The Sufferings of Christ. - Part 1

The Bible Treasury - Volume 2



A good deal that is current on the sufferings of Christ leads me to desire to draw the attention of your readers to this point, and to some simple yet important distinctions which it behoves us to make as to their character and nature. The sympathies of Christ are so precious to the soul, His entering into our sorrows in this world of moral woe, so comforting, so softening, and yet so elevating, that we cannot treasure too highly the realization of them in our hearts, nor guard too carefully against any thing that is spurious. This is the more important, because the character of His sufferings more or less connects itself with His person and nature. I shall endeavour to be as simple as possible.

In the first place, we have to distinguish His sufferings from man and His sufferings from God. Their cause, and the result of them, are equally contrasted. Christ did, we know, suffer from men. He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. The world hated Him before it hated His disciples, it hated Him because He bore witness of it that its works were evil. He was "light," and he that dοeth evil hateth the light nor comes to the light, because his works arc evil. In a word, Christ suffered for righteousness' sake. Even as it was from the beginning„ in that which was a type of Jesus' history in this respect, Cain slew Abel, because his works were evil and his brother's righteous. We may add that the love which caused the Lord to minister to men in the world, and testify of their evil, brought only more sorrow upon Him. For His love He had hatred. This hatred of man against Him never slackened till His death, when, in the folly of human exultation, they could shout, alga! aha! so would we have it. Righteousness and love, and what was indeed the manifestation of the divine nature and ways on. the earth, brought out the relentless hatred of the human mind and will. Christ suffered from man for righteousness' sake.

But He suffered also from the hand of God upon the cross. It pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief: when He shall make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed. He was made sin for us who knew no sin, and then He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him. There He suffered, the just for the unjust; that is, he suffered not because He was righteous, but because we were sinners, and He was bearing our sins in His own body on the tree. As regards God's forsaking Him, He could say, Why hast thou forsaken me? for in Him there was no cause. We can give the solemn answer: In grace he suffered the just for the unjust; He had been made sin for us. Thus He suffered for righteousness, as a living man, from men; as a dying Saviour, He suffered from the hand of God for sin. It is most interesting to notice the result of these two characters of suffering as expressed in the Psalms.

In Psalm xx. and xxi., we see the Messiah prophetically viewed as suffering on the earth from men. It was the day of trouble. They imagined a device against Him which they were not able to perform. But He asks life, and has length of days for ever. Glory and great majesty are put upon Him. What is the effect of His being thus glorified by Jehovah, in answer to the scorn and violence of ungodly men? Judgment His hands finds out all His enemies. He makes them as a fiery oven in the day of His anger, as He said, "Those mine enemies that would that I should reign over them, bring them hither, and slay them before me." The same thing may be seen in Psalm lxix, 1-24. The effect of His suffering from the hand of wicked men is judgment on themselves.

In Psalm xxii. we have, besides all these sufferings from the hand of men, and when they had reached their height, (see the whole Psalm up to verse 21,) His suffering from the hand of God. When under the pressure of the others, God, His only resource, forsakes Him. This is the great theme of the psalm. But what is the result of this? This was the bearing of sin—at least the consequence of His bearing it. It was the judgment, so to speak; it was the wrath due to us. But He came to put sin away by the sacrifice of Himself. Hence the result is unmingled and full grace—nothing else. Who was to be punished for His having drank the cup at His Father's hand? He is heard. God takes the new character of one who has raised Him up, and given Him glory, because He had perfectly glorified Him about sin. He is raised from dead by the glory of the Father. This name of His God and Father He immediately declares to His brethren—" I will declare thy name unto my brethren." So in fact, He did when He said to Mary Magdalene, "Touch me not, (He was not now coming to be corporally present in the kingdom,) for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren and say unto them, I go to my Father, and your Father, my God and your God." The testimony was 'now grace, and Jesus leads the praises of His redeemed. Next, all Israel, the great congregation, is found in the praise also; then all the ends of the world. The fat eat and worship; all that go down into the dust; and the generation that shall be born, when that time of peace is come, shall also hear the wondrous story of that which the angels now desire to look into—that He bath done this. It is an unmingled stream of grace and blessing, widening to the ends of the earth, and flowing down the course of time to the generation which shall be born. Such is the effect of the cross. No word of judgment follows the tale it has to tell. The suffering there was the judgment on sin, but it was the putting of it away. The judgment was borne, but passed away with its execution on the victim, who had, in grace, substituted Himself: and if, indeed, we shall be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, He before whom we shall appear has Himself put away our sins; yea, we arrive there, because He has Himself come to fetch us, that where He is there we may be also. In a word, it was suffering from God; and suffering from God is suffering for sins not for righteousness; and the effect, unmingled grace, now freely flowing forth. Christ had been baptized with the baptism He had to be baptized with. He was no longer straitened in the exercise and proclamation of love. When He suffered from man, through the whole of His witness among them, up to death itself, He was suffering for righteousness. Sin He had not, in His person, to suffer for. He was no substituted victim in the eyes of men. The result of these sufferings from the power of men is judgment, accomplished on His return—in a providential way already in the destruction of Jerusalem, but fully when He shall return.

But there is another point of contrast, consequently, very important for us. Christ suffered for sin that we never might. We are healed by, not partakers of, His stripes. What Christ has suffered from the forsaking of God as wrath, He has suffered alone, and exactly, as to us, with the object that we never should taste one drop of that dreadful, bitter, to us insupportable, cup Did we drink it, it were as condemned sinners. But in the sufferings of Christ for righteousness, and in those which were caused to Him through His work of love, we are, poor and feeble as our faith is, to have a part. To us it is given, not only to believe on, but also to suffer for, His name. If we suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are we, and yet more blessed if we suffer for His name. The Spirit of glory and of God rests upon us. We can rejoice that we are partakers of His sufferings, that when His glory shall be revealed we may be glad with exceeding joy. The suffering for righteousness and for Christ, I may remark, in passing, are distinguished by the Lord Himself, Matt. ν. 10, 11; and by Peter, First epistle, ii. 20; iii. 17; iv. 14.

The principle of these two kinds of suffering, however, as contrasted with suffering for sin or evil, is the same. The difference of suffering for good and for evil are touchingly contrasted in Peter's epistle, while both are attributed to Christ; and we are warned against the latter. Christ is presented as suffering as an example, ii. 19-23, where we see, in verse 23, he refers to the reviling and violence of men; in verse 24, he adds His bearing our sins, showing that it is in order that we may be dead to it, not suffer for that. But this is brought out, as I said, touchingly, in chap. iii. 17, 18, the force of which I take to be this: the apostle had been speaking of suffering for righteousness, and adds, it is better, if it be God's will, that you suffer for well doing than for evil doing; for, he adds, Christ has suffered once for sins: that is, that is not your part in suffering: He has done that once for all. Suffering for righteousness may be your happy portion; suffering for sin is Christ's part alone.

I would notice two other characters of suffering in our blessed Lord. In the first place, His heart of love must have suffered greatly from the unbelief of unhappy man, and from His rejection by the people. We read of His sighing in opening the deaf ears, and loosing the tied tongue, (Mark vii. 34;) and, on the Pharisees asking a sign, (viii. 12,) of His sighing deeply in spirit. So, indeed, in the 11th of John, at the tomb of Lazarus, He wept and groaned within Himself, at seeing the power of death over the spirits of men, and their incapacity to deliver themselves; as He wept also over Jerusalem, when He saw the beloved city just going to reject Him in the day of its visitation. All this was the suffering of perfect love, moving through a scene of ruin, in which self-will and heartlessness shut every avenue against this love which was so earnestly working in its midst. It must have been—with bright and blessed moments where its exercise proved sweetness to itself, and led His heart out by times to fields white for harvest—a constant source of sorrow. This sorrow, blessed be God, and the joy that brightens it, we are allowed, in our little measure, to partake of. It is the sorrow of love itself.

Α weight of another character pressed upon the Lord, I doubt not often through His life; and must and ought to have done so, though only showing perfectness; that is, in blessed submission to the divine will. I mean the anticipation, when the time was there for Him to look at it, (how often are we distracted by our little anticipated sorrows,) of his sufferings on the cross and their true and pressing character. On His path of life death lay. He could not, as we see, take His part with the excellent of the earth, and bring them into the purposed, or, indeed, any real and permanent blessing without going through death, and death as the wages of sin—for they were sinners. If the corn of wheat did not fall into the ground and die, it abode alone. There none could follow: not indeed the disciples, as He tells them, more than the Jews. And for Him death was death. Man's utter weakness, Satan's extreme power, and God's just vengeance, and alone, without one sympathy, forsaken of those whom He had cherished, the rest His enemies, Messiah delivered to Gentiles and cast down, the judge washing his hands of condemning innocence, the priests interceding against the guiltless instead of for the guilty: all dark without one ray of light, even from God. Here perfect obedience was needed, and, blessed be God, was found. But we can understand, and just in the measure of Christ's divine, while human, sensibilities, what such sorrow must have been in prospect for a soul who looked at it with the feeling of a man made perfect in thought and apprehension by the divine light which was Him. We have examples of these sorrows of the Lord's heart in two remarkable cases, which, of course, though none were like the last, do not at all exclude the thought that others may have been, nor give full light on what He may have felt when, in perfect calmness, He spoke of His future sufferings to His disciples. The cases I refer to are those of John xii. and Gethsemane. In the former we read, "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour." The coming up of the Gentiles had opened out before Him the scene of the rejected Christ passing into the wider glory of the Son of man; but then the corn of wheat must fall into the ground and die. This brings before His soul the true and necessary path of His glory—death, and all it meant, to His soul, and He looks for deliverance. He could not wish for, nor fail to fear, the forsaking of God and the cup of death He had to drink, He was heard in that He feared. That was truth, and true piety, in presence of such a. passage for His soul. So in Gethsemane, when it was yet nearer, and the prince, of this world came, and His soul was exceeding sorrowful unto death: when the cup was just as it were being brought to Him, though he had not yet taken it—for he would take it from none but His Father's hand—when His will was that He should drink it, because it was not possible it could be otherwise if the purpose and word of God was to be accomplished;—there this character of sorrow and trial, or temptation, reached its fulness. The tempter who, on His entrance en His public service, and to hinder His doing so, had tempted Him with what was agreeable to the flesh in the wilderness and on the pinnacle of the temple, and had been bared and bound, and during the Lord's life had his goods spoiled, now returns to try Him with all that was dreadful for the soul of man, and, above all, for the Lord, if He persevered in His obedience and work unto the end. Power had been displayed capable of delivering living man from all the dominion of the enemy. Another awful, dreadful truth had now come out: man would not have the Deliverer. If the Lord was to persevere in interesting Himself in the wretched race, He must be not a mighty living Deliverer by power, but a dying Redeemer. It was the path of obedience and the path of love. "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me; but that the world may know that I love the Father, and as my Father has given me commandment, so I do." But in both the cases we are now considering, we find Him still with His Father, though occupied with Him about the cup He had to drink, and. His obedience only shining out in its perfection. There was no forsaking of God yet, though there was dealing with His Father about that cup which was characterized by His being forsaken of God. "Father save me from this hour. But for this cause came I to this hour. Father, glorify thy name." Here He gets the answer to obedience to death in judgment of real and complete victory, and the wide-spread opening out of the revelation of love, though the world was judged therein. But in Gethsemane all was closing in. It was the power of darkness, and the deeper agony of the Lord told itself out in few, yet how mighty, words, and sweat as it were drops of blood. But the obedience was perfect. The tempter utterly foiled, the name of Jesus suffices to make all his agents go backward and fall to the ground. He, as far as they were concerned and Satan's power went, was free. But the Father had given Him the cup to drink. He freely offers Himself to drink it, showing the same unweakened power as ever, that of those given to Him He might lose none. Wondrous scene of obedience and love. But whatever the suffering may be, and who can tell it, it was the free moving of a man in grace, but of a man perfect in obedience to God. The cup His Father has given Him to drink, shall he not drink it? How utterly, though indeed there, do the unhappy instruments of this power of evil disappear before the offering up of Christ by Himself in obedience and love. The power of death, as that of the enemy, gone through with His Father and gone, and He in blessed, willing obedience now taking the awful cup itself from His Father's hand. Never can we meditate too much upon the path of Christ here. We may linger around the spot and learn what no other place nor scene can tell—a perfectness which is learnt from Him and from Him alone. But I must turn now to other parts of Christ's sorrow, for I can only touch on its causes and character.

Sin itself must have been continual source of sorrow to the Lord's mind. If Lot vexed his righteous soul with seeing and hearing when so practically far from God, what must the Lord have suffered in passing through the world? I doubt not that, being perfectly in the place God would have Him, He was, not only in degree, but in the very nature of His feelings, calmer teen the righteous man in Sodom. Still He was distressed by sin. He looked round about upon them with anger, being grieved at the hardness of their heart. His perfect love was relief here, but did not hinder the sorrow it relieved. "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, how long shall I suffer you?" was met by, " bring thy son hither." But the unbelief was not the less felt. This was at the close, doubtless, and had special respect to their unbelief, which His own love instantly rises over. Still He was in a dry and thirsty land, where no water was, and felt it, even if His soul were also filled as with marrow and fatness. The holier and mere loving He was, the more dreadful was the sin to Him; where His people wandered too, as sheep without a shepherd.

The sorrows, too, of men were His in heart. He bore their sicknesses, and carried their infirmities. Not a sorrow nor an affiliation He met that He did not bear en His heart as His own. In all their afflictions He was afflicted. It was no light-hearted remedy that, even as a living man, the Lord applied. He bore in His spirit what He took away in His power—for all was the fruit of sin in man: only it was in gracious love. The sin itself He bore, too, but that, as we have seen, was on the cross; obedience, not sympathy. God made to be sin for us Him who knew no sin. All the rest was the sympathy of love, though it was sorrow. This is a blessed character of the Lord's sorrow. Love brought Him to the cross, we well know; but His sorrow there had not the present joy of a ministration of love. He was not dealing with man, but suffering in his place, in obedience, from God, and for man. Hence it was unmingled, unmitigated suffering; the scene, net of active goodness, but of God forsaking: but all His sorrow, in His ways with men, was the direct fruit of love, sensibly acting on Him—He felt for others, about others. That feeling was, oh how constantly, sorrow in a world of sin; but that feeling was love. This is sweet to our thought. For His love he night have hatred, but the present exercise of love has a sweetness and character of its own, which no form of sorrow it may impart ever takes away; and in Him it was perfect. I do not, indeed, deny that righteous anger filled His soul, when occasion called it forth; we know it did—yea, brought out such denouncement of woes, as I believe nothing but perfect love could produce; for what must He have felt of those who took away the key of knowledge, and neither entered in themselves, and hindered those that were entering? Righteous indignation is not sorrow, but the love that gives birth to it, where it is righteous, stamps its own peculiar character upon it.

Another source of sorrow—for what has Christ not drank at?—was, perhaps, more human, but not less true, I mean the violation of every delicacy which a perfectly attuned mind could feel. They stand staring and looking upon me. Insult, scorn, deceit, efforts to catch his words, brutality and cruel mocking fell upon no insensible, though a divinely patient, spirit. I say nothing of desertion, betrayal, and denial: He looked for some to have pity on Him, and there was no one, and for comforters, but found none:—but of what broke ill upon every delicate feeling of His nature as a man. Reproach broke His heart. He was the song of the drunkards. Doubtless, Jehovah knew His shame, His reproach and His dishonour; all His adversaries were before Him, but He passed through it all. No divine perfection saved Him from sorrow. He passed through it with divine perfection, and by it. But I do not believe there was a single human feeling (and every most delicate feeling of a perfect soul was there), that was not violated and trodden on in Christ. Doubtless, it was nothing to divine wrath. Men and their ways, were forgotten there; but the sufferings were not the less real when it was there; and even when, at least, anticipating that cup of wrath, He would have his too confident disciples watch by Him, He only found them asleep on His return. All was sorrow but the exercise of love, and that must, at last make way for obedience in death, where the wrath of God closed over and obliterated the hatred and wickedness of man. Such was Christ. All sorrow concentrated in His death, where the comfort of active love and the communion with His Father could put no alleviating sweetness, or be, for a moment, mingled with that dreadful cup of wrath. There, promises, royal glory in title, all vas given up, to have them infallibly anew received in glory from the Father's band, with a better and higher glory, which He had ever had, indeed, but now would enter into as man.