The Sufferings of Christ. - Part 2

The Bible Treasury - Volume 2


The sufferings of our blessed Lord are too solemn, too holy a subject to dispose one who feels he owes his all to them, to make them a, subject of dispute or controversy. It is my desire to avoid this—yet not so as to let disastrous and fatal error overcome my heart. I judge, too, that it is much to be desired that the " Bible Treasury" should not be a journal of controversy, but occupy itself with the positive putting forth of truths such as the Church of God requires, and which edify and enlighten it. I am satisfied that in the unwonted movement of mind, the intellectual craving, and that which always accompanies such a movement, the unsettling of the minds of thousands upon all manner of important questions, which exists at present, the most useful and necessary task for a servant of Christ, in connexion with such a publication, is, to furnish food, to meet the requirements of men's minds with truth, which, by solidly satisfying their awakened desire, may peacefully guard them against being blown about by every wind of doctrine; while holding fast fundamental truth, to give from the Divine mind, revealed to us in the word, what can carry the soul, while steadying it at the same time, really beyond the most venturesome and dangerous flights of human intellectualism. The Christian, through grace, can hope to do this, because he draws, not from his own resources, but from the word of God, from Divine sources of truth. Such, I am satisfied, ought the "Bible Treasury" to be in order to be useful. I am not unapprised, though happily living out of the reach of most of the religious warfare that is abroad in England, that an attack has been made, without naming them, on persons alleged to hold certain views as to the sufferings of Christ, and that they are declared to be semi-Socinians. I do not think that such an attack deserves an answer—at any rate it does not burden me much, and I dο not feel disposed to mix up questions that relate to the sufferings of Christ with so small a matter as personal attacks of the kind. The Wesleyan, whatever the correctness of their views en other points n ι ay be, would be surprised to find themselves to be semi-Socinians, for such a phrase as this, in Bunting's sermon on justification by faith, which I happen to have lying before me: "It is only as a Lamb slain, that He takes away our sins." Indeed, the errors which are said to be renewed, and declared to be evil, in the passage quoted; by the accuser, are blamed because they divide the orthodox. Do they count semi-Socinianism orthodox? But enough and too much.

Multitudes of saints, with perhaps undefined apprehensions of the manner of the application of the sufferings of the blessed Lord to their profit, look at all the sufferings of Christ with an adoring feeling of their infinite value, and believe that all are for themselves, undergone in love to them, and the means of their blessing. I can only pray God that this feeling may be deepened in them and in myself too. I dο not believe one sorrow was wanting to Christ, nor one sigh of His which had not infinite value, nor which is not precious for me, and, blessed be God, a part of my blessing. He has given himself for us, and this was a part of that given, or the fruit of it. We cannot feel it too deeply. The true question lies beyond all this, and is not touched on in the attack I have referred to, which is an additional reason for my not replying to it as such. What I object to and judge to he evil, in what is afloat among Christians, is not even the doctrine that the sufferings of Christ, during His lifetime, were vicarious; even where this is incorrectly stated, I might seek, in such a case, to make the apprehensions of the mind clearer, where it was needed; but in no case, that I am aware of, should I have an idea of treating it as heretical. On the contrary, the doctrine which I denounce as evil, where it has been carefully developed and justified, (and the author of these views is in the good esteem of the writer of the article I refer to,) teaches very specifically that the sufferings of the blessed Lord, during His lifetime, were not vicarious; that it is a mistake and an error to hold them so. It teaches that they were the consequence of His association, by birth, with man and with Israel, and that Christ had all the experiences which an unconverted man ought to have. It teaches that Christ was dried up and withered by Jehovah's anger, not vicariously, but by reason of the place He was in. That is what I abhor. I do not find the persons so jealous of semi-Socinianism moved to this jealousy by these and the like doctrines, nor others almost equally mischievous, in those they applaud and quote. And this abominable doctrine as to Christ has gone very far. Tracts are published, in which the darkness of unbelief in us, and an inability to pray, are declared to be the partaking of the sufferings of Christ; and that when a Christian doubts of his salvation, that too is the fellowship of Christ's sorrow. "There were moments," I read, "when Jesus appears to have had fears for His ultimate deliverance and safety He entreated, at least, that a way of escape might be left Him that He might not be shut in in hopeless despair! Oh, what deep depths we may be led into, through our own prayer, to know the 'fellowship of His sufferings,' yet who that remembers what joint-heirship with Him involves, can expect, or even desire entire exemption from them? . . . . . . . "That is, in desiring to have part in Christ's sufferings, we may get into despair, or all but. Was this doubting His own deliverance vicarious in Christ? What is it in those who come into it after He has wrought a perfect redemption? Nor is this all. I read, " Jesus knew what it was to be apparently set fast in His onward course, as is strikingly expressed under the figure of miry clay, 'I sink in deep mire (margin, mire of the depth) where there is no standing.' Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink.' 'He brought me up also out of the miry clay, out of an horrible pit.' It was no light thing which made Jesus express Himself thus. He knew what it was, by painful experience, to be in such a position. Thus He says in Psalm xxviii. 16, 17, 'When my foot slipped, (who but knows the difficulty of walking " in miry clay without slipping,) , they magnify themselves against me, for I am ready to halt.' He would have shrunk back if He could consistently with his Father's will. 'If it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.' What comfort is this for believers when they are ready to halt (set fast)!"

What shall I say to such language? I know not with any certainty whose it is. I have understood that they are the statements of a deceased female, whose life and correspondence I have never seen. Wisdom might have corrected and set them right, if this be so, when she was living; but they have been published s tracts for edification by those who have approved of them, and I am entitled to treat them as theirs. Is suffering vicarious when it is our privilege to pass through the same, and doubt of our ultimate deliverance, as Jesus appears to have had fears for His? Did the Lord slip vicariously? No, reader, you have the fruit, and that published by teachers as piety, of the system I denounce. It is largely afloat. It may be more guarded by the theologians, more nakedly stated when a female's feelings are possessed by it; but the doctrine, the root and principle of it, belongs to a whole school of doctrine.1 You have some of the ripe fruits here. Christ slipped, "and who but knows the difficulty of walking in miry clay without slipping?" I do not charge the whole school with accepting such fruits as these, but I do charge their principles and their doctrine with being the root which bears them. Some who published the tracts and the biography, (if what I am informed be correct,) must have been brought, by being habituated to this doctrine, and the ignorant application of Psalms, and other parts of scripture, to Christ, to see only what was edifying in saying that Christ's foot slipped—He not having succeeded in overcoming the difficulty of not doing so—and that this is a great comfort for believers when they are set fast in the mire—it is to be supposed when they slip too, and this is the fellowship of His sufferings! Seasons of spiritual darkness are an answer to a prayer to know Him, and the fellowship of His sufferings; "and in no case, perhaps, can Christian experience be more fully or minutely traced out, as real participation in the sufferings of Christ Jesus, the head of His body." A justification of the darkness of unbelief—not the travailing sorrows of love for others, which, however, are here confounded with them, but of darkness and almost despair for oneself, viewed as the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, is beyond all, I avow, that I could ever have imagined the perversion of a misguided mind could have led to. If it were vicarious in Christ, I suppose these doctors must make it so in the Christian now, for it is the fruit of his prayers for fellowship in Christ's sufferings. It is not, they tell us, unbelief but privilege; not a needed exercise of heart, but a conferred one; not one whose blessing is a needed one for the soul who goes through it, its own humiliation or its discipline. For whom is it undergone? Indeed, in the same tract it is said that Christ is to see of the travail of His soul, and Gethsemane and the cross are specifically referred to, so, it is said, ministers travail in birth for their little children, till Christ be formed within them; and this is circulated as beautiful piety. I do not trust myself to express what I feel. It was said by the leader of this school, referring to Christ, that we need not be surprised if a person going up an ice mountain, with a heavy load on his back, should slip. This ripens under female feeling into the declaration that He did; a conclusion unfairly drawn from this abuse of the psalm, fairly followed out. And these public teachers go a step further now, and comfort believers with the thought that Christ actually slipped, His path was so difficult.

But I repeat, it is the just and natural fruit of a school of doctrine admired by very many really . Christian people. The tree is known by its fruits.

That Christ suffered every possible sorrow which can come upon man through sin (I do not speak, I need hardly say, of final condemnation); and that all His sorrows were, in one way or other, (for they were various,) the consequence and fruit of sin, though of His own love too, is most preciously true. That in all my sorrows and temptations and trials, even those which come through my faults or infirmities, I may know that He feels either with or for me, is of infinite value. But to make the infirmities of my faith, my hours of darkness, and unbelieving fears of final failure, the fellowship of His sufferings, and His slipping a comfort to my soul, is the last excess of spiritual pride and folly.

But the principle which has borne this fruit connects itself on one side with the question of the vicariousness of Christ's life, at least with the view taken of it by the school I have in view, because the true character of wrath against sin and atonement is lost sight of. It is this last point which I would desire now to give its just place to, and leave all controversy connected with it pretty much aside, though I shall refer to the opinion of old writers.

We cannot have too deep a sense of the depth of the Lord's suffering in His atoning work, of that which no human word is competent to express (for in human language we express but our own feelings)—what the Lord's drinking the cup of divine wrath was to Him. With this nothing can be mingled and mixed up. Divine wrath against sin, really felt and truly felt in the soul of One who, by His perfect holiness and love to God and sense of God's love in its infinite value, could know what Divine wrath was, and what it was to be made sin before God, of One too who was, by virtue of His person, able to sustain it, stands wholly apart and alone. Dreadful as the anticipation of it must have been, as it surely was, it was not that which was anticipated. No simple fact of death, dreadful as it was to the Prince of life, still less any human sufferings, real and absolute as His were, (and without one eye to pity, one heart to feel with the sufferer,) could be put on a level with Divine wrath. Hence, in Psalm xxii. the Lord expresses it Himself alone; He refers to the violence and wickedness of man in that Psalm; He refers to His own sense of weakness; and, in the midst of all that, contrasts with it God's being far from Him, as the distinct point of conflict in it, but openly declares that in all sorrow where others had help, God bad forsaken Him. Hence, as has been said elsewhere, the fruit of this is unmingled grace, and grace and blessing alone, because it was wrath and suffering from God for sin. Sorrows from man, man might be, and will be, judged for, if viewed as an enemy in will; the forsaking of God when Christ is made sin—who is to be judged for that? No, this stands absolutely and wholly alone, and Christ wholly alone in it. It works atonement, expiation. Can anyone else suffer what works that? Hence Christ puts Himself wholly alone in this Psalm xxii—contrasts Himself with other believers. They trusted God and were delivered. He was forsaken. Suffering can go on of the deepest and most poignant kind, distress and anxiety even in respect of sin. Sufferings can go on even to death with its terrible power as such over the heart of man—can culminate to the very point where wrath is also found; but all close and reach their limit here; all stop totally, and wholly in their nature short of the wrath and forsaking of God. They have their place and character as elements of human sorrow, however extreme; but all give way when this is there. Who could feel sorrow though sorrow were there, when wrath, God's wrath against sin is there? Not merely bitter consequences on the sinner, even to death, for all that is true—and Christ hiss trodden that path—but divine wrath as such against sin—that stands alone: woe be to him who does not know it! Hence, even in the 69th Psalm, far, very far, as it goes in the sorrows and sufferings of Christ, and that in connexion even with sins known to God, lung as may be His cry, and to sense and feeling lung unheard; yet the Spirit can introduce others into the same place. I de net say they suffered as much or as deeply—surely not; but they could suffer in the same way in the same position. " For they persecute him whom thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded." (ver. 26). Hence judgment is looked for on them. It is not atonement. These sufferings from man bring judicial visitation on man. In Psalm xxii. nut a trace of associating others, or others being associated, with the Lord in his sorrow. All suffering saints are, as we have seen, contrasted with Him. When the redemption is accomplished by it, when He has been heard from the horns of the unicorns, then indeed He associates His brethren with Him, but it is in deliverance, joy, and peace. Who could make atonement, or bear wrath for its accomplishment, but One? In every other sorrow we can bear a part. And this difference between the 22nd and 69th Psalms is so marked that in the 69th, while dwelling on the sufferings which came upon Christ on His drawing near to death, and giving the cry of deep distress as to state and circumstances as its thesis, instead of presenting to us His being forsaken of God while crying to Him, He says, "hut as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O Jehovah, in an acceptable time: O God, in the multitude of thy mercy hear me, in the truth of thy salvation." (ver. 13). Hence, in the expression of His anguish and sorrow, deep as it was, we have no word like the 22nd Psalm: " but thou hearest not." Now it is impossible that a spiritual mind, one who knows something of the value of divine favour and being able to look to Him, however deep and inward the distress, be it even through sins and failures, can fail to understand the immense and absolute difference of these two states: equally impossible, it is true, yea., blessedly so, to fathom the depth of that which the 22nd Psalm expresses.

Now it is the sense of the true bearing of wrath—direct wrath from God—when made sin, and suffering it, the being really forsaken of God as to the state of His soul, and because of sin so that it was necessary and deserved, though through others, but really undergone,—that it is of the very last importance, fundamentally important, to keep quite clear and fast hold of and maintain, and to held as a clear foundation of everlasting truth. As regards the truth itself I repeat, no divinely-taught mind, however obscure it may be as to the doctrine of the proper nature and character of Christ's living sufferings—however it may (through feelings) run up the depth of Christ's sorrows into mixing, with those sorrows, His atoning work—no divinely taught mind will, as to the positive truth, fail to distinguish from all else the reality of Christ's own soul bearing the direct inflicted wrath of God and the forsaking of God, which in grace He underwent; will fail to distinguish this from all other sorrow and suffering, however deep, in which He could say, for example, "But as for me, my prayer is unto thee in an acceptable time," in which He did not say, "But thou hearest not." He may find many passages difficult to explain, may be confused by the reasonings of others. He may as to his feelings, confuse anticipating the cup of wrath and drinking it. We have all, more or less, done this; but when the real bearing of wrath from God, the wrath of God for sin, is before his soul and conscience, he will bow his soul before that solemn work, he will know that Christ stood alone in it; nor will he ever mix it up, for one instant, with sorrow, however deep, in which others could bear a part. In all sorrows of active love, in all brought upon us by the government of God for sin, we—at any rate man—(as for example the Jewish remnant, and, in principle, sinners under the law,) can bear a thankful part or have to bow under it. Reproach may break man's heart: he may stand alone and be forsaken of men, he may cry out of the depths, because of sin; but bear the weight of wrath he knows he could not. He adores when he finds another has done it. But this demands a more orderly exposition.  



1) A popular book of piety, the " Night of Weeping," is unequivocally infested with this doctrine.