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Hebrews 5:7

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Who in the days of his flesh - The time of his incarnation, during which he took all the infirmities of human nature upon him, and was afflicted in his body and human soul just as other men are, irregular and sinful passions excepted.

Offered up prayers and supplications - This is one of the most difficult places in this epistle, if not in the whole of the New Testament. The labors of learned men upon it have been prodigious; and even in their sayings it is hard to find the meaning.

I shall take a general view of this and the two following verses, and then examine the particular expressions.

It is probable that the apostle refers to something in the agony of our Lord, which the evangelists have not distinctly marked.

The Redeemer of the world appears here as simply man; but he is the representative of the whole human race. He must make expiation for sin by suffering, and he can suffer only as man. Suffering was as necessary as death; for man, because he has sinned, must suffer, and because he has broken the law, should die. Jesus took upon himself the nature of man, subject to all the trials and distresses of human nature. He is now making atonement; and he begins with sufferings, as sufferings commence with human life; and he terminates with death, as that is the end of human existence in this world. Though he was the Son of God, conceived and born without sin, or any thing that could render him liable to suffering or death, and only suffered and died through infinite condescension; yet, to constitute him a complete Savior, he must submit to whatever the law required; and therefore he is stated to have learned Obedience by the things which he suffered, Hebrews 5:8, that is, subjection to all the requisitions of the law; and being made perfect, that is, having finished the whole by dying, he, by these means, became the author of eternal salvation to all them who obey him, Hebrews 5:9; to them who, according to his own command, repent and believe the Gospel, and, under the influence of his Spirit, walk in holiness of life. "But he appears to be under the most dreadful apprehension of death; for he offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto him that was able to save him from death, Hebrews 5:7." I shall consider this first in the common point of view, and refer to the subsequent notes. This fear of death was in Christ a widely different thing from what it is in men; they fear death because of what lies beyond the grave; they have sinned, and they are afraid to meet their Judge. Jesus could have no fear on these grounds: he was now suffering for man, and he felt as their expiatory victim; and God only can tell, and perhaps neither men nor angels can conceive, how great the suffering and agony must be which, in the sight of infinite Justice, was requisite to make this atonement. Death, temporal and eternal, was the portion of man; and now Christ is to destroy death by agonizing and dying! The tortures and torments necessary to effect this destruction Jesus Christ alone could feel, Jesus Christ alone could sustain, Jesus Christ alone can comprehend. We are referred to them in this most solemn verse; but the apostle himself only drops hints, he does not attempt to explain them: he prayed; he supplicated with strong crying and tears; and he was heard in reference to that which he feared. His prayers, as our Mediator, were answered; and his sufferings and death were complete and effectual as our sacrifice. This is the glorious sum of what the apostle here states; and it is enough. We may hear it with awful respect; and adore him with silence whose grief had nothing common in it to that of other men, and is not to be estimated according to the measures of human miseries. It was: -

A weight of wo, more than whole worlds could bear.

I shall now make some remarks on particular expressions, and endeavor to show that the words may be understood with a shade of difference from the common acceptation.

Prayers and supplications, etc. - There may be an allusion here to the manner in which the Jews speak of prayer, etc. "Rabbi Yehudah said: All human things depend on repentance and the prayers which men make to the holy blessed God; especially if tears be poured out with the prayers. There is no gate which tears will not pass through." Sohar, Exod., fol. 5.

"There are three degrees of prayer, each surpassing the other in sublimity; prayer, crying, and tears: prayer is made in silence; crying, with a loud voice; but tears surpass all." Synops. Sohar, p. 33.

The apostle shows that Christ made every species of prayer, and those especially by which they allowed a man must be successful with his Maker.

The word ἱκετηριας, which we translate supplications, exists in no other part of the New Testament. Ἱκετης signifies a supplicant, from ἱκομαι, I come or approach; it is used in this connection by the purest Greek writers. Nearly the same words are found in Isocrates, De Pace: Ἱκετηριας πολλας και δεησεις ποιουμενοι . Making many supplications and prayers. Ἱκετηρια, says Suidas, καλειται ελαιας κλαδος, στεμματι εστεμμενος· - εστιν, ἡν οἱ δεομενοι κατατιθενται που, η μετα χειρας εχουσις· "Hiketeria is a branch of olive, rolled round with wool - is what suppliants were accustomed to deposite in some place, or to carry in their hands." And ἱκετης , hiketes, he defines to be, ὁ δουλοπρεπως παρακαλων, και δεομενος περι τινος ὁτουουν· "He who, in the most humble and servile manner, entreats and begs any thing from another." In reference to this custom the Latins used the phrase velamenta pratendere, "to hold forth these covered branches," when they made supplication; and Herodian calls them ἱκετηριας θαλλους, "branches of supplication." Livy mentions the custom frequently; see lib. xxv. cap. 25: lib. xxix. c. 16; lib. xxxv. c. 34; lib. xxxvi. c. 20. The place in lib. xxix. c. 16, is much to the point, and shows us the full force of the word, and nature of the custom. "Decem legati Locrensium, obsiti squalore et sordibus, in comitio sedentibus consulibus velamenta supplicium, ramos oleae (ut Graecis mos est), porrigentes, ante tribunal cum flebili vociferatione humi procubuerunt." "Ten delegates from the Locrians, squalid and covered with rags, came into the hall where the consuls were sitting, holding out in their hands olive branches covered with wool, according to the custom of the Greeks; and prostrated themselves on the ground before the tribunal, with weeping and loud lamentation." This is a remarkable case, and may well illustrate our Lord's situation and conduct. The Locrians, pillaged, oppressed, and ruined by the consul, Q. Plemmius, send their delegates to the Roman government to implore protection and redress they, the better to represent their situation, and that of their oppressed fellow citizens, take the hiketeria, or olive branch wrapped round with wool, and present themselves before the consuls in open court, and with wailing and loud outcries make known their situation. The senate heard, arrested Plemmius, loaded him with chains, and he expired in a dungeon. Jesus Christ, the representative of and delegate from the whole human race, oppressed and ruined by Satan and sin, with the hiketeria, or ensign of a most distressed suppliant, presents himself before the throne of God, with strong crying and tears, and prays against death and his ravages, in behalf of those whose representative he was; and he was heard in that he feared - the evils were removed, and the oppressor cast down. Satan was bound, he was spoiled of his dominion, and is reserved in chains of darkness to the judgment of the great day.

Every scholar will see that the words of the Roman historian answer exactly to those of the apostle; and the allusion in both is to the same custom. I do not approve of allegorizing or spiritualizing; but the allusion and similarity of the expressions led me to make this application. Many others would make more of this circumstance, as the allusion in the text is so pointed to this custom. Should it appear to any of my readers that I should, after the example of great names, have gone into this house of Rimmon, and bowed myself there, they will pardon their servant in this thing.

To save him from death - I have already observed that Jesus Christ was the representative of the human race; and have made some observations on the peculiarity of his sufferings, following the common acceptation of the words in the text, which things are true, howsoever the text may be interpreted. But here we may consider the pronoun αυτον, him, as implying the collective body of mankind; the children who were partakers of flesh and blood, Hebrews 2:14; the seed of Abraham, Hebrews 2:16, who through fear of death were all their life subject to bondage. So he made supplication with strong crying and tears to him who was able to save Them from death; for I consider the τουτους, them, of Hebrews 2:15, the same or implying the same thing as αυτον, him, in this verse; and, thus understood, all the difficulty vanishes away. On this interpretation I shall give a paraphrase of the whole verse: Jesus Christ, in the days of his flesh, (for he was incarnated that he might redeem the seed of Abraham, the fallen race of man), and in his expiatory sufferings, when representing the whole human race, offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, to him who was able to save Them from death: the intercession was prevalent, the passion and sacrifice were accepted, the sting of death was extracted, and Satan was dethroned.

If it should be objected that this interpretation occasions a very unnatural change of person in these verses, I may reply that the change made by my construction is not greater than that made between Hebrews 5:6; and Hebrews 5:7; in the first of which the apostle speaks of Melchisedec, who at the conclusion of the verse appears to be antecedent to the relative who in Hebrews 5:7; and yet, from the nature of the subject, we must understand Christ to be meant. And I consider, Hebrews 5:8, Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered, as belonging, not only to Christ considered in his human nature, but also to him in his collective capacity; i.e., belonging to all the sons and daughters of God, who, by means of suffering and various chastisements, learn submission, obedience and righteousness; and this very subject the apostle treats in considerable detail in Hebrews 12:2-11; (note), to which the reader will do well to refer.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Who - That is, the Lord Jesus - for so the connection demands. The object of this verse and the two following is, to show that the Lord Jesus had that qualification for the office of priest to which he had referred in Hebrews 5:2. It was one important qualification for that office that he who sustained it should be able to show compassion, to aid those that were out of the way, and to sympathize with sufferers; in other words, they were themselves encompassed with infirmity, and thus were able to succour those who were subjected to trials. The apostle shows now that the Lord Jesus had those qualifications, as far as it was possible for one to have them who had no sin. In the days of his flesh he suffered intensely; he prayed with fervor; he placed himself in a situation where he learned subjection and obedience by his trials; and in all this he went far beyond what had been evinced by the priests under the ancient dispensation.

In the days of his flesh - When he appeared on earth as a man. Flesh is used to denote human nature, and especially human nature as susceptible of suffering. The Son of God still is united to human nature, but it is human nature glorified, for in his case, as in all others, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” 1 Corinthians 15:50. He has now a glorified body Philemon 3:21, such as the redeemed will have in the future world; compare Revelation 1:13-17. The phrase “days of his flesh,” means the “time” when he was incarnate, or when he lived on earth in human form. The particular time here referred to, evidently, was the agony in the garden of Gethsemane.

Prayers and supplications - These words are often used to denote the same thing. If there is a difference, the former - δεήσεις deēseis- means petitions which arise “from a sense of need” - from δέομαι deomai- “to want, to need;” the latter refers usually to supplication “for protection,” and is applicable to one who under a sense of guilt flees to an altar with the symbols of supplication in his hand. Suppliants in such cases often carried an olive-branch as an emblem of the peace which they sought. A fact is mentioned by Livy respecting the Locrians that may illustrate this passage. “Ten delegates from the Locrians, squalid and covered with rags, came into the hall where the consuls were sitting, extending the badges of suppliants - olive-branches - according to the custom of the Greeks; and prostrated themselves on the ground before the tribunal, with a lamentable cry;” Lib. xxix. 100:16. The particular idea in the word used here - ἱκετηρία hiketēria- is petition for “protection, help,” or “shelter” (Passow), and this idea accords well with the design of the passage. The Lord Jesus prayed as one who had “need,” and as one who desired “protection, shelter,” or “help.” The words here, therefore, do not mean the same thing, and are not merely intensive, but they refer to distinct purposes which the Redeemer had in his prayers. He was about to die, and as a man needed the divine help; he was, probably, tempted in that dark hour (see the note, John 12:31), and he fled to God for “protection.”

With strong crying - This word does not mean “weeping,” as the word “crying” does familiarly with us. It rather means an outcry, the voice of wailing and lamentation. It is the cry for help of one who is deeply distressed, or in danger; and refers here to the “earnest petition” of the Saviour when in the agony of Gethsemane or when on the cross. It is the “intensity of the voice” which is referred to when it is raised by an agony of suffering; compare Luke 22:44, “He prayed more earnestly;” Matthew 27:46, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice - My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” see also Matthew 26:38-39; Matthew 27:50.

And tears - Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus John 11:35, and over Jerusalem; Luke 19:41. It is not expressly stated by the Evangelists that he “wept” in the garden of Gethsemane, but there is no reason to doubt that he did. In such an intense agony as to cause a bloody sweat, there is every probability that it would be accompanied with tears. We may remark then:

(1)That there is nothing “dishonorable” in tears and that man should not be ashamed on proper occasions to weep. The fact that the Son of God wept is a full demonstration that it is not disgraceful to weep. God has so made us as to express sympathy for others by tears. Religion does not make the heart insensible and hard as stoical philosophy does; it makes it tender and susceptible to impression.

(2)it is not “improper” to weep. The Son of God wept - and if he poured forth tears it cannot be wrong for us. Besides, it is a great law of our nature that in suffering we should find relief by tears. God would not have so made us if it had been wrong.

(3)the fact that the Son of God thus wept should be allowed deeply to effect our hearts.

“He wept that we might weep;

Each sin demands a tear.”

He wept that he might redeem us we should weep that our sins were so great as to demand such bitter woes for our salvation. That we had sinned; that our sins caused him such anguish; that he endured for us this bitter conflict, should make us weep. Tear should answer to tear, and sigh respond to sigh, and groan to groan, when we contemplate the sorrows of the Son of God in accomplishing our redemption. That man must have a hard heart who has never had an emotion when he has reflected that the Son of God wept, and bled, and died for him.

Unto him that was able - To God. He alone was able then to save. In such a conflict man could not aid, and the help of angels, ready as they were to assist him, could not sustain him. We may derive aid from man in trial; we may be comforted by sympathy and counsel; but there are sorrows where God only can uphold the sufferer. That God was “able” to uphold him in his severe conflict, the Redeemer could not doubt; nor need “we” doubt it in reference to ourselves when deep sorrows come over our souls.

To save him from death - It would seem from this, that what constituted the agony of the Redeemer was the dread of death, and that he prayed that he might be saved from that. This might be, so far as the language is concerned, either the dread of death on the spot by the intensity of his sufferings and by the power of the tempter, or it might be the dread of the approaching death on the cross. As the Redeemer, however, knew that he was to die on the cross, it can hardly be supposed that he apprehended death in the garden of Gethsemane. What he prayed for was, that, if it were possible, he might be spared from a death so painful as he apprehended; Matthew 26:39. Feeling that God had “power” to save him from that mode of dying, the burden of his petition was, that, if human redemption could be accomplished without such sufferings, it might please his Father to remove that cup from him.

And was heard - In John 11:42, the Saviour says,” I know that thou hearest me always.” In the garden of Gethsemane, he was heard. His prayer was not disregarded, though it was not” literally” answered. The cup of death was not taken away; but his prayer was not disregarded. What answer was given; what assurance or support was imparted to his soul, we are not informed. The case, however, shows us:

(1) That prayer may be heard even when the sufferings which are dreaded, and from which we prayed to be delivered, may come upon us. They may come with such assurances of divine favor, and such supports, as will be full proof that the prayer was not disregarded.

(2) that prayer offered in faith may not be always” literally answered.” No one can doubt that Jesus offered the prayer of faith; and it is as little to be doubted, if he referred in the prayer to the death on the cross, that it was not “literally” answered; compare Matthew 26:39. In like manner, it may occur now, that prayer shall be offered with every right feeling, and with an earnest desire for the object, which may not be literally answered. Christians, even in the highest exercise of faith, are not inspired to know what is best for them, and as long as this is the case, it is possible that they may ask for things which it would not be best to have granted. They who maintain that the prayer of faith is always literally answered, must hold that the Christian is under such a guidance of the Spirit of God that he cannot ask anything amiss; see the notes on 2 Corinthians 12:9.

In that he feared - Margin, “For his piety.” Coverdale, “Because he had God in honor.” Tyndale, “Because he had God in reverence.” Prof. Stuart renders it, “And was delivered from what he feared.” So also Doddridge. Whitby, “Was delivered from his fear.” Luther renders it, “And was heard for that he had God in reverence” - “dass er Gott in Ehren hatte.” Beza renders it, “His prayers being heard, he was delivered, from fear.” From this variety in translating the passage, it will be seen at once that it is attended with difficulty. The Greek is literally “from fear or reverence” - ἀπὸ της εὐλαβείας apo tēs eulabeiasThe word occurs in the New Testament only in one other place, Hebrews 12:28, where it is rendered “fear.” “Let us serve him with reverence and godly fear.” The word properly means “caution, circumspection;” then timidity, fear; then the fear of God, reverence, piety.

Where the most distinguished scholars have differed as to the meaning of a Greek phrase, it would be presumption in me to attempt to determine its sense. The most natural and obvious interpretation, however, as it seems to me, is, that it means that he was heard on account of his reverence for God; his profound veneration; his submission. Such was his piety that the prayer was “heard,” though it was not literally answered. A prayer may be “heard” and yet not literally answered; it may be acceptable to God, though it may not consist with his arrangements to bestow the very blessing that is sought. The posture of the mind of the Redeemer perhaps was something like this. He knew that he was about to be put to death in a most cruel manner. His tender and sensitive nature as a man shrank from such a death. As a man he went under the pressure of his great sorrows and pleaded that the cup might be removed, and that man might be redeemed by a less fearful scene of suffering.

That arrangement, however, could not be made. Yet the spirit which he evinced; the desire to do the will of God; the resignation, and the confidence in his Father which he evinced, were such as were acceptable in his sight. They showed that he had unconquerable virtue; that no power of temptation, and no prospect of the intensest woes which human nature could endure, could alienate him from piety. To show this was an object of inestimable value, and much as it cost the Saviour was worth it all. So now it is worth much to see what Christian piety can endure; what strong temptations it can resist; and what strength it has to hear up under accumulated woes; and even though the prayer of the pious sufferer is not directly answered, yet, that prayer is acceptable to God, and the result of such a trial is worth all that it costs.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
The High Priest must be a man, a partaker of our nature. This shows that man had sinned. For God would not suffer sinful man to come to him alone. But every one is welcome to God, that comes to him by this High Priest; and as we value acceptance with God, and pardon, we must apply by faith to this our great High Priest Christ Jesus, who can intercede for those that are out of the way of truth, duty, and happiness; one who has tenderness to lead them back from the by-paths of error, sin, and misery. Those only can expect assistance from God, and acceptance with him, and his presence and blessing on them and their services, that are called of God. This is applied to Christ. In the days of his flesh, Christ made himself subject to death: he hungered: he was a tempted, suffering, dying Jesus. Christ set an example, not only to pray, but to be fervent in prayer. How many dry prayers, how few wetted with tears, do we offer up to God! He was strengthened to support the immense weight of suffering laid upon him. There is no real deliverance from death but to be carried through it. He was raised and exalted, and to him was given the power of saving all sinners to the uttermost, who come unto God through him. Christ has left us an example that we should learn humble obedience to the will of God, by all our afflictions. We need affliction, to teach us submission. His obedience in our nature encourages our attempts to obey, and for us to expect support and comfort under all the temptations and sufferings to which we are exposed. Being made perfect for this great work, he is become the Author of eternal salvation to all that obey him. But are we of that number?
Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, 508

The Majesty of heaven, while engaged in His earthly ministry, prayed much to His Father. He was frequently bowed all night in prayer. His spirit was often sorrowful as He felt the powers of the darkness of this world, and He left the busy city and the noisy throng, to seek a retired place to make His intercessions. The Mount of Olives was the favorite resort of the Son of God for His devotions. Frequently after the multitude had left Him for the retirement of the night, He rested not, though weary with the labors of the day. In the Gospel of John we read: “And every man went unto his own house. Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives.” While the city was hushed in silence, and the disciples had returned to their homes to obtain refreshment in sleep, Jesus slept not. His divine pleadings were ascending to His Father from the Mount of Olives that His disciples might be kept from the evil influences which they would daily encounter in the world, and that His own soul might be strengthened and braced for the duties and trials of the coming day. All night, while His followers were sleeping, was their divine Teacher praying. The dew and frost of night fell upon His head bowed in prayer. His example is left for His followers. 2T 508.1

The Majesty of heaven, while engaged in His mission, was often in earnest prayer. He did not always visit Olivet, for His disciples had learned His favorite retreat, and often followed Him. He chose the stillness of night, when there would be no interruption. Jesus could heal the sick and raise the dead. He was Himself a source of blessing and strength. He commanded even the tempests, and they obeyed Him. He was unsullied with corruption, a stranger to sin; yet He prayed, and that often with strong crying and tears. He prayed for His disciples and for Himself, thus identifying Himself with our needs, our weaknesses, and our failings, which are so common with humanity. He was a mighty petitioner, not possessing the passions of our human, fallen natures, but compassed with like infirmities, tempted in all points even as we are. Jesus endured agony which required help and support from His Father. 2T 508.2

Christ is our example. Are the ministers of Christ tempted and fiercely buffeted by Satan? so also was He who knew no sin. He turned to His Father in these hours of distress. He came to earth that He might provide a way whereby we could find grace and strength to help in every time of need, by following His example in frequent, earnest prayer. If the ministers of Christ will imitate this pattern, they will be imbued with His spirit, and angels will minister unto them. 2T 509.1

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, 528

We must have a converted ministry. The efficiency and power attending a truly converted minister would make the hypocrites in Zion tremble and sinners afraid. The standard of truth and holiness is trailing in the dust. If those who sound the solemn notes of warning for this time could realize their accountability to God they would see the necessity for fervent prayer. When the cities were hushed in midnight slumber, when every man had gone to his own house, Christ, our Example, would repair to the Mount of Olives, and there, amid the overshadowing trees, would spend the entire night in prayer. He who was Himself without the taint of sin,—a treasure house of blessing; whose voice was heard in the fourth watch of the night by the terrified disciples upon the stormy sea, in heavenly benediction; and whose word could summon the dead from their graves,—He it was who made supplication with strong crying and tears. He prayed not for Himself, but for those whom He came to save. As He became a suppliant, seeking at the hand of His Father fresh supplies of strength, and coming forth refreshed and invigorated as man's substitute, He identified Himself with suffering humanity and gave them an example of the necessity of prayer. 4T 528.1

His nature was without the taint of sin. As the Son of man, He prayed to the Father, showing that human nature requires all the divine support which man can obtain that he may be braced for duty and prepared for trial. As the Prince of life He had power with God and prevailed for His people. This Saviour, who prayed for those that felt no need of prayer, and wept for those that felt no need of tears, is now before the throne, to receive and present to His Father the petitions of those for whom He prayed on earth. The example of Christ is for us to follow. Prayer is a necessity in our labor for the salvation of souls. God alone can give the increase of the seed we sow. 4T 528.2

We fail many times because we do not realize that Christ is with us by His Spirit as truly as when, in the days of His humiliation, He moved visibly upon the earth. The lapse of time has wrought no change in His parting promise to His apostles as He was taken up from them into heaven: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” He has ordained that there should be a succession of men who derive authority from the first teachers of the faith for the continual preaching of Christ and Him crucified. The Great Teacher has delegated power to His servants, who “have this treasure in earthen vessels.” Christ will superintend the work of His ambassadors if they wait for His instruction and guidance. 4T 529.1

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Ellen G. White
Education, 80-1

In every human being He discerned infinite possibilities. He saw men as they might be, transfigured by His grace—in “the beauty of the Lord our God.” Psalm 90:17. Looking upon them with hope, He inspired hope. Meeting them with confidence, He inspired trust. Revealing in Himself man's true ideal, He awakened, for its attainment, both desire and faith. In His presence souls despised and fallen realized that they still were men, and they longed to prove themselves worthy of His regard. In many a heart that seemed dead to all things holy, were awakened new impulses. To many a despairing one there opened the possibility of a new life. Ed 80.1

Christ bound them to His heart by the ties of love and devotion; and by the same ties He bound them to their fellow men. With Him love was life, and life was service. “Freely ye have received,” He said, “freely give.” Matthew 10:8. Ed 80.2

It was not on the cross only that Christ sacrificed Himself for humanity. As He “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), every day's experience was an outpouring of His life. In one way only could such a life be sustained. Jesus lived in dependence upon God and communion with Him. To the secret place of the Most High, under the shadow of the Almighty, men now and then repair; they abide for a season, and the result is manifest in noble deeds; then their faith fails, the communion is interrupted, and the lifework marred. But the life of Jesus was a life of constant trust, sustained by continual communion; and His service for heaven and earth was without failure or faltering. Ed 80.3

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Ellen G. White
The Desire of Ages, 419-20

This chapter is based on Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36.

Evening is drawing on as Jesus calls to His side three of His disciples, Peter, James, and John, and leads them across the fields, and far up a rugged path, to a lonely mountainside. The Saviour and His disciples have spent the day in traveling and teaching, and the mountain climb adds to their weariness. Christ has lifted burdens from mind and body of many sufferers; He has sent the thrill of life through their enfeebled frames; but He also is compassed with humanity, and with His disciples He is wearied with the ascent. DA 419.1

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