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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII


Part IX


Part VII: How Did Jesus Die?

Chapter 2

Did the Lord Die of Heart Rupture?

     THE POWERS of the human body to survive physical injury are truly extraordinary. Crucifixion is one form of capital punishment which it is commonly believed the body can least sustain for any length of time. And when it is preceded by scourging and other insults to the body, and by a period of tremendous emotional stress, and when food and water have been denied, and when, in addition to these things, the body is secured to the cross not only with ropes as was common but with nails driven through the feet and hands, then it is hard to believe that a human being could long survive the ordeal. And yet, amazing though it may seem, the simple fact is that men have lingered for days and, upon a few extraordinary occasions, have been taken down and have recovered from the ordeal.
     As a matter of fact, part of the very ignominy of this particular form of capital punishment was due to the long process of dying. It is not without significance, therefore, that it is said of the Lord that He not only "endured the Cross," but that He "despised its shame" (Hebrews 12:2). And it is most important to realize that He need not have "endured" at all, for He could easily have dismissed His life far sooner than He did. Because He had the power to lay down His life at will (John 10:l8), Jesus could, had He wished to do so, have terminated life at once without lingering indefinitely, for He was not subject to natural death as we are, but made after the power of an endless life (Hebrews 7:16), and no man had the power to take His life from Him. The point here is that Jesus remained alive on the Cross as long as He did in order to fulfill certain requirements prerequisite to our redemption. We shall return to this circumstance subsequently. In the meantime, it is important to realize that no other form

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of capital punishment, such as might have been employed by the Roman authorities (drowning, poisoning, beheading, strangling, and so forth) would have provided the stage upon which this divine drama could be enacted. Crucifixion was the required form of punishment for the fulfillment of God's purposes. As we have already said, the Lord died on the Cross, but not because of it.
     Although we can certainly assume that the Lord could have sustained Himself indefinitely on the Cross, such an event would have been a miracle from the physiological point of view. But it is also true that His dying so soon was equally exceptional, and it will be useful to review in this connection some of the known cases of prolonged survival on a cross, and even of recovery when removed after several days. For much of the following information I am indebted to William Stroud, M.D.
     In 1617 Jacobus Bosius published a work in Antwerp entitled Crux Triumphans et Gloriosa (The Cross Triumphant and Glorious) in which he told of the crucifixion of the apostle Andrew who is said to have lived on the cross for two days.
(4) He referred also to the crucifixion of Victor, Bishop of Amiterna, who although crucified with his head down, a circumstance most unfavourable to the continuance of life, survived in like manner for two days. Bosius noted that according to Origen and other early Fathers this seems to have been commonly the period of survival when death was not hastened by other means.
    Bosius also repeated the well-known story of Timotheus and Maura, a married couple who suffered in the year A.D. 286 during the Diocletian persecution. After being horribly tortured, these two godly souls were crucified together and according to many dependable witnesses actually survived nine days while mutually exhorting each other in the faith, expiring on the tenth day. Stroud rightly observes that this may well be an exaggeration, nevertheless there are many accounts of people surviving for two or more days.
     In the year A.D. 297, by the order of Emperor Maximian, seven Christians at Samosata were subjected to various tortures and then crucified. According to Alban Butler,

3. Stroud, William, M. D., The Physical Cause of the Death of Christ, Appleton, New York , 422 pp. Most of the quotations in this chapter are from Dr. Stroud, but the full documentation of the original is given as far as possible. This is not to create the impression that we have done the research involved from original sources, but to provide the reader with a source which could conceivably be accessible to him where Stroud's work is not.
4. Bosius, Jacobus, Crux Triumphans et Gloriosa, Antwerp, 1617, pp.8, 9, 43, 47, 94, 112-115.
5. Butler, Alban, Lives of the Fathers, 12 vols., London, 1812-1815, vol.6, p.251-252.

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     Hipparchus [one of them], a venerable old man, died on the cross in a short time. James, Romanus, and Lollianus, expired the next day being stabbed by the soldiers while they hung on their crosses. Philotheus, Habibus and Paragrus, were taken down from their crosses while they were still alive. The emperor being informed that they were alive, commanded large nails to be driven into their heads -- by which they were at length dispatched.

     There are a number of cases in which men were cruelly tortured, and then crucified head down, yet surviving for 24 hours or more.
     Much more recently, a Captain Clapperton reported on capital punishment in the Sudan in the year 1824.
(6) He speaks of beheading as being reserved for Mohammedans, and impaling and crucifixion for "unbelievers." He states that he was told, merely as a matter of curiosity, that these poor wretches who are crucified generally linger for three days before death puts an end to their sufferings.
     Impaling was, if anything, an even more horrid form of capital punishment, a punishment not infrequently used even in modern times by the Turks. In this, the condemned man may be thrown from some height onto a sharpened stake. Dr. Stroud found a report by H. Maundrell who, while travelling in the Middle East, was actually a witness on one such occasion.
(7) It is almost unbelievable, yet these are his words: "The criminal 'sitting' on the stake remained not only still alive but drank, smoked, and talked as one perfectly sensible, and thus continued for some 24 hours." But, he remarks, generally after the tortured wretch has remained in this deplorable and ignominious posture an hour or two, one of the bystanders is permitted to give him a "gracious stab to the heart" to put an end to his inexpressible misery.
     Referring to numerous executions which took place in Constantinople in 1829, a Mr. A. Slade wrote:
(8) "In many shapes death triumphed during this terrible fortnight. Two wretches, convicted of attempting to fire the new seraglio at Beglerbey on the Bosporus, were impaled; one still breathed on the following day." Dr. Stroud even referred to one man who survived so long that birds were beginning to peck out his eyes before he was dead, he being unable to protect himself. (9) He also mentioned another report by a Bishop Wiseman, written in 1828, in which a young man possessed of great physical strength was crucified under the walls of Damascus for murdering his master. The Bishop reported that though he was

6. Clapperton, Capt., in Denham and Clapperton, Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa, London, 1926, p.107: Clapperton's narrative.
7. Maundrell, H., Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem, London, 1810, p.189f.
8. Slade, Adolphus, Records of Travel in Turkey and Greece, vol.1, London, 1883, p.447.
9. Stroud, William, ref.3, p.60.

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nailed to the cross in hands and arms and feet, he remained alive from midday on Friday to the same hour on Sunday. (10)
     Stroud also mentions an extraordinary case where a man, moved by religious impulse, attempted to commit suicide by crucifying himself. He was 46 years of age, a native of Venice and had succeeded in nailing his feet and one hand to the cross. He was unable to complete the crucifixion, of course, but hung in this position, equally unable to undo what he had done. He was taken down by some passerby and subsequently died in a lunatic asylum, approximately one year later.
     Although Stroud's work is long out of print and hard to obtain, the reader will find in it many illustrations with full documentation of the fact that crucifixion does not normally bring a quick end to the sufferer, even after the condemned man has suffered the most terrible mutilations. Men have been broken on the wheel, stretched on the rack, hung by their thumbs, and even partially burned, and after all this, been crucified and yet survived for many hours on the cross. Some cases have even been reported from the Far East during World War II.
     It is not surprising, then, that Pilate found it difficult to believe that Jesus had died so soon (Mark 15:44,45). I am convinced that the cause of Jesus' death was not crucifixion per se, though certainly it was the object of those who were responsible that this was what should happen. The Jewish people, as well as Pilate and the Roman authorities, were quite aware of the recognized Jewish law that no one should be allowed to hang on the cross after six o'clock in the evening of that particular day since the following day was a holy day. Unlike with ourselves, the Jewish day begins at six o'clock in the evening. It was therefore necessary to insure death before that time, and for this reason the Roman soldiers took steps to guarantee that all three condemned men would die very shortly. Breaking the legs of the two other men had the effect, presumably, of putting all the strain on the arms and on the chest muscles so that suffocation would soon put an end to life. I think it is noteworthy that those responsible for this unpleasant task of hastening death did not move along the line, as might have been more natural, but left Jesus till the last as though they were afraid to touch His body. Perhaps it was with some genuine relief that they found Him already dead, for there can hardly be any doubt that the common man who had no reason for religious

10. Wiseman, Bishop, Twelve Lectures on the Connection Between Science and Religion, vol.I, London, 1836, pp.265f.
11. Stroud, William; ref.3., p.338.

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hostility must have looked upon Jesus with respect. But one of those in a position of higher authority, fully persuaded that Jesus was dead, seems to have felt that he would not be fully performing his duty unless he made absolutely sure. We are told that he plunged his spear into Jesus' side, apparently penetrating just under the rib cage which would be a prominent feature in the circumstances, intending thereby to effect a heart wound.
     The result must have been somewhat unexpected. As far as the centurion was concerned, he had probably performed this particular duty on a number of occasions previously and he would therefore be aware of the fact that under normal circumstances a corpse does not bleed. From a physiological point of view, the body of the Lord was now simply a corpse, but when the centurion's spear penetrated, we are told that "there came out blood and water" (John 19:34). The situation was an exceptional one and bears examination.
      As medical knowledge has increased, it has come to be believed by a number of commentators that only one circumstance could account for the flow of blood and water from a corpse wounded in this way: namely, a ruptured heart. "Heart break" is considered by most people to be more psychological than physiological, a subject more worthy of poetry rather than medicine. The fact is, however, that the phenomenon has been observed on a number of occasions, and it is now apparent that the heart may rupture without always causing the immediate death of the victim. Indeed, there may be a delay of many hours. We shall consider the evidence for this below.
     In the circumstances surrounding the Lord's final hours of suffering it is not at all surprising that His heart should have been broken, and the question which has to be asked is, Do we have any clear indications as to whether this occurred on the Cross or some hours before? This is an important question: but there is another one of equal importance, namely, Was this the cause of His death; Was this the reason that He was so soon dead? I think there is evidence which allows us to determine with some measure of certainty when the rupture of His heart actually occurred, and I think that a careful analysis of the original terms used in describing the unusual circumstances of His expiration allow us to say with some measure of assurance that heart break was not the immediate cause of His death. He died with a ruptured heart, and not because of it; just, as we have already seen, He died on the Cross, but not because of it.
     Let us examine some aspects of heart rupture as a physiological phenomenon in general, and as one circumstance involved in the sufferings of our Lord. It should be noted, in passing, that during the

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last century postmortems were much more common (at least in Europe) than they are today. For one thing, in those days it was not necessary to obtain permission either beforehand from the deceased or afterwards from the nearest of kin. Today it is, and as a consequence it is far less often carried out. Thus although instances of heart rupture in circumstances such as those considered below may, in fact, be more frequent than present literature indicates, they are not recognized as such. In many of the cases which follow, heart rupture was reported because postmortems had been carried out.
     Heart rupture may occur in response to either great agony of soul or great joy. In the latter case it may be that rather than joy it is an experience of tremendous relief which overwhelms the heart. Dr. Stroud referred to a lady who, being suddenly told of the return of her son from the Indies, a return which she had feared would never occur, was so overwhelmed that she suffered a rupture of the heart which proved fatal. He referred in the same place to another lady who was so extremely affected with sorrow at the departure of her son for Turkey that she died suddenly at the very moment she was about to withdraw her hand from the parting farewell.
     Historians present us with many instances of the fatal effects of excess joy, but the circumstances often reveal that it was relief from great anxiety which really overwhelmed the individual's emotional system. Pliny, for example, informed us that Chilo, the Lacedemonian, died upon hearing that his son had gained a prize in the Olympic Games.
(13) Valerius Maximus has told us that Sophocles, the tragic writer, in a contest of honour, died in consequence of a decision being pronounced in his favour. (14) Alus Gellius mentioned a remarkable example in the sudden death of Diagoras, whose three sons were crowned the same day as victors in the Olympic Games, the one as a pugilist, the second as a wrestler, and the third in both capacities. (15) Livy also mentioned the case of an aged mother who, while she was in the depths of distress from the tidings of her son having been slain in battle, died in his arms from excess of joy on his safe return. (16) According to Dr. Thomas Cogan, all these are probably examples of rupture due to emotion. (17) We do not, of course, have any positive proof, since no autopsy was reported in any of these

12. Ibid., p.93.
13. Gaius Pliny, Book 7, "Man," section 7.
14. Valerius Maximus, ix.12.
15. Alus Gellius (A.D. 130-180), Noctes Atecae, iii. 15.
16. Titus Livius, History of Rome, xxii.7.
17. Cogan, Thomas, M.D., Philosophical Treatises on the Passions, Bath, 1802, pp.285, 363, 364.

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cases. On the other hand, J. G. Zimmermann noted that Philip V of Spain died suddenly on being told that the Spaniards had been defeated; and an autopsy showed that his heart had ruptured. (18)
     According to Stroud, a Dr. Hope in a work published in London in 1839 entitled On the Diseases of the Heart and Great Vessels, stated, "Rupture of the heart or great vessels into the pericardium is not always immediately fatal, as a solid coagulum or a fibrinous concretum has in several instances been known to arrest the hemorrhage for a few hours. Of the ten cases mentioned by one authority, eight died instantly, one in about two hours, and another in fourteen hours."
(19) Stroud also mentioned a case recorded by a German physician, Dr. Daniel Fischer, who wrote as follows: (20)

     A gentleman, aged 68, and apparently possessing every claim to longevity, was, after having spent many years at court, compelled to quit it and retire to a country residence. . . .  Toward the close of life his attention was occupied by an unpleasant business, which, as interfering with the indulgence of his propensity for solitude, had the effect of aggravating his melancholy. . . .  On the 16th of October, 1817, he was seized, while walking, with a severe pain, which he supposed to be cramp at the stomach. The pain, after returning repeatedly, attended with violent agitation and agony, proved fatal on the evening of the 20th (i.e., four days later). On examination of the body 18 hours after death, the only morbid condition of any importance was rupture of the heart. On puncturing the pericardium, which had the appearance of being distended by a substance of a dark blue colour, a quantity of reddish fluid escaped, and afterwards florid blood to the amount of two or three pounds. The membrane was then slit up, and the heart was found to be surrounded by a coagulum more than three pounds in weight. When this was cleared away, a rupture was discovered in the left ventricle, which extended upwards from the apex about one and a half inches on the external surface. The internal wound was found to be about half an inch in length. . . .

     Owing to the smallness of the aperture, the fatal consequences of this rupture had evidently been protracted.
    A word is necessary about the probable course of events, considered purely from a physiological point of view, which lead to the actual rupture of the heart. According to Allan Burns in his Diseases of the Heart, this is what happens:

     The immediate cause is a sudden and violent contraction of one of the ventricles, usually the left, on the column of blood thrown into it by a similar

18. Zimmerman, J G., On Experience in Physic (translated from the German),vol.2, London, 1782, pp.268.
19. Hope, James, M.D., On Diseases of the Heart and Great Vessels, 3rd edition, London, 1839, p.198.
 20. Fischer, Daniel, M.D., "A Case of Rupture of the Heart," in The London Medical Repository, vol.11, p.422-427, vol.12, p.164-68.
21. Burns, Allan, On Diseases of the Heart, Edinburgh, 1809, p.181.

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contraction of the corresponding auricle. Prevented from returning backward by the intervening valve, and not finding sufficient outlet forward in the connecting artery, the blood reacts against the ventricle itself which is consequently torn open at the point of greatest distention, or least resistance. A quantity of blood is hereby discharged into the pericardium, and having no means of escape from that capsule, stops the circulation by compressing the heart from without and induces almost instantaneous death. In young and vigorous subjects, the blood thus collected in the pericardium soon divides into its constituent parts, namely, a pale watery liquid called serum, and a soft clotted substance of a deep red colour termed crassamentum.

      As pointed out by Krumbhaar and Crowell, (22) most cases of spontaneous rupture of the heart recorded in modern times are considered to be due primarily to coronary disease which has produced infarction and partial or complete aneurysm. Death is then said to be due to hemopericardium, i.e., effusion of blood into the pericardial sac. Karsner says that in hemopericardium from rupture of the heart wall, the intraventricular pressure is communicated directly to the pericardial sac. (23) This compresses intrapericardial pulmonary veins and also inhibits cardiac diastole. The result is usually rapidly fatal. When compression of the heart results from hemorrhage into the pericardium, usually occurring after rupture of the heart, it is referred to as cardiac tamponade.
     Conversation with some of my medical friends indicates that very little attention is given nowadays to the possibility of actual heart rupture as the result of great emotional stress. It is common enough to speak of heart failure or stroke, etc., but apparently actual rupture, except in cases of known disease or aneurysms, is not often recognized. More frequent autopsy might reveal that true heart break occurs more often than is supposed. It is a reflection of comparative medical disinterest in such a possibility that even Hans Selye of Montreal, one of the world's greatest authorities on human stress in any form, does not refer to heart rupture due to stress in his monumental annual reviews on the subject.
     Stroud gave many other similar case histories, and made frequent reference to the fact that if the rupture occurred a sufficient time before actual death the blood which leaked into the pericardium was found to have separated into a coagulum and a serious fluid. There is little doubt that this composite would have been referred to by a non-medical observer as "blood and water": in the Lord's case

22. Krumbhaar, E. B., and Crowell, C., "Spontaneous Rupture of the Heart, A Clinical Pathological Study, "American Journal of Medical Science, vol.170, 1928, p.828f.
23. Karsner, Howard T., Human Pathology, 6th edition, Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1938, p.379.

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the spear of the centurion, piercing the pericardium, allowed this blood and water to escape. This circumstance strongly suggests that heart break had not occurred immediately prior to the infliction of the wound but some time previously. And we are given in Scripture some intimation as to how long previously this rupture had actually taken place.
     We are told in Luke 22:44 that in the Lord's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane great drops of sweat were seen pouring down His face, with the appearance not of the normal watery fluid which comprises ordinary human sweat in times of stress but "as it were great drops of blood." Now, sweat water is drawn by the glands from the blood, and the blood is thereby concentrated. This filtrate from the blood is almost perfectly pure water. When sweating first breaks out, the fluid contains a number of substances including salt, but altogether these substances amount to less than one percent of the fluid which is otherwise pure water. Indeed, in a man acclimatized to the heat, the water expressed to the surface by the glands within a few minutes after the onset of sweating becomes the purest watery fluid in the whole body. However, under very great emotional stress accompanied by a marked rise in blood pressure, red blood cells may find their way into the glomerulus and the sweat then appears on the skin surface as "bloody."
      The appearance of coloured as opposed to clear watery sweat is referred to technically as chromidrosis. Shelley and Hurley in reviewing the subject, concluded that it is a function only of the sweat glands which are termed apocrine.
(24) The activity of these particular sweat glands is related to the emotional side of man's nature and does not normally relate to the mechanism whereby he maintains his body temperature. In the cases referred to by these authors, the coloured droplets were turbid and appeared at the follicular or hair openings in the axillary vault or armpit. They mentioned two cases. In the first, coloured sweat occurred in the armpit, a typical site for normal emotional sweating; but in the second of their two cases, chromidrosis appeared on the forehead. Although there is no evidence of apocrine glands in this area, there are eccrine glands there, which respond to mental or emotional stimuli as the apocrine glands in the armpit do. Sweating does indeed occur in the forehead in response to a rise in body temperature, but it also occurs in this area due to mental stress, to anxiety, to fear, and to other stimuli which

24. Shelley, W. B., and Hurley, H. J., "Methods of Exploring Human Apocrine Sweat Gland Physiology," Archive of Dermatatology and Syphilis, vol.66, 1952, p.156-161.

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per se have nothing to do with a rise in body temperature. Thus two distinct sweating mechanisms exist in this one area. It also happens that a similar situation exists in the palmar and plantar regions of the hands and feet. It is in these regions, therefore, that one might expect to find bloody sweat under great emotional or mental stress: namely, in the forehead, the palms, and the soles of the feet. Shelley and Hurley properly observed that the possible relationship of the phenomenon of chromidrosis to hysterical stigmata or localized hematidrosis ("bloody sweat") is worthy of wider exploration. And Rothman pointed out, (25) palmar "bleeding" was reported in the case of Theresa of Konnersreuth, an individual whose medical history was examined at some length by W. Kroner in 1927.
     Now and then one reads of similar cases in recent times, but I am not aware that any extended reports have been written on them. However, in his work on The Siberian Chukchee, Bogoras does note that a Shaman, or priest, when called upon by a "spirit" to go into a "proper state" of ecstasy for the performance of his ritual, may sweat blood if he resists the spirit. Instead of the proscribed behaviour he begins to act like a madman or an epileptic, and has to be forcibly restrained.
    Now Stroud referred to a number of works from the 16th to the 19th century in which are to be found case histories of men who, being condemned to death under unexpected circumstances, broke out into a bloody sweat.
(27) One young boy is referred to who, having taken part in a crime for which two of his elder brothers were hanged, was exposed to public view under the gallows at the time and was thereupon observed to sweat blood from his whole body. In a Commentary on the Four Gospels published in 1639 in Paris, Joannes Maldonatus referred to a robust and healthy man who had shortly before, on hearing of sentence of death passed upon him, been bathed in a bloody sweat. In 1743, J. Schenck, (28) in a work titled Medical Observations, referred to the case of a nun who, falling into the hands of soldiers threatening her with instant death, was so terrified that "she discharged blood from every part of her body and died of hemorrhage in the sight of her assailants." In 1800, S. A. D.

25. Rothman, Stephen, Physiology and Biochemistry of the Skin, University of Chicago Press, 1955, p.187.
26. Bogoras: quoted by Alexander Goldenweiser, Anthropology, Crofts, New York, 1945, p.251.
27. Stroud, William, ref.3, p.97.
28. Schenck, Joannes, Rarer Medical Observations (translation of Observ. Medicae Rariores), Book 3, Frankfort, 1609, p.458.

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Tissot, in a work on the nervous system, (29) referred to a sailor who was so alarmed by a storm that he collapsed, sweating blood from his face continuously throughout the whole storm. He mentioned that the bloody sweat renewed itself like ordinary sweat as fast as it was wiped away. Charles IX of France, a monarch of great cruelty but also great energy, both in mind and body, died of a similar cause in his 25th year. (30) According to Voltaire, he suffered fatal hemorrhage, the blood flowing from the pores of his skin. Voltaire noted that this malady was not without previous example, and he expressed the opinion that it is usually the result of either excessive fear or great passion. In his Histoire d'France, the historian de Mezeray referred to the same circumstance, noting that it was about the 8th of May, 1574. (31) He said that in his last illness near the end, Charles was found on one occasion "bathed in a bloody sweat." The blood need not reach the skin surface only by way of the sweat gland tubules, but directly through the skin itself, a phenomenon which is a special form of diapedesis.
     There has been some question about the veracity of this form of generalized cutaneous transpiration of blood, but the phenomenon has been referred to continuously from the time of Theophrastus, Aristotle, and Lucan right down to modern times, and it seems unlikely that all these reports are fabrications. That the sweat glands themselves are usually involved seems likely, because some of those who have experienced bloody sweat have reportedly noticed a tingling sensation in the skin immediately before the bloody sweat has showed on the surface. In our own laboratory where sweat measurements are made with highly sophisticated equipment that allows us to determine within one second when sweating is about to occur, we have found that after a few days most subjects on a treadmill are able to anticipate quite precisely when sweating is about to break out by an awareness of this overall tingling sensation.
      As already noted by Rothman, very powerful emotion associated with strong religious feelings may by some unknown psychomotor process lead to bleeding in the hands and feet, and sometimes on the forehead, a phenomenon which superstition has tried to link supernaturally with the wounds of the Lord. But it may in fact be related rather to the activity of a special class of eccrine sweat glands which, unlike the rest of the eccrine sweat glands in the body serving

29. Tissot, S. A. D., Traite des Nerfs, Avignon, 1800, pp.279, 280.
30. Voltaire, (F. M. Arouet), Complete Works, Basle, 1785, vol.18, p.531-532.
31. De Mezeray, Histoire d'France, vol.3, Paris, 1865, p.306.

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the purpose of the maintenance of body temperature by evaporative cooling, are related to what Walter Cannon so aptly termed "the fight or flight" reaction. These particular glands respond not to a rise in body temperature, but to a sudden increase in emotional stress. The response is, in fact, exceedingly specific and very prompt, and quite precisely related to the level of stress. As already noted, these glands are found in the forehead region and in the palmar and plantar regions.
     The great beads of sweat which appeared to those who were present like drops of blood falling from the Lord's forehead certainly indicate a tremendous emotional battle. I think that it would be quite wrong to attribute to the Lord a terrible fear of what was to be faced, but there is no question that He must have had a terrible horror. It is difficult to know with certainty exactly what He meant when He cried that the cup might pass from Him. But He must have been able to anticipate what it was going to mean to take upon Himself personal responsibility for all of man's terrible human wickedness, as though He Himself were the cause of it all. He must have known that He was being called upon to assume this burden not in some kind of "as if" way, but in actual fact so truly that even His Father would condemn Him as guilty and accountable. He could not dismiss His life, if He was to fulfill this task, until He had indeed assumed this responsibility. And for this reason He endured the Cross rather than escaping from it -- which He could easily have done by dismissing His spirit at any time, for He had the power to do so (John 10:18).
     I think there may be some justification in supposing that it was in the Garden of Gethesmane that the Lord's heart was ruptured, thereby allowing the blood which leaked from it to accumulate slowly in the pericardial sac. The centurion's spear subsequently punctured this sac and allowed the blood in its separated form to escape via the wound. In Psalm 69:20 these words seem to be prophetic: "Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none." Surely the second part of this utterance was as literally fulfilled as the first part, for in Mark 14:37 we are given a picture of what happened when the Lord did look for comfort from His companions. It is written, "And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour?" (Mark 14:37).
     The physical suffering which preceded and accompanied the Crucifixion, appalling though it was, can have been nothing really in

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comparison with the agony of soul that was to be faced on the Cross when the moment came for the Father to lay upon Him the iniquity of us all and, in the doing of it, to turn away from His beloved Son as One vile and condemned and unforgivable, for on what grounds could He have been forgiven? He bore our iniquity and paid our debt in full. In those terrible hours the Father condemned His Son as responsible for our wickedness, and His Son in the agony of His soul accepted full responsibility. His anguish allowed no accounting of the mere three hours marked off on our clocks.
     In times of extreme torture men have commonly stated that all sense of time is entirely lost, that in fact eternity takes over. The actual period of torture may be a matter only of seconds, but the interval is experienced as unending. While our clocks ticked over the minutes until they showed the passing of three hours, to the Lord Himself the period of torment under condemnation must undoubtedly have been experienced as an eternity, and because He was who He was, He must have known beforehand something of what the experience was going to entail. It is, therefore, all the more wonderful that during the first three hours on the Cross His thoughts were only for others, for the forgiveness of His tormentors, and for the care of His mother. Then judgment fell, and darkness.
     It was only after the darkness and judgment suddenly came to an end, and the horror and the loneliness were terminated as the sense of fellowship with His Father was restored, that He could cry exultingly, "It is finished" (John 19:30). Then, and then only, was He free to dismiss His spirit at will. But in the Garden of Gethsemane the agony in anticipation of all that was to come -- the trial, the mockery, and the desertion by His Father -- had already broken His heart. It was not the cause of His death, but it did accompany it. He died with a broken heart; and the centurion's spear became the instrument in the hand of God, which bore witness to the uniqueness of the Lord's death and to the ordeal which had preceded it.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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