we think of Him, as He now is, at His Father's right hand, the pleading Intercessor, praying for others. We restrict our thoughts to the PERSONAL element, that He prayed for Himself. Let no one suppose that it savors of irreverence, or derogates from the glory and dignity of the adorable Redeemer, by thus so identifying Him with our poor weaknesses as to think of Him in the attitude of a Suppliant--a nightly Petitioner--seeking at the hand of His Father fresh supplies of strength, and coming forth invigorated and refreshed from His season of devout communion. All this only indicates, with a more beautiful and touching impressiveness, the reality of His humanity, and is fraught with lessons of precious consolation.
It tells--far more vividly than any doctrinal statement can do--that that kneeling Form, revealed by the moonbeams or bright eastern starlight amid the groves of Olivet, is indeed the Brother in our nature--compassed, not with like passions, but with like infirmities--"in all points tempted even as we are"--rising from His knees braced for duty, prepared for trial. As "the Son of man," prayer was a necessity of His humanity; moreover, as the sinless One, with a nature which not only had no affinity with evil, but an infinite recoil from it, there must have been struggles in a world of sin--an agony of endurance of which we can form no adequate conception, and which required, therefore, all the stronger divine supports and solaces.
And to pass to another view of these daily devotions--regarding them, not as a necessity but as a blessed PRIVILEGE--what comfort and joy must it have imparted, amid the coldness and thanklessness of an unfriendly world, to repair with filial love and confidence to unburden and unbosom into the ear of His Father the sorrows that were crushing His spirit; and to yield up His soul in reverential submission to the will of Him that sent Him? Condescending to pitch his tent amid human encampments, "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt (lit. tabernacled) among us," prayer was to Him, what the Elim-palms and fountains were to Israel of old--giving refreshment and shade in the midst of earth's bleak desert, "the dry and thirsty land where no water is." It was "the brook by the way," of which He drank; and which enabled Him, even when crossing to the hour of trial and conflict, to "lift up the head," (Ps. 110:7.)
Of this Pilgrim of pilgrims it could be truly said, with reference to these devotions, "Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also fills the pools," (Ps. 84:6.) As He went forth, evening after evening, from the din and turmoil, the sins and sorrows of the city, amid the glades of silent lonely Olivet--the door of earth shut and the gates of heaven unbarred--He could say, in a truer sense than the sorrow-stricken Singer of Israel, "As the deer pants after the water-brooks, so pants my soul after you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God!" (Pa 42:1, 2.)
But while thus carefully including the personal element in these prayers of the Great Pleader, yet neither must we overlook or omit the INTERCESSORY. This true "Prince," who had "power with God and prevailed" for Himself, prevailed also for His people. The true Covenant Angel of Revelation first filled the golden censer which He now waves with the "much incense" and "the prayers of all the saints" before the throne, amid the mountains of Galilee, or the dells of Olivet. There is a beautiful and striking verse, in which the Incarnate Savior is represented "morning by morning" as receiving a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit, His tongue touched anew with living fire--His Heavenly Father "waking Him" at early dawn from His slumbers, that, in that first hour--that 'Sabbath hour' of the day--He might have His lips and His soul replenished with words in season for the weary--"The Lord God has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary--he awakens morning by morning; he awakens my ear to hear as the learned," (Is. 50:4.)
It is interesting thus to think of Him in these morning hours--amid the silence and solitude of nature, bringing to the Ear that was ever attentive to the voice of His supplication, each individual case foreseen by His omniscient glance, of the weary and heavy-laden, the bereaved and desolate, the backsliding, the erring, the lost; and receiving balm-words of comfort--"words in season" suitable for each. It is interesting to think of the Great Shepherd thus "calling His own sheep by name"--calling not to them but for them; and thus "leading them out"--leading them out of trials and temptations, rescuing them from otherwise certain and irrecoverable falls.
Of this we have an pertinent illustration in the case of the wavering Peter--"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat--but I have prayed for YOU, that your faith fail not," (Luke 22:31, 32.) Peter stood the assault. His faith, severely shattered, remained unscathed. But how? May we not possibly trace the reason to one of these midnight or early morning prayers on Olivet, (the resort to which is specially spoken of in Luke's preceding chapter,) in which that unstable one--that "reed shaken with the wind"--may have been made the subject of Divine intercession?
And so also, may we suppose, in the case of other recipients of the Redeemer's grace and mercy. Who knows, but it was prayer on one of those lonely hills on the shores of Gennesaret, which led the Apostle Fishermen to abandon their homes at Bethsaida, or induced Matthew so readily to relinquish his receipt of custom, or impelled "the woman from the City"--the weariest of the weary--to rush, weeping and penitent, to the feet of the Great Restorer? Who knows but it was some prayer on the Perean mountains, that softened the heart of the exacting tax-gatherer of Jericho--brought Zaccheus down from his seat in the sycamore tree, to abandon forever his accursed gains, and to cast in his lot with the Prophet of Nazareth?
In His own final struggle in Gethsemane, (Himself now 'the Weary One,') may not the strengthening Angel have been sent in special answer to that agony of supplication? May not the thief on the cross--the last trophy of Redeeming love, before these lips of love were sealed in death--may not that repenting felon have been a trophy of prayer--his name included in that most sublime of Litanies shortly before uttered--"Father, I will that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which you have given me"? (John 17:24.)
No, farther, if any one of us have either been delivered from some strong overmastering temptation, or have had consolations administered to our weary sorrowing spirits in some hour of sore trial--is the thought too bold or too fanciful, that we may, in part at least, owe the deliverance or the solace to Christ's prayers on Olivet; that then and there, there may have been a tearful, sympathizing petition for us? His intercessions were not, like ours, limited to the present--the race of living contemporary men had no monopoly in His pleadings. To His omniscient eye the whole future was unveiled; and in that future, every heart history--the struggles and trials of each soul He had ransomed with His blood. Yes, that all-comprehensive glance may have included you who now trace these lines. These silent groves around Gethsemane may have listened once and again to that beautiful and comforting clause in His most fully recorded intercession--"Neither do I pray for these alone, but for them also who shall believe on me through their word," (John 17:20.)
Delightful thought, alike for the Church collectively and for believers individually. If there be "a Book of remembrance written, for those who feared the Lord and that thought upon His name;" and if, even in the case of His weak and erring children, "the Lord hearkens and hears," (Mal. 3:16,) how much more ready, surely, would that Almighty Listener be, to attend to the cry of this midnight Suppliant! How, we may imagine, would the Recording angel hover over these divine vigils, waiting with outspread wing to bear the intercessions up to "the Book of remembrance;" and when the first ray of early dawn was gilding the temple-pinnacles, saying, as of old to the wrestler of Jabbok, "Let me go, for the day breaks."
Oh, matchless, self-sacrificing, devoted love! Before His own great type in the skies had appeared over the mountains of Moab, He, the true Sun of Righteousness, had risen with healing in His beams; or rather, as the shadows of evening fell, inviting a weary world to repose, (and none, also, in that weary world more needing it than He,) this Heavenly King and Priest of His Church--His head wet with dew and His locks with the drops of the night--is heard exclaiming, "Until the day breaks, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense," (Sol. Song 4:6.)
I conclude with one practical view of the subject, suggested by the second verse which precedes this chapter. It is the beautiful union in the Savior's life of the active with the devotional. "In the day-time He was teaching in the Temple"--there is the active. "And at night He went out, and abode in the mount that is called the Mount of Olives"--there is the devotional element.
Looking at the first of these--His was a life of consecrated WORK. Not the existence of the dreamy contemplatist--sentimental pietism, mere saintliness, dissevered from duty. "My Father works hitherto, and I work," was His motto, His rule, His practice. "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish His work" "I must work the works of Him who sent me, while it is day--the night comes, when no man can work." Although, doubtless, breathing a constant atmosphere of prayer, maintaining unintermitted communion with Heaven, His public labors, during the twelve hours of the day, seem seldom to have been suspended in order to indulge in the refreshment of private devotion, far less of mere physical rest.
Once we read of Him saying to His disciples--as if conscious that a special emergency had occurred, in which both He and they required a pause for their over-tasked energies--"Come apart into a desert place, and rest a while," (Mark 6:31.) On another occasion, after a day of ceaseless toil, we find 'wearied nature' asserting her sway over that exhausted frame, and the Incarnate Redeemer lies with His head on 'a coil of ropes for His pillow,' fast asleep in the boat of the Bethsaida fishermen. But these exceptional seasons of constrained repose, only serve to bring out, in stronger relief, the ceaseless energies and activities of His holy being. How diversified these "day-labors!" In the Temple, in the street, on the wayside--by word, by parable, by miracle, by sympathy, by tears; restoring the sick, comforting the mourner, healing the deeper heart-wounds of sin; "who went about continually doing good."
Turn now to the other phase in this life of ideal perfection. The existence of Jesus was not all work. The active, was beautifully blended and intermingled with the DEVOTIONAL. The teaching "in the day-time in the Temple" had its sublime counterpart and complement, in the nightly devotions on "the mount called the Mount of Olives." Prayer, as we have already seen, was needed as much to refresh the soul of the Son of man, as repose was required to recruit and invigorate His body. He has set forever His own consecrated mark and seal on special times and seasons for devotion. Prayer sanctified every event in His public ministry, from the hour of its commencement at His baptism, until the dreadful moment at the close of all, when, on the breath of prayer, He yielded up the Spirit--"Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit."
And in this respect He stands before us, the all-perfect model and EXAMPLE for His people to imitate. Christians--those bearing His name--should, by some humble approximation at least, have the like combination--the one interlacing the other--of activity and devotion, work and worship. Maintaining their assigned and relative proportion, these should be, in the spiritual economy, what the perfect equipoise and adjustment of the two great forces is in the material world, by which the planets are retained in their courses and move in obedient harmony to their controlling central luminary; or, to employ another illustration, they should be, in the Christian life, what the two pillars, Jachin and Boaz, were to the Temple of old, "Beauty" and "Strength"--the strength for daily duty being derived from "worshiping the Lord in the beauty of holiness," (Ps. 29:2.)
The lamp must burn; but it must have the oil to feed it. On the other hand, the oil, good in itself, is worthless, if it be only treasured in vessels, stored unused in the soul's reservoir, and the lamp of life unlighted. This same truth--the composite character of the spiritual being is beautifully set forth in Isaiah's sublime Temple-vision of the seraphim--"Each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet," (Isa. 6:2) Four of these wings were thus in an attitude of holy rest, (emblem of the devotional,) covering face and feet. The remaining two were outstretched, plumed for flight, "With two he did fly"--(the equally significant symbol of activity)--telling that these reposeful worshipers were also "ministering spirits," employed in active embassies in the service of their Heavenly King.
And as if their Lord, moreover, too well knew that the Church and believers were readier for the active than for the devotional, readier for the Temple-work than for retirement to the Olivet of prayer, He gives the priority in the description, as well as the double proportion, to the latter element.
And is it not so? Take the case, first, of INDIVIDUALS. Is it not too true that many there are, ready to take the seraphs' outspread wings of service, who are not so ready to take the reposeful folding ones? We have sought to draw, in the preceding chapter, the distinctive features in the character of the two sisters at Bethany. Martha was one of earth's flying seraphim. In her character, there was an undue proportion at least, of the active and practical and bustling, compared with the meditative and devotional. She had the wings to fly, but not so beautifully as her sister Mary, the wings of restful love. We do not depreciate Martha's character--we would desire more such--who, instead of living and dying with wings collapsed, opportunities for usefulness guiltily neglected, speed, seraph-like, from place to place with the living embers of Christian activity.
But better, because rarer, are the Marys, who have begun with the devotional, and made that the foundation of their religious character and life. Train the wings to be folded at the foot of the mercy-seat--in other words, let religion begin in the heart, and be nurtured by daily prayer, and no fear of the flying pinions of consecrated energy. The love of God, shed abroad in the heart of "the burning ones," will irresistibly prompt and impel to holy duty. To the question, heard by the same prophet-spectator of the Seraphim-vision, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" the answer will sooner or later be given, by the lips touched with the live-coal, "Here am I, send me," (Isa. 6:8.)
And what is true of believers in their individual, is equally true of them in their COLLECTIVE capacity. The Church, in these days, needs no exhortation to follow her Lord "in the day-time" to the busy teaching in the Temple. "The Temple of the Lord--the Temple of the Lord are we!" is the too loudly vaunted watchword of this age of "bustling Christianity." No longer can it be said now, as of the suggestive silence which accompanied the erection of the great sanctuary on Mount Moriah, "There was neither hammer, nor axe, nor any tool of iron, heard in the house while it was in building," (1 Kings 6:7.) The modern temple-court is resonant with voice and footstep and noise of busy implements.
But does the Church follow her Lord with equal fidelity into the solitudes of Olivet? Or rather, does she not require to be reminded of the word addressed to another Kingly Temple-builder, "This is the word of God unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts"? (Zech. 4:6.) If she has reason to utter a plaintive lament over doctrinal defection, decaying zeal, languishing spirituality, the love of many waxing cold, efforts apparently unowned and unblest--if the heavens have become as brass, and the earth as iron--may not the reason only be too patent? may it not be, because, amid all the unabating activities of outer zeal in the cause of religion, (every implement wielded which ecclesiastical organization can employ to break up the fallow ground,) all is failure, because she has failed in employing the divine recipe, "Ask of the Lord rain, in the time of the latter rain; so the Lord shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain"? (Zech. 10:1.) Church of the living God! or, rather, individual members composing the Church--arise to a sense of your sublime prerogatives--the blessings in store for you, as you follow your divine Master's footsteps to the silent groves of Olivet!
Remember, moreover, that Olivet, while it was the scene of His devotions, was also the scene of His TEMPTATIONS. It was there, "the horror of great darkness" surrounded Him; there, the mysterious cup trembled in His hand; there, in the paroxysm of soul-anguish He lay prostrate on the cold earth! In a far humbler sense, the world of your every-day life is such an Olivet--a scene of temptation too. But the Tempted, yet victorious ONE, comes to you with the same injunction--the same thrice-repeated entreaty which He uttered of old to the faithless disciples--"Watch, and PRAY that you enter not into temptation."
It is Prayer which will convert the Olivet of temptation into a place and memorial of triumph. It should be a solemn thought to us all, that the time of watching and prayer--the vigil of earth--for each of us, must be short at the best. Oh forbid, that the footway to this hallowed resort on the Mount, should be grown over, owing to habitual neglect, with the thorn and the thistle--the noxious weeds of sin. Forbid, that at the last, a forgotten Savior should meet us with the upbraiding words of righteous irony, "Sleep on now, and take your rest"--as if He had said, 'This Olivet--this night-watch in the valley of tears--might have been characterized and glorified by noble soul-struggles and prayers. But the time for that is past--let us leave the place of inglorious slumber--let us cross the Kedron, and bid the earthly Olivet farewell forever--"Arise, let us be going!"' (Matt. 26:45, 46.)
Reader! "let us not sleep as do others; but let us watch and be sober." Let us "watch unto prayer." It was Prayer, in the depths of these Gethsemane olive-groves, which braced the Almighty Sufferer for treading His blood-stained path; and it is prayer which will best prepare us for the inevitable hour of trial, the long wearing sickness, the desolating bereavement, the crossing of the dark Kedron-brook, which severs one and all of us, from the Gates of the Heavenly Jerusalem. What motives, what encouragements He gives, to frequent the mercy-seat!
It was, we read, when praying at this "certain place," that, "when He had ceased," and when the disciples, (who had perhaps been privileged to share in His devotions,) put the question, "Teach us how to pray"--He summed up His answer with the following divine parable. We can do no more than transcribe it; but, spoken as it was, on this same occasion, it may appropriately conclude this 'memory of Olivet,' of which it is in truth itself a part–
Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this illustration, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' "Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:5-10.)