“Go to Dark Gethsemane,” a traditional hymn of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, was written by James Montgomery. Montgomery was born in Scotland in 1771. He worked as a newspaper editor and wrote around 400 hymns and poems during his life. Another well-known hymn of his was “Angels from the Realms of Glory.” Though he supported various churches and Bible-based organizations, and wrote many hymns, he was not a minister. He did, however, have a great understanding and knowledge of Scripture, which is well-displayed in his hymns and poetry. He died in 1854, leaving his legacy as a well-loved and respected man.
The traditional tune used for the text of “Go to Dark Gethsemane” is the same for “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me.” The tune’s name is REDHEAD NO. 76, after its composer, Richard Redhead. It is also sometimes called PETRA because of its association with “Rock of Ages.” This tune was first coupled with the hymn in 1853. Redhead was born the same year that the original version of this hymn was published, and he died in 1901.
This is the first version, published in 1820:
1. “Go to dark Gethsemane, Ye that feel the tempter’s power; Your Redeemer’s conflict see; Watch with Him one bitter hour: Turn not from His griefs away; Learn from Him to watch and pray.
2. “See Him at the judgment-hall, Beaten, bound, reviled, arraign’d: See Him meekly bearing all! Love to man His soul sustain’d! Shun not suffering, shame or loss; Learn of Christ to bear the cross.
3. “Calvary’s mournful mountain view; There the Lord of Glory see, Made a sacrifice for you, Dying on the accursed tree: ‘It is finish’d,’ hear Him cry: Trust in Christ, and learn to die.
4. “Early to the tomb repair, Where they laid his breathless clay; Angels kept their vigils there: Who hath taken Him away? ‘Christ is risen!’ He seeks the skies; Saviour! teach us so to rise.”
In 1825, Montgomery published a second version, which most would recognize today. The first focuses more on the suffering of Christ, and the second, while still focusing on the final hours of Jesus before His sacrifice, also seeks to teach the singer to follow Christ’s example. The second version of the hymn uses more imperative verbs, not only leading the singer through the account, but also setting an example and command. Additionally, each stanza ends in a petition for us to “follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).
Go to dark Gethsemane,
You who feel the tempter’s pow’r;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see;
Watch with Him one bitter hour;
Turn not from His griefs away;
Learn of Jesus Christ to pray.
The hymn begins the journey immediately after the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Mat. 26:17-20). We are told to go and watch the journey of Jesus, beginning with Him and His disciples at the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane, which means “oil press” (Mat. 26:30 & 36). Here were are reminded of what suffering Jesus endured even before His Crucifixion – and He, knowing fully where He was going and what He would endure! – and praying to His Father in agony (Heb. 4:14-16, Mat. 26:26-46, Mar. 14:32-42, Luk. 22:39-46). As the disciples are implored to keep awake and pray, so are we, be that “bitter hour” Good Friday night, the times we pray in trouble, or every day of our lives (Luk. 11:1-4, 1 Thes. 5:17, Jas. 5:13). Let us not ignore or forget what He suffered, but remember and be thankful, praying to the Lord for His help.
Follow to the judgment hall;
View the Lord of life arraigned;
O the worm-wood and the gall!
O the pangs His soul sustained!
Shun not suff’ring, shame, or loss;
Learn of Him to bear the cross.
The hymn skips the betrayal and moves us straight to the judgement when our sinless Savior was questioned, though He remained silent (Mat. 26:57-67, 27:11-31, John 18:28-19:16). He knew the sacrifice that needed to be made for our sins so that we might be made righteous (Isa. 53:1-12, John 1:29, 1 Pet. 2:22-25). We need to watch and know how He took on our iniquities and was willing to die even though he was without sin. The hymn uses a word found in Revelation, but the “wormwood and the gall” is to describe the bitterness and ugliness of the Crucifixion in addition to the spiritual pain our Lord went through (Mat. 27:32-44, Rev. 8:11, Lam. 3:19). There is no better word than excruciating. Here we are implored and encouraged to not avoid suffering, but instead to learn from Christ how to endure suffering as Christians (1 Pet. 2:21, Mar. 8:34-37, Rom. 5:1-8, Heb. 5:8-9).
Calv’ry’s mournful mountain climb
There’ adoring at His feet,
Mark the miracle of time,
God’s own sacrifice complete:
“It is finished!” Hear Him cry;
Learn of Jesus Christ to die.
Finally, we make it to Calvary, Golgotha, where Christ made His redeeming act for our souls (John 3:16, 19:17-37, Mat. 27:45-54). While many there were mocking Him, we should be the ones at His feet adoring Him. Our sins were on Him and our souls redeemed with His blood. Without Him, we are truly dead; nothing but adoration should be in us for our Lord (1 Cor. 15:32, Eph. 2:1-10). It is Jesus Words that we quote when we say, “It is finished!” And what was finished, fulfilled? His promise from Creation: that God would die for the sins of many (Gen. 3:15, 1 John 2:2). This is the miracle of time. We too are to die to ourselves, to die to the sinful nature, that we might be made alive in Christ and gain the life that is truly life in Christ (Mat. 10:38-39, 16:24-26, Luk. 9:23, Rom. 6:11, 1 Pet. 3:18). We should follow Christ’s example in this matter: to put our Father’s will above our own (Phil. 2:5-11).
Early hasten to the tomb
Where they laid his breathless clay;
All is solitude and gloom;
Who hath taken Him away?
Christ is ris’n! He meets our eyes:
Savior, teach us so to rise.
Finally, we are brought to the last station, and this is the Resurrection! Though He died, was buried, and descended into Hell, He also rose again, as He promised, on the third day (John 2:19, Mat. 27:57-28-10, Luk. 23:50-24:49, John 19:28-20:31)! Though we are mournful on Good Friday, we can rejoice because He is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Why can we rejoice? Because death is not final and we will live forever with Him who saved us (Hos. 13:13, 1 cor. 15:20-22, 57). We also press on in faith and hope towards the goal to which Christ has called us (Phil. 3:12-21, Heb. 12:1-3).
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
~ Lamentations 3:19-26 ~
Blessings to you and yours,