The Sufferings of Christ. - Part 4

The Bible Treasury - Volume 2


It was not now, in these last scenes of Christ's life, the manifestation of the Lord in grace to Israel, the revelation of the Father's name to the few given to Jesus out of the world, but the endurance of Israel's own case under the government of Jehovah, when guilty and rejecting their own mercies, yet with the sense a holy soul, wrapped up in Israel's blessings, would have of such a state before the judgment of God; not made a curse and drinking the cup, but the sense of it under God's government and Satan's power. Here good and evil were fully entered into and proved of the Lord. That is, He must undergo the whole , power of evil, not as in judgment, but as trial. Was Satan using death as darkness, sorrow, and terror; with God's judgment sanctioning the pressure of it on the soul; men but his instruments to add to the grief, be they friends or foes? Was Israel's sin and rejection of good come to its height? was all this used by Satan against the soul of Christ to stay Him in the path; and was He to enter into the temptation which thus pressed on Him and give way; or, trusting God, was He to go on in the path of obedience, and drink the cup itself in obedience to God His Father? In the synoptical gospels we have the trial; in John, the full and blessed answer. He passes through the trial with God, does not take what death imports from Satan's hand, so to speak, nor stop in His path, but while going perfectly through it as the power of darkness, receives the cup itself, instead of drinking from it under Satan's terror, from His Father's hand, and gives Himself freely up in love and obedience to expiate the sin under God's hand and wrath, which Satan had in vain wielded to deter Him from it. The power of evil as trial was broken entirely, and Satan's power of darkness annulled for us. Man might be made to pass through it under the government of God to learn what he was, what sin is, what the power of evil in which he has been lying is; but the sympathy and sustaining grace of Christ can support him through it, suggest the right thoughts and feelings under it and be found a. resource in every pressure, so that faith should not fail, however sore that pressure may be. Atonement was needed for this, but the sympathy and consolations of Christ in the trial are what sustain and encourage the hearts of the remnant through their various trials down to the lowest depths of sorrow. If it be asked how they can profit by it, not having any direct knowledge of or faith in Christ? I reply, it is exactly what is furnished in the most admirable detail in the Psalms, where every part of their external sorrow and internal distress is expressed and entered into, the dreadful weight of a broken law, the power of adversaries without conscience, the temptation and pressure of the adversary, with the thoughts and feelings, whether of distress or faith, are given a voice to by divine grace, with the witness that He who in all their afflictions was afflicted, and the angel whose presence succoured them, has not forgotten them in their deepest distress; but, as the poor man, has passed through it for them, and can comfort them when under it, putting His seal upon the holy desires He has awakened in them with the certainty of a divine answer, and that even by that Son of man, the branch which God made strong for Himself. Hence it is that these Psalms, besides the personal piety which is found in them, have been the comfort of distressed souls who were under the law, and not yet knowing the fulness of redemption. Hence, too, we find the desire of the judgment of enemies and the execution of vengeance, because it is by that judgment alone that the remnant of the people will be delivered. Hence, too, we find the assurance that the Lord will build up Zion, and the remnant of His people inhabit it, in Psalms, where the sufferings of Christ are entered into in detail. Indeed, we have in the Psalms a complete and perfect history of the remnant in every circumstantial and moral phase -of their path, both of Jews and Israel, and the result in blessing with Messiah, together with the way in which Christ has entered into it, these last Psalms being prophetic of Christ personally, though in many we have the remnant also, while all the Psalms are the expression of His Spirit. The godly remnant is the first thought in them—their subject; Christ's sympathy is with them. The first Psalm gives us the godly remnant, the subject of God's government; and the second, Messiah, King in Zion, object of His counsel and decree; and after that, all the various experiences which flow from His rejection, up to the glory at the end.

I have already shown that the time in which Christ went through the distress and sorrow, under which the remnant fall through their sins, was not that of those public services by which He was the light of the world, revealing to others His Father's name, but when (going again up to Jerusalem for that purpose, and setting His face as a flint for it, and not hiding His face from shame and spitting, His rejection being the ground of Israel's divorce, Isa. 1.), He was subject to the fullest exercise of soul, under the power of darkness, in the hour of His rebellious rejecters, who could triumph in His apparent rejection; when all was changed from the time that He sat daily in the temple, and no man laid hands upon Him; when the prince of this world came.

Few, comparatively, of the Psalms apply wholly and exclusively to Christ. The great body of them express the working of His Spirit in the hearts of His tried ones. The difference, even where suffering is the subject, between those which are, and those which are not, exclusively applicable to Him, is very evident, and particularly between His sufferings from the hand of God and from the hand of man, even when this was under the visitations of God and the power of the enemy. It is worth while to note these points distinctly. Psalm ii. refers personally to Christ as Messiah, and Son of God, born in this world; viii. as Son of man. In xvi. we find Him formally taking His place among the godly remnant, treading the path of life through death, up to fulness of joy in resurrection; xx. and xxi. have, in a certain sense, also Christ alone for their subject; xxii. clearly so. Sins are not confessed till xxv. The integrity of heart of the remnant is presented, or Christ Himself. Besides these, xl., though mainly of Him, is not absolutely so; see verse 5. In xlv. Re is clearly celebrated; lxix. speaks also chiefly but not exclusively of Him; see verse 26. In lxxii. we find Him again as Solomon; ci. and cii. treat also of Him as King in Israel, and as, though cut off, Jehovah the Creator. In cx. He is exalted to Jehovah's right hand, to be priest after the order of Melchizedec. In other Psalms He is introduced, but He is not their personal subject. I do not call to mind others of which He is exclusively or pre-eminently the subject, though it is possible some one may have escaped me; my object is rather to give a certain number of distinct examples, than a list of them. As regards the Psalms which speaks of His sufferings, the marks which distinguish those which speak of His sufferings from man and those which express His sufferings under the hand of God, are very clear and decisive. Thus Psalms xx. xxi. He suffers from the hand of man. The consequence is, xxi. announces judgment on man. So it is in lxix: though other elements are found there. The Psalm treats of the number of those who hate Him without a cause, who give Him gall for meat and in His thirst give Rim vinegar to drink; and He desires that their table be a snare to them; that their eyes be darkened, and that God should pour out His indignation upon them. So even in Psalm xxxi., though it has less of this character, yet it still has this distinctive mark of the looking for judgment on the wicked. (Ver. 17, 18.)

I have already remarked that in sorrows from human persecution, on account of what is good, His saints can have a part. The pressure of it, in connexion with sins, and the desire of vengeance or judgment, finds its accomplishment in the remnant of the Jews in the last day.1 In Psalm cii., where, though the enemies are seen, the sorrow of Messiah is traced to God's indignation and wrath, who has lifted Him up as Messiah, and cast Him down, even to the dust of death, no desire for judgment is expressed, but blessing and grace are the result. This is most strikingly displayed in Psalm xxii. where the atoning work of the cross is the distinct and definite subject. As soon as the Lord is heard from the horns of the unicorn, His first thought, as indeed it historically was, is to make known all the blessing of His God and Father's name, where in unclouded blessing in righteousness He now stood, to His brethren. Then He praises in the midst of the Church, then in the great congregation—all Israel in the latter day; then the blessing reaches all the ends of the earth in millennial mercies; then the seed afterwards born. To all, the word is that He has done this. No trace of judgment from Him who has borne sin and wrath for us; nor from Him who inflicted that wrath on Christ for us in the counsels of unutterable grace. Now in the 69th Psalm we have the cross also, and not merely the wickedness of man, though that is fully entered into; but the trusting of God and distress under the sense of sins. How is this to be distinguished from the atoning work of Christi Here the difficulty presents itself fully, but if we wait patiently on the Lord, all difficulties of Scripture are inlets to light and blessing: The mark I have noticed. as indicating sufferings from man, and other distinguishing ones, are clearly found in this Psalm. Judgment is looked for on the enemies, an absolute and conclusive distinction in the very nature of the sufferings; and there is another characteristic already noticed, but to our purpose here.

We read, verse 26, "They persecute him whom thou hast smitten, and speak to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded." Here we have evidently more than man's persecutions. They take advantage of God's hand upon the sorrowing one, to add to His burden and grief. This is not atonement, but there is sorrow and smiting from God. Hence we find the sense of sins, (ver. 5,) though of course in the case of Christ they were not His own personally, but the nation's (in a certain sense we may say ours, but specially the nation's sin). But we have the clear proof that they are not atoning sufferings; because instead of suffering in the place of others so that they should not have one drop of that cup of wrath to drink, others are associated with the Lord here in them. "They persecute him whom thou hast smitten and speak to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded." When men are wounded too, when Christ is the companion with them—not a substitute for them—then atonement is not wrought nor the wrath of condemnation endured. Yet God has smitten and wounded. It is not merely man that has caused suffering. Man comes in in malice to add to the sorrow. Thus we have along with the suffering from man at the epoch of the crucifixion, (the special subject of the Psalm,) bringing judgment on man, the third character of Christ's sufferings, the suffering under the government of God, at the epoch of His final sorrows in which the remnant will have its part and into which Christ is entered for them, afflicted in all their afflictions. Hence too, though in most deep waters, overflown, weary of crying, Christ is not forsaken—His prayer is to God in an acceptable time. Deep as is the distress, it has a character wholly and entirely contrasted with atonement, yet it is not the ministry of Jesus in blessing in the enjoyment of the light of His Father's countenance, but the conflict and agony of His soul when the power of darkness is at work. Another very striking fact in the path of the blessed Lord, which I alluded to, is this. During the whole of His life of service, ell through, including Gethsemane, Christ never addresses God by the name of God. He always says "Father." On the cross we know His words were, "My God, my God." In His life this title would have been out of place—not of course because it did not belong to Him whom he addressed, but because it was not the expression of the unclouded relationship and conscious blessedness of Sonship in which the blessed Lord always stood. On the cross God was dealing with Him about sin, and therefore as God, in His nature, majesty, righteousness and truth. Here sin was to be dealt with as such by God, and the blessed One expresses according to truth the position in which His holy soul stood. We are permitted in wondrous grace to see Him in such a one. Infinite and wondrous grace it is. But the terms the Lord makes use of mark very clearly and solemnly the difference of the two positions in which the blessed Lord relatively stood.2 Till the cross the Lord walked in the enjoyment of the relationship of a Son with the Father, yea, an only-begotten Son, knowing that the Father heard him always. On the cross, as we have seen, all that God was against sin, He, made sin, had to feel, and meet, and endure, but then returned into the full joy of all that God and His Father was in righteousness. Redemption being accomplished, He brings His disciples into the enjoyment and joy of both. "I ascend to my Father and your Father; and to my God and your God."

When I speak of three characters of the sufferings of Christ, it is not that He did not in detail suffer in a thousand ways; yea, everything was a suffering, His perfectness and love being shown in enduring. I speak merely of three distinct positions in which, or principles en which, He suffered. Another question arises, connected with these points, as to the active and passive obedience of Christ, as it is called. Whether the righteousness of Christ, as obedient under the law, is imputed to us; and then also as to His priesthood: but this I must reserve, if the Lord will, for another paper; it will be time enough then to consider the opinions of men. One thing is certain, that without shedding of blood there is no remission, and it is a singular atonement and vicarious work which had no such effect. There was, we are told, "a sin-bearing life,"—that the sufferings of Christ during His life were satisfactory; yet they obtain no remission, for without shedding of blood is no remission. My earnest objection, however, is not against this, but against a doctrine, which, on the contrary, declares that these sufferings were not vicarious, but the effect of Christ's being born a man and a Jew, and which makes us consequently partakers of these sufferings under wrath as our privilege. Still, those who insist that Christ's living sufferings were satisfactory, and that all His sufferings wrought the work of redemption, should explain how it is that remission is wholly by something else.

Finally, I say that he who says that Christ, when He said, "I cry in the day-time, and thou hearest not," and when He said, "I know that thou hearest me always," when He said, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me l " and when He said, "He that sent me is with me; the Father hath not left me alone, for Ι do always those things that please Him," was in the same position, and accomplishing the same work before God, knows neither the tenor of His life nor the true power of His death rightly before God. Acceptable He always was; but bearing wrath unheard, and enjoying divine favours, knowing He was always heard, is not the same thing; and he who holds that it is, does not yet know what his sins have cost the Lord.

One great root, let me just add, of ell this, (prevalent evidently in Scotland, and I fear not confined to it, and the true root of Irvingism and semi-Irvingism,) is an abuse of Scripture language, found, if my memory be not very treacherous, in the " Night of Weeping,"—that Christ was made bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh. These words have no such application or use in Scripture—they are not indeed found there. We, the Church, are bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh, now that He is glorified and the saints united to Him who is on high. The thought is a totally different one and does not refer to His incarnation but to our union with Him when glorified. As incarnate, He abode alone. But this would lead me to a point I hope to touch on, the Lord willing, in another paper.

I close this paper, already too long, but justified by the importance of the subject, by stating the different characteristic periods of Christ's life as presented by Scripture. First, until He was about thirty years old, (save-His going up to Jerusalem at twelve years old, and disputing with the doctors, given doubtless as a part of what He was in person and grace, and to show that His relationship to the Father did not depend on any extraordinary anointing for office by the Holy Ghost,) He remained in the obscurity of a patient and perfect life, awaiting His calling of God. He then associates Himself publicly with the remnant and is baptized by John, and is owned of the Father, sealed and anointed with the Holy Ghost. He therefore goes up, before His public service, into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. He overcomes and binds the strong man. Satan departs from Him for a season. Subsequently to this He goes about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him"—does always such things as please Him—is always heard and knows it. Satan comes back as prince of this world, and having the power of death. At the beginning he had tempted Christ with all that might be hoped to allure Him, physically, spiritually, and by the glory of the world. Christ, having overcome, displayed the power which could deliver man from all the effects of that of Satan. Now man's enmity is brought cut and Satan proves Him by the power of death and the terrible consequences of what man was in judgment, what He must go through if He will take up his cause being such. This was at the epoch of His last visit to Jerusalem. Finally, He drinks the cup which He had freely and submissively taken at His Father's band, and works redemption on the cross for them who believe in Him.  



1) It is one of the things which characterize the Revelation also, as distinct in its prophetic part from an address to the Church, on its own ground of blessing, and its taking up a proper prophetic, and not evangelical character, that we find joy over the judgment  of Babylon, and in the souls under the altar the desire of vengeance.

2) The writer of an article I have alluded to at the beginning of this paper attacks a tract entitled "The Cross," published in Dublin. No one can be answerable but the editor of the Dublin tracts for expressions found in them, because—I dare say often usefully—he modifies them to suit his object, which is popular distribution, and he seeks to make them simple and clear; but the critic's note is most unhappy. The tract states that God was with Christ in the communion of perfect complacency up to the time His people's sins were transferred to Him on the cross, but that then all was changed. The critic then exclaims, "What, the Father's complacency in His Son changed!" Such singular pre-occupation hardly needs, as every one will feel, an answer. The tract says there was the communion of perfect complacency till then; the note says,"What, the complacency changed!" Now I believe that there never was a time when the Father's complacency in the Son was so great as at that solemn moment; but that is not the communion of complacency. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" it is not the enjoyment of communion. The subject precludes my making any remark on so strange a mistake.