Vinegar and Gall "They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink" (Matthew xxvii. verse 34)
Twice, on that fateful day, the day of crucifixion, was Jesus offered vinegar. Coming to Golgotha, they gave Him vinegar mingled with gall, and He would not drink. And again, while on the cross, vinegar alone was offered Him which He accepted. Why is this in the Word of God if it means nothing? And if it has meaning, what is it?
The only comment we need make perhaps of the historical circumstance is the fact that these drinks were offered on such occasions to deaden sensibility. Our need is to look beyond and within the record and to discern the spiritual truth unbodied in this way. We are to ask what is the meat and the drink of the Lord? Wheresoever among men there goes forth from the heart some pure affection towards another, some good purpose, or some service wrought in perfect love, there the Lord's Divine hunger finds satisfaction. The food He hungers for is that highest of all forms of worship man can give, goodness of will, the purpose of mercy and kindliness and charity. His drink, spiritually considered of course, is man's knowledge and understanding of Divine Truth. If we think of the Lord as He dwells immanent in His Church - as an inmost Divine Soul vivifying the universal body of the faithful on earth - can we not see how that Divine Soul is fed and refreshed as men increasingly do His Will and are enlightened and directed by His Word? His hungering and thirsting, while on earth, though they referred immediately to His purely natural needs, nevertheless were representative of a hunger and thirst Divine in character, a longing on the part of the Divine and Infinite Spirit for the perfect offerings and sacrifices of human hearts and minds. This is the spiritual principle underlying the old Mosaic laws of sacrifice - in no sense to be looked upon as spiritually meaningless. The corn, wine, and sacrificial animal which the faithful offered, typified the deeper, worthier, and more real offering of heart and mind - the things which the Lord longs forth - at rise to Him as a sweet savour and are acceptable to Him.
So when the Lord was offered vinegar and gall, He found something unacceptable to Him. When offered the vinegar alone, He drank. Now " wine ", as we know from the Sacrament of the Holy Supper, corresponds to the Divine Truth a " vinegar", a soured wine, is this truth falsified. " Gall ", spoken of in many parts of the Word is shown in the Writings of the Church to relate to evil. And a glance at the whole incident will reveal that these two things were precisely what the Jewish Church at that day were offering to God, while in reality they were rejecting God. They were offering Him vinegar mingled with gall - a falsified religion polluted with evil - the evil of pride, sensuality, selfishness, worldliness. And they offered Him, too, vinegar alone - a falsified religion in which was not evil, but good purpose, ignorance, error, spiritual darkness, but free from malicious purpose. These were the two offerings men made Him. Both types of men, in His day, offered up to God, for the Divine thirst, this vinegar in place of a true wine - this falsified religious thought, this ignorance of the true nature of the God who fashioned them. The Divine Word, the Divine Laws had been made of none effect. Truth was no longer being taught, the Word was wholly falsified. But with some, this falsity which directed their lives instead of truth, was but the falsity of ignorance, they knew no better. At heart they were innocent of malice and selfishness, and in their homes they joyfully received the Lord, offered Him shelter and supplied His needs. Others, as the Word declares, dwelt not thus in falsity of mere ignorance, but added evil to error, malice to a perverted religion, gall to vinegar.
Here are exemplified, in the correspondences of this incident, two types of men whose characters are analysed at great length and with impressive effect in the Writings of the Church. There can be error excusable and error culpable. Error excusable is sometimes called Gentile, for it is that falsity of thought and worship, that ignorance of mind which comes of being born beyond the Church, or of having lacked the means of hearing and understanding the truth of heaven. And that is why the Lord could so often speak with much favour of Gentiles, when yet the Jew met with His unqualified rebuke. " Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out". And why? Because the ignorance and error of the Gentile mind are not culpable - gall is not mingled with the vinegar offered for the thirst of God. How sane, how liberally minded, is that utterance of the Lord contrasted with the belief that the Jew only was saved - or to come nearer hometh - at those who do not accept the rites of this or that Church organisation are anathema. Ignorance and error are by no means pleasing to the Lord. He comes to open blind eyes - to be a light in darkness. He would have all minds rich with the clear apprehension of the Word He teaches. But perverted as our thought may be, wrong as our principles may be, false and crude and ignorant as our minds may be, so long as evil purpose and selfish lust and malicious intent do rot poison the poor cup we thus offer to Him, He will drink thereof. It is the gall He will not touch. We cannot hope for the Lord to accept us, if evil is part of our offering to Him. That element He will not take. All else He can accept, poor and unworthy as it is. But evil denies us His acceptance. That must first be cast out. If we approach Him in prayer or in worship, if we would gain His ear with any petition, howsoever urgent and vital to our needs, He will not accept that which is tainted with gall. His word still is " Put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes ", " Cease to do evil ", " Turn you from your evil ways ". It is the evils of our hearts that separate us from the Lord. His redemptive grace goes forth boundless in its measure to mankind. So ardent is His desire for the salvation of the race that He will accept the simple, the ignorant, the misled, those in the darkness of utter falsity. Even these will allay the intensity of His burning thirst as He gives Himself for the race. Little wonder that as He drank the vinegar, He said, " It is finished ". This emblem of falsity, of perverted religious thought, typified the end of the Jewish Church - in that offering was symbolised the death of all truth in that Dispensation. So, also was the hyssop placed about the sponge which held the vinegar - hyssop used in the legal purifications of the Jews - and pointing yet again to the hope and promise that dwell in ignorance and error when free from evil.
"When free from evil": let that be our memory of this incident on the Cross. The gall of malice, of selfishness and evil can find no acceptance with the Lord. From all that we would offer Him, that must be removed. Beyond that, howsoever poor our offering, His desire finds some satisfaction. Can we not, now that His Word so powerfully is opened to us, offer Him something more acceptable - a life, displaying in its service the enlightened apprehension of His Truth, a worship born of our own hearts' yearning to do His Will?