Letter on the Sufferings of Christ

J. N. Darby.

<31021E> 290

I trust I should retract at once, if I thought I was in error, especially in what concerns the blessed Lord Himself. I am quite ready to admit, and have admitted over and over again, that doubtless expressions may be made clearer. My principal difficulty to bring my mind to bear on it is the character of the objections. I admit the objectors have succeeded in troubling some; but I find daily many of these, the moment they have read what I have written, perfectly tranquil. The attacks, begun with deliberate fraud in quotation, were followed up by low malice, most of which, when I have seen them, I have not read. I should be ready to explain to the humblest and most ignorant. But the attacks have not commanded my respect. I am aware the enemy has succeeded in troubling some, and leading others to profit by it, to hinder souls whose consciences were making progress; but the Lord has a long look out. Our faith has to wait for Him, and such I seek for myself. I only fear that it may leave some, for whom I had hoped better, in the mud they have sought to create. I only ask to be enabled to do at each moment what is right in the matter, believing, though it be the enemy's work, it will do good. I proposed to the brethren to go out of communion, and leave off ministering (not for any difficulty I had) but to leave them perfectly free; but they would not hear of it in these parts, and in many others.

I am not the least uneasy myself. I feel distinctly it is an effort of the enemy, and that he will be baffled; but I do not want to involve others in it, nor will I make it a matter of self-defence, mingling that up with the Lord's glory, and raising discussions, when it ought with such a subject to be edification. As regards connecting it, or comparing it, with Mr. Newton's doctrine, were it not for the pure wickedness of what set it a-going, it would be beneath contempt. To say that being born in a state, and seeking to extricate oneself, and not being able till death, is the same thing as being born in the very opposite, and always walking in that state, and entering into the sufferings of another in grace, does not deserve to be reasoned on. The same thing! One makes the other impossible. I cannot condescend to take notice of these attacks: those who get entangled in them must count the cost for themselves. Explain my own views, or unfold the truth as far as I can, this I am ready to do; but I am in no hurry. I do not want to get defending myself, but prefer trusting the Lord who will make things clear. Some parts of it are a new kind of trial, but there is grace enough in Christ for it, and I leave all that, without great difficulty, to God. We shall find out where He is leading. May the Lord save as many as possible from Satan's power in it.

291 I am ready to do all I can towards it, where it is really sought. I have no doubt many expressions may be made clearer; but, if honestly examined in the context, they cannot have the sense attached to them. In substance, instead of having to retract, I believe my enemies to be in very mischievous and evil error, going far to deny the reality of Christ's sufferings, and thus depriving Him of a blessed part of His glory, and us of the deepest comfort and vital truth.

I can easily understand that what relates to the remnant of Israel may not be understood, and hence that part is difficult to enter into. That does not trouble me. But the denial of Christ's sufferings, where these are real, is another matter; and, allow me to say, though I shall reply to your questions out of the New Testament, you cannot understand that subject without referring to the Old. Nor can I consent to give up that which was able to make men wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus.

I am aware that Mr. Newton said his doctrine was not in the New Testament, but in the Psalms; but one of the devices of Satan is to deprive us of truth by connecting it with deadly error. This is one source of trouble to honest minds now; but it is a reason for going peacefully on in the truth itself, and having patience with people's minds. His doctrine was in neither. Nor do I admit such a principle. For the Old Testament throws infinite light on what we have often only the fact of in the New. There is sufficient in the New to connect it with the Old, as in the case of Christ's sacrifice, but far more detail in the Old. If you expect to find the details as to the remnant of Israel in the New, you will be disappointed. Mr. Newton connected the blessed Lord with sinful guilty Israel, and hence had necessarily a false Christ. I say He entered into the sorrows and sufferings of the godly remnant. It is never stated in my papers that He was in the place that brought them in. The attacks on me are founded on a deadly error; that entering into the sufferings, or suffering with them in heart and grace, supposes Himself to be in the state or place which brought them in. Christ was baptised with the baptism of repentance. Was He in the case, or state, or position to need it? Every Christian knows that He was not, yet He submitted to that, or went through it.

292 There cannot be a more dangerous principle than that on which the charges against my statements are founded. They are really unawares founded on Mr. Newton's principle, not what they are attacking. I have no thought on the personal or relative positions of Christ which is not that of the whole church of God.

The only thing new, and which is not so for multitudes of saints, is there being a Jewish remnant, and His entering into their sorrows. The rest is merely calling souls to, I believe, a most profitable and faith-deepening contemplation of the blessed Lord's sufferings; and that, for friends or foes, I am not going to give up. Statements may be cleared up, but not truth given up. Thank God, many studious souls had been already, and the hubbub raised has led many others since to draw great profit from it.

I will now turn directly to your question and to the New Testament. But you must feel that before God no divinely-taught and God-fearing mind will leave out Psalms 22, 69, 102, or Isaiah 50 or 53, in learning God's mind on the sufferings of the Lord.

It is admitted that in Gethsemane Christ was not yet drinking the cup: we know that He could then pray that He might not. Was He suffering simply from man for righteousness' sake? I merely state this as a general principle, that there is suffering which is not from man for righteousness, nor accomplishing atonement. You ask the question, "If smiting were necessitated in the blessed Lord, except as the sin-bearer?" You have just fallen into the dangerous error I adverted to. Where have I said it was necessitated? I have stated just the contrary. And this makes all the difference. Atonement is wrought in the forsaking of God when Christ was made sin for us. No doubt death was there consequently, but much more than death, and to confine it to the act of death is fatal error — just what one form of infidelity is now doing. And it is just because minds have lost, or never had, the true sense of what atonement is, its unfathomable depth, that they have confounded other true sufferings with it. When the Lord, with strong crying and tears, made His supplication to Him that was able to save Him from death, was it only from wrath and the work of atonement? When He said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; tarry ye here and watch with Me," were they watching with Him undergoing atonement? The Son of man was to suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation, and be put to death, and rise again: is this a statement of atonement?

293 You will say, perhaps, these were His sufferings from man simply for righteousness' sake. No doubt man's hand was in it, as it was in the cross, where atonement was wrought. But Scripture teaches me that it is not simply that. The disciples had seen His sufferings from men all through. This He only began to tell them of on His last journey to Jerusalem. Not only so, the Lord's position and theirs was changed — His hour till then was not come. He was acting with Emmanuel power, and sending them forth, and disposing of every heart, so that they lacked nothing. But Messiah was to be cut off, and He tells them in Luke that all was changed in this respect; Luke 22:35-37. "But now let him that hath a purse take it. For I say unto you that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors, for the things concerning me have an end." No doubt this was fulfilled in that in which atonement was wrought; but it is not atonement which is spoken of, but the rejection of Messiah, and the total change which accompanied it. When the Lord spoke of smiting, quoting from Zechariah, no doubt it was in death, or unto death, He was smitten; but He is not speaking of atonement. "All ye shall be offended because of me this night; for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered." Does this mean, I will make atonement, and gather into one flock Jews and Gentiles, being lifted upon the cross? Was it smiting the Shepherd as then having gathered the Jewish sheep around Him, so that they were scattered? If I am to believe the Lord, it was this latter. It was not the gathering power of atonement, but the scattering power of smiting; not the lifting up, though in the same work, but the smiting the Man on the earth, the earthly Shepherd.

You will say this went much farther. To be sure it did, blessed be God; but this does not alter the fact that there was this. Man's hand was in it, Satan's hand was in it. He had departed from Him for a season; now the prince of this world came. It was man's hour, and the power of darkness. The blessed Lord's soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death (and note, before drinking the cup). You will say this was only from man and Satan. It was (though His power never changed) a declared change from His spoiling his goods. And Scripture shews me that, while tried by this to the uttermost, and suffering, He looked up to His Father through it, and would only take it as a cup from Him; that His perfection was shewn in bowing to it all as His will and way. And not only was atonement made, but Messiah was cut off, all the promises connected with His presence in Israel in the flesh set aside, the beloved nation and city, over which He wept as that which He would have gathered often, cast off and judged.

294 This was not from man's hand merely, though through it. It was God's divorce of His people, wrought out alike because of need in the death of Messiah. It was not atonement, but judicial, and while it was because of their rejection of Christ, His heart, who wept over them, entered into it, suffered in it and by it, and in His piety did not take it from secondary causes, but from God's hand. No doubt He at the same time wrought atonement, was wounded for His people's transgressions, and bruised for their iniquities, as by His stripes they will be healed, but all this on the far deeper ground of atonement; but this does not set aside the truth of the setting aside all blessings in the living Person of Messiah, all promises connected with it, nor that the Lord felt all this, and suffered. Was it not in His cutting off the people were rejected (not saved by atonement, true as that is)? Was it God cut them off, or man (not finally, as we know, but as connected with a living Messiah)? Do you think Christ was indifferent to all this, or not? Was He not true in heart when as yet it was only in prospect that He wept over Jerusalem? I shall be told this was only sympathy. I abhor the statement. Scripture teaches me that He suffered that He might sympathise. I believe it fully, deeply.

Persons hostile to the truth have taken the statements I have made as to the different states of heart, or a tried soul, to which, consequently, this interest and sympathy of Christ might apply, and given them as the state in which Christ was. I might, no doubt, have guarded by a positive disclaimer against such an application. To an honest mind it was needless; to a dishonest one, useless. When in the general statement, I had carefully put it in, to guard against any misapprehension on the very point you take up, it was deliberately and purposely left out, and unsuspecting minds caught to be puzzled by it. With this before me, what do you feel I can think of the clamour that has been raised?

295 I have answered your question from the New Testament. If you, with these facts of the New Testament, take the Psalms, you will soon find your mind guided into further truth and apprehension of what passed when this poor man cried, and the Lord heard him. I have no desire to give up what I have learned there. I believe both the atonement and the personal sufferings of Christ are lost by doing so, and true sufferings, in order to sympathise, turned into sympathy. I cannot enter here into more detail. The fact that Christ's sorrows ran up into atonement, the positive drinking the cup of wrath, and putting the sin away; that His sufferings merged in this, which hinders the wrath coming on them who have a part in its efficacy, has made it more difficult to estimate those dealings of God which are judicial, but have not in accepted ones even the final character of wrath. In Christ one passed on, so to speak, into the other; in us, and spared Israel, it does not, because Christ has taken that for us; but in a legal state we dread it, and so will Israel at the end. All, if at peace, separate them easily; it is not so if we are not.

Judgment begins at the house of God. They are difficultly saved. This has nothing to do with atonement. Jerusalem has received at the hand of the Lord double of all her sins. This excludes the idea of atonement. Does all this pass without any interest of the blessed Lord in it; or did He so suffer as to be able (besides atonement, which alone renders the other possible as a distinct thing) to enter into their sorrows? Read the Psalms, and see. Read the New Testament, and see if you cannot find facts which are the fulfilment of them.

I am willing and bound to do anything I can to help any, the feeblest soul. I am willing to stand aloof from brethren (I do not mean to separate from them in heart or will), if they have not the courage, or are not in a condition to face the adversaries of the truth, or are so perplexed by them that the connection with it is a burden; but I am not willing to give up the faith I have in the sufferings of the blessed Lord, nor the link of heart with Him which the apprehension of them gives me. But I believe souls are getting great blessing by the consideration of them, and Satan doing a work, as is often said, in which he deceives himself. I dare say many could not explain it thus logically, many may make crude statements; but the true of heart will be blessed in learning the sorrows of the blessed Lord. It is not the first time, alas! some have been driven back by the truth.


296 The one point on which there might be difficulty, is the bringing of the smiting, which in act took place on the cross, into the whole period from the supper. This might have been explained (it is at the end of my tract), but for fair minds is no ground of difficulty or objection. Scripture does so fully. "Ye shall be offended because of me this night; for it is written, I will smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered." They were scattered before the time of smiting was there. "So now I say unto you, he that hath a purse, take one," and the Lord's discourse in John, "Now is the Son of man glorified." The whole tenor of the Gospels is this — to take the smiting as come, the same as the sense of the smiting.