The Sufferings of Christ.

1877 312 My Dear Brother,

As one who in the past has had to learn, through painful experience, the truth as to the sufferings of Christ, and who in consequence may in some measure be able to understand and to meet difficulties others may have met with, I beg to send you, for insertion in the "Bible Treasury" (if you see fit), a brief statement of the way in which the subject, according to scripture, presents itself to my mind, hoping that the Lord will graciously enable me to express myself aright, and that He may own this (as every) endeavour to give expression to what concerns Himself, His grace, and His glory.

I offer this merely as a contribution, and not at all as implying any necessity for it — quite agreeing with the beloved author of the well-known papers in the "Bible Treasury" on the "Sufferings of Christ," who, in the subsequent edition, says, "If they" (that is, the above papers) "had been studied with a willing mind, I believe true edification and profit would have been found." For myself, I am sure of this, having learnt it, I may say, in a very practical way; for the Lord, when He deigns grace and mercy towards us, knows how to prepare us for it, and how to remove obstacles. In fact we may have to learn, in a manner far more practical than we are apt to presuppose, something of what these sufferings of Christ were, which seem to have been least understood and most denied.

If I may generalise at all from my own case, I should say that in nothing are we so prone to cling with tenacity to traditional and conventional notions as in our view of the atonement. I have known more than one struggle to free myself from traditional trammels, with anxious care in giving up what was wrong, to hold fast what was true; but no struggle I have ever known has been comparable to that I underwent as regards the doctrine of the atonement. It seemed the last stronghold to hold out, and the hardest to surrender. But a more single eye, and greater simplicity, would indeed spare us much. As in the offerings we see not only the slaying of the victim, but also the burning with fire (indicative of the ordeal of divine judgment), so in the case of the true sacrifice, Christ Himself, there was not only His death physically, but the fire of divine judgment for sin, through which His soul passed. And even in the case of the Christian there is the fire for purification (Heb. xii. 29), which in the case of our Saviour was, of course, not for purification, but the divine judgment and award of sin.

Again, we read in Hebrews ix. 27, "As it is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment." Clearly, therefore, though death came in by sin, judgment for sin is here looked at as a thing distinct in itself from death, that is, the death of the body; for the Christian may undergo this, but never come into judgment (John 5:24). In the case of our Lord the judgment of sin preceded, instead of following, death, and was so complete and satisfactory, that before He died He could say, "It is finished;"* and by His bearing it His people never can know death as the wages of sin, that is, as our Lord Himself says (John viii. 51), "he shall never see death." The Christian receives not the "wages of sin," because Christ has tasted death for him, whilst, for the same reason, he does receive the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.

[*Did He not however include death anticipatively here? So in John xvii. He speaks as if no more in the world but heaven, looking through death if we may so say, as it was indeed imperatively needed — Ed.]

In Exodus xii. we read that a lamb was to be taken on the tenth day — a lamb for an house — and kept until the fourteenth day of the same month, towards the close of which latter day it was to be slain. The lamb was to be without blemish, and this interval gave time to prove that it was so. Just so we have the period of our Lord's infancy or childhood, of His manhood, of His service, and, as on the fourteenth day, His death. It is witnessed that He grew in favour with God and man, and, as Peter says, we are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, "as of a lamb, without blemish and without spot." It was necessary that the perfection of Christ as man should be proved and made manifest, as also His perfect acceptability to God, and His Father's delight in Him, at and from His birth; likewise that His own enjoyment of His Father's love should be absolutely free and unhindered. Hence it was that as man — tested and of proved perfection — "he offered himself without spot unto God," this being, of course, at the period of the cross.

Now, though at His baptism by John our Lord voluntarily identified Himself with the remnant, yet He was not morally or judicially identified with them by God, nor was there anything substantial in such association. Substitution occurred only on the cross, as it is written, "He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin." That our Lord intended His identification with the remnant at His baptism to be permanent, that is, effectual, and knew what the result must be as regards atonement, is so true, that in Psalm 69:5 He says, "Thou knowest my foolishness, and my sins are not hid from thee." Of course this "foolishness," and these "sins," were those of His people; but though not yet made sin-bearer by God, His identification with His people, in the purpose of His heart, is so complete, that He can call their sins His own from the time of His identifying Himself with them (as we see He did in grace at His baptism); and so voluntary was it, that, even up to the moment just anterior to the cross, He could say, "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels, but how then shall the scripture be fulfilled?" etc., that is, it was His own will to do His Father's will, or those scriptures never would have been written. Everything concerning Christ as man had been pre-arranged and pre-ordained in the counsels of the Trinity, and hence was voluntary on His part. That the scripture said what it did, was His own predetermination, and in fact His own Spirit spoke in the prophets concerning His own subsequent sufferings. Moreover, if the Psalms are properly understood, we find there the expressions of the remnant in their latter-day sorrows. David's personal experiences in part, that is, to a certain extent, and to a certain depth, gave rise to these expressions; but as to all expressions of sorrow, in the case of Christ, apart from the personal failure in others which brought it on, the Spirit of Christ speaks to an extent and depth infinitely transcending what David could know.

Not only, then, in atonement did Christ suffer. In Hebrews 5:7, 8, we read, "Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto him that was able to save him out of death, and was heard in that he feared (or 'because of his piety'); though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered." Admitting the paramount importance of the atonement, and how absolutely alone that work stands — how precious is it to our hearts to study and ponder over the sufferings of our Lord as man! How else should we be prepared to take His yoke upon us, and to learn of Him? And how infinitely, in obedience, in suffering, and in every perfection as man, He transcends our best or most successful efforts to follow in His footsteps! But may He encourage our hearts, and cheer us on in the path of obedience and of suffering! Shall we say, "May it be our privilege to know more of it?" Certainly Paul sought to know the fellowship of His sufferings.

If we turn to Isaiah 50, we find there the judgment of God on Israel for their rejection of their Messiah  — and for what He suffered from man — a chapter which we may compare with Psalm lxix. In Isaiah liii. we find, besides the nation's estimate of Him, the judicial action of God, "When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin," etc. Hence we read nothing of judgment on men in this chapter, which accordingly we may compare with Psalm xxii. These mark very distinctly the consequences of what comes direct from God, and of what comes directly from man.

Now in the former chapter of Isaiah we read, "The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned [or rather as a learner, or disciple]. The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back." Here we have the spirit of obedience, as in Psalm xl. 6, the place of obedience ("a body hast thou prepared me"). To whom was Christ not rebellious: Evidently to Him who wakened Him morning by morning to hear as a learner. Comparing this with Hebrews 5, we see, without the possibility of mistake, to whom all this refers, and that there was that which He suffered that He might know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary. In fact it is not atonement in Isaiah 50; there is suffering from man, there is instruction, in the way of suffering obedience, from God; and we find judgment on the wicked in the last verse, and sympathy with His people in verses 4 and 10. As regards death, "he was heard in that he feared" (or on account of His piety), that is, He was raised out of, or from amongst, the (lead. (Compare Ps. cix. 4.) Christ has indeed suffered as only such as He could, but His sufferings were in fact such as, with regard to their character, the remnant will pass through, and others often pass through — fear, dread, the judgment of sin — in His case, too, their rejection of Him as Messiah by the Jews, and His sorrow on their behalf in consequence.

In rejecting their Messiah, the Jewish nation, as we have seen in Isaiah I., sealed their own doom. In consequence, Jewish hopes passed away for the time, their Messiah being given up by them to the Gentiles, expressly that He might be slain — "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death." The sorrows connected with the judgment of the nation — apprehended morally by the remnant — fell upon them, and more especially and perfectly upon Christ, who, as we know, wept over Jerusalem in the knowledge of her coming judgment. These sorrows, keenly realised by Him in their whole nature and extent, could only have been so realised when the nation had finally committed itself by rejecting Him, and hence were during His last hours on earth, during which also the will of man, no longer held in check by Divine Providence, was allowed to run its course against Him. Besides these, the sorrows pertaining to the remnant, there were the personal ones to Christ of His own cutting off as Messiah, or being slain; but, above all, of that cup at the hand of His Father, which was the essence of the atonement. Such were the complicated sorrows of Christ, from the moment of the betrayal, and more or less from the time when He stedfastly set His face to go up to Jerusalem for the last time, but more particularly in Gethsemane. All culminated at that interval in which He exclaimed, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" That His death was compassed by the Jews: well known — "Is not this he whom they seek to kill?" And in Matthew xxvii. 1 we have the distinct statement, "When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death"; "and the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed." Peter, in consequence, says, "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." Christ was in fact a martyr, and the Prince of martyrs, though the "Prince of Life."

But His death was necessary in order to atonement, and therefore we read, "Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God." This, however, still left man perfectly responsible for his own motives and acts. Nothing that men or devils ever do can otherwise than subserve the purposes of God: God cannot be thwarted or injured by them. Their utmost efforts, foreseen by God, only forward His purposes. So it was with the crucifixion or slaying of our Lord Man compassed His death, and executed it. But when crucified, and during those three hours of darkness, Christ experienced the forsaking of God; He tasted death, not simply as the Christian may, physically, but as the divine and adequate judgment of sin — death therefore in its bitterness to the soul. This, therefore, was wholly God's doing. Man can kill the body, but cannot afflict the soul, still less inflict the soul for sin. But "when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin" is God's doing alone. Hence, as has been said in the Psalms, we find Psalm lxix. recounting the malice of man, and judgment on man invoked for it; whilst in Psalm xxii., where we have the forsaking of God, and "Thou hast brought me into the dust of death," what man did is comparatively obscured by what God did, and hence blessing is the result. These psalms, though written by David, are bare prophecy, relating directly and personally to Christ, and not at all to anything that David experienced. Christ alone suffered, as described in Psalm xxii.

The truth is that our Lord's career (if I may use the word with reverence) in this world brought to a crisis and solved the whole question of good and evil. He was perfect goodness and grace, but the whole powers of evil — devils and men — were against Him. They succeeded in crucifying Him, and on the cross, when made sin for us, God even forsook Him. Thus sin was judged by God; the holiness, righteousness, wisdom, and love of God were manifested and vindicated. It was now clear why God could be righteous, and yet justify the ungodly. The death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ are an infinitely wonderful vindication of divine righteousness.

In some of our Lord's sufferings His people can suffer with Him. For instance, how often did He suffer in His spirit from sympathy with others in their sorrows. So did He suffer for righteousness' sake; and even in Gethsemane, where His sorrow was not the less real, that what He dreaded had not yet actually arrived. In all these ways may His people suffer, and that even so as to be made conformable unto His death. "They persecute him whom thou hast smitten, and they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded." Here there is suffering with Christ, and that as to what came from beyond man. The smiting was actually on the cross, but when that period called his "hour" arrived, God no longer restrained the will of man — events thickened, and were directly bearing on, and connected with, the cross, and with His death, and cannot be detached from it. As being permitted by God, and as carrying out His purposes, the smiting is taken as from God. The fact is, that in moral and spiritual processes, it is impossible to disconnect cause and effect. In the mind they co-exist at one and the same moment. The whole period of the cross is characterised in scripture by one tone, by one event, even though circumstances had their natural sequence and connection. Hence our Lord (for instance in Mark xiv. 27–50) applies the passage, "Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered," to an occasion antecedent to the cross, because morally identified with it, though its literal accomplishment was on the cross, and not till then. There are what may be called — at least in moral things, if not in physical — antecedent as well as subsequent consequences or effects of an event or course foreseen, felt, and realised in the mind by the moral agent; and where an event is so immediately impending as was the cross from the time of the betrayal, the cause is looked at as a subsisting fact (because it is so in the mind), and effects are attributed to it as consequences, though actually preceding their cause. Thus our Lord could say, "Whom thou hast smitten," and He was as truly meeting indignation and wrath, though not yet crucified, as the scorching heat of a furnace will affect and injure me before I am actually in the furnace.

If God gave Christ up, Christ took it, and what it involved, namely, His being crucified and slain, from God, that is, the smiting was to Him from God, though men were the instruments — the unconscious ones, as regards God's purposes, the conscious ones as regards their own motives and feelings; and similarly could it be said as to the disciples, "whom thou hast wounded," as to what accrued from men.

If I mistake not, I have now touched upon the main points of difficulty to some. What is sometimes called the third class of the sufferings of Christ refers to our Lord's agony in Gethsemane, and has been alluded to in my remarks upon Hebrews 5 and Isaiah 50. Is it not here more especially that we learn by the example of Christ, and aided, I trust, by His Spirit, to take the bitter as well as the sweet from our Father's hand in willing subjection? Am I not to be conformed to Christ in this? It need scarcely be said that, as regards an accusing and tormenting conscience, that belongs to the sinner alone, and not to Christ. But what are the sorrowful results to the awakened and alarmed conscience? Fear, dread, anguish of soul, Godward.

Now our Lord suffered this. He agonised in soul at the thought and prospect of what the consequences of sin were at the hands of God, and though relief comes in God's time to His people — "to those who have been exercised thereby," to Christ no relief came till the bitter cup of divine judgment had been drunk by Him. Christ was thus learning the difference between good and evil, not as He always knew it, in the favour of His own most holy nature, but as having and being all goodness in Himself, yet learning what evil was, not merely objectively, but as to and in the presence of its judgment, which a holy God could not let pass. We learn it as existing in ourselves, and as taught to judge it as a thing which has been judged by God — He, as what He was to incur judgment for when made sin for us, and as our Substitute.

The suffering in sympathy, and the suffering for righteousness' sake, are easy to be comprehended. The suffering in atonement, too, is acknowledged, but very inadequately understood. Our Lord's true sufferings, as a man and as Messiah, are, much to the loss of saints, far too little understood. As the Messiah He was expressly born into this world — of the true human and royal lineage, and the true Son of God. Yet could He say, as in Psalm cii., "Thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down." Doubtless He was rejected by Israel; but in the foreseen hostility of Israel there was the word, "Him being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God," and it was piety on His part to take His rejection from God, who permitted it and used it. So is it our privilege to look beyond second causes, though not ignoring or excusing them. Those who know God have, above and beyond what is present, to do with God alone.

I remain, my dear Brother, Yours affectionately in Christ, J. B. P.