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THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST
For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow His steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously: who His own self bare our sins in His body upon the tree, that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were going astray like sheep; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
“Christ also suffered . . . who did no sin.” [Verses 21, 22] The two phrases must be conjoined if either is to receive an adequate interpretation. The earlier term discloses its significance by the light of the later term. If we would know the content and intensity of the suffering, we must know the character of the sufferer. “Christ also suffered.” [Verse 21] The word is indeterminate until I know the quality of His life. Suffering is a relative term. The measure of its acuteness is determined by the degree of our refinement. The same burden weighs unequally on different 91men. Lower organisation implies diminished sensitiveness The higher the organisation the finer becomes the nerve, and the finer the nerve the more delicate becomes the exposure to pain. The more exquisite the refinement, the more exquisite is the pang.
I do not limit the principle to the domain of the flesh. It is a matter of familiar knowledge that in the body it is regnant. There are bodies in which the nerves seem atrophied or still-born, and there are bodies in which the nerves abound like masses of exquisitely sensitive pulp. But the diversity runs up into the higher endowments of the life, into the aesthetic and affectional and spiritual domains of the being. The man of little aesthetic refinement knows nothing of the aches and pains created by ugliness and discord. The rarer organisation is pierced and wounded by every jar and obliquity. It is even so in the realm of the affections. Where affection burns low, neglect and inattention are unnoticed; where love burns fervently, neglect is a martyrdom. If we rise still higher into the coronal dominions of the life, into the domain of moral and spiritual sentiments, we shall find that the degree of rectitude and holiness determines the area of exposure to the wounding, crucifying ministry of vulgarity and sin.92
“Christ also suffered . . . who did no sin.” We must interpret the rarity and refinement of His spirit if we would even faintly realise the intensity of His sufferings. “Who did no sin, [Verse 22] neither was guile found in His mouth.” “No sin!” The fine, sensitive membrane of the soul had in nowise been scorched by the fire of iniquity. “No sin!” He was perfectly pure and healthy. No power had been blasted by the lightning of passion. No nerve had been atrophied by the wasting blight of criminal neglect. The entire surface of His life was as finely sensitive as the fair, healthy skin of a little child. “Neither was guile found in His mouth.” [Verse 22] There was no duplicity. There were no secret folds or convolutions in His life concealing ulterior motives. There was nothing underhand. His life lay exposed in perfect truthfulness and candour. The real, inner meaning of His life was presented upon a plain surface of undisturbed simplicity. “No sin!” Therefore nothing blunted or benumbed. “No guile!” Therefore nothing hardened by the effrontery of deceit. I ask you to try to imagine the immense area which such a life laid open to the wounding implements of un faithfulness and sin.
Now, it is a Scriptural principle that all sin is creative of insensitiveness. “The wages of sin 93is death,” deadened faculty, impaired perception. “His leaf shall wither!” Sin is a blasting presence, and every fine power shrinks and withers in the destructive heat. Every spiritual delicacy succumbs to its malignant touch. I suppose that Scripture has drawn upon every sense for analogies in which to express the ravages of sin in the region of perception. Sin impairs the sight, and works towards blindness. Sin benumbs the hearing and tends to make men deaf. Sin perverts the taste, causing men to confound the sweet with the bitter, and the bitter with the sweet. Sin hardens the touch, and eventually renders a man “past feeling.” All these are Scriptural analogies, and their common significance appears to be this—sin blocks and chokes the fine senses of the spirit; by sin we are desensitised, rendered imperceptive, and the range of our correspondence is diminished. Sin creates callosity. It hoofs the spirit, and so reduces the area of our exposure to pain.
“Who did no sin!” No part of His being had been rendered insensitive. No perception had been benumbed by any callous overgrowth. Put the slightest pressure upon the Master’s life, and you awoke an exquisite nerve. “And they disputed one with another who should be greatest.” . . . “And Jesus perceiving their thoughts!” How sensitive the perception! The 94touch of a selfish thought crushed upon the nerve, and stirred it into agony. Such is the sensitiveness of sinlessness, and in this vulgar, selfish, and sinful world it could not be but that the Sinless One should be “a Man of Sorrows,” and that He should pass through pangs and martyrdoms long before He reached the appalling midnight of Gethsemane and Calvary. “Christ also suffered . . . who did no sin.”
Now, let us watch this sensitive Sufferer, so quick and apprehensive in every nerve, and let us contemplate the nature of some of the sufferings He endured. “He was reviled.” [Verse 23] Give the word its requisite intensity. He was vilified, vituperated, slandered!” What was the shape of the reviling? He was denounced as a liar! “He deceiveth the people.” Why, even with our blunt and benumbed consciousness, there is no charge like falsehood for tearing us with poignant pain. There is no word which pierces to the quick and stabs the very marrow, like the awful word “liar!” But to the Pure One, with His unimpaired perception, and in whose life the truth lay as fair and white as newly fallen snow, the charge of falsehood would create unutterable pain. “Christ also suffered,” being reviled. What was the shape of the revilings? “This man blasphemeth!” This meek and lowly Being, walking ever in the stoop of 95reverence, seeking ever to be well pleasing to His Father, now charged, by those He came to save, with irreverent and sacrilegious speech. His sacred ministry belied as profanity! “He hath a devil, and is mad!” “He casteth out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils!” This holy and sensitive Christ, whose one evangel was to tell men of His own sweet companionship with the Father, and whose one mission was to raise them into the delights of the same eternal fellowship, now charged with living in league with the devil, the evil despotism from which He sought to deliver them! It is the proof of our own benumbment if we do not feel that such accusations resulted in spiritual crucifixion. “He was reviled . . . He suffered.” [Verse 23] The suffering covers the whole scope of the Passion, from the dull pangs of the physical crucifixion to the sharper and more terrible pangs of the crucifixion of the spirit. Now, I say, take this Man of the sinless, guileless life; let Him move amid the chaos of selfishness, the riot of lustfulness, the cruelty of thoughtlessness, the chilling insults of studied neglect and contempt; let Him be made the victim of incivility; let there be withheld from Him the common courtesies; let Him be denied the hospitable kiss, and the kindly gift of water for His tired feet; let rough men roughly handle Him; let 96them mock Him and deride Him; and as the very consummation of coarse vulgarity, let them go up to this Man of exquisite refinement, and spit in His face, and then let them subject Him to all the howling, laughing brutality of the crucifixion,—I say, watch all this, gaze steadily upon it, look long upon all its repellent offensiveness, and while you keep in mind the exquisite sensitiveness of the Sufferer, you will enter with a little more power of interpretation into that familiar cry, “Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto My sorrow!” “His visage was so marred more than any man.” “He was a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”
We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains He had to bear.
How did the Lord endure His sufferings? “When He was reviled, He reviled not again.” [Verse 23] The bitter attack was not creative of bitter retaliation. The hurled venom did not poison His springs. Amid the environing bitterness the Man of Nazareth remained sweet. I have sometimes heard bitter retaliation justified on the plea that even the sweetest milk will turn sour under the influence of a prolonged storm. I am doubtful of the accuracy of the physical analogy, but I am confident of the inaccuracy of the spiritual inference. It is 97possible for “the milk of human kindness” to be kept sweet in the most tempestuous weather. “When He was reviled, He reviled not again.” Is the example too remote? Come down, then, from the high, cool altitudes of the Master’s abode, and let us see if the milk can be kept sweet in the presumably more sultry vales of common men. Here is a man with a stormy, tempestuous life,—“in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent. . . . Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. . . . Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned . . . in weariness, in painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness!” Did the milk keep sweet? All these things he suffered of the Jews. When he was reviled, did he revile again? “I could wish myself accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh!” “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they may be saved!” I thought that out of the heart of the tempest I might hear the angry shout of retaliation; instead of which I hear a sweet and self-forgetful prayer, sounding like silvery village bells in a night of storm. The spirit was not embittered. The milk was not soured. The apostle was just the Master over again. “When 98He suffered, He threatened not.” [Verse 23] There was no violent menace in the Master’s life. There was no dark, fateful hinting of a day of vengeance. There was no sullen, angry biding of His time for the season of retaliation. He remained quiet, unembittered, sweet, and “committed Himself,” in happy confidence, and with ever-increasing assurance, “to Him that judgeth righteously.”
Such was the Sufferer, such were His sufferings, and such the way in which He endured them. What were the fruits of this transcendent endurance? If I were even to attempt to give an exhaustive reply to the great inquiry, I should have to quote the New Testament record from end to end. On every page one can find the enumeration and catalogue of the gracious fruits. Their proclamation is the New Testament glory. But just look at the pregnant summary given by the apostle Peter in the passage of our text. “Christ also suffered . . . that we might live.” [Verse 24] What is the significance of the word? Out of His sufferings there issues a vital energy for the reviving and enlivening of the race. It is evidence whose testimony cannot be ignored that when the heart is crushed with sin, and is sinking under the burden, it turns its eyes to those scenes in the Saviour’s life where His 99sufferings are most abounding. Men in whose vitals the poison of the devil is dwelling, and whose spiritual force is ebbing away, do not tarry at Bethlehem, or even upon the great Mount where the great teaching was given. They make their way to Gethsemane and Calvary. It is when we are feeling respectable that Calvary has no allurement. But when the heart is bleeding in unclean tragedy, when life ceases to be a debating society topic, a light subject of controversy for a quiet summer’s eve, when the burden of sin weighs down upon us with heavy and intolerable load, it is then we follow the pilgrim band along the well-trodden way to Gethsemane and Calvary, that in the fellowship of the august Sufferer we might discover the vital energy of a restored and reinvigorated life. “Christ also suffered . . . that we might live.” “By whose stripes ye were healed.” [Verse 24] Do not let us overlook the experience because we cannot find an explanation. Do not let us reject the fact because we cannot contrive a theory. The sorest places in human life, the raw, festering wounds of indwelling sin, can only be remedially touched by the healing influence of His stripes. The miracle is repeated every day. The sufferer from sin turns for release to the suffering Christ. There is a strange allurement about “the Man of Sorrows ” 100to which the common heart bears witness. “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me!” The word proclaims the magnetic influence of the uplifted, suffering Christ. “Ye were going astray like sheep; but are now returned”; [Verse 25] ye have come home again, wooed and allured by the wondrous spectacle of a suffering God! Such are the issues of the calm endurance of this sensitive Sufferer—vital energies, full of reviving and healing ministry, wooing us back to God.
And now this unspeakable ministry of suffering is proclaimed as an example to all men. “Christ also suffered, leaving you an example, that ye should follow His steps.” [Verse 21] Do not let us shrink from the tremendous sequence. If the calm, strong endurance of the Master has been creative of transcendently blessed ministry, so our endurance will be productive of vital powers which will work for the enrichment of Verses the race. “Do well.” [Verse 19-21] Have “conscience toward God.” “Follow His steps.” Let no revilings make thee desist, let no sufferings turn thee sour, and thy very endurance shall make thee a large contributor to the co-operative forces of the kingdom of God. To remain sweet under coarse reviling is to be a fountain of healing energy. To remain unselfishly prayerful in the presence of menace is to bring currents of heavenly air into the atmosphere of common 101life. All fine endurance is a force of renewal, which contributes its quota of energy to the ultimate emancipation of the race. I am glad that this superlative passage springs out of counsel to a slave. I am glad that these stupendous heights are connected by a well-made road with this very lowly estate. I am glad that the endurance of Jesus is placarded before a slave. The apostle tells the slave that he too may be an element and factor in the universal emancipation and redemption. The slave may accomplish more by calm endurance than by hasty, precipitate revolt. Fine, noble endurance is energy—an energy which raises the common temperature, and to raise the temperature will more effectively remove the burden of icy bondage than the hasty attacks of ten thousand men armed with the pickaxe of premature revolt. Let us do well; let us have conscience towards God; let us endure, if need be, the contradiction of sinners; let us persist even through sufferings, and, by the very nobility of our endurance, we shall be leavening the world with the emancipating forces of the Christian redemption. “Christ also suffered, leaving you an example.” “The things which happened unto me have turned out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel.” “If we suffer we shall also reign with Him.”102
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