The Bible Treasury - Volume 2
To the Editor of the Bible Treasury.
My DEAR BROTHER,
I thank you for sending me the query as to the paper on the sufferings of Christ. It was my desire to send a few words to you on a danger to which saints may be liable, through the inquiry which has been raised on this subject. This question of your correspondent C. affords me the ready opportunity of doing so. But for the circumstance of the words "To be continued" being omitted through a very immaterial mistake, the paper would not have appeared to be closed without a signature, which would have left on the writer all the responsibility of the views contained in it.
The danger I have alluded to is double. First, that the whole doctrine as to Christ, which has been promulgated, should so alarm Christians that they should be afraid almost of dwelling on the sufferings of Christ, and giving them their full human reality, lest they should trench on the perfection of His person and position before God. The tendency to the mind being overbalanced by the fear of one extreme, and running into another, is a well-known infirmity of the human mind. If the enemy could lead the saints to shrink from a full contemplation of the sufferings of Christ, because of the heartless blasphemies which have been mixed up with the teaching on the subject lie would have gained a point of the utmost consequence. There is no subject more full of blessing and profit—if the divine nature and perfectness of Christ be fully maintained—than the true humanity and real sufferings of our Lord. It is the channel and expression of His love to us, where the heart meets it most near to us. If this be weakened in the soul (and it has been weakened by the orthodox persons) the link of the heart with the blessed Lord is seriously weakened. I remember, at the time Mr. Irving was promulgating his errors as to the person of Christ, a religious newspaper insisting that Christ's learning obedience by the things which He suffered, meant His teaching it. Now this, though rightly intended in resisting fatal error, sacrificed precious truth, and tended to the very injurious practice of forcing the word of God. There is the danger of losing—through a just jealousy of the abominations which have been stated as to the blessed Lord—a full practical sense of the reality of His human sufferings.
But this danger has another side for every heart that occupies itself with it. It is clear that the peculiar value of this touching part of the Lord's history is that the wretched and cold heart of man may be touched, the affections engaged in a sanctifying way with Christ, and brought up to what is divine, the soul attached to Him, while a reverent sympathy is awakened in the soul with all He went through, and the heart carried with Him into those better scenes into which His sufferings lead him. Now, the truth has to be guarded; but a diligent dissection of all we ought to feel, is very apt to destroy all feeling as to what we dissect; the power of the sufferings of Christ is lost in the effort to be precise as to them, and to guard the integrity of doctrine as to His person and work. The real guilt of this would be with those who brought out the hateful doctrines which have given occasion to hedge around the truth with precautions. But it is the wisdom of those who respect the Lord so to deal with the subject as to keep alive, in all their freshness, and with the bloom of first-ripe fruit, the sense of the sufferings of Christ, and the simplicity of holy and reverent affections with which they have been first dwelt upon. Such I desire for my own soul, such I desire for my brethren. It is well and very important to have the truths clear, and to guard it—especially when it concerns Christ—with holy vigilance. But it is well to have the heart free and fresh. "In that he has suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted." Let us never forget that He laid His hand on the leper, which if another had done, he would have been defiled: but it was not to contaminate Himself, but to drive away what was contaminating from the defiled one. The immutability of His holiness enabled Him to enter in love into the proximity of sin, and all the miseries and sorrows of sinful men, as nothing else but such a holiness could. It was just the blessedness and divine perfections of His work, when alive here, to do so. God was here revealed, and none but God could have done this, and in grace to the fallen.
The mistake of your correspondent—and I am very glad of his jealousy of anything which could have in it a particle of the doctrine that has been and is spread abroad—is, that he confounds sorrows with the cause of sorrows. First of all, to dispose at once of his first question, "Was He himself chastened in respect of sin" It scarcely needs an answer, because He had no sin, in respect of which He had to be chastened. He was not chastened in respect of sin, nor by anger applying to His person in respect of sin. But we must not confound voluntary sympathy with sorrows, and entering into them in love, with lying under sorrow by His own position. If He lay under the chastening Himself, He could not enter into it in voluntary love, alive as a man on earth, because in that case He was under it already Himself. Here is just the danger—denying the entering into, because of the fatal doctrine of His being necessarily under. It is just the doctrine of Christ's being necessarily and by birth, when a man, under these sorrows and chastenings for sin, which renders impossible the truth of His graciously and freely entering into them in love; which is just what gives all its value to these sufferings. He could not, as a man on earth, enter in grace and tender goodness towards us into that by sympathy, which He was lying under by necessity in His own person as man, or more than other men were. This point is cleared therefore. But sufferings endured by others can be fully entered into and endured by the will and love of an individual, which they are not in the smallest degree subject necessarily to, and could cease to undergo, at any moment, if they thought fit. A mother could enter into prison with a child, and suffer the disagreeableness and discomfort of the prison in love to her child, and to win his heart to what is right, to whom it was no penalty for a fault, and from which she was free to go out at any moment, if she were disposed. She may enter into all his circumstances, and endure the pain and misery of a prison life, and feel that it is for him, a penalty for his faults, without the smallest sense, whatever, of its being a penalty on herself—as indeed it is not. She is gone there in love. It is no penalty. She is not there, at any time, as in a penal condition herself, nor can she have the sense of its being a penalty on her, as if she was in the same case as her son. Yet, in fact, she is enduring all he is—feels it much more herself; for her natural and moral feelings are much more delicate, and she feels all the shame and misery of it as a penalty on him, without its being in the smallest degree such on her. Not only so; if she were there by the law imposing it on her (even because she was the mother of him who had incurred it), she could not feel in the same way for him. Instead of our being under an evil being a cause of sympathy—so far as we are under it ourselves, we cannot in simple and true love sympathise with one who is. We must morally be out of the evil to feel freely for those in it. The sufferings as to the facts were experimentally the Lord's own, and He entered in spirit and thought for His people into the causes of them, and did so, and could do so, exactly, because the causes of them had no application what ever to Himself. The scorn and rejection of the Gentiles He underwent; so will the remnant of Israel: but they have been the guilty parties, and are there because they are, though now in heart repentant, and turned away from them. The terror of God's judgrent was before Christ in Gethsemane; so it will be with the remnant of Israel in the last day. They will indeed escape it, which He did not because of our salvation. Rejection and scorn on the part of the Jews were His portion: so it will be of the remnant. And thus with all this character of suffering, as treachery, desertion, and scorn.
Now, all this is quite a different thing from atonement, where the wrath of God is endured. That the. remnant (though they, as ourselves, have deserved it) will never undergo. All these sufferings will form the moral state of the remnant: come upon them as a penalty, they will and ought to feel it as such. They are the fruits of their faults and sins, though at the same time of their integrity, as expressed in the Psalms; but in Christ, while the present fruit of His integrity, they are in no kind of way of His fault, nor is He dealt with as faulty in it by God; quite the contrary. He voluntarily enters into it all in grace. It may be asked, But how could He enter into the sense of wrath in this ways Nothing can possibly be simpler. Israel is under it because they have deserved it, and though they are encouraged, and in a measure comforted in hope, yet, not being yet acquainted with the fulness of redemption in Christ, they cry out of the depths under the sense of sin, and the hand of God upon them bears with it the sense and dread of wrath because of sin. Christ felt this, not because He had earned it in any way, or was necessarily under it by birth amongst those who had, so that He needed mercy and some means to escape it; but exactly the contrary: because when He was not subject to it, but the delight of His Father, He was going to take it in grace voluntarily all upon Him. He could anticipatively feel what He was going really to undergo, and cry unto Him who was able to save Him from death. They could groan under the dread of the sane wrath, which (when rightly and for their own good taught the truth of it, so that there might be truth in their inward parts) they are not finally to undergo at all. I am not here speaking of the degree and spirit in which He suffered, for here, notwithstanding grace in them, the difference will still be great. The truth is, that, so far is sympathy from the being in the same state, the sympathies of Christ are exercised when He is in no suffering at all. He has a nature cognizant of the same sorrows as sorrows, and hence capable of entering into them. But the spirit and mind in which He enters into them may be as different as possible. His Spirit works in the remnant according to what is to take place from His hand—that is, judgment. He feels and enters into their sorrows, for He has gone through the sorrows. His feelings under them were purely gracious. When they suffer, He is going to judge, and His Spirit works the looking for this judgment. The church alone has properly and fully, as to their natures like thoughts with Jesus Himself. On this side also her privilege is great. We cannot estimate it too highly.
THE WRITER OF THE ARTICLE OF THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST.
Since I sent my reply to some previous questions on the paper on the Sufferings of Christ, two further questions have been sent to me. After the explanation I have given in reply to the former, a short answer will suffice. The enquiry made is, What is the difference between the doctrine of the paper and Mr. Newton's? The question shows the need of making the matter clear to those who have been occupied with it. The answer is very simple. The doctrine of the paper is exactly the opposite of Mr. Newton's. Mr. Newton taught that Christ, as born an Israelite and a man, was at the same distance from God as Israel and man, because He was one of them, was exposed to the consequences of it, and passed through the experiences an unconverted, elect man ought, escaped much of what He was exposed to by• being in their position, by prayer, obedience, and piety, but still had the fierce displeasure of God resting on Him as born one of the people. Hence He listened with glad attention to the gospel under John the Baptist, and passed then for Himself as from the law to the gospel. Most of this terrible anguish to which He was exposed, as born one of the Jews and of the children of Adam, was before His baptism by John. I believe, on the contrary, that though suffering from man and feeling fο r all the sufferings of man and Israel, and the sorrow of love resting continually upon His heart, the sunshine of God's favour was on Him and was His delight and His joy continually; and thus there was no divine displeasure resting on that Holy One, nor was His frame wasted by the anguish of it. I detest it as a false abomination. But I believe that in grace, at the close of His history, when His lifework (as presented to Israel according to promise and gracious service towards man) was brought to a close, He, the object of divine favour, entered into the sorrows of His people.
Your correspondent has said in a short parenthesis "(unless anticipatively)," but what is Israel's sorrow in the last day (unless anticipative)? They will not undergo wrath at the close. Christ felt it in Gethsemane anticipatively, because He was about to undergo it. But He did feel it anticipatively; that is, He did feel what Israel will feel only far more deeply. And He felt it in grace, because He was not under it personally; whereas, Israel, as to his own position, will be; and if Christ had been under it personally, because born a Jew, He could not have entered into it in grace. If the whole family are held under the penalties of high treason, and the mother I have supposed in my previous answer in prison necessarily, though not personally guilty, she cannot go to partake of her son's sorrow in love, for the simple reason that she is there by the necessity of her own case. She is not free to go out because she has gone voluntarily in; Christ could have asked for His twelve legions of angels and have been free. Mr. Newton's doctrine was that He was born under it and sought to escape it by prayer, and obedience, and piety, and partially did: mine, that He was not born under it at all, but, instead of having to seek to escape it, entered into the sorrow in love and grace for the deliverance of others. That is, one is exactly and essentially the opposite of the other. The question of " How long?" is as to this, in itself immaterial; but the point that He was entirely free as born into the world, His state the opposite of what Mr. Newton says, and that by grace He entered into it, makes the difference of a false Christ and a true one—a true One who, being free, perfectly free, can care for others; and a false one who, being subject to it himself, must think of himself and not of others in love.
THE WRITER OF THE ARTICLE ON THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST.